CMO Interview: eBay’s new marketing chief on the rapidly evolving online marketplace

Aussie chief marketing officer Tim MacKinnon discusses why he is confident eBay’s strong local foothold will weather the Amazon storm

Competition in the online retail space is a good thing and will drive innovation, but there’s no need to be afraid Amazon is coming to Australia, according to eBay Australia’s CMO, Tim MacKinnon.

“Amazon is good for competition – it will drive innovation in the market, but I personally think there’s been so much hype around its arrival, it’s going to be difficult for Amazon to actually match that hype,” he told CMO.

Appointed to the top Australian marketing job in January following Steve Brennan’s switch to chief of marketing at Uber, MacKinnon has worked at eBay since 2011, and was responsible for bringing new retailers onto the platform.

“We now have 40,000 Australian retailers on board including 80 of the top 100 retailers,” he said. “In some ways, eBay’s selection is the best of Australian retail – we have them on board, whether big or small, as well as consumer sellers.

“It’s going to be hard for Amazon to replicate that in the beginning. We have 60 million Australian listings on the site and I know how hard it is to get that supply. So I think Australian consumers will be a bit disappointed with Amazon in the beginning that they won’t have the wide selection of offerings they expect, compared to us.”

Another major differentiator for eBay is that marketing is core to what the online marketplace offers, MacKinnon said. The marketing function incorporates a mix of global teams, agencies and people on the ground local, with about 50 people across all aspects of marketing, from paid search to affiliates, social, brand team, creative services team.

Today, eBay has more than 11 million visitors to the site every month, and helps businesses connect and reach those customers, including 170 million buyers overseas. “We also run marketing campaigns on their behalf, we run their promotions through the site, we do paid search for them, we do social affiliates – and give them access to technology, data and targeting that they wouldn’t necessarily have on their own,” MacKinnon said.

“For me, marketing is such a core element to our value proposition at eBay and what we do as a business. That’s one of the reasons I am passionate about how we can grow those business and how we can do it even better moving forward.”

Celebrating diversity and individuality

One of MacKinnon’s current focuses is on eBay’s upcoming 18th Australian birthday. The online retail giant has rolled out a fresh ad campaign in collaboration with 72andSunny celebrating its diverse and individual range of offerings to local consumers.

“Our key point of difference is the breadth of our unique and interesting inventory and the strength of our community, entirely powered by the people of Australia,” MacKinnon said. “Now, more than ever, eBay empowers shoppers to find exactly what they love and express who they are.”

Launched on 3 September across television, cinema, out-of-home (OOH), display, digital and social channels, the new Fill Your Cart with Colour campaign  brand campaign celebrates eBay’s colourful and dynamic community, who turn to the marketplace to express their individuality through the way they shop, MacKinnon said.


“Individuality is at the heart of our brand and our strategy is to bring this to life,” he continued. “Ebay is the place shoppers can express themselves and fine pieces that are unique and find the best price on things. From the sneaker collector, to small businesses, this campaign really showcases what makes eBay unique – and that’s the diversity of its community.” 

The second phase of the campaign, set to roll out from 10 September, eBay will add a humorous twist by asking consumers nationwide to think again, directly challenging them with the question: “Did you check eBay?”

“EBay has the best prices and anything you want – and we know a lot of Australians do that already – check eBay already to make sure you have the best deal, but we want to highlight that as part of Australian buying behaviour,” MacKinnon said. “Ultimately, we want to both help grow Australian businesses but our vision is also to be the online marketplace Australians shop first. So my role is to really get more people coming to the site.

“Three out of five Australians bought from eBay in the last 12 months, but we have greater ambition than that. This campaign is part of that vision in many ways.”

Future-proofing with fresh innovation

Technology is another string to the bow. Last year, eBay announced a world-first new VR shopping experience in partnership with Myer, which allowed Australian customers to browse more than 12,500 products using eBay’s new gaze recognition technology, Sight Search.

According to MacKinnon, this innovation is just the beginning of a new and exciting wave of projects eBay has in store for boosting customer experience.

“We’ve always been in the business of trying to predict and shape the future of commerce,” he said. “Whether it is voice, image recognition, VR, AR, people want to shop in a context that makes sense to them. And we need to be where the customer is and that’s one of the reasons people sell on eBay – because customers are there. But we also recognise consumers are continuing to shop in different contexts, whether it is FB, messenger or in-app.

“So watch this space, there’s a lot of exciting things coming down the pipeline.”

Being a CMO

While this is MacKinnon’s first-ever CMO role, he said his time as a chief marketer has reaffirmed his fascination with the power of marketing and its ever-evolving nature.

“Working as a chief marketer for the first time has reaffirmed for me it’s a fascinating field – I love the data, the creativity but also the ambiguity and the polarised views about what the role of marketing should play,” he said. “Personally, I’m anchored by data, but I love the fact that we’re in a world where data doesn’t give you all the answers. That’s what makes it so challenging and interesting.”  

In the online retail space, every day is also challenging, which is also what makes it interesting, MacKinnon said.

“The pace of change is so fast, you constantly need to adapt and keep pace with consumer expectations and changing technology,” he added. “For retail, it’s having to do everything you did last year and more – consistently driving growth, reinventing, finding new ways to reach more customers in a fresh way.”

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu          

 

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