EBay CMO Tracking ... Everyone

How Linton Plans to Battle Amazon, Growing List of Other Retail Rivals

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EBay has replaced one of its top sellers, shifting chief-marketing-officer duties from Gary Briggs, who brought the online auction house into the mainstream, to a veteran package-goods and retail marketer, Mike Linton.
EBay CMO Mike Linton
EBay CMO Mike Linton

In an interview with Ad Age, Mr. Linton talked about how he is going to face up to increasing competition in online selling from competitors ranging from Amazon to virtually every other real-world and cyberspace retailer out there.

Advertising Age: What's the challenge for the man selling eBay?

Mike Linton: This is the sixth industry I've been in. I started at Procter. I think there's a constant marketing challenge that makes the job fun. You always have to strike a balance -- long-term and short-term, new and old -- to deliver current business results and build long-term capabilities that keep your brand really relevant. You're always under scrutiny. The bigger the business, the more interesting the business, the more scrutiny you get. The challenges of CMOs are well-documented.

The interesting thing about eBay and the internet is it's still relatively new. It's been around 12 years. There aren't any wagon ruts like there would be in consumer goods or retail in terms of the distribution channel or how things work and how long it takes to build a plant. These are new businesses [with] new competition and new things popping up all the time. You're playing with a whole new dynamic. That's the challenge.

Ad Age: How does your package-goods and retail background apply here?

Mr. Linton: It's quite helpful to have spent time on all sides of the table, first as a consumer-products person where you are selling to the retailer and then at a retailer where you are selling to customers. I have had a look at how the consumer and the company approach the business from both sides. I'm hoping some of the relevant experience will be how consumers buy stuff and how they think of buying stuff vs. how they think about just buying brands, also with the merging of the distribution channel with the medium.

Ad Age: Has the eBay brand lost its luster with youth?

Mr. Linton: We're 12 years old. If anything I would say we are entering teen-hood. Obviously, all brands have to grow up and stay interesting to their customers. But in no way would I say eBay is anything but still a young brand in a young industry. Like all brands that are young, you have to grow up as you get bigger in a way that keeps you relevant to your users. Across the eBay portfolio, we have some cool brands that definitely skew much younger, like Half.com, some brands that skew in pretty interesting places, like Rent.com and StubHub, and then we have the whole PayPal brand and Skype, which bring in different users.

Ad Age: How will eBay bring back its inactive users?

Mr. Linton: We realized in 2006 that we hadn't upgraded our base product as much as we might have. If you look at 2007, there are probably more changes to the product than we've had in the previous two to three years. I think that's one way. I think we're doing a lot more listening to our customers in terms of where we want to go. I think we still have a bunch of areas we're looking at to improve, and I think that will be driven primarily by what our customers tell us.

Ad Age: How is the "Shop Victoriously" campaign doing?

Mr. Linton: It's still too early to get a great read on it. We're pleased with the first two months of it. You'll hear more in January.

Ad Age: Any shift or changes in ad spend?

Mr. Linton: The challenge of the CMO is always to look for balance. That's what I'll be working on.

Ad Age: How do you think the economy will affect eBay?

Mr. Linton: EBay is probably an entity unto its own. If the economy is good, people have more to spend. If the economy is not so good, eBay is fantastic for a value.

Ad Age: What about your agency?

Mr. Linton: I'm thinking about getting up to speed on the great work that has been done. That's not the kind of thing I'd do right out of the box.

Ad Age: Have you ever bought or sold things on eBay?

Mr. Linton: I bought a lot of books, clothes. And I sold an awful lot of stuff. I've sold in about 13 categories. I've sold a die-cast car, a Peet's coffee scoop, lots of interesting things. I sold my son's football shoes. He's a sixth grader and he played for two weeks and then went over to tennis. I paid about $25 for them and sold them for $10, lost $15 in two weeks.

Ad Age: What has your experience been as an eBay seller?

Mr. Linton: For me, selling is kind of addicting. I started selling a lot late last year. It was harder to sell then than it is now. I had a lot of trouble getting started and now I think a lot of the things we have done have made it easier for people to sell.
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