A growing number of today’s leading brands are quickly recognizing the power of purpose. As part of a brand’s identity, the desire and ability to serve a greater good is permeating across all sectors and audiences. I recently spoke with Dan Tarman, chief communications officer of eBay and chair of the eBay Foundation to learn about how the pioneering e-commerce brand continues to differentiate itself through brand purpose, since its inception more than two decades ago.
Aaron Kwittken: With a law degree and a background primarily in financial services, what about eBay attracted you to the brand?
Dan Tarman: eBay is an iconic Internet brand, which was a huge point of appeal. Joining the brand at a time of such transformation and change was a great opportunity. I started as we were separating with PayPal and back then the charge was clear: transform the business and reenergize the brand. This opportunity, coupled with the fact that eBay was a pioneer in e-commerce was quite compelling. Even more compelling was the fact that the company was founded on purpose, with a capital ‘p.’ It was founded as a platform to democratize commerce through technology.
After 27 years of work, this is the first time in my career where I can say I work for a company that does well by doing good. There is complete alignment between purpose, values, business strategy and brand. Our challenge is how do we cut through with our brand and with messaging to demonstrate a modernized, sharply differentiated eBay.
Kwittken: Upon joining eBay, how did you build the new communications function? What did you do first?
Tarman: One of our largest goals involves modernizing the eBay brand. As a 23-year-old company and original pioneer, we are mindful that there are legacy perceptions of our brand that aren’t consistent with our current state our business and platform. We have significantly transformed our platform to be an AI-driven, technology-centric global shopping and commerce platform at scale. We’ve created a place for 170 million people to shop via a highly personalized, AI-driven experience. Perceptions of the brand aren’t fully consistent with our current reality.
Kwittken: Where does purpose fall in relation to everything you do?
Tarman: Not every company, in every sector, can authentically identify purpose as an organizing principle for their business. It’s a privilege to work for a company where that is the case. It’s also an opportunity and a challenge to ensure that we are energizing at scale across our entire community of employees, shoppers, sellers and those within our ecosystem. It’s something we believe in and it has been one of the greatest opportunities as a communicator and marketer. My team consists of 125 people across the globe, and a large part of what we do is develop and execute communication strategies focused on the modernization of the brand and activating our purpose at scale. Those are two of our primary pillars.
Kwittken: I understand eBay for Charity’s goal is to raise $1 billion by 2020 through eBay listings. Can you share more about that program?
Tarman: Our eBay for charity platform is a platform within eBay through which we’re able to help more than 50,000 not-for-profits in the U.S., UK, Canada, and Germany raise money for their respective organizations through sales on eBay. We achieve this through charity auctions and by designating a portion of proceeds from a particular sale to an organization.
After September 11, 2001, we created eBay for charity to raise money for the victims and their families. Hundreds of people mobilized and raised about $25 million for the cause. Afterwards, we built the eBay for charity platform, which has now reached scale, raising about $810 million for 25,000 various not-for-profits. By 2022, our goal is to raise a total of $1 billion dollars, which we’re well on track to surpass. We’ve also partnered with other organizations such as the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund and San Francisco’s Glide Memorial Church. For this organization, we’ve raised more than $20 million for some of the most marginalized members in San-Francisco, many of whom are homeless or facing substance abuse issues. These efforts demonstrate the true power of this global marketplace, which can be activated for purpose.
Kwittken: How does eBay use its brand purpose to empower others?
Tarman: Purpose is central to our business and authentic to who we are, but we also use it to empower and enable small and medium-sized business. As retail struggles in the face of tectonic shifts in how and where people spend money, eBay continues to serve as a platform that enables and empowers small businesses to scale their own businesses. We don’t compete with businesses that come onto our platform. We don’t have a first party marketplace nor do we have algorithms that automatically change prices to compete against sellers on our platform. Instead, we try to optimize velocity and economic success for our sellers. We work very closely with our seller community to create the right alignment between running a business at scale and making sure that we’re doing so ways that are as helpful as possible.
Kwittken: How do you work with the seller community as it relates to the eBay foundation?
Tarman: The eBay foundation is the charitable and philanthropic body that makes different investments in organizations around the world focused on inclusive entrepreneurship. That’s the primary mission of the foundation. It is completely separate from our business and commercial interests, with the activities of the foundation having almost no overlap with eBay sellers. For example, we have an ongoing partnership with Kiva to provide micro loans to micro entrepreneurs around the world. We’ve given $25 credits to every eBay employee to select Kiva entrepreneurs to invest in. For micro entrepreneurs, $25 is meaningful. We’ve also crowdsourced where groups of employees have gathered 100 people together, with each giving $25 and then we’re able to help fund an entrepreneur at greater scale.
Additionally, we help raise money on behalf of sellers. For example, the Blind Center for Nevada employs 20 to 30 people, all of whom are blind. They refurbish iPhones and sell them on eBay. They’ve sold tens of thousands of refurbished iPhones on eBay since joining our platform. In doing so, they provide livelihoods for the employees who work at their organization. That is a great example of a seller whose entire business model is based on purpose.
Kwittken: Can you share more about the Retail Revival work eBay is currently conducting?
Tarman: In Akron, Ohio, we’re bringing the power of our platform to communities that haven’t benefited from the technology revolution as much other coastal cities. Here, we’re helping struggling retailers and the small business community by teaching them how to plug into eBay to scale their businesses. Since March, we’ve enrolled more than 100 small businesses and retailers in the community and have seen many of those businesses double their sales and revenue. Next month, we are announcing our second U.S. Retail Revival city and our intent is to have upwards of 10 eBay Retail Revival cities over the next two years. This will enable us to reach thousands of small and medium-sized businesses by reaching out our arms and asking how we can help.
This program represents eBay at its best. As we modernize the brand, we are making it clear that we are purpose-driven and there’s a place for purpose in this world, particularly among millennials and younger consumers where cynicism is on the rise, given the external environment we’re living in. Companies that are authentically purpose-driven, live their purpose and stay true to their values, have an opportunity to win in the marketplace.
Kwittken: How are you measuring the impact of these efforts?
Tarman: We live and breathe data through the billions and billions of transactions that have taken place throughout our history. With Retail Revival, data is constantly solicited regarding sales, run rates, where we’re having issues, etc. We’re constantly tracking sales and have clear internal goals of what our one-year run rates should be and how we declare success for the program. It’s only successful if it is generating revenue for those businesses.
On a macro level, we’ve researched to see how many jobs we’re helping to create via the eBay economy, given the approximately six million sellers using the eBay platform in the U.S alone. A seller is defined as anyone from a consumer seller who might sell on a part-time basis to professional, small to medium-sized business who sell upwards of millions of dollars of merchandise per year on eBay. We conducted a fairly robust and rigorous body of research over the past few months, which revealed businesses who are selling on eBay employ 690,000 people in the U.S. On a global basis that translates into $90 billion in sales through eBay in 2018, making us one of the largest retailers in the world.