Bringing ‘promise’ to life to build a modern, authentic brand

It’s become somewhat cliché to talk “brand,” but the fact is that getting it right means combining a lot of science and a good bit of art. As a leading global internet and consumer brand, eBay is on a multi-year journey to modernize our brand across our stakeholders. Along the way, we’ve gained some insights that have informed and shaped our approach. 

A starting point for us has been the understanding that we need to adapt our brand to meet the myriad of changes in our business and the environment around us. Over the past several years, we’ve seen major shifts in how people engage and consume information, driven partly by technology, as well as the coming-of-age of millennials and Gen Z. 

Here are several principles we’ve applied to inform our strategy: 

The brand is the promise

First and perhaps most importantly, the brand is not the packaging — or the TV spot. At its essence, a brand is the promise that is delivered to customers. 

This is a principle that has stood the test of time. Think about the Pepsi Challenge back in 1976, in which Pepsi challenged Coca-Cola drinkers to a blind taste test. The point that the beverage company was making in its iconic campaign is that the brand was the formula inside the bottle, not the labeling on the outside. 

Purpose can be a differentiator

For companies that are driven or defined by a purpose, it can serve as a powerful North Star. It’s the “why”: Why does the company matter? What impact does the company have on the world? Increasingly, many consumers and employees are drawn to brands that stand for something beyond commercial interests. Nike’s recent collaboration with Colin Kaepernick stands out as a great example of how a brand can seize on a key cultural issue and make a statement about its purpose that resonates strongly with consumers. 

Over nearly 25 years, eBay has become one of the largest commerce platforms in the world, while abiding by an enduring purpose of creating economic opportunity for all. 

We also believe that tech companies have a role and responsibility to help address economic disparities. Through our Retail Revival Initiative, in 2018 we’ve partnered with Akron, Ohio, and Lansing, Michigan, to bring scores of entrepreneurs online, scaling their businesses and in turn helping their local communities by adding jobs and new sources of revenue. 

For many companies, purpose can be seen as not just part of its brand promise. It can be the essence of it. 

Culture and value matter. A lot.

If purpose is the “why,” culture and values are the “how. ”They are the “how we do things around here.” 

A company is only as good as the people who work there. In an increasingly competitive “war for talent,” employees are drawn to companies who invest in their culture and live their values. This means going beyond slogans on posters and symbolic mentions of culture at company-wide meetings. It’s about creating an environment that is responsive to employee attitudes and addressing issues from the top-down and bottom-up. 

It’s also imperative for companies to create an inclusive environment that fosters differing perspectives. It helps build a better platform and also connects values to purpose. 

Customer experience is the ultimate expression of a brand

If purpose is the “why” and culture and values are the “how,” then customer experience is the “what.” In a crowded space for consumers, the experience is what keeps them returning. 

Over the past three years, eBay has been transforming its customer experience to meet consumers’ shopping expectations by creating a more personalized experience, tailored to each person’s interests and preferences. We’re using technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning to accomplish this. 

Authenticity keeps it real

Brands tend to maintain long-term relevance when they connect with the world around them. 

Purpose, culture, values and customer service combine the science and art to create a brand’s promise. As communicators, our job is to do everything we can do to nurture and express the brand authentically, remaining true to the company’s heritage and purpose, tapping into corporate values and relentlessly delivering compelling value for consumers through innovation and technology. The goal is to create a modern, evolving and dynamic experience that delivers our brand consistently to customers every day. 


To download a full copy of the Relevance Report, click here.

Dan Tarman is senior managing director at Teneo, based in the company’s San Francisco office. Tarman advises the firm’s clients on corporate reputation management, brand strategy, special situations, and crisis communications.  

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