eBay Canada trades off sentimental user stories

Marketing an e-business doesn’t have to take a lot of money, according to the head of eBay Canada.

“”We’re really cheap,”” Lorna Borenstein, general manager of the shopping and auction site, told a Canadian Marketing Association audience

in Toronto this week. Among its techniques is getting publicity out of customer success stories, she said.

For example, she said eBay Canada has capitalized on the story of a pregnant mother abandoned by her husband who got off welfare after learning how to sell digital cameras full time online, she said.

“”It’s an incredible feel-good story,”” she said. “”We use these user stories in the media for PR to rain this beautiful fairy-dust of the warmth and loveliness of eBay with the powerful message that it’s also a lucrative business for you.

“”The empowerment we bring can through those stories is a great marketing tool.””

In addition to getting as much free publicity as it can, several times a year it runs “”eBay University,”” a two-day $25 course on how to get the most out of buying and selling on its site.

Those who attend the talks, given by experienced eBay users, increase their use of the site by 300 per cent, she said.

“”What users want is a little TLC and inside information on how to be more competitive,”” she said in an interview. “”And it’s a two-way street, because we can hear what they’d like to have”” and then if possible add features to eBay offerings.

Borenstein was one of four female Web executives dubbed the “”Digital Divas,”” speaking at a roundtable on the future of online business.

Other panelists were Lib Gibson, president and CEO of Bell Globemedia Interactive; Colleen Moorehead, president of E*Trade Canada; and Judy Elder, general manager of MSN.ca.

Moorehead agreed with Borenstein that user references can be successfully leveraged. That’s why E*Trade has a “”refer a friend”” link on its home page.

Unlike other companies, Gibson said Bell Globemedia is “”still bullish on advertising.”” However, she acknowledged that her company has yet to figure out an integrated marketing strategy among its holdings, which include the Sympatico-Lycos portal, the Globe and Mail, the CTV network, the TSN cable channel and all their Web sites.

But she also said a pilot study suggests online ads make an impression with viewers even if they don’t click on them. Elder complained that advertisers spend 80 per cent of their time on the look of a Web ad but forget that an Internet viewer may see it hundreds of times. She suggested online ads need to be varied during a campaign.

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