Ask the expert: overcoming internal obstacles to drive ROI success with AI

An interview with eBay's Justine Del Greco

If you want to add AI to your marketing but have an uphill battle to convince everyone else, you’re not alone. Justine Del Greco, Marketing Manager Global CRM at eBay, has been there. Here’s her advice for overcoming internal objections and implementing AI in a smart way that leads to ROI-positive awesomeness.



Here’s what Justine had to say…

Phrasee: Justine, what led you to seek out AI for your marketing in the first place?

Justine: We were spending a ton of time writing a lot of copy for a variety of different marketing programs, specifically our emails. To our top three markets, we were sending about 105 million emails per day.

One thing that makes our email program at eBay unique is our personalized content within them; everything is 100% powered by technology using personalization. So my email is going to be completely different from what yours looks like.

Because of that, we had to have our subject lines be generic and broad, but at the same time, still capture the user’s interest and make them want to open their emails.

So we asked ourselves, how do we essentially say the same thing every day, but in a different way?

Day after day, we had our copywriters writing subject lines that were just getting a bit stale, and we started to see our open rates decline, and then our attributed revenue was dropping as well. So we sought out a couple of different AI solutions to address the problem, and that’s how we ended up with Phrasee.


"So we asked ourselves, how do we essentially say the same thing every day, but in a different way?"

Justine Del Greco, eBay

Phrasee: And when you went looking for these solutions, did you face any pushback internally?

Justine: Yes, which I think is normal whenever you try to bring in a new tech solution. The first challenge came from our copywriters – this was their job, this was their skillset, and they were understandably worried – “Is AI going to be taking over our jobs?” But we had a lot of conversations with the Phrasee team and our copywriters directly to ease those concerns. And actually, our copywriters started to realize that the AI freed up more time for them to do other projects, to work on copy for other channels, so it actually turned into a positive thing. And of course, anything that we send to our customers does not go out without the approval of a copywriter and the brand team.

The second challenge was around AI impacting the quality of our marketing and the overall brand perception. eBay had worked for many years to get the brand to the high place that it is today, and we couldn’t jeopardize that standing. We had a lot of conversations and moved very slowly and carefully to make sure we weren’t putting that at risk.

Lastly, we had some resistance from our tech teams. One of the things we love to do at eBay as a tech company is build things out in-house – almost all of our technology is proprietary – and our technical leaders wanted to know, is this something we could do ourselves? And the answer was no, it was not something that we could do, and sometimes you have to bring in an outside expert instead of trying to be the expert yourself on everything.

 

Phrasee: You may have heard that there’s a global pandemic going on. How have your internal teams had to pull together to meet the challenge?

Justine: At eBay, it was all about communicating with our customers on what we were doing to help with the situation. We had to be super-agile with adding new static banners into our emails – how are we handling COVID-19, how can our customers trust us. We are one of the few retailers who were actually helping small businesses in such a difficult time, so we were really leaning into that. All of us on the CRM team really had extra eyes on the language we were using. But we also had to do a lot of due diligence on price-gouging happening on the site, so we eliminated all of those items from being pulled into our emails.

Normally right now, we’d all be knee-deep in planning for the peak season. But I think our peak season has already happened because of COVID-19. When shelter-in-place started in the US, we saw traffic that was exceeding our Black Friday traffic. So our peak season was definitely earlier than expected, and I think because of that, going into the holidays, we’re a lot more prepared. We were able to test site stability, and our operations team was able to turn around new coupons and messaging in a couple of days, which would typically take weeks. We’ve been like, wow, OK, we’ve been through a tough time and now whatever happens during the holidays, we’ve already been through it. We’re in a good place, but it’s been an interesting start to Q4.

 

As Justine can tell you, a strong internal team with a lot of trust can overcome anything – busy times, new initiatives, and the unexpected. As you champion new projects and technologies like AI with your team, remember to do a whole lot of listening – at the end of the day, you’re all on the same side.


Find out how eBay pioneered the use of AI-Powered Copywriting