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“Green” Marketing Lessons From the eBay Box

3p Contributor | Monday October 4th, 2010 | 3 Comments

eBay Boxby Erica Frye

Amy Skoczlas Cole, the Director of the eBay Green Team, spoke at West Coast Green about the development of the new reusable eBay Box and other initiatives in a breakout discussion titled “The End of Green Messaging? How Community Engagement is Superseding Corporate Communication.”

That it is named the eBay Box and not the eBay Green Box demonstrates the session’s title. The box — which is designed to be re-used multiple times — embodies sustainability, but users value the convenience and “where has your box been” story over being environmentally responsible. They learned a similar lesson after launching an ad campaign promoting the environmental benefits of buying used goods and discovering their general customer base didn’t care one bit. They have an audience that is naturally engaged in a sustainably-minded activity, but is resistant to that messaging. So they are focusing inward, using their core green community to develop new initiatives and spread the word from participant to participant instead of trying to make their case through advertising.

The potential of this community engagement is reflected in the box’s backstory provided by Ahmed Riaz, a former eBay designer who played a key role in prototyping and evangelizing the concept for the annual eBay innovation competition. (I’m fortunate to know Riaz as a fellow student in the MBA in Design Strategy program.) This intrapreneurial success story offers advice for community members who want to innovate from the inside:

  • See beyond your department: The green box (and it was a “green” box at that time) was floated by a group of interaction designers brainstorming new ideas. While the team loved the idea, it was promptly forgotten because it “wasn’t a website.” It took Riaz’s personal investment in the project to rally a team to develop the box in their off hours.
  • Use prototypes to persuade: The box won the eBay skunkworks competition, a win Riaz credits to effective prototyping and storytelling. They made and tested a series of prototypes — even going so far as to engage a box company employee — to perform a life cycle analysis, explore materials options, and develop a tracking system. They provided a combination of data, user experience, and physical prototypes that brought the idea to life to persuade internal stakeholders.
  • Be persistent throughout: Even in a company with a Green Team and a committed CEO, the development and approval process was still an uphill battle. The prototyping team had to make the case and persistently be the engine that pushed the idea forward.

Erica Frye is a strategist dedicated to building brands driven by culture, mission, and sustainability, and a graduate of the Design Strategy MBA program at California College of the Arts. You can read more from her at www.ericafrye.com.


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  • http://www.beautybusinessblueprint.com/ Robert Samuel

    Great concept for a packing box. Anyway we can do business and hold the environment in favor, I’m all for it. :-)

  • Erin Schumpert

    Fabulous post Erica. It’s great to see innovation well at work within global retail leaders such as eBay. Many companies today are experiencing the benefit of capturing and executing on effective, game-changing ideas. There are hundreds if not thousands of ideas that are within a company’s reach, whether they are internal among employees or external among customers and/or partners. Tapping into the collective intelligence of the crowd is key to uncovering new ideas. Spigit, the leader in idea management software, has helped numerous F500 companies successfully extract ideas that help maintain their competitive edge and shape their future. The ideas are out there, you just have to find them. You can check out Spigit and some of their currently supported clients at http://www.spigit.com.

  • http://www.guiltfreedrinks.com Kevin M Roth

    Great case study Erica. It’s great to see how this works in a real world example. It’s very interesting to see them promote it’s convenience first (not calling it the eBay Green Box) rather than it’s environmental benefits. The low hanging fruit for businesses, with regards to sustainability, are things like this that can be pitched (and add value) to people who otherwise wouldn’t care about sustainability issues.