StubHub Not A Tix Seller, Says CMO, But Purveyor Of Experiences
When Jennifer Betka joined StubHub in October, the company’s marketing was mostly focused on ways to get consumers to transact. But Betka had bigger plans.
Out with the old and in with the new. That’s the mantra taking hold within StubHub, eBay’s online marketplace that connects buyers and sellers of tickets for sports, concerts, theater, and other live entertainment events.
When Jennifer Betka joined StubHub last October as CMO, the company’s marketing was mostly focused on getting consumers to transact. But Betka had bigger plans.
In this exclusive interview with CMO.com, Betka discussed some of the ways in which StubHub will narrow its focus on marketing experiences globally while maintaining local relevance. She also shared her three priorities for the coming months and advice to fellow CMOs regarding the agency-marketer relationship.
CMO.com: Can you talk a little bit about your career in marketing?
Betka: I fancy myself a lifelong marketer. I had always intended to be in advertising and had the pleasure of starting my career in New York, at Ogilvy, and learning from the David Ogilvy school of branding. My career started from my personal passion for things that are artful. I think that’s what brought me into the desire to market and advertise. For me, it’s about appreciating and having quality marketing that is, in and of itself, an art form.
Lucky for me, I’ve had the opportunity to work with brands that have a lot of complexity to them and really allow for me, as a marketer, to showcase the different facets of their complexity. To get to the heart and soul of what brought me through my career, it is that desire to lead brands, create brands, and communicate around brands in a way that feels high-quality and artful.
CMO.com: What attracted you to StubHub, specifically?
Betka: What I am really loving about StubHub is the opportunity to win the hearts, minds, and discretionary income of people who are going to go to an experience. I want to market StubHub as emotional and connective around experiences. That’s behind a lot of what we’ve recently done with our reidentification, rebranding, and some of the new creative work that we’re rolling out.
CMO.com: Who you are targeting and how have you traditionally marketed to them?
Betka: When I first came to StubHub, I saw a brand that had the potential to win not just the pocketbooks of people who go to events, but really to win the hearts and minds because what we are offering is not necessarily a paper ticket or a digital ticket. What we’re offering is for people to create memories and to be inspired by talent in the world, whether it be artists, musicians, or athletes. That is inherently what we are offering—the opportunity to experience the world.
When I looked at StubHub and how it had been marketed, it was, in its early days, pretty aggressively going after people thinking about getting a ticket and doing it in the safest possible way. It was mostly about performance marketing. And I thought that StubHub is the brand, in its space, that can own and stake claim to the emotional benefit that people get from connecting with people, physically and virtually, around experiences and the inspiration that comes with that.
I saw a huge opportunity to help StubHub expand its proposition and how it thinks about itself, how it communicates itself, in a way that feels more experiential. So we did a lot to understand where the equity in the brand existed and to build on top of that. We create moments that people may never have again. I like to think of it as “once-in-a-lifetime every night,” if you will.
CMO.com: You mentioned a rebrand. What has changed?
Betka: We worked with Goodby Silverstein & Partners; we did a lot initially to help them understand our business strategy so that they could assist us to articulate that business strategy in a creative approach. That business strategy is anchored in connecting people around inspiring event experiences and then creatively telling that story.
As I mentioned, we were marketing very transactionally. [We were] also very much North America and sports-focused. We are now marketing across a wide variety of genres, to global travelers, people who will go to events and experiences while they’re traveling or travel for the purpose of going to them. We want to be welcomed by Anthony Joshua [boxing] fans as much as we would want to be considered by contemporary ballet fans.
You’ll see us putting greater emphasis in social and connecting with our customers across all things social. We are now bringing in a tone that feels less like we’re just going to present you with a price and a name of an event. We are focusing on the emotion, the excitement, and the anticipation that you have to be inspired to go to events. Our brand is communicating to people in a way that is about being human and less about the transaction.
CMO.com: Any initial results? How is your audience taking to it?
Betka: We’re seeing that our audience is more engaged, consuming more pages while they’re on the site and staying longer on the site, not only by our year-over-year comparison but by what we can tell compared to our competition. So I feel strongly that we’re taking the right steps.
CMO.com: What are your strategic marketing priorities over the next 12 to 18 months?
Betka: First is continuing to build out the capabilities of an integrated global marketing organization that can operate with world-class scale and excellence. To do that is a combination of the right talent in the right roles, so we’re putting a lot of emphasis on talent development and role clarity. We’re also putting a lot of emphasis on operating globally and in an integrated manner so that we can apply these levels of expertise in pockets around the world.
The second priority for me is for us to understand as much as possible around our audience globally so that we can begin to be in a deeper relationship with them. And that does not just mean a classic set of capabilities in CRM. We’d like to understand our audience in a way that the relationship can feel more like loyalty.
CMO.com: Which consumer trends are you paying particular attention to? Why?
Betka: The macro-consumer trend that we as a business are paying attention to is the idea that material possessions are no longer the same kind of value to consumers as experiences and memories. The concept of the experience economy is very much top-of-mind for us; as a business we are spending a lot of effort to occupy that space as a leader.
Other consumer trend you simply cannot ignore is social. For us it is important because that is how consumers share their experiences and memories.
CMO.com: What are the biggest digital challenges you’re facing?
Betka: Technology is both an opportunity and a challenge for us, and, as we now are occupying presence through our most recent acquisition of Ticketbiz in 40-plus countries around the world, I think the combination of having technology that allows us to scale our marketing effort but also feel local and personal is a challenge. I’m sure we’re not the only ones with this challenge.
The other aspect of that is also not just trying to feel local to people who dwell locally, but how do you help people who are traveling for entertainment? How do you help them feel comfortable and local and bridge the fact that you’re operating in a place that offers global opportunities? The Olympics is a global experience. Copa is global. Euro is global. And yet you’re also marketing locally, so that’s definitely a big challenge and an opportunity.
CMO.com: Do you have any advice for your fellow CMOs?
Betka: My piece of advice is that leading marketing does not mean handing your business over to an agency. I think of agencies as partners, and I truly scrap the notion of “vendor” in our vernacular. We lead our agency partner. They contribute and lead us in certain areas as well, but we definitely are approaching [them] as a partner where we contribute equally. I’m here to empower them to do good work on my behalf.