3 Lessons Marketers Can Learn From Tinder

Marketing and dating aren’t all that different. They’re both about finding the right people, building a relationship, and then, after all your hard work, making that final sale. (Take that as you will.)

Now, you may say that’s an extremely cynical way to look at finding love, and you’re probably right. But still, there’s no doubting the fact that marketers have a lot to gain from studying the best practices of dating websites and apps. Their job is to find the right matches out of a pool of hundreds of thousands—a difficult task if there ever was one.

Last week, Sam Yagan, CEO of The Match Group and co-founder of OkCupid, sat down with Noah Mallin of MEC at New York’s Social Media Week. There, they discussed how dating platforms can provide excellent case studies for marketing and brand building.

According to Yagan, there are five dating products that have significant enough reach and influence to actually matter: Match, OkCupid, Tinder, eHarmony, and PlentyOfFish. Considering three of these five are subsidiaries of The Match Group—Yagan’s biases aside—there seems to be some kind of formula behind their achievement in the dating industry.

Here are three big takeaways for marketers and brands hoping to replicate these dating site’s success.

1. Sprinkle some serendipity into your matches

In marketing and dating, how do you capitalize on information about your potential match without being overbearing? The key is serendipity.

OkCupid calculates matches using the math behind compatibility, but they always throw in a “serendipity factor” because, as Yagan put it, your results would become boring and repetitive if the matches were limited to compatibility alone. To ease the introduction between these serendipitous matches, OkCupid serves as the reliable mutual friend who vets the introduction between two people. Essentially, if you tell two people they are compatible, they will enter their first conversation with an optimistic outlook.

Last year, OkCupid ran a controversial user experiment in which they played around with the serendipity factor. They found that those who were good matches but had negative serendipity still messaged each other. But those who were not good matches but had positive serendipity were more likely to actually have a conversation. And those that were good matches and had positive serendipity were “through the roof” in terms of likeliness to talk.

For marketers, this means striking the balance between a message that is tangential enough to appear new and interesting, but similar enough to pique interest. Amazon’s recommendations, for example, execute this strategy very well. According to a user’s recent searches, Amazon is able to suggest items that are related but not redundant. The idea is to create a spot-on match between consumers and products, so that they may still see something they didn’t even know they needed.

2. Use data to tell stories

In order to select an array of suitable serendipitous introductions, you need to know your consumer implicitly. OkCupid has garnered copious data that is actually applicable to things outside of dating. OkTrends, the blog that put OkCupid on the map, transforms data that is gleaned from user activity into interesting facts.

Tinder is making strides in data accumulation as well. Yagan warned that its simple UX should not fool us. There is a lot going on data-wise under the hood, and analysts can tease out everything from age and race to gender and attractiveness—and how these qualities affect a person’s decisions. Paired with geolocation technology, data analysts can essentially follow couples that were chatting to see if they actually met in person.

Though data from these dating platforms are not quite ready to be leveraged by marketers, Yagan did offer advice about how to transform data into usable content: The content needs to align with the brand.

It’s no coincidence that OkCupid is all about the numbers, considering Yagan has a degree in Applied Mathematics and Economics from Harvard. In his words, “We were a bunch of math dorks making a dating site, so it made sense that our blog was, you know, a data blog and that was totally on brand with everything that we were doing.”

3. People are not one-dimensional

The co-existence of Match, OkCupid, and Tinder may imply that they target three distinct types of people, but Yagan made it clear that he “[doesn’t] subscribe personally to the graduation theory.” Each platform fosters a unique community. There are many users who are subscribers of one, two, or all three platforms, using each for different aspects of their dating lives.

These three companies demonstrate that the days of profiling the “ideal consumer” are coming to an end. People don’t exist in silos and we can’t market to them in silos. People emphasize different aspects of their personalities according to different environments. For a brand, the best bet is to cultivate a unique community with a clear voice to appeal to a particular aspect of a person’s personality, instead of a particular person.

Dating isn’t a science, and marketing isn’t either. But with these three lessons in mind, they both might be a little bit easier.

Image by Brent Hofacker / Shutterstock.com
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