Romain Bertrand is UK Marketing Director at online dating site eHarmony. Before that, he was Head of Marketing at JustGiving, following roles at Photobox, Skype, Amazon and L’Oreal. Romain tells Figaro Digital how eHarmony is evolving to meet a growing demand for quick, ‘always on’ and high quality dating services
What does your role as UK Marketing Director involve?
It covers the full marketing mix: from digital to above-the-line, managing the UK team and profit-and-loss. Efficiency and optimisation are big themes across all channels—we’re always uncovering fresh innovations and asking questions about the tactics and activities we have in place. We’re currently growing our affiliate programme, testing programmatic channels and refining our attribution models, while on TV we’re running our ‘Brains Behind the Butterflies’ campaign and seeing strong results.
We brought in creative agency Albion last year to help us establish a strong consumer call-to-action and showcase our superior matching proposition. Portraying what happens when you get a bad match, and tackling the market head-on with a splash of humour and playful tone of voice, has been a crucial step for us as a brand. Thanks to this move, we’re cementing ourselves as the consumer champion—fighting for better matches on behalf of UK singles.
What was your first job in the marketing industry and how have things changed since then?
It’s getting harder to answer that these days, as it was some time ago now! But the most memorable job in my early days, and one that really helped shape my career and me as a marketer, was L’Oreal. I was brand manager there and my focus was to bring to market and launch new products.
What’s changed? Well, the multiplication of marketing channels available, the sheer amount of data and insight available, the speed of change, the tracking and measurement tools at our disposal and the overall fragmentation of platforms.
Is it fair to say that the nature of online dating is changing to accommodate the information-hungry consumer (eg with apps like Tinder), and what does this mean for traditional matchmaking services like eHarmony?
The UK dating market is a fast-moving and fast-changing sector, with new entrants coming in every other week. But many of these new dating, flirting and casual sites are not in the same business we’re in—we are a relationship site, rooted in compatibility science and matching. What’s interesting with the online dating brand proliferation we’re seeing in the UK is that it isn’t hampering us: it’s doing the opposite—increasing our awareness and serving to further cement online dating as the new norm. Worth bearing in mind is that eHarmony only launched in the UK in 2008.
In fact, we see the Tinders and Zoosks of this world as gateway brands. Our core paying subscribers are 35- to 65-year-olds, with the younger market registering but not as willing to invest. We see the 18- to 25-year-olds playing with the free apps, but later becoming frustrated and disillusioned with the time investment and random trawling of profiles. At that stage in their life, they then turn to eHarmony for something more meaningful, with a bigger emphasis on safety and a more personalised, bespoke experience.
Today’s online daters want all the functionality they would expect from accessing our site on their laptop, but on their smartphone, tablet or wearable technology instead. They aren’t prepared to compromise. We’ve been at the forefront of this shift and today more than half of our traffic comes from mobile devices. As a result, we’re constantly updating our smartphone and tablet app to meet member demand, and have recently moved into wearable technology by launching smartwatch support for Android Wear and Samsung Gear S devices.
Your users are willing to offer up plenty of valuable data, unlike a lot of ecommerce sites. But they expect something great in return. What can marketers in other industries learn from this?
It’s a ‘value versus benefit’ trade-off for customers when it comes to data. Today, the majority are open to the idea of sharing their data with you, but it has to be worth their investment. In a whitepaper I read recently from OFS Global on ecommerce personalisation, it stated that 51 per cent of consumers were willing to share their personal data in return for a better personalised shopping experience. This idea that there’s a real and tangible benefit for the customer is key, and brands need to demonstrate this.
Etailers such as Amazon, ASOS and (one of my favourite business models) Netflix do this well: using data to offer a superior personalised user experience throughout the product lifecycle, especially through in-built features such as their recommendations services. Interestingly, this is something we even do at eHarmony—using machine learning to pick up on the clues that our members drop in along the way, and then using this data to improve their service in a similar way to Google and LinkedIn.
As I said before, looking within your industry as well as at the big players outside it is key. It’s here that you can spot the approaches and features that are resonating with consumers.
How do you look after long-term users or returning customers?
Our business model is in a sense a bit unusual: we’re in the business of losing our customers.
We have almost 60 million registered users globally, 3.7 million of which are in the UK. Previously, our ‘match generator’ took 15 days to narrow down potential matches due to multi-attribute searches on the entire user pool. This was a disadvantage to us and our members, so we switched over to MongoDB, which now means the process takes around 12 hours—a 95 per cent time reduction. We now have the ability to process data much faster and create billions of relevant, compatible matches. As such, the user experience has been improved, which is the driving force behind our success. We ensure our consumers can register and return to eHarmony at any point, across any device, placing the user and the user journey (not the platform) at the heart of our proposition.
Looking back over your career, is there any one project or campaign that you’re particularly proud of?
One of the game-changing moments for us over the last 12 months has been honing our tone of voice and further driving our challenger brand positioning, which means telling and showing customers how we deliver better matches made for them.
We kick-started this process last summer with the launch of our new TVC campaign, which I mentioned earlier. This showcased the horrors of bad matches in a tongue-in-cheek, playful way, and established our new tag line and positioning as ‘eHarmony, the Brains Behind the Butterflies’. This works well for us, as we are rooted in science and love.
The key to delivering this was truly believing in our product, alongside drilling down into our data and customer insights. Then it was a case of being brave and tackling the overriding online dating issue head on—people don’t want bad matches, they deserve better.
Which other brands’ marketing strategies do you admire and why?
The team and I regularly run off-site planning and creative sessions, and a useful exercise that sticks in my mind was the question, “If eHarmony was Red Bull, how would we speak and behave?”
The beauty of the Red Bull brand is that it has absolute clarity on what it stands for. Its ‘wings’ tagline works every time. Its simplicity and focus on core values lets Red Bull expand into areas that any other drinks company simply wouldn’t have the right to play in. If Fanta did space exploration, it’d feel insincere and at odds with the reality of the product itself. Fundamentally you might ask, ‘What the bloody hell are they going on about? Get me a Coke!’ The Red Bull Stratos spectacle was in line with their strong brand values and played them up to great effect. It was a natural, authentic connection.
I also have to quickly praise Red Bull for their content marketing. What Google is to search engines, Red Bull is to content marketing: sticking to their core message at all times and knowing the needs of their end user. Projects like the Red Bull Content Pool—where the brand offers quality, relevant, targeted content in exchange for a consumer’s email address—work well and are seen as fair value exchanges by the brand’s fans. It was interesting to see this grow beyond data and later become a revenue driver in the form of Red Bull Media House, allowing third parties to sell its high quality content. Genius.
Who or what are some of your favourite sources of insight or inspiration in the field of digital media/marketing? Are there any writers, speakers or thinkers you particularly admire?
People like author and marketing guru Jonah Peretti and David Taylor inspire me. David’s blog, the brandgym, is a goldmine of thought-provoking marketing insight and opinions around the latest brand activity: outlining what worked and what didn’t, and then drilling down into this. A bit like the gym, except a little less sweat-inducing, thankfully. His words really challenge you and make you want to push harder, go that little bit further and be daring in what you do.
How do you picture the ultimate online dating service (if money, resources and technology were no object)?
Technology, alongside the popularity and acceptance of online dating, is driving exciting developments across our industry.
For me, eHarmony focuses on the core: getting to know the real you, then providing matches you know you’re compatible with from the get go. But, how could you build on this? Well, we’re seeing the rise of gamification across the market, as well as across other industries, which has been evidenced to drive notable uplift in customer engagement.
Maybe this trend reflects a desire for simplification, as consumers are increasingly time-poor and on the move. Their changing media consumption habits—the growth of sites like BuzzFeed, YouTube and Mail Online—focus on bite size, picture-led content that’s easy to digest. I think this, alongside the areas I mentioned before (customisation and personalisation, and working out how to better harness and utilise big data) is the key to building the relationship sites of the future.
And I’m pleased to say that’s where eHarmony is making headway, so watch this space!
Interview by Estelle Hakner.