Love for Sale: What Marketers Can Learn From Online Dating

Talk About 'Relationship Marketing' 101

By Published on .

Matt Brennock
Matt Brennock
Ought to be easy, ought to be simple enough,
man meets woman and they fall in love,
but this house is haunted and the crowd gets rough.
- Bruce Springsteen
To hear Bob Garfield tell it, marketing as we know it is just about dead and buried and the internet isn't ever going to become the selling juggernaut that many marketers are banking on. Garfield's a smart guy and I'm not sure I'd bet against him, even with your money. But none of what he thinks means a damn to the millions of lovelorn individuals, who are online right this minute, all over the world, banking on the power of the web and their own selling prowess to help Cupid send them their very own man or woman of their dreams.

Those looking for love online may be lacking in fancy marketing degrees -- do those things even actually matter anymore? -- and, more than likely, a healthy sense of reality. But give them due props for going about the business of selling with a similar acumen to most seasoned marketers. We can all learn a thing or two from the brave and the crazy, riding down, down into that cyber tunnel of love, for roughly $18 a month, or about $3 a whack job.

Consider, for a moment, how it works and doesn't work on sites such as, Craigslist and eHarmony. This is "relationship marketing" -- selling at its most basic. Call it communications 101, or the new skin trade, if you will. Here are several incredibly valuable lessons from online dating, for your sick, voyeuristic perusal.

  • Online dating newbie's might be overwhelmed and inspired by how stocked the i-dating pool initially appears. There is seemingly no end to the number of people lining up for a shot at love. But almost everyone on these sites is playing hard up to get. The harsh reality is this: The vast majority of people out there are hurting, confused, bitter, uncertain, cynical and, yes, crazy. So, once you've weeded out those potential targets, you're left with only a small percentage of people who are at their keyboards with arms wide open. Consumers are no different. It's great they can be targeted so specifically, but that doesn't mean they're waiting for advertisers to barge into their mundane daily existence. They aren't. Approach your target with the mind-set that they're not waiting to hear from you and your humility and common sense might actually help win them over.

  • Selling your wares to anyone online, is a risky proposition. Skepticism aside, the object of your attention is most likely getting the same basic pitch or information from others on a consistent basis. So you can hardly blame them for ignoring you, the way consumers now ignore banners. It really shouldn't ever be about you, the one selling. The creative liberties we take whenever we sell ends up having an icky feel to it, no matter who is selling. Really now, who amongst us isn't fun, open and attractive -- behind the safety of our keyboard? Like I always tell my mother, everybody loves, wants and needs attention. Craft your message so it's about the target and the target is going to take notice. The ego loves a good massage, even more than a businessman making his way through Taiwan does. Bank on it.

  • Everyone tells the same lie: I'm not about looks, I'm about the person. They say it with such conviction that it occasionally comes off as sounding almost believable. Of course, it's a load of crap. We are all biologically programmed to be "about looks." Apple has built a small empire based on its remarkable aesthetic. The same is true for the beautiful people who dominate the various dating sites. The information that accompanies a person's profile pales in comparison to what he or she actually looks like in their pictures. Marketing online to a target overwhelmed with visual information means a marketer's message is only as good as it looks. If you aren't dazzling the eye, you will never get the opportunity to wow them with fancy facts and stats. Appealing to the eye is the first step toward gaining your targets lasting attention.

  • Quick, Google me an answer and Google it to me five seconds ago. The most common lie told by men -- their height -- is, outrageously, the very thing they cannot fake once face to face with their doomed dates. Women are most frequently prone to conveniently forgetting they haven't been a size four since their senior year ... in high school. These individuals who think they can simply fake it until they make it never end up doing so. Marketers now face the same dilemma. The multidimensional facet being used to sell in the virtual realm gives advertisers an opportunity to entice and enhance in ways they never have before. The problem is that, sooner or later, the interfacing that's been happening online moves offline -- and that's where the truth reveals itself. The wise marketer mustn't ever allow the technology to gussie up the truth to the point it teeters on becoming a digital un-truth.

  • Facts are facts, but facts aren't really where it's at. It's true that people are hungry for the details, especially when seeking a mate. But age, ethnicity and how much one isn't actually making matter not nearly as much when it comes to taking that gigantic leap of faith known as the initial e-mail exchange, followed by the phone call. In the end, it's more about the connection. Does it feel right? Do you like the way the other expresses himself or herself? Do you trust this person enough to actually take a chance? Personality can and does come through, even in the cold recesses of cyberspace. Marketers determined to simply deliver the facts to the right target will find that really reaching that target and eliciting the desired response ultimately has more to do with the how, than the what. It may be just as hard to believe that consumers are human, as it is to believe that online daters are human. But research I actually trust does in fact back this up. So, make your message human as well, or you can kiss that connection good bye.
Whoever said "love stinks" said so long before the internet got in on the action and, truth be told, it hasn't gotten much easier. True, online dating makes it easier to find people in the same way the web makes it easier for marketers to home in on consumers. But finding them is simply the beginning of a long and oft bumpy road.

We can besiege people, be they potential lovers or consumers, with all manner of facts and figures. But it is the little things, the delivery, timing, chemistry and damn luck, that make all the difference. Forget metrics and science and whatever else they teach in business school. While the tools of communication change, the truth will always come down to this: We are just people trying to connect with other people in the same way we always have, whether we're selling love or linen sheets. It's just that simple and just that complicated. Having done both and having had only middling success with either, I'll take marketing any day. In the ad world, I know I'll never get stuck having to pick up the tab after a night spent with a lousy focus group.

Matt Brennock is a creative director and consultant who's logged time at DDB Chicago and JWT Chicago and was co-owner of Fusion Idea Lab, a boutique shop in the Windy City. He's worked on clients such as Anheuser Busch, McDonald's, Orbitz and Kraft and is a member of both SAG and DGA.
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