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Marketing A Match Made Online

by Alf Nucifora

Recently I talked with Lucas Donat, Founder of Donat/Wald, the direct response agency credited with helping catapult eHarmony to the fastest-growing player in the on-line matchmaking business. Donat provided an insider's glimpse into the world of marketing of what is now the internet's fastest-growing category.

NUCIFORA: Let's start with eHarmony, what's the member count right now?

DONAT: About five and a half million.

NUCIFORA: How many marriages have they been responsible for?

DONAT: More than 9000 that they can confirm.

NUCIFORA: When you started working with them what was the membership count?

DONAT: I believe it was close to a million.

NUCIFORA: Is there a common demographic element to the membership?

DONAT: They tend to be college-educated, many with some kind of secondary degree. And from a psychographic standpoint these are people who are looking for a long-term relationship…to find the love of their lives…somebody with whom they can get married.

NUCIFORA: These are not just singles looking for a date?

DONAT: No. It really caters to people who want to be matched on the deep dimensions of compatibility. As a result of more than 35 years of experience in counseling married couples, Dr. Neil Clark Warren, the founder and spokesperson, determined that there were 29 key drivers or dimensions of long-term relationship-success… things like character, values, intellect, emotional make-up… things that the naked eye can't see. It's easy to sit down with somebody and feel, "Wow, I find you gorgeous. I'm attracted to you." It's much more difficult to understand if you are compatible on those deep dimensions that dictate whether or not that relationship is going to survive over the long haul. If I bring you together with somebody with whom you share compatibility in twenty nine of the most important areas of life, I'm going to increase the chances that the relationship will be successful. It's simply predictive reasoning.

NUCIFORA: The obvious question, why is there a need to do this?

DONAT: Just look at the divorce statistics in America. Effectively, 50% of all marriages end in divorce, and you only need to look within your own sphere of friends and family to see that a lot of the marriages aren't happy. eHarmony is a filtration system that consists of not matching you with people with whom you do not share broad-based compatibilities.

NUCIFORA: You state that eHarmony has a 39% (and growing) share of all new category dollars. According to a recent study, it's the # 1 in brand credibility and trust and # 2 in brand awareness. With that as a backdrop, what was the primary marketing strategy that you attached to the brand when you got your hands on it?

DONAT: What other dating sites were doing was focusing on the titillation of a hookup or connecting singles for a date based on the notion of "a picture and a paragraph". They were not focusing on connecting singles in a manner that would beget the highest degree of success over the long haul. In fact, the "M" word, marriage, was verboten because of the perception that it would freak singles out.

NUCIFORA: And your strategy was "eHarmony is the place to go to, if you want to get married"?

DONAT: Absolutely. We leaned right into it and that's what Dr. Neil Clark Warren's concept is all about.

NUCIFORA: So eHarmony owns that space and has remained consistent with that positioning?

DONAT: Absolutely. Go to other sites when you want to be titillated and do the dating thing, but when you're serious about finding the love of your life, eHarmony is the place.

NUCIFORA: What are your primary marketing communications components?

DONAT: Television, radio, a little bit of print. I would say television and radio are certainly the primaries.

NUCIFORA: What about offline versus online?

DONAT: I would say that offline is the big gun. Offline well conceived and well executed can drive online sales like crazy.

NUCIFORA: But it's expensive.

DONAT: It's only expensive if you view it in the absolute. This is direct response, so every dollar spent should have a positive ROI. In that regard it's all trackable and quantifiable.

NUCIFORA: How do you see the product mutating? Do they start hiring preachers and becoming a marriage service?

DONAT: None of those ideas is on the block but with the level of brand trust and credibility eHarmony has, they can extend to different offerings to the consumer.

NUCIFORA: If you were to list the attributes that define the eHarmony brand, what would they be?

DONAT: I think one of the reasons the advertising works so well is that the spokesperson, Dr. Neil Clark Warren embodies all the brand attributes. He's the genuine article. You see him talking. You believe him. You trust him. He has credibility with his 35 years of research and countless books on the subject of finding a soul mate. I don't want to denigrate other brands, but what many of them offer is shopping based on the most superficial information. You walk down the grocery aisle and pick photos of people you like. That doesn't form the basis for a long-term successful relationship and so a lot of people who have done other dating sites feel disenfranchised. They get thousands of emails, but it's very difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff.

The other thing that is interesting about eHarmony is that, from a marketing standpoint, they broke all the rules. They won't even take your money until you fill out a 436 question questionnaire. Everybody said that they were crazy, that people would never do that. I love stories like that where they go up against the titans, the Match.coms, break all the rules and win.

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