“Remind me again why you won’t be here on Valentine’s Day?” my wife asks as we pass the chocolate aisle in the supermarket. That is not a question so much as a ritual. Since she discovered that I will be hosting the winter Mobile Insider Summit on Captiva Island Feb. 13-16 (“Captiva Island! On Valentine's Day…without your wife!” as she puts it) every reminder of Valentine's Day is a trigger. I just put the bag of Lindt Truffles in the basket and move on. This is going to cost me a lot in chocolate before it is over.
I could remind her that our own relationship was initiated from afar, through digital media, while I was hosting another event in Las Vegas many years ago. We met through digital dating, because as everyone knows by now I am a cave-dwelling workaholic who can go days at a time without seeing the sun. As a woman on a dating site she was naturally besieged by digital gentlemen callers and generally elusive. According to the legend of our relationship I was about to give up on hearing back from this woman I found so intriguing in initial emails when my sister urged me to make one last try. It took. In a short burst of emails that occurred while I was in Vegas, we arranged to meet. So I could remind her that these Mediapost events and romance by email have actually been good for us. But I am clueless…not stupid.
Mobile media and digital dating have always had a special affinity. In fact, it was the dating and social media sites that first tipped us off to an important mobile ritual -- triaging. Members of dating sites piled up hundreds of page views per session because they used their phones during lunch and breaks to rifle through profiles, the best of which they would save and contact on the Web. Most dating sites saw mobile as a great user engagement and retention tool, but the medium’s effectiveness for customer acquisition was as uneven as it is for all conversion-to-sale.
But that might be changing. Leading relationship brand eHarmony says that its conversions of mobile registrants who have converted to active subscribers have gone up 40% in the past year. Part of that spike is indicative of increased comfort with the mobile channel, to be sure. But this also represents the evolution of eHarmony’s mobile plan, says Ashley Lewis, director of product management. “We were pretty late to the game,” when it came to leveraging mobile tools for members, she admits. The app that allowed users to communicate with matches over mobile media launched in 2010. “Supporting the existing member base was first,” she says.
And as a communications tool, mobile has proven to be enormously effective. About half of all exchanges between eHarmony members now take place on mobile platforms, up 25% in just the last year. And as we have seen in other media formats migrating to mobile, users access the service for shorter session times but much more frequently, five times a day on devices versus twice a day on desktop.
“Mobile users also tend to be more highly engaged,” says Lewis. They upload more photos and update their profiles more often and on the go. For the company, any increase in activity among members translates to more communications, more dates and ultimately more satisfied customers who find their match.
Ironically for dating sites, success generally means that they lose a customer to a permanent relationship, so churn and acquisition are perennial concerns. After establishing a mobile site and app for members, eHarmony moved to an acquisition strategy in 2012. “We looked at mobile search and it was going up massively,” says Lewis. A combination of mobile banner advertising and app popularity started moving the needle in monetizing the channel.
“Search ads have been effective, as it has with the desktop. But display has always been a challenge on desktop and mobile,” she adds. “Finding display opportunities that get proper return” is tough, so they try various ad networks in an effort to achieve good ROI. “We embraced Facebook in the app newsfeed and have been really happy with initial results,” she says.
But a key element in increasing conversions was in sharpening the timing and the format of the member registration format. A lot of this has to do with capturing the prospective customer at the time and place when they are most likely to engage the involved process of conversion on a site like eHarmony. “Clickers on banners on the desktop have more time, but on mobile the sign-up is ten to fifteen minutes. You may not have time to do that because the session times are shorter. Once we were able to hone in on when they are using the device and how we can target them there we saw more success.”
And so they now start thinking about promoting the apps during the dayparts when the prospect is most likey to engage the back end process. “We get a lot of people sitting on the couch and seeing the commercial on a TV ad completing the questionnaire.” Not surprisingly, eHarmony has seen a big jump in people coming to them on the tablet. The company is testing end cards on the TV spots that remind viewers they can sign up on devices. And once the user initiates the process they can come back to complete it. “We are happy with the number of people we get down that funnel,” says Lewis.
If stage one was member service and stage two was acquisition, then the next step for eHarmony is “mobile first” functionality. In the coming year they will be exploring how to leverage location awareness in helping people meet their matches nearby and in ways that are unavailable on the desktop.
But here is a market that dating sites haven’t tapped yet -- managing crises for the couples they successfully brought together.
“Where will you be on Feb. 14?” my wife asks again as we pass the Valentine’s Day specials aisle this time. “Oh, right Captiva Island…without your wife.”
“Raspberry Truffles or assorted dark?” I respond.
“They both look delicious.”
Yeah, this is going to cost me.