The Dating Game

During the two weeks that the Email Insider has been on hiatus, a couple of interesting events have transpired. Opt In Real Big and Synergy 6 (owners of the American Giveaways site) are being sued by Microsoft and New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer for violating anti-spam laws. As we pointed out in this column a month ago, co-registration sites will need to be responsible for the actions of their marketing partners if spam is going to be kept in check. Apparently Microsoft and New York's Attorney General agreed.

I will be looking more in-depth at these lawsuits in future articles, but today I want to focus on why email marketing is so important by providing a case study on how a new Web service was able to boost their traffic market share by more than 600 percent over a three-month period using email as its primary marketing tool. We will also be analyzing which creative choices were most successful and why.

The "dating" market sector is huge, and nearly everyone from to Tickle uses email marketing to some extent. One of the more successful companies in the space is Matchnet, which owns American Singles as well as others. According to Hitwise data, American Singles ranks third in the dating category (from a web site traffic market share standpoint) behind Yahoo! Personals and (Eharmony, which has launched an aggressive television campaign, was in 5th place for the first week in January 2004).



In October, Matchnet launched a new site called "Dating Results." By examining the clickstream data from a source such as Hitwise, it is easy to match up traffic data to specific emails. The site appears on the Hitwise radar screen around Oct. 1 with the first email campaign sent on a number of lists including MediaPlex, which delivered 38 percent of that traffic by itself. By the time the second campaign went out a week later on the Primary Buy list, Dating Results had 196th place in their category, with a 0.03 market share. This is compared to the top ranking site on that date, Yahoo! Personals, which had a market share of 17.18%. (It should be pointed out that Emode, now Tickle, was not included in the dating category because a percentage of their traffic is for their IQ tests. Otherwise they would have far outpaced Yahoo! Personals for the number one spot).

Three months later, however, Dating Results was in 49th place with a 0.23% market share, an increase of 666% (almost entirely due to email marketing efforts), while the Yahoo! Personals market share increase was a mere 11%. Of course, this is an unfair comparison because Yahoo! was the leader and Dating Results was starting from scratch. A more fair analysis would be to examine how well Dating Results did compare to a compatible dating site (from a market share standpoint) that did not utilize email marketing as aggressively to drive traffic. On October 8th, MatchClick, just such a site, ranked at 192nd place with a similar 0.03 percent market share. By December 31st, however, MatchClick had dropped to 381st place with a 0.01 percent market share, a decrease of 66 percent.

From a frequency standpoint, Dating Results was fairly consistent, running campaigns daily or every other day. But what about the creative? By examining the creative choices that Dating Results utilized, we can see that some creative choices were far more successful than others:

Their initial creative featured a simple ticket with the copy "Free Pass" and offering a free trial service. No pictures of beautiful people; in fact, the creative was more indicative of a credit card offer.

Soon after, they began running a pure text with the call to action:

"you have better things to do than reading this email.
Like taking your dream date to dinner, or to movie, or to your place, or to hers¦
No dream date?
We'll take care of that- just sign up and we'll hook you up with hundreds.
After all, we have the Nation's largest database of available hotties -click to see their photos or copy this link and paste it into your browser address window.

LIMITED TIME OFFER - SIGN UP FOR FREE TODAY October 17, 2003 "(click here to see creative)

On October 23rd, they switched creative with a graphic image with two circles representing a man and a woman. The text read "Are you a..." with the idea that you would either click on the man circle or the woman circle. However, the offer was unclear, and it seemed to be the least successful in driving traffic. It was also the last time that creative was used, and they immediately went back to the "Better Things" and "Free Pass" creative.

On November the 18th, they tried another change in creative. With a subject line saying "Can You Tame Her", it featured a sexy woman looking off into space which followed the recipe of most dating ads such as the ones from Single Me: a provocative shot of an attractive woman.

But here is where we find some interesting, but counter intuitive, data. On December 29th Dating Results ran four separate types of creative: the "Can you Tame Her" spot, the "Better things to do" text ad, the "Free Pass," and a third creative featuring an attractive girl with what looks like a search field to type in your ideal mate. Which creative pulled more people? Intuitively, I would have bet that the sexy females would have pulled more people to the site, but I would have been wrong:

The "Can You Tame Her?" spot and the "Search box" creative tied for 10th and 9th place, each pulling in 2.04% of the Web traffic. However, the "Free Pass" and "Better Things To Do" creative (which shared the same clickthrough URL) came in 1st driving 14.9% of the overall traffic. Why?

Perhaps sexy, attractive people are intimidating to the type of person that is looking for a mate through an anonymous dating service. The winning offers appealed to a customer's "loser" status: basically saying, you're not going anywhere anyway. You might as well come here and have a little fun, and by the way, here is a free pass to try it out. It just might be that creative strategy that relies on featuring models is the wrong strategy for a service that appeals to all those Average Joes and Janes out there.

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