Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The dating game: can marketers play?

Members may sign up for a chance at love, but marketers shouldn't dismiss dating sites for their campaigns. Dating gurus from two of the space's top sites share their advice.

With millions of registered members returning with regularity to access mountains of in-depth data, dating sites can look like a promising platform for marketers eager to connect with users. But a cookie-cutter marketing plan won't fly with online daters. Here are some things to keep in mind as you adjust your campaign to meet some of the unique characteristics of the dating space.

Reach isn't everything
Sparks Networks has about 38 million registered members and 5 million monthly visitors. Similarly, eHarmony reports 17 million registered users, with nearly 3 million monthly visitors.

While those numbers may look similar to a lot of other sites and ad networks, it's important to look beyond raw reach, according to Jon Ward, VP, eHarmony Ad Solutions.

"These are audiences that have a high propensity to pay, often a premium, for great services like eHarmony where the lowest-cost plan is $59.95 per month," Ward says.

At Sparks Networks, which operates an array of sites that include JDate and AmericanSingles, each with its own fee structure, there's a similar play that goes beyond reach.

"Users rely upon us to connect them to the people and products that best fulfill their wants and needs," says Gail Laguna, VP Communications, Sparks Networks. "To do this, our members tell us a lot about themselves, including birth date, gender, ethnicity, religion, hobbies, profession and income, plus dozens of other self-identified interests. Our robust user profiles amount to an incredible volume of consumer data, which enables us to match businesses with the right consumers."

Community matters -- a lot
As with any community, the community sets the rules. While the dating space is no different, marketers need to be able to size up each of the diverse group of communities that make up the space.

"For marketers, we think a more conservative, large brand, general message is effective on our site," Ward explains, adding that no two sites are created equally in terms of community.

But dating sites, with their rich streams of member data, give marketers vital clues when it comes to crafting a campaign that will connect.

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