BITE Focus

Love under lockdown: How eharmony and The Specialist Works brought virtual matchmaking to the masses

A relationship of mutual trust enabled this dating giant to seamlessly roll out a new feature, launch it to market and pivot a media plan to help people find love under lockdown.

Izzy Ashton

Deputy Editor, BITE Creativebrief


There are many things that this lockdown has taken away from consumers. Yet for some, lockdown has given the gift of time back. Whether it’s been snatched back in the absence of a commute, or in place of Saturdays spent rushing children from party to party. With that time, for some consumers comes the desire to take stock of different aspects of their lives, whether that be their home, garden or even their love life, or lack thereof.

Recent years have ushered in a romance revolution, which has seen the complete normalisation of online dating extend to the gamification of love as apps encourage potential mates to swipe, like or delete their prospective lovers. 

For eharmony, the recent lockdown accelerated a new feature launch, as Romain Bertrand, VP Marketing, International at eharmony, explains: “When we saw the market changing, we quickly did some consumer research in all our markets and then we found that people were asking for this type of service.”

This service was a video chat option, a feature that Bertrand says was built, tested and launched by the product team in Germany in just four weeks, a feat, he adds, “which we’ve never done before. We had no idea this could be done.”

We are 120% aligned on everything.

Romain Bertrand

A close connection

To launch the feature, Bertrand explains, was an exercise in agility and speed, as the business had to reprioritise time, energy and, perhaps most importantly, their media plan. While the video feature had to be built on numerous platforms, apps, desktop and in multiple languages, to bring the function to market, eharmony worked closely with their agency, The Specialist Works.

David Swannell, Managing Partner at The Specialist Works believes that the fact that he and Bertrand have worked together for over five years was essential in being able to adapt and refine a media plan so rapidly.

“Our teams work really closely together on the data to make these informed decisions quickly and then act on them,” explains Swannell. Over the years, he says, the teams have taken a lot of learnings that have enabled them to improve their process.

Both cite the importance of trust as providing the backbone to the client and agency’s collaborative approach. “If they know your business and what you’re looking for, they’ll come to you with much better opportunities without having to have lots of back and forth,” believes Bertrand.

He also feels that the fact that both eharmony and The Specialist Works measure success in exactly the same way is vital. Problems arise, he believes, when everyone is looking at different KPIs. This is why the brand has ensured that the agency has access to exactly the same data in real time; “here, we are 120% aligned on everything,” adds Bertrand.

When there’s no baseline

What became apparent, as the team were launching the new video feature was that the ways of working they had previously relied on had to change. The campaign video was created using footage from a shoot done in Lisbon in February, fortuitous timing Bertrand acknowledges when production went into lockdown as the rest of the world did.

While the concept of video dating previously existed, it’s only now under lockdown that it has become the most prominent and prioritised aspect of the site. Bertrand explains, “The video dating feature is not just for COVID-19. It’s something that consumers want going forward. But from a brand and marketing perspective, it’s definitely allowing us to build market share at a time when a lot of brands are being very careful.”

When it came to the media planning for the campaign, Bertrand explains that the challenge came from the lack of baseline when it came to historical data. How can you compare March 2019, a regular, normal month to the March we experienced this year, as the world shut down and countries went into lockdown?

When the point of comparison had shifted so fundamentally, the team focused on “being able to react very quickly and operate in a very different way from the way we like to do it,” says Bertrand. The brand increased its media spend and saw the results; April gave them 100% share of voice on TV within their main competitor set, the online dating category, said Bertrand.

The shift in viewing habits taking place under lockdown as TV viewing, particularly of daytime, increases alongside radio and consuming online has, says Bertrand, “completely changed the shape of everybody’s media plans.” 

You need to go and find audiences where they are.

Romain Bertrand

Finding the audience where they are

Swannell adds that the team settled on TV as it was the proven channel through which they could reach the relevant audience. But it also offered, he explained, “an opportunity for us to talk to a broader audience outside of where we normally are.” He adds that, “some brands are understandably pushing their digital ecommerce offerings to their current customers and also looking to reach new ones.” 

For Bertrand and eharmony, this means treating every channel like a performance channel, something he believes many other brand CMOs are likewise doing. He expands: “You need to have a model which is flexible enough so that you don’t measure the same ROI for every channel because every channel is at different stages of the decision-making process.”

Bertrand believes that this model has allowed the brand to continue to invest more in its marketing. At the end of the day though, he adds, a strict model doesn’t work: “you need to go and find audiences where they are.” “You’ve got to be everywhere basically where your customers are and follow the markets,” he adds.

Love under lockdown

Bertrand says that the brand has seen a number of new demographics using the platform, most noticeably a younger audience as well as typically time-poor professionals. Something else that interests him is that, “we’ve seen a lot of people who are seemingly new to online dating, suddenly they have time and they can focus on different needs that they have.”

When it comes to long-term success, Bertrand believes it comes from action rather than hope. He explains: “our philosophy is this virtual circle; you can’t just be hoping for the best six, eighteen months down the line. You have to be successful now and keep investing.”

He credits the business with deciding to keep investing across all markets rather than pausing to wait and see what happened. Bertrand believes this will be key to eharmony’s success in the future because there is evidence to suggest that “the brands that typically do the best in these crises are the ones that keep investing.”

He is conscious however that brands acting, operating and marketing right now during the ongoing crisis need to watch their tone. Strong insights and empathetic communication are key, Bertrand adds, to ensuring that “you’re not seen to be taking advantage of what’s happening in the market.”

As the lockdown extends and social distancing measures set to continue, features like eharmony’s will be key to bringing virtual matching to the masses to ensure that people can still find love under lockdown.

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