March 23, 2021
When it comes to online dating apps, Tinder reigns supreme. It wasn’t the first to launch, but it transformed the dating landscape so effectively that “swipe right” is now a familiar phrase, even among those who don’t use the app! Gaining this level of brand recognition isn’t easy — especially when Tinder’s marketing strategy focuses on word-of-mouth. Yet by drawing on lessons from user acquisition and gamification, it’s possible for competing apps to leave their mark in the space.
In this article, we’ll dissect Tinder’s marketing strategy to highlight the most important lessons of the company’s phenomenal success.
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Tinder has many competitors in the online dating world. Brands that were first on the scene like OkCupid and eHarmony have brand awareness, while newcomers like Bumble offer innovative solutions to common match-up problems. So what makes Tinder the definitive dating experience for so many users? It successfully targeted an untapped market — young adults.
Before Tinder, online dating in the United States was not receptive to young singles. Platforms like eHarmony were popular among boomer and Gen X demographics but failed to connect with millennials. Recognizing that young people represented a massive opportunity, Tinder built an entire strategy around reaching, engaging, and retaining urban millennial singles.
It seems obvious today, but successful apps crawl before they can walk. If you cannot build a core audience that drives further development, then your dating app is unlikely to become a global phenomenon. In Tinder’s case, success with millennials eventually carried over into Gen Z markets who now make up over half the app’s user base. Today, current estimates suggest 83% of Tinder users are below 34 years of age.
So how did Tinder connect with a skeptical millennial demographic, especially when the mobile app market was finding its footing?
While Tinder has a global reach, any dating app worth installing must offer a localized service. After all, you want to match with someone nearby, not halfway around the world! Unfortunately, building that local audience quickly can be a challenge, which is why Tinder relied on pre-launch word-of-mouth marketing techniques.
Much like social media, the best opportunities for early dating apps were at college campuses. In 2012, then-CMO Whitney Wolfe went to chapters of her sorority across the country, giving talks about the service and encouraging students to install the app. Once each session was over, Wolfe went to nearby fraternities to provide a similar introduction. When fraternity members installed the app, they found many local singles with existing profiles.
Much like successful apps from other categories, it’s far easier to reach local and regional audiences than it is to begin at a global scale. A focused soft launch lets publishers test app features, resolve unintended issues, and gain insights that may apply to similar markets in other locations. Building up success stories can also contribute to word-of-mouth marketing efforts that make it easier to expand once your app is ready.
One key difference between Tinder and early online dating services is the former behaves like a mobile game. Its swipe-based interface is intuitive and easy to use. It supports a drop-in, drop-out interactive experience. The thrill of making connections is engaging and even bears some resemblance to earning random rewards. These features contribute to a core “gameplay” loop that encourages users to log in four times each day for a collective ninety minutes.
Outside of contributing to an exciting match-up experience, gamification helps Tinder in a variety of other ways. From a monetization perspective, the dating app can better support a freemium business model. Users start with a limited number of right-swipes and likes, but gain unlimited access with a subscription fee. Tinder also offers individual in-app purchases of boosts that enhance profile visibility for a fixed duration.
Tinder is one of the first online dating platforms to offer a fully-mobile experience for its entire history — even competitors like OkCupid needed to transition from desktop PCs to apps. For this reason, Tinder’s team is acutely aware that mobile marketing strategies are essential for continued success. The problem is that Tinder has unique considerations as a dating platform that set it apart from other mobile apps.
The core marketing issue here is retention. Every time users match and establish a long-term relationship, Tinder loses two customers. On the surface, that makes it seem like casual dating is the only market Tinder could possibly retain within the app. In practice, it actually means Tinder needs to segment three specific user groups by how they churn:
Understanding a dating app’s audience from this perspective gives Tinder a much richer picture of where the app needs to adjust its remarketing strategies. Users who fall into the third category may be convinced to restart the app with the right campaign. Meanwhile, users who prefer casual relationships are likely to return after a window that Tinder can measure and estimate.
It’s worth noting, however, that this approach requires a deep understanding of user data. Marketers must precisely segment their user groups and define marketing opportunities to avoid offending users in healthy relationships. For many teams, this requires advertising partners who can surface useful insights from first or third-party data sources and recommend effective remarketing strategies.
Tinder’s marketing strategy helped it become the definitive online match-making experience for two generations. Marketers who wish to replicate its success must begin with word-of-mouth marketing campaigns, gamified app design, and highly-effective brand awareness efforts. The next challenge is to re-engage and re-convert users who wish to return after their initial match-ups.
Looking to increase your app engagement, retention, and revenue? Mobile retargeting might be for you. Get in touch with us to learn how Moloco can halt your app’s churn cycle and bring back your lapsed users.
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