Positioning of Online Dating Websites - Application of a Brand/Market Oriented Framework

Written by: Ryan Alan

There has been a removal of the social stigma surrounding the use of online dating in recent years. So much so, that Slater (2013) even talks about how the social norms around meeting and dating have been completely redefined in the last couple of years so that dating is inextricably linked with technology and the Internet. Traditionally, online dating was meant for a customer base whose needs were not being sufficiently met under traditional matchmaking methods (Smith, 2005) and perhaps this gives us an insight into why there have been a stigma linked with having a profile on a dating website until a couple of years ago.

With Tinder completely changing the perspective to make online dating into a user friendly type of game, online dating services have become more and more mainstream. With this influx of users to online dating, there has been a massive increase in the number of dating sites. Smith (2005) states that marketing is very easy for online dating websites and services, however, where these services run into difficulty is in attempts to differentiate themselves. In doing this, online dating services need a way of positioning themselves.

With so many dating services on the market, how do they differentiate themselves from one another? I have chosen to use Urde and Koch’s (2014) model of brand versus market positioning in order to answer this question and I have also chosen some relevant literature to apply to this case, considering we are dealing with online brands. This framework is a relevant way of examining online dating services positioning as it takes into account the user’s experience of the brand.



Urde (2014) states that brands can position themselves in an industry based on whether they are brand oriented or market oriented. The orientation of these brands is based on what is the brand’s perspective on its core values. Kapferer (Kapferer, 2012) defines the core values of a brand as those values that the brand has that are unconditional. They are the values whose absence signal that the brand is not a real brand. To use an example, a core value for Volvo would be safety.

If a brand is willing to stick rigidly to its core values, without a willingness to compromise, this brand has positioned itself as brand oriented (Urde & Koch, 2014). The brand is therefore guided by its identity. In the case of online dating services, eHarmony and Match.com serve as examples of sites that have positioned themselves as brand oriented sites. If the brand is willing to allow the market to dictate its core values and is willing to compromise its core values, based on the market, then this brand is considered to be positioned as market oriented. The examples chosen in this case are Tinder and Plenty Of Fish.



It is very clear, from the moment that a user sees the webpage, that eHarmony is a dating service with core values correlating with Christianity. The slogan on the webpage is “From single to soulmate” (eHarmony.com, 2016). Their promise is to match singles that are “spiritually compatible” (eharmony.com, 2016) and it has built its reputation and positioned itself upon this premise. eHarmony not only looks at Christian values as a means of appealing to its target market, but more importantly as a means of steering its marketing strategy. It is clear that, according to Urde and Koch’s (2014) framework that eHarmony is a brand oriented service in this regard.

As mentioned previously, whether a site has positioned itself as market oriented or brand oriented has quite an effect upon the users experience with that brand. eHarmony demonstrated the importance that it places upon its values by refusing to provide its service to the gay and lesbian community . Although this may seem very drastic and quite discriminatory to exclude an entire group of people based on their sexual orientation, especially on a dating website, this is an example of eHarmony showing commitment to its core values of a “Christian” dating website. The brand was willing to be sued rather than compromise its identity (Gupta & Murthda, 2012) as being homosexual goes against what would be considered “traditional” Christian values. This would then risk compromising the Christian core values that eHarmony tries to have as part of its identity.



Similar to eHarmony, Match.com is an example of a brand oriented dating site. Its marketing strategy states that it is operating in the interest of finding the user a partner. The site, like eHarmony operates on the traditional way of online dating that it presumes its users are in the pursuit of a committed and emotionally satisfying relationship (Finkel, et al., 2012). Also, similar to the brand oriented eHarmony, Match.com’s customer base is those whose needs are not properly being met under traditional matchmaking methods. From this, we can see that these two brands are very much based on the traditional perspective of online dating. The brand’s slogan “Love your imperfections” (match.com, 2016) plays off the similar idea of a soul mate presented by eHarmony, although not in a religious context. Match.com implies that there is someone out there like your “other half” who will love the things about you, that you hate. It is interesting to note that the two dating services that are brand oriented, operate under the traditional perspective of online dating, that it is a service in place to work for people that traditional matchmaking failed (Smith, 2005).



Despite the importance of a brand’s identity, Urde (2013) argues that the satisfaction of wants and needs is at the core of marketing. The creators of Tinder wanted to satisfy the needs of the market. Tinder is a more superficial and casual online dating service than eHarmony or Match.com, whose aim is to give their users a partner. Slater (2012) describes Tinder as a platform that encourages matches based on very superficial factors such as photo, an age and interest or two. Tinder is described as a “social lubricant” in this article. The author draws an example of two different cultures. In American culture, it is not as likely for a person to meet and get talking to a person that they would not usually meet on a day to day basis, during a night out. However, this is not the case in Brazil. This is not to suggest that American do not meet new people, it is to suggest that they are not conditioned to meeting new people. With this in mind, Tinder fulfils that gap on the market. People interact on Tinder, that on a day to day basis may cross paths, but the social lubricant is not there for the two to start up a conversation. In line with Urde and Koch’s framework (2014), the creators of Tinder recognised this gap in the market and created an app to fill this gap. They have worked on addressing this gap ever since and with this in mind, Tinder can be described very much as a market oriented brand, in contrast to eHarmony or Match.com.



As already mentioned, Tinder is a market oriented brand, in that its creators are willing to adapt a product so that it would suit what people want. Tinder brought something new to the table when it comes to online dating. The values around meeting and dating have very much transformed and so have our perceptions of online dating (Slater, 2013) and a lot of this is in thanks to Tinder. Tinder provides the online dating market with a totally new perception, that online dating does not have to be taken too seriously. It does this as it is a game like experience for the user (Slater, 2012). Tinder does not operate as if the target market has been let down by traditional matchmaking methods, but actually invites people to take part in a fun game, that has a link with social media. It is clear that the perception is very much different and this allowed for the online dating service to no longer have a stigma. In conjunction with this, many people that are single in their 20’s are on Tinder regardless of whether they are looking for a relationship or not. Brand building is described by McCracken (1993) as an ongoing interaction and negotiation of meanings in a cultural context. In this regard, Tinder negotiated the values people have surrounding social media, and managed to bring online dating into this context in a way that made sense for the user.



With the need to have a Facebook profile to sign into Tinder, this brought innovation to an aspect of the industry which did not exist before. This innovation beyond the familiar, in leveraging social media is what is described as “Enhancing the Playbook” (Barwise & Meehan, 2010). In doing this, and as strange as it may seem on the surface, Tinder actually brought some authenticity to an industry that was forever plagued with a negative social stigma. The connection with Facebook was an effort to show people that there were genuine people playing the game and to cancel out people that may want to exploit, something synonymous previously with online dating sites. From the examples demonstrated, it can be seen that Tinder is a very market oriented brand in comparison to eHarmony and Match.com. Tinder recognised that there was something missing from the market of online dating services and the brand was prepared to be what people wanted it to be, an attribute of a market oriented brand. We have yet to see whether Tinder will sacrifice its brand in order to satisfy the market, a pitfall identified of market oriented brands.



Plenty Of Fish is a free dating site that has the most number of users in the world. It positions itself based on the fact that it offers its users many other possible users to choose from. It does not appear to have any core values which are as quite clear to a user of the service. But as suggested by Young (2013), having access to many potential partners is much better than having access to few or none, and it is quite clear that this is the premise under which Plenty of Fish operates.

Through the perspective of Urde and Koch (2014), Tinder operates under a very much market oriented approach, being whatever the market wants it to be, and acting and reacting accordingly Both eHarmony and Match.com have very clear core values as dating websites. Similar to Tinder, Plenty Of Fish operates under a market oriented perspective in that its offer to its users is quite simple: lots of users to choose from. It does not have a specific goal in making partners of people like Match.com nor, more specifically, making spiritual partners of anyone, like eHarmony.



As pointed out by Urde and Koch (2014) the desires of the customer are of course relevant. However, Kapferer (2008) highlights that the desires of the target market should never steer the development of the brand’s identity as the brand can then be quick to lose what its original appeal was in the market. The online dating market shows no signs of slowing down, so it is important for the brands to look for ways to position themselves. This is in relation to both their brand identity and the market itself. It is too early to say if Tinder or Plenty of Fish are in danger of falling into the trap of losing their brand identity. However, it is an important consideration for online dating sites when making positioning decisions. The perception of online dating has transformed because of this innovating beyond the familiar because it was something that the market wanted. From this, it can be seen that other online dating brands can differentiate themselves by using the resources that are already available to them in a way that was not done before, like Tinder with social media. Now that online dating is in the mainstream, other online dating sites may look to build upon this perspective and perhaps change the perspective again, and may look at leveraging the resources they have as online brands as a means of doing so, just like Tinder did with social media.





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