Dynamic Business recently sat down with Jason Chuck, Vice President, International of leading online dating site eHarmony. Here’s what he had to say about online dating, customer-based strategising and international expansion.
eHarmony’s newly appointed Vice President International, Jason Chuck, has always been an entrepreneurial person at heart, and when the opportunity came to build eHarmony in the Asia Pacific region right from scratch, it was an offer he could not refuse.
Since joining eHarmony in 2009, Chuck has overseen the brand’s successful launch into the Australian market, growing the number of registered users to over 1.5 million in five years and turning eHarmony Australia into the company’s most successful international business.
When launching eHarmony in Australia, were there any changes that needed to be made to the US model?
Chuck: The tough thing about online dating is that you need to get a large number of users on board at the same time or else user experience is quite poor. So what’s great about the Australian market is that you can really segment the users.
At first, we decided to launch in Perth only, to understand whether or not the TVCs and the ads from the US, the messaging and the positioning really resonate with people here. Although the feedback was mostly positive, we realised that we need to localise the brand. So we embarked on upon a number of focus groups, user research and a lot of testing on digital channels. We found out pretty early on that, although eHarmony is about long-term relationships, the science, the compatibility indicated that we needed to focus more on the journey (of a relationship) as opposed to just the destination. Parading happy couples on TV was a little too much for Australians, they wanted to understand more about the shared experiences.
But overall, I think our take on media has been quite different. We’ve been quite innovative in terms of how we localise for every metro, every region in Australia. We broke away from the US, probably about a year into our existence, especially when it comes to creative execution. So we film all of our ads locally using local talent and we’ve just been great at doing that cost-effectively for a much smaller market. I think small innovations have a huge impact in the end.
What are some of the main differences between Australians and people from other countries in terms of their dating habits?
Chuck: Every country is different. Before we launched in Australia, we researched local couples and tried to identify and understand nuances because it’s really important to understand the people that you’re targeting and the cultural factors that influence what they value. When I launched eHarmony in Japan, I was amazed with all the cultural nuances. For instance, in Japan, things like your blood type has to be a part of your profile – it’s very important to them the same way people here believe in horoscopes.
In Australia, we researched 400 couples and there were some questions we needed to insert and some questions we needed to remove in order to get a better take on certain personality traits. There were some fundamental human qualities, certain traits, that were common among people here. On a broad generalisation, Aussies prefer more shared experiences with their partners. Whereas in the US, they’re more content with a partner with whom they don’t need to share that many hobbies and experiences with as long as they come home at the end of the day, and are happy in that sense. A lot of it comes down to cultural differences and nuances, and finding out the kind of personality profiles you see more in a country, as opposed to focusing on that culture on its own.
How did you go about marketing and advertising eHarmony in Australia?
Chuck: We’re definitely a marketing-driven organisation. We use both traditional and new media to reach our audience. For instance, we have TV ads, but we also use digital channels such as SEM (Search Engine Marketing), and social networking sites for not only advertising the service but also for building up our network. We found out that a lot of people are curious to learn more about our service and how it has helped people find their lifelong partners, so we invite a lot of our success couples to come onto our Facebook page or Google+ page and share their experiences with people and give people helpful tips as well as hope because for some people the magic happens on the first date, but for others it may take seven or eight dates or six or seven months, or even if doesn’t happen we want them to understand that they can still be great friends.
But overall, we’ve just had a relentless focus on customer experience and we’re making sure that we keep a strong pulse of not just our singles, but also success couples because they’re not only the best marketing channel for us, but also the best feedback channel in terms of what’s working well product-wise, and what we can do better in terms of education. After all, it’s a complicated product and it’s a different process to what people are used to.
So what is the science behind compatibility and how are you incorporating that into eHarmony?
Chuck: It’s really about finding that balance between science and that spark, that magic. The company’s been around for over a decade and we’ve analysed tens of thousands of relationships – not only married couples, but also unmarried couples and just a wide range of relationships because we needed to have a broad spectrum of understanding.
We essentially put these couples through different types of questionnaires to understand what works and what doesn’t in that relationship. And over time, we built what we call our Compatibility Model which is part of our compatibility matching system. The dimensions of compatibility include things like your values, your energy levels, your need for sharing interests, how you resolve conflict and your sexual passions, which we realised are very important for long-term relationships.
When the user joins, we get them to fill out their profile and we compare it to the rest of the users. We pre-filter the user base at the beginning. After that, we have something called the Affinity Model and over the years, we’ve tried to understand the likelihood of communication between two matches. The Affinity Model takes into account your hobbies, your interests, which is not necessarily needed for long-term happiness but it’s going to create that spark a lot faster. So we pre-filter it again on the Affinity scale and we then pass the matches onto you and it’s up to you to choose who you’re attracted to and go on dates to find out who you have chemistry with. At this point, we can only do so much so it’s up to users to take that plunge. But we do try to encourage our users to go out and get coffee and meet the people as fast as they can.
Do you think people are more open to trying online dating these days?
Chuck: The stigma has taken a huge dent from where it was even just 3 or 4 years ago, let alone a decade ago [when eHarmony first came into existence]. As people get older and more comfortable with what the Internet can do for them, they also realise that the online space is full of normal, everyday people who are professionals. They just haven’t met anyone yet. Online dating is just another way of meeting people. It’s an extra tool in a single’s arsenal, essentially.
What other social and cultural changes have impacted the eHarmony model?
Chuck: eHarmony was originally founded by a clinical psychologist who had been analysing couples for 30+ years, and now we have a team psychologists who do the relationship research. They bring couples in and hone in on the compatibility model and are constantly tweaking it. We also have a number of partnerships with universities like Harvard, Oxford, UCLA and we work with the professors there to better understand how relationships are developing as society changes.
We found that marriage, which was a big thing 15 years ago is less of an end destination for a lot of couples these days, and we’re learning about how this may affect the relationship in terms of commitment. So we’re constantly trying to evolve and make sure that our compatibility models adapt to society. You also see a lot more of interracial relationships today and we’re researching how that may impact the relationship dynamic.
We also have a lot of machine learning in the background that is constantly analysing users’ actions on the site to help predict the Affinity side of things, in terms of what’s going to drive people to have more conversations, to take a leap and reach out to their matches.
What does the future hold for eHarmony in Australia?
Chuck: While Australia has been doing quite well, the dating market is one that is always replenishing itself. There’s always a different group using online dating services, so you can’t really rest on your laws. For us, it’s important that we keep improving the user experience as society evolves.
Right now, mobile technology is a big thing and we’re trying to understand how to leverage all of the features on a mobile device to the best use of our product, because at the end of the day we also don’t want to be too creepy and we don’t want to promote friday night flings like you often see on mobile dating applications. But a lot of our users would find it handy to have a mobile app they could use to chat with their matches. One of the products we have on the desktop is called Secure Call which allows you to telephone your matches without giving away your phone number, so maybe in the future we could turn that into video chat without giving away too much information.