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Lovable Marketing Lessons from eHarmony's First-Year CEO

Posted on 12.11.2017

Chances are you've heard of eHarmony - maybe even tried it - but comparisons between its business initiatives and yours were likely never made.

grant-largeThe truth is, eHarmony has faced similar challenges as most organizations (e.g., acquiring, earning, developing, changing), but on a public stage and with sophisticated, yet likely under-appreciated technology powering users' experiences.

Website Magazine recently spoke with eHarmony CEO Grant Langston (pictured) to learn about their marketing wins and losses and marry them with takeaways for your organization. 

Look Outward for Revenue Opportunities

When Langston took over for the near-iconic Dr. Neil Clark Warren (see image) in 2016, it would not be unfathomable that the online matchmaking service would start to change as the face of the organization (Warren) would retire (again).

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In some ways eHarmony has changed in the past year (more on that soon) and in others it has remained steadfast to its original mission.

“The thing I love most about eHaromy is the mission of the company is non-negotiable,” said Langston via phone call. “We are about helping people find enduring love.”

While Langston, who started with eHarmony as a writer in 2000, asserts the organization is “laser focused on that goal,” it is not only enduring love eHarmony is helping people find but also relationships in other parts of their lives as well. Experts at compatibility, the company launched Elevated Careers in 2016 to create algorithms pairing employees and employers. By June 2017, eHarmony sold Elevated Careers. Since Langston likes the idea of solving problems for other industries, more companies will likely be launched.

“You can imagine matching patients and doctors is a very important function and value,” said Langston.

eHarmony has also talked with some companies in the finance industry, and Langston thinks his company can do a better job at matching students and colleges than other attempts that have not be “very good.” eHarmony is adapting and selling something they already have (matchmaking technology) to industries that need it, which is creating uncontested market space.

Takeaway: Organizations should consider how their technology, products or services can align with complementary companies or industries. For example, it took some smart and brave people to start connecting clothing and shoes to fitness trackers, mobile apps and more as apparel has been fixed to date. Visionary and viable brands look for complementary products and partnerships to pair their offerings and gain wider market share.

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(Image Source, Forbes)

Listen to Customers

When eHarmony launched in 2000, users had very low expectations for their online experiences. For perspective, people were only beginning (although rapidly) to switch to high-speed Internet from their dial-up connections. So when eHarmony launched and did not let people look at pictures when they first communicated with potential matches, it was not as laughable as it is today. Seventeen years later, users expect channels – be it a website or an app – to work flawlessly and intuitively (like being able to see pictures of someone they may potentially spend their life with). To meet those needs, Langston advises organizations to stay close to customers.

Some of the worst mistakes eHarmony has made over the years, according to Langston, is thinking they knew better than their users such as pursuing some version of the product that users did not have any interest in.

Takeaway: From qualitative feedback mechanisms like surveys and social monitoring to quantitative feedback mechanisms like website analytics and system dashboards, listening is a requirement in today’s business ecosystem. A new, shinier version of a product is nearby and is likely built on customer demand, so listen up and be willing to change based on what is heard.

Communicate Change Often

eHarmony’s website and apps are drastically different than they were just two years ago, which can present organizational challenges.

“This is a service that has people that are 85 and customers that are 18,” said Langston. “There is not much that 18 and 85 year olds have in common in sort of preferences and feature set. It’s an unfortunately fact of life that if we do something that 25 year olds love than it is guaranteed 65 year olds will hate it.”

Mature audiences may even accept less functionality within eHarmony’s sites and apps for familiarity (like “buttons” being where they have always been). Alternatively as eHarmony slides down the age chart, their audience craves new features. Last year around this time, for example, eHarmony changed a communication tool, which had been an email-style mechanism replaced for a more text or Slack-like messaging capability.

“Predictably, older users were angry, and the explanation that the new way was better didn’t make much progress with them,” said Langston. “Whereas younger users were like ‘finally.’ You can communicate ahead of time which we try to do, I write letters to users [and] do blog posts to help people live with a certain [change].”

Takeaway: Change is inevitable. Website redesigns, new business models and even new leadership will make some audience members uncomfortable. By communicating the changes in steps and across all touchpoints where an audience is active, the backlash may be diminished.

Be Flexible with Advertising

For most of eHarmony’s existence they have been a TV advertiser with 75 percent of users coming through TV ads, but the company has never backed off digital methods either like social media for as long as it has been around. Today, eHarmony has returned to radio in a big way because of satellite and the popularity of podcasting, which allows advertisers to zero in on very targeted audiences. Every channel, however, has its own demographic says Langston and brands need to dial in the creative so it appeals to the people who use the channel.

Takeaway: Advertising channels will come and go. Brands should follow in eHarmony’s footsteps by calculating the lifetime value of a certain segment of its users. With this in hand, advertisers need to be flexible with the channels they use to reach these valuable users and the budget they allocate to acquire these customers with higher lifetime values.

Build Better Relationships

Of the brands Langston talks to, relationship building is something they do not think about enough. He believes there are three steps to building better relationships between brands and audiences.   

Step 1: Want to help people.
Step 2: Measure how much you are helping people: understand the difference you are making in people’s lives.
Step 3: Talk to people; you have to produce content that helps people understand what you are doing and how you are being helpful.

Takeaway: The majority of brands are now using content to explain their products, services and value propositions to audiences with the use of blogs, infographics, whitepapers, videos, studies, surveys and more. Langston's trajectory through eHarmony is through content (remember he started as a writer in 2000). He has always helped explain what eHarmony can help people with. A valuable tool for them and for all marketers is a willingness to communicate with people what they do and why it matters. Why does your company exist? Why are you different? How can you connect your mission to what audiences care about?

Let Employees Share Successes

Stitch Fix has one, so does Pinterest and even eHarmony…they are engineering blogs dedicated to how their systems work.

“It’s not a world I know that much about, but there’s a whole technology community that loves this stuff, our team does too,” said Langston.
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The reason for the blog is two-fold. Langston wants to give eHarmony’s employees a platform to talk about their accomplishments and thoughts with the wider technology world; and they want to share the serious science and big data at work at eHarmony, which helps with recruitment. It is somewhat common in the technology space to use these types of blogs for hiring – as Pinterest’s engineering blog, for example, links right to its career page – but it is almost unheard of outside of tech. Let employees share what we’re working on? Are you crazy? What if competitors see it?

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Takeaway: When employees feel they are contributing to a mission and are allowed to share those successes, they could stay with the company longer and work harder while they are there. What’s more, customers are increasingly wanting to hear from people (just think of peer reviews) over companies, and these employee-ran blogs are a great way to empower employees while powering up marketing reach and effectiveness.

Keep It Simple

eHarmony certainly offers complex back-end technology that is used to fuel easy front-end experiences, but it is a quite simple game for them according to Langston.

“Give people matches that suit them.”

Marketers should consider what their simple end-game is to pair the right content with the right person. What eHarmony does at its core is personalization, using machine learning to understand more about a person to pair them with another person they have also learned more about. In the end, all organizations need to have this ability to make the right connections based on what they know about the person who is using their services or the person who is thinking about using their services as well as what the ideal match is (be it product or person) based on all available information. 

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