Discussing the impact of covid on the industry of love and meaningful relationships is a normal day for Romain Bertrand. He highlights the sheer importance of constant research into customer needs, in order to be agile when change occurs.
The art of communication and the science of love and meaningful relationships is a global business for eharmony. We talk to Romain Bertrand, VP Marketing UK, who’s guided his team through the challenges of covid to ensure that they retained their market position and success.
We’ve seen a number of different phases between March to now. Initially we saw a decline in the last few weeks of March as the priority was clearly for people to focus on their primary needs; their jobs and circumstances. Dating was definitely not top of their list. Then April came around and we saw a big increase in in demand but also at a higher intensity. People are coming to the site more determined to create meaningful relationships. I think people have had to rethink the way they meet other people and find love. We’ve then had to adapt very quickly along the journey and develop new products and communication strategies to accommodate them.
So the main challenge has been actually from the consumer side of things, to go from face to face dating to completely online?
That’s been enormous and I think we’re still watching how things evolve but in the world of online dating, it’s been huge.
Enter the journey of video dating to eharmony …
Yes absolutely. We’ve worked it so it’s totally safe – people don’t need to exchange numbers or skype, they can simply use the video calling within the app and exchange other details when it feels right for them. The average call in the UK is 40 minutes, so I think it will be an hour when it started but now we’ve had thousands and thousands of calls. With hindsight, it feels like it’s something we always should have done which is a definite sign that it was the right move for us.
It’s as if we just produced this whole new social experiment of how people want to meet and find out what people’s priorities are. And you’ve managed to implement all of your findings with your team working from home? No mean feat …
We’re working from home and we’ll be doing so for a good while longer. To be honest, we are a company that trades internationally so we’re used to working with teams that are fairly spread out. In reality, it is not that different. I’m sure people do miss the day-to-day interaction, but in terms of the actual efficiency of how we work, we’ve been using task management tools like for years so everything was already set up for productivity.
How do you how do you go about researching new innovations for eharmony?
We do a lot of qualitative research, for example, one in five people were planning some sort of virtual date so when when covid came along we were actually part way to understanding how behaviours might change. It was doubly interesting for us because we work on a report, The Future of Dating, every year with Imperial College London. It started five or six years ago and I remember back then they had come up with the vision that virtual dating would become a reality. We thought it might be a little bit too clinical, lacking the human side of things, but in fact, we got there much faster than we expected.
Because no two loves are ever the same, does it feel as though every week something new is learnt at eharmony?
It’s a balance of new findings and paring those with our values and methodology which is of course fairly similar. It’s been a huge change becoming part of our new European ownership – new apps, sites and new matching algorithms, so a beautiful restart. However, our London office also started getting involved in emerging markets – in particular the Australian market. It’s been interesting to compare the two different markets.
How do you tackle launching in other countries?
I think we as a brand, attract a slightly different audience, so we have to think about how to adapt to that from a product and a marketing perspective. We then spend a lot of time evaluating what the media landscape is. A plan evolves from that. Any company should follow those steps. We’ve found the UK market, from the marketing and media perspective is really very fierce and competitive, so we’ve had to face a lot of competition here over the years. Whereas the Australian market is a lot smaller and overall we’ve kind of been the market leader for many years. So it’s been interesting to kind of adapt our marketing based on position in the market – whether you’re a market leader, trying to grow the overall market or whether you’re in a bigger market that was in a very competitive set, and having to fight every day for your place.
Do you manage to fuse the computer algorithm of love that you’ve created with softer metrics?
I think that’s the nice thing about working in that space is that you can do the hard business metrics that you’re trying to achieve, but everyday you’re also looking at much softer ones which are really exciting. How many people have been matched, we always track marriages and babies have been born out of eharmony relationships … As a marketeer it’s very exciting to be able to track the effect of your efforts as well.