Which Dating Site Delivers the Love? Match.com vs. eHarmony

Match.com
Unique users per month:
5 million
Revenue: $174.3 million

eHarmony
Unique users per month:
3.8 million
Revenue: estimated $275 million

Valentine’s Day, more than any other day we celebrate, sharpens the divide between the relationship haves and the have–nots. For those who have a special someone, there are chocolates, improbable flower arrangements, and reservations at overpriced restaurants. For those who have not, there are cats, $9 bottles of Merlot, and reinvigorated interest in online dating.

The stigma on relationships that originate online—recall Match.com‘s 2007 reassuring tagline, “It’s OK to look”—has vanished and now there are dating sites for nearly every lifestyle: from cougars to LGBT relationships or hookups to women looking for sugar daddies to the religiously focused. But eHarmony and Match.com remain the mother ships of dating sites, both in terms of revenue, members, and the fact that as dating sites for the masses, neither explicitly resorts to any matchmaking gimmickry.

But an analysis of the marketing creative from both sites, which includes banner ads, TV commercials, social media, blogs, email, and, in the case of eHarmony, a direct mail flier, shows marked differences in these sites’ brand promise.

Ishmael Vasquez (m/30/Richmond), senior strategic brand planner at The Martin Agency, feels that Match.com targets age 20– to 30–something working professionals who are into casual dating. “I’m a working pro, too busy to go out to the bars and clubs,” he says of Match.com’s ideal segment. “If you can set me up with someone, let’s see what happens.” By contrast, eHarmony targets an older audience seeking more committed relationships.

Vasquez’s sentiment is echoed by Cindy Spodek Dickey (f/51/Seattle), president of Radarworks, who, along with her social marketing lead Rachel Roszatycki (f/20s/Seattle), assessed the creative assets of each online dating site. “If we were to sum it up, the key takeaway from Match.com is ‘More is better,’” Spodek Dickey says. “And the key takeaway from eHarmony is ‘Quality over quantity.’” Spodek Dickey signed up for the free trials offered by both sites and built two profiles within each—a 20-something woman and a 50-something woman—to test the sort of messages she’d receive.

“The eHarmony approach to sending you inquiries [from potential suitors] was much better than Match.com’s, which lumps them together into one email,” Spodek Dickey says. EHarmony sent individual emails that were more detail oriented.

Vasquez likes the aesthetics of eHarmony’s email: “It reminds me of something you would get from a Gilt.com, with a beautiful, huge lifestyle photograph,” he says—an element reflective of eHarmony’s brand positioning.

Both Spodek Dickey and Vasquez agree that each company had consistent messaging across all channels, and note that eHarmony’s—perhaps by dint of its promise to provide users with a meaningful relationship—was more mature.

“[EHarmony] is much more real,” Vasquez says, comparing each company’s banner ads. “You can tell they’re not trying to be gimmicky. It feels normal. Especially with the banner: ‘Find the person that’s right for you.’”

Match.com focuses on the attractiveness of its users, posting photos of young men and women in ads enticing users to sign up. “It feels almost like porn,” Vasquez says. “Weird porno, like: ‘Oh, there’s a female in your area. Sign up now.’” Spodek Dickey compares Match.com’s banner ad aesthetic to Petfinder, although she acknowledges that she might not be in its demographic and wonders if there’s something calculated behind the strategy—if these types of ads elicit the best responses.

Yet both Spodek Dickey and Roszatycki still found Match.com’s banner ads distasteful. “Why not make the experience, if not more enjoyable, then less turn-offable,” Spodek Dickey says.

Each site’s blog, however, proved to be a better litmus test, reflecting each analyst’s stage in life. Spodek Dickey appreciated eHarmony’s polished curation. “The Match.com blog had a lot of spammy posts,” she says.

Vasquez’s opinion differs: “Match.com feels much more fresh and warm,” he says. But this is likely because the cultural touchpoints that Match.com’s blog covers—the Twilight series and Justin Bieber—are more relevant to the 30-year-old. He noted that eHarmony’s

blog was “more adult,” with tips from Deepak Chopra, for example. This, of course, is emblematic of each site’s differing target demographic: “I don’t think the Twilight audience cares about Deepak Chopra,” Vasquez says.

Social media further underscores each online dating site’s marketing philosophy. EHarmony, Spodek Dickey points out, has 119,000 fans, with 10,000 interacting—or in Facebook’s parlance, “talking about this.” Match.com has more fans—260,000—but the same number of interactions at 10,000. For Spodek Dickey, this underscores eHarmony’s quality-over-quantity philosophy, although she feels that on Twitter, Match.com does a better job retweeting and responding to individuals.

Additionally, Vasquez gives credit to Match.com’s Facebook app. “It’s an online living, breathing app that’s interactive, so you don’t have to leave Facebook, and it’s much more ingrained with Facebook than eHarmony,” he says.

But Match.com has a notable disadvantage to its on-device app: Its iOS version was pulled by Apple in December 2011 due to its app subscription requirements. Richy Glassberg (m/50/New York), COO at Medialets, says that this is limiting, especially since eHarmony has clearly addressed the cross-platform mobile universe.

Glassberg also appreciates the eHarmony app feature sets more than Match.com’s. “[EHarmony] provides some standout capabilities, like Facebook integration, and offered more guidance for first-time users,” he says. “They also had a video tour of their iPad app, which was helpful. Their Bad Date App, which allows users to set up a fake phone call to ‘rescue’ them from a bad date, is clever.” Nonetheless, Match.com offers a more seamless overall experience, with better image quality, Glassberg explains.

EHarmony, with its clean, uncluttered emails, social media presence, and site design, projects more credibility. It even has a direct mail piece with a discount offer, targeting former subscribers—something that would likely play well with its older demographic. By contrast Match.com promises a fun, yet possibly chaotic, dating life.

Despite these different messages, which service is better? “If I were to pick which one that has a stranglehold on [its] message, eHarmony is doing a better job,” Vasquez says. “They stay on brand the whole time. They understand their audiences’ behavior—especially with [direct mail]—much better,” he adds.

Radarworks’ Spodek Dickey and Roszatycki are each in committed relationships, but both would choose eHarmony over Match. com if they were single. Vasquez, while acknowledging eHarmony’s more mature messaging—“EHarmony doesn’t want to put you in a meat market, unlike Match.com”—would go with Match.com. “That’s because of age and lifestyle,” he says. “But if I want to get married, I’ll go with eHarmony.”

Brand Champion

When it comes to mature, disciplined messaging across multiple channels, eHarmony gets the love over the more freewheeling and occasionally cheap-looking Match.com. EHarmony’s marketing strategy is more sophisticated—incorporating personalized, content-heavy emails, blog posts, and direct mail aimed at reengaging former members. There’s an emphasis on marketing to people, rather than marketing people.

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