Surprise Marketing Lessons I Learned From Tinder [Seriously]

Surprise Marketing Lessons I Learned From Tinder [Seriously]

This is the extended version (with gifs!) of an original article that first appeared in the Huffington Post - feel free to click over and give it some love. 

Working in marketing, I often find it hard to turn off that part of my brain.

You know, the part that is hyper aware of being slightly every turn. Whether it’s by brands, businesses and just people in general, from where I stand, marketing is happening all the time, everywhere. Without even knowing it, I’m accusing everyone of having some sort of hidden agenda, trying to persuade me to do their bidding.

Yes, I’m fully admitting I’m a crazy-over-thinker. And maybe that’s probably why this next statement won’t surprise you: I’ve dabbled in some online dating.

Wait. The crazy-over-thinker has trouble dating? Shocker.


But that is neither here nor there. This is not a girl meets boy story. This is about an epiphany I had as a former (very brief) OkCupid user and a more recent Tinder experimenter. Online dating is the perfect analogy for digital marketing. And Tinder (of all things) actually revealed the best marketing principles.

I realize this is not exactly an original idea. Personal branding gets tossed around like kale salad in the digital age. And we all know that when it comes to finding romance, we’re all trying to sell something -- the idea that we’re something special.

But bear with me, I’m warning you now that I’m taking this analogy all. the. way.

The Whole Organic Thing


My journey online started for me when experiential marketing, or as normal people call it, going out just wasn’t yielding the results I was looking for. Whether it was getting dolled up for the bar, flirting at the office watercooler or making eyes at the coffee shop, I was handing out samples of my personality and showing off my wares, but no one was signing up to be a loyal customer (hey, you were all warned). Of course, some people blow experiential marketing out of the water, but it’s time consuming, takes a lot of effort and can be a big financial investment.

With the fear of spinsterhood looming, it was time to try a different strategy.

Tinkering with Technology

So, just like brick-and-mortar stores are increasingly adding e-commerce storefronts to reach a growing market, online daters are creating profiles to shop and showcase on the interwebs. And once I realized accepted John Krasinski was not going to randomly fall in love with me (damn you Emily Blunt!) I thought I’d give the digital get down a whirl.

Turns out, I was just as bad at organic encounters as I was at the whole online dating thing.

The Human Banner Ad

I signed up for an OKCupid account a few years ago, and before I knew it, I was all up in my head trying to figure out how to position myself for a preconceived target market. In essence, I was copywriting and creating a persona for myself (like I had been for clients) in order to bait the type of guy I *thought* I wanted. I played up my wild adventures and played down my lazy Netflix binges. Picked the best pictures I could find and the quippiest quips I could think of. With limited space, it truly felt like I was editing an ad about myself.

It would follow then that on the flipside, I would rifle through profiles and deconstruct every sentence and photo selection to find the same point of manipulation. What’s your deal, cute beardface?

I can remember one profile in particular that included a typical list of likes with bands, movies and activities. Then tossed in there was something like “Oh, and I’m that guy taking his grandma for tea every week.” Come on, dude. I wasn’t born yesterday!


I know what you’re thinking: what’s wrong with a guy taking his adorable grandma out for tea. That’s the sweetest thing ever. Well, what’s wrong with it is that he wants you to think that he’s the sweetest guy ever, he planted that line to make you think that. To me, that’s a red flag. Let me be the judge of that or let your actions in real life prove this. If men were shoes, this guy was trying to be Toms, not Michael Kors.

 All of a sudden, all I could notice was that I was in an inauthentic world of human branding (including my own well-crafted, over reaching profile). I was swimming in a pool of: Captain Adventurers, Ron Burgundy Wannabes, Anti-Hipster Hipsters and Endearing Self-Deprecators.

Oh jeebus, what's a girl to do?

The Tinder Difference

If you're not familiar with the Tinder app, here's the breakdown: Your profile includes up to five photos of your choosing, your first name, age and a tiny, optional tagline.

Tinder then locates other Tinder users in your defined area and starts tossing you matches. You can then begin the most superficial process of swiping right for "oooh, cute" and left for "no thanks!" If both Tinderites swipe right on each other, you can strike up a conversation in the app.

Even though I was still skeptical of meeting a nice guy on this app, at least I felt way less manipulated and manipulative than I did during my first go at technology-assisted merrily swiping I went.

You're So Vain

With every judgmental swipe, I realized something. Putting myself on Tinder was like saying:

Here is my face, do you like it? Yes or no? Ok, cool.

Here's where I made a connection to marketing. Most of the time, you only have a few seconds to catch someone's attention. It's slightly sad, but no less true. We can say we've evolved until we're blue in the face, but we all know the first layer still matters. When marketing your brand, you want to show off your best angle through beautiful design and attention to detail.

Just remember that you can't be all things to all people. So don't take it personal.

Vanity Metrics vs. Qualified Leads


Secondly, clear away the riff raff.

When I was on OKCupid, I was bombarded with unsolicited messages. Don't get me wrong, I don't think it was because I was Miss All That and a Bag of Chips, but mostly because there was no real filtering system. It was an open field and traffic was high but quality was low. Ain't nobody got time for that.

Only being matched by a mutual intrigue (a right swipe) is like the difference between push and inbound marketing. It's an access agreement. A hundred pre-qualified leads are better than 500 randos.

Conversation is the Crux

So you have attention and access, now what?

Crickets or conversation. The choice is yours, but my advice for dating as well as marketing is: go for it. Break the ice. Be awesome. And try being genuine right from the start.

With the exploding use of social media, brands can converse directly with their customers. There will be good, bad and awkward moments and you will feel vulnerable at times. Conversation, however, is the only way to keep that initial spark burning.

Conversions & Call To Actions

Now that you've built a rapport and rhythm, are you ready to take the next step? Whoa, slow down there gutter brains. I'm just talking about going for a drink.

Once you've earned the trust of your audience, find something of value to offer them and see if they bite. Take it slow. It's easy to want to do the hard sell and seal the deal (OK, that innuendo was kind of intended) but if you're looking to build something lasting, make your CTA/intentions clear but try a few baby steps to continue cementing that trust.

Be Bold: Comfort Zone be Damned

Now, here is when we get to high five! Not because I've snagged a great catch and you're suddenly a marketing wizard. We're high-fiving because this is where the fun really begins. There is no resting on your laurels or getting complacent.

Get creative. Take chances. Be different. Be brave.

Play the long game when it comes to marketing (and dating) and treat your customers like special someones. It doesn't have to be complicated to work. Just keep it simple, honest and fun.

Oh, and cheers, Tinder! You've been a wealth of inspiration (and a few weirdos).


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