• Angad Chowdhry

How can dating apps leverage new dating trends and attract the right consumer segment?

Updated: Jun 9, 2021

From fairy tales to reality

For a while, ‘‘happily ever after’’ was the most important thing to aim for. After all, Belle fell in love and found happiness with the Beast-Turned-Prince (Beauty and the Beast), Cinderella caught the eye of the most eligible bachelor at the ball (allowing her to change her life, instead of being an unpaid maid to her step-mother and sisters) and finally, Sleeping Beauty was saved by a brave bloke who rode his horse through a scary forest to make sure she wouldn’t ‘‘sleep’’ forever.

But slowly, things have been changing. Anna saved her sister (Frozen) through ‘‘an act of true love’’(an action which showed unconditional, selfless love, leading to breaking the curse and thawing her frozen heart). Rory (Gilmore Girls) rejected her rich-and-handsome boyfriend’s marriage proposal to focus on her career as a journalist. Summer (500 days of Summer) wanted to play the field for as long as possible, only settling down when finding the perfect person for her.

We see that there’s been a shift in how pop culture portrays love and lovers - from having one classic narrative of how a happy ending should look like, to how we see now, a broadening of what an ideal love story looks like, with a whole range of possible plotlines pointing towards happily ever after. So, we decided to investigate people’s views on dating apps, especially how they perceive them during a life-changing pandemic.

By using our proprietary Culture AI, we reviewed hundreds of Reddit posts on dating apps across multiple threads and we were able to identify five main consumer segments and their opinions on finding love.

Here’s what we found:

The five key segments of dating app users:

Quilt’s Reddit data research

Romance Finders:

Almost half of the people on dating apps (49.33%) hope to find a significant other online. Some have always aimed to date intentionally, but for many, the pandemic changed everything. For instance, this one Reddit user shared his current perception of dating:

‘‘I feel the common conversation that comes up (with my friends and friends of friends) is a newfound appreciation for people/connection because of the pandemic...

... Perhaps I’m being too hopeful, but I am optimistic that by summer/fall when things ideally open up more there will be a lot of emotionally available people. People that are looking to make those genuine connections after being deprived of them lol.’’

Earlier, this group took “going out on a date” for granted. Now, with social distancing being key to health (and mortality), they’re being more thoughtful about who they date, the way they date, and ultimately, their need to build emotional connections.

Triggers: video calls, emotional connection, and compatible matches

Some are even initially meeting through Zoom calls, to make sure they find a suitable match before ‘‘hanging out’’ in ‘‘real-life’’. This screening process is becoming increasingly common in the consumer journey, helping users to ‘‘assess’’ potential partners (perhaps in a way that takes much longer than meeting in person right away).

A Tinder report noted that almost 50% of its users had a video call with a match during Covid-19, and two-fifths plan to continue to use this more ‘‘personal’’ tech to get to know others, even when the pandemic is over. A Reddit member shared their thoughts on this experience:

‘‘I had two separate Zoom dates...

...One added funny [stories] at the end, so we could both laugh about his mishaps. I really valued that they took the time to make this for me. And of course I also presented myself via PowerPoint. It was a fun activity throughout lockdown and also a bit insightful to [sum] up my life in only a few slides.’

Others even mentioned how dating apps changed their lives, allowing them to find a partner (surprisingly, during a Covid-19).

Barriers: ghosting, negative experiences, and quantity over quality (matches)

Not every romantic has a positive experience. ‘‘Ghosting’’ bothers a lot of users, making them feel confused about why someone else was engaging in a chat with them in the first place. This unfortunate experience might turn ‘‘Romance Finders’’ into ‘‘The Hopeless’’ sort of consumer, knowing no matter how hard to try, they continue struggling to move things forward.

Brands can avoid this dreadful experience by encouraging their users to date with a goal in mind. Some apps encourage this. For example, Hinge's slogan is ‘‘the app to be deleted’’.

In the long run, a positive experience for this segment matters. They’re not there to match with as many people as possible. They want to find a compatible date, enjoy courtship and initiate a serious relationship. If they’re not having their ‘‘ideal’’ experience, they’ll likely quit the app or switch to another brand.

Fun Seekers:

There are different types of people in this segment. Regardless, they all want to laugh, interact with others for their amusement and, at times, join the ‘‘dating market’’ for the first time in a while.

Triggers: user experience, dating excitement and branding

Some are taking the first steps to put themselves out there (after going through a breakup, being single for a while, experiencing the death of a partner, as well as seeing friends going on dates and desiring to go too), looking forward to enjoying dating or even to create a connection with someone as a friend.

Others simply want to enjoy the dating experience, the thrill of sending an opening text and seeing how the recipient reacts. They want to distract themselves from the hardships of Covid, or life in general, and find dating apps a great source for it. It’s all about feeling amused, entertained, and sometimes, about turning the swiping experience into a social event with housemates.

One way Tinder has been successful in adhering to this fun user experience strategy has been through the way the brand presents itself on social media. They post memes and videos (even partnering up with Award Winner singer Megan Thee Stallion) to claim that, by downloading the app, users will spend their time on something that brings them joy and makes them laugh.

Barriers: lack of match compatibility, boring user experience, and competition (other entertainment sources)

App companies should watch out for user experience (make sure people come back because they fully enjoy the app, the sense of humor of whoever they match - brands can use curated matches to provide this - and the feeling of being distracted from the hardships of reality whenever in the app, perhaps by providing free games whenever users match) to keep consumers’ interest. As an example, people wrote on social media:

Sometimes, the issue comes down to boring conversations with unsuitable people. ‘‘I’ve found that regardless of the questions being boring or not, most women just want to sit there and have the questions asked to them instead of genuinely reciprocating. That can get old fast and it will make me lose interest in continuing the conversation since it seems like most of the burden is placed on me.’’

There are many ways to be entertained during Covid-19: online yoga classes, watching makeup tutorials on social media, picking up new skills through free resources, following YouTube exercise tutorials, so it’s no surprise that people’s attention spans are dwindling even more so now. We have greater choices today but our ability to focus is getting increasingly challenged.

The Hopeless:

These people’s expectations (12.67%) are not being met and therefore, they’re either about to give up on online dating or they are lacking the willingness needed to continue their search for love.

Triggers: mindful social media communications, curated selections of matches and limited swiping

One way brands can encourage their success, is by providing them with the confidence to face the new obstacles in the dating world (‘‘ghosting’’, ‘‘zombieing’’, ‘‘breadcrumbing’’, ‘‘cricketing’’, ‘‘fauxbae'ing’’ and much more). The apps can remind users why it’s important to allow personal vulnerability. Some brands already adopted this approach to meet consumers’ demand for greater confidence and guidance.

Another alternative can be encouraging users to ‘‘date meaningfully’’. Some apps prefer to restrict people’s matches; Badoo and Coffee Meets Bagel, for instance, provide a curated selection of potential dates, compatible with the user’s taste. This helps users to have a better experience, match with more compatible people and avoid endlessly swiping.

Barriers: struggle to ‘‘match’’, lack of safety, ‘‘scary’’ online trends (‘‘ghosting’’, ‘‘zombieing’’, ‘‘breadcrumbing’’, ‘‘cricketing’’ and ‘‘fauxbae'ing’’).

Among “The Hopeless” are people that struggle to even match with someone else. This segment expresses anxieties related to getting older and the woes of dating while in their 30s. They occasionally get a match, and they perceive the dating app users’ quantity as small. Finally, this group experiences disappointment with these challenges, as it makes them feel as if they’re no longer suitable for the apps’ dating scene.

While it was easy for this segment to get matches in their teens and twenties, they find it much harder to find a match now. Disappointed, they feel that the online dating system does not work for them.

Another group, in this segment, were women that expressed their disappointment with men’s online behavior. Sexual harassment, vulgar comments and, the feeling of entitlement of some men on dating apps put them off of online dates.

Tinder recently announced they’ll soon allow users to run background checks, so they can ensure their safety. However, such a service will only be provided for a price. Those, who might not have the means to afford this feature, may end up looking for another app in which they can feel safe.

Females are more worried about their safety. In addition to the female fear of harassment, sexual violence, and murder, minorities worry about racist attacks, and trans women feel scared they might suffer physical aggression, as soon as they reveal their biological sex to whoever they’re on a date with.

Other types of groups in this segment are tired of being ghosted and seeing their investment in online relationships going nowhere. As seen on Reddit, people are finding that, despite putting in a lot of effort (engaging in conversations for a long time or even taking the initiative to start a chat), often, their matches suddenly disappear, without an explanation or a simple farewell, goodbye.

They feel confused as people who disappear seemed to have invested some time and thoughtfulness in their text messages (e.g. sharing about their adventures traveling abroad, how they finally met a distant relative), yet go silent out of the blue.

These users look for consistency to invest in potential partners. They are tired of small talk. All they want is to find someone who is emotionally available, to give a relationship a chance. Unfortunately, these consumers use dating apps with high expectations, which often results in disappointment. They need guidance (apps’ social media communications) to change their mindset and understand that while they may find the ‘‘suitable one’’, they may also end up texting someone who’s using the app only to pass the time.

Many of them have changed their views on dating apps, after facing disappointment. They used to be hopeless romantics, now they’re super hopeless and less romantic.

‘IRL’’ people:

These might be one of the most challenging segments for dating companies. There are two types of ‘‘IRL’’ (in real life) people: the ones that think that meeting online, yet seeing the other face-to-face early on is a priority and, those who perceive meeting someone in ‘‘real-life’’ (without any help of social media apps) as the way to go.

Triggers: a variety of relationships offered (friendship, professional and romantic) and positive initial experience

Offering options such as ‘‘friendships’’, like Bumble’s ‘‘BFF mode’’, may allow people to digest the idea of online dating. Suppose they get to have a positive experience by simply making friends or acquaintances. In that case, they can play games online (e.g., chess) or visit new places (especially if one of them just moved to the area). Such experience might make them wonder whether they should also give dating a shot.

Barriers: pandemic restrictions, technophobia, and socially distanced experience in comparison to ‘‘IRL’’ dating

This segment has decided that they won't try to date until the Covid-19 situation is under control; when they can go out and get coffee with a date, without being required to wear a mask or constantly use hand sanitizers. They are willing to wait until this day.

Others have a highly negative view of these types of apps, they’re fearful technology will have more and more influence on their lives. One user said, ‘‘[we] will end up like that movie Surrogates, where no one goes outside IRL’’.

Unsurprisingly, there are various concerns about dating. Some might be temporary (e.g. covid restrictions, fear of contamination, necessity to wear a mask on dates), while others show their dystopian views on future dating trends (e.g. people’s urge to find someone online, as opposed to ‘‘in real life’’), and how technology may be controlling every aspect of their lives. At last, they want to be the ones in charge of their destiny.

It’s undeniable that online dating has its limitations and for this reason, many don’t think that the current technology is enough, at least when it comes to finding the one (e.g. ‘‘I can zoom into the idea a bit due to distance, time-constraints and safety reasons… But ultimately, I’d have wanted those first moments of interaction to be in-person! To understand the vibe in its entirety …People can be too comfortable and portray themselves and their intentions differently over video/social media... Potentially leading to disaster when you meet them”).

In conclusion, they’re averse to tech because one cannot fully understand someone’s true intentions and attitudes just through video calls or text.

Serial daters:

They’re only 6.67% of the whole segment. The numbers may seem small (probably due to Covid fears of contamination and the consequences of breaking social distancing rules), but they’re ‘‘here for a good time, not a long time’’. They want to engage in comic behavior (that is facetious, ironic, or sarcastic), meet as many people as possible, and enjoy their one-night stands.

Triggers: sex-positive brand image and large dating pool in the app (as many daters available as possible)

To appeal to this segment, dating apps must ensure they’re seen as playful, modern and bold. Grindr’s Instagram feed, as an example, truly reflects a brand with these liberal, sex-positive values.

One user explained how dating works for them: ‘‘talking to ten other guys, probably dating 3 or 4 of them, then I decide I really like one of them so I just drop everyone else.. actually the guy I’m dating now, we matched back in January and were messaging but hadn’t met yet and then I got kind of serious with this other guy so I deleted tinder and forgot about him, then I messaged him again like 4 months later and we ended up dating.’’ They ‘‘go with the flow’’.

Brands must provide as many potential dates as possible for this segment (rewarding them by allowing these users to match with others that might be in another continent, to show they appreciate their multiple swipes, video calls in the apps, and perhaps, even the time they spend texting others). Such a strategy would certainly ‘‘keep them keen’’.

Barriers: struggle to match, different goals than other users and avoidance of emotional connection

This group tends to focus on looks over personality, which may transform their online dating experience into a chase for attractive singles. They may have high beauty standards (influenced by the celebrity images in the media), which as a result, may turn the matching process into a difficult one.

Also, as they’re only looking for hookups, their intentions are different from several other users on dating apps (especially now that many are looking to date intentionally). Similarly, many people want to build meaningful connections, something which this group is trying as hard as possible to avoid, as they tend to be emotionally detached.

Dating apps should show (through communications) that it’s okay to date for fun and that other users are also looking for the same things that they’re interested in.

Key Takeaways:

1) Pandemic trends may last:

Covid is changing who we date and how we date. Companies should keep up with these changing trends to stay relevant in what some call a competitive market.

2) Emotional connections:

More than ever, people feel the need to bond and build meaningful connections with others. Ensuring that the communications (e.g. Instagram) also targets this kind of customer should be a priority. After all, many may find their lifetime partner through a dating app.

3) Safety matters:

User safety might become a USP soon. Tinder already announced its background check service and other brands, to stay relevant, should follow, aiming to meet consumers’ demand.

4) Watch out for ‘‘the hopeless’’:

Although they are not the largest consumer segment, they’re still a significant group to target. They’re keen to date, they’re just feeling disappointed with their previous experiences.

Brands must communicate in a motivational, yet realistic way, to this audience through Instagram posts and even TikTok videos, letting them know that not every experience will be positive, but some will be, which makes online dating worth giving a shot. Apps can collaborate with influencers, telling them to share their heartbreak experiences and how they recovered, to serve as an inspiration to this segment to go back to the online dating scene with a positive yet realistic mindset.

5) Prioritizing user experience, should be a ‘‘must’’ for dating app companies:

When thinking of ‘‘fun-seekers’’ take into account the whole entertainment market (such as; YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus, Spotify, and Apple Music). Dating apps are not only fighting between themselves for consumers’ attention but also disputing against streaming services or any other social media website that provides entertainment, like TikTok.

If an individual is having a boring experience (matching and not receiving a reply, engaging in small talks, or feeling no one else has their sense of humor) on a dating app, they’ll leave and replace it with other things they may think are more suitable and entertaining. Apps must fulfill their promise of being fun, spontaneous, and luckily, a tool used by friends during social evenings to enjoy each other’s company, just like they would if they were watching a film.

Write to us at [email protected] for AI-led consumer market research and brand strategy for dating apps.

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