Covid-19 has slowed us down and reignited the romance of courtship: Anukool Kumar tells BrandSutra

Anukool Kumar, Marketing Director, OkCupid India, talks of dating trends seen during the pandemic, ensuring safety of users of the app, and marketing strategy in future

What have been your key learnings over the course of your career, working with Nearbuy (earlier Groupon), being an entrepreneur for some time, and now at OkCupid?

A question like this makes me look back and realise what a long journey it has been over almost a decade of building and marketing brands that users love. Nothing short of an exciting life! Before I share my learnings, I’d like to share my roots. I come from an engineering background and a business family, so the two things that have been passed over to me by default if I can put it that way are processes and ROI (dhanda!). As a fresher starting out in marketing, these have been my guiding principles. For instance, at OkCupid, whenever a campaign is being planned, I take the time to put a structure in place and ensure a system that tracks ROI to include human capital.

Whether it was in my JD or not, I wanted to do everything and as a result learnt so much more. In my growing career journey, I had a job, opened a cafe with four of my best friends which grew into three cafes and bars, and then a men’s apparel brand NOONOO. The joy of building brands is that you can never get enough of the excitement; I still look for opportunities to diversify my conversations whether that is through entrepreneurial work, engaging with seemingly unrelated departments in a business or seeking a different point of view.

My suggestion to young marketers is: never say NO, especially early in your career. Do everything possible and some of the impossible, and eventually you’ll find your calling. A definite example of this is a true story: when I started my career as a Project Manager to the CEO at Groupon (now Nearbuy), anything coming to his desk, be it sales, finance, marketing or HR, etc, was my priority task as well. We had a warehouse full of products from e-commerce players that was returned or that didn’t pass the quality check. Mostly, the products were intact but packaging was torn. I was given the task to find a buyer for these goods and sell them at a per kg price and free up the occupied space. I took this as an opportunity and went back with an idea of a mystery deal where Groupon consumers can pay Rs 250 and get three items with a minimum value of Rs 1500. This idea resulted in sales of 1000+ mystery boxes in less than a day where we got unexpected but huge press coverage along with the love of our consumers and, of course, free racks in the warehouse!

So my advice to upcoming marketers would be:

1. Process is king - Sometimes, we are so occupied with the thoughts of the outcome that we tend to ignore the importance of the process and learnings that come our way. It is the input that should always matter as it will help one grow followed by the outcome that will definitely result in the input that you have put in.

2. Measure - Don’t do things just to tick them off a list and don’t fall in love with your idea. Measure constantly and reiterate to find what works for your brand- not your personal bias. At OkCupid, we dedicate time every week to measure all that we do. Every Monday at the end of the day, we look at the activities done throughout the week along with the outcome. Doing this allows us to identify trends and scale up or pull the plug on ideas that just don’t cut it- this is what makes us efficient marketers.

3. Be eager- There is so much to learn and always so much more to do. Hence, always be uncomfortable and you’ll be surprised at what all you can achieve.

How have dating trends changed over the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown? What kind of traction have you seen on OKCupid during lockdown?

One of the hardest parts of dating is actually finding your kind with or without a pandemic. The silver lining of COVID-19 has been that it has slowed us down and the focus has shifted back to discovering romance and compatibility with a potential partner through quality of conversations and genuine time spent getting to know each other. This shift away from no-label ‘situationships’ has reignited the romance in courtship. Millennials are rediscovering and defining for themselves what love means to them, what real happy relationships look like and finding someone who believes in their kind of love through OkCupid. In fact, 85% of OkCupid members say it’s important to develop an emotional connection before a physical one, so the switch to slow virtual dates has allowed these emotional connections to thrive. In India, we witnessed a 26% increase in conversations with over 91% millennials still looking to date virtually and find love. During the lockdown, we also gave our users the option of expanding their preferred location to “anywhere”. It was very interesting to observe that women were more likely to expand their preferred location to “anywhere” so they could connect with OkCupid users across borders.

How does OkCupid negotiate competition in the dating apps space? What is its USP? Tell us about new initiatives and features added to make the product relevant in helping users find meaningful matches.

OkCupid was founded in 2004 by Harvard mathematicians who believed in the power of questions to find love, hence most of our technology tools are deeply focused on using algorithms to help connect people. With AI-powered matching based on 3,000 questions at the heart of it, OkCupid is committed to helping users find their kind of meaningful relationship. With every answer, we understand our users better, what they are most interested in talking about and empower them in their quest for meaningful, lasting relationships.

In 2021, a lot of the focus has been on expressing one’s intent to get the vaccine and match with someone who believes in the same science; we've seen a 763% increase in mentions of the vaccine on OkCupid India's bios since March 2021. Hence to make it easier for our users to find a potential match who believes in the benefit of getting vaccinated, we introduced the ‘I’m vaccinated’ badge and stack to help people make informed decisions, especially in their search for love.

As a platform that has always been inclusive, we introduced over 60 identities during Pride Month this year like Bear, Bottom, Butch, Femme, Hard Femme, High Femme, Otter, Boi, Versatile, etc, that allows members of the LGBTQ+ community the option to signal who they are, how they identify and what they want in a partner. Apart from this, users also have the option to choose from over 20 sexual orientations, 22 gender options and the create their own pronouns.

Last year, we had also rolled out our biggest mobile app redesign globally called ‘Stacks’. This new matching system consolidates multiple discovery methods into one, making it easier and fun to find a match who shares similar beliefs, quirks and ideologies. This feature also allows our users to make their own choice and have control over who they could match with. One of the key examples of this was the release of our first-ever global Climate Change Advocate Profile Badge and Stack in the weeks leading up to World Earth Day 2021, which was inspired by dating millennials on OkCupid who are passionate about climate change and believe in being advocates of the same.

How do you address the safety of users on OKCupid? What are the challenges that you face?

At OkCupid, user safety is a key priority. Our approach to safety, built over 15 years, involves a combination of environment, technology, people and user controls. In addition, we have an active human moderation team that supports all daters, along with technology that supports them to monitor for spam and scammers. People choose a dating app like OkCupid specifically for the opportunity to be protected from unsavory conversation - a luxury that is harder to claim IRL. We use robust multilayered tech and human moderation to enforce our zero-tolerance policy. As a dating app committed to helping people find meaningful connections, we foster a community of kindness with no room for bad behaviour.

What will be the main thrust of your marketing strategy, going forward? What are the goals you have set for OKCupid in India?

We understand that building a brand is a slow burning fire, you need to keep giving it oxygen and one day it will light up the way you want. At OkCupid, we rely on processes, trust and delivery of quality for the same. Our marketing strategy is made up of the following:

- Always ON: Keep delivering your brand narrative to your consumers; focus on reach

- Reinforce: Use influencers, content partnerships, and social media to reinforce your brand message (bring spikes)

- Topical: Do occasional stuff and be relevant to the audiences - say what they want to hear whether it is Women's Day, Valentine's Day etc.

- Tone of Voice: Be a part of conversations! It’s important that the brand stands for its values and keeps delivering them via conversations with media and across all other platforms.

- Measure: And then finally measure all of it, if something works, scale, if something doesn’t move on to the next!

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