"Some people have unrealistic expectations of the wireless data market," notes Jeff Rudluff, VP New Product Development Match.com.
In fact when Rudluff spearheaded Match.com's February 2003 launch MatchMobile for the US marketplace, he found one of his biggest initial challenges was "tempering expectations. It was hard working with other people's grandiose expectations. This is still an evolving industry and people don't quite get that."
We asked Rudluff to detail how the launch worked, and what he learned from it:
-> How MatchMobile works (See link below for screenshots)
Match.com decided to keep the offering separate from its regular online service. It shares the brand name, but not the member database, positioning, or pricing. It's really a separate offering all-around.
If your wireless account is from AT&T (or Cingular as of Feb 2004), you get the option to join MatchMobile for free. At first the entire service was free for 30-days, just to get things started. Then, MatchMobile switched to a model very much like the regular Match.com: you can enter a profile of yourself in the system, you can surf others' profiles, and you can get beeped with regular updates about new profiles in your area ... but you can't contact other members (via a privacy-protected text-messaging system) unless you pay a monthly subscription fee.
Your fee appears as a charge on your regular wireless phone bill. Rather than building their own system, Match.com outsourced payment processing (link to provider below.) "We think this is the smartest way to get into these emerging technologies," Rudluff says. "We leverage the brand and have a lot of development partners."
-> Why WAP rules over SMS
Rudluff is strongly in favor of WAP applications (where the wireless phone pulls information from the Web) rather than SMS text-messaging, especially now that phones with cameras and graphic capabilities are coming onto the marketplace. Which makes sense, given how important a part photos play in Match.com's appeal.
Plus, "SMS has some text limitations. Theoretically so does WAP, but it's much larger than SMS message sizes." While typing a message is laborious enough that Rudluff doesn't expect users to send very long ones, it's good to know they're not hampered unnecessarily.
-> Assume a young male adult demographic
As we mentioned in our article on Match.com last week (link below), the services demographics hold steady across all the countries the service is offered in. Web-based subscribers are generally 28-45 year olds seeking "serious" relationships. The split is 60/40, men/women.
However, Rudluff suspected mobile subscribers might break all the demographic rules.
"It's a little hard to have a really serious message when you're thumbing through your phone. It's new technology, it's fun, it's flirty. People who are younger are really driven to it." Plus, because of the gadget-factor, he suspected young men would be more likely to join early on than young women would be.
-> Price it so low it doesn't stick out too much on phone bills
"When you get something to $9-10, the telcos start to get a little uneasy about wanting to put it on a phone bill," says Rudluff.
Besides, since the service had a lighter "flirty" purpose than finding a lifelong mate, less content (profiles are abbreviated to fit on the screen more easily), and was shooting for a younger demographic with presumably less income than the typical Match.com subscriber, the launch team decided to set the pricing at $4.95 per month. (Regular Match.com subscriptions are between $10-24.95 per month with the average user spending $18.)
"It's very affordable. Most game downloads are less than $5. It's kind of innocuous on your wireless bill," says Rudluff.
-> Test TV Commercial-style creative instead of lots of text
"Nobody wants to sit and read a big long Web site that explains how the whole thing works," says Rudluff. Since MatchMobile was all about being fun and easy, the landing page for sign-ups had to be easy too.
So, the creative team put together a 1:20 minute TV-commercial look-alike that plays on command on the home page. Instead of a boring step-by-step presentation showing how the system works, it's a little movie showing a 20-something guy who's hanging out waiting in an office lobby. To fight boredom he pulls out his cell phone and plays on the MatchMobile system, flirting with a pretty female MatchMobile member.
"People like to watch it," Rudluff says.
-> First year results data
As of December 31st 2003, just over 30,000 US consumers had entered free profiles in the system, and the number was growing by 300 per day. The system was receiving 65,000 requests per day for logins, chats and queries. Although Match.com won't reveal exact paid subscriber numbers, they did say the paid subscribers send an average of 2,500 messages per day to profiled members.
Rudluff also noted that so far average paid subscriber lifetime is "as long or longer" than the traditional online membership, which makes sense given the far lower price-point.
Most new paying members convert on days when they receive beeps about new member profiles in their area. (Members can choose whether they'd like to be beeped with up to five new local members' profiles once a day, three times a week, or once a week. Three times a week is the most popular option.)
Current demographics are "young, hip, fun." 81% are under 35, 72% are male. Compared to average Internet users, MatchMobile users are:
- 108% more likely to have downloaded a music MP3 file in the past 24 hours
- 107% more likely to use instant messaging most days
- 80% more likely to have bought a cell phone online in the past six months
Match.com's PR specialist Kirby Prawdzik told us to expect the mobile numbers to continue to grow rapidly, but that it takes a long time to get started at first. "It took us seven months from February 2003 to September to reach the 10,000-user mark. Then 30 days after that we went to 20,000; and, in another 45 days we were past 30,000. It's exponential growth."
So, while it may not be big money now, things are looking very good for someday.
-> Useful links related to this article
Screenshots of MatchMobile user-screens:
Infospace's Moviso which powers MatchMobile's billing:
Mobile Marketing Association - useful info including "Code of Conduct"
Last week's article on Match.com's regular online sub sales:
IAC/InterActiveCorp (Nasdaq: IACI) which owns Match.com: