Brand Love in the Time of Tinder

Thanks to dating apps such as Tinder, relationships are changing, but does that include the ones we form with brands too?

Dating app Tinder doesn’t disclose full statistics, but even some of the available estimates are mind-boggling: some 50m Tinder users every month; more than 1bn profile swipes; more than 12m matches made every day.

If you think about 1bn swipes and 12m matches, that’s a lot of rejections.

We all like to talk about brands and people in the language of human relationships. This is despite there being only a small but illuminating body of evidence to support these human relationship analogies.

But is this right? Shouldn’t we at least ask whether we are out of touch with the reality of these relationships? If people’s power over brands has increased, haven’t these brand relationships changed too? Or were they ever truly human?

Swipe right

‘Generation Tinder’ is a mindset we all need to think about. It’s not just a narrow age group or consumer segment; it’s not just people in their twenties. The Tinder generation prizes ease, accessibility and value over loyalty.

But it’s more than that. The simple choice to swipe left or swipe right is a mindset that people love. Brands must respond to this.

To understand Generation Tinder, brands must understand that people within this bracket don’t always tell the truth. Sometimes they don’t even know the truth of why they do what they do. Research has to change to reflect this. Focus groups can be like bad relationship counselling – we understand fast (put simply, automated) and slow (analytical) thinking, but we rely on research approaches that depend on a slow-thinking response.

Slow-thinking responses are filtered, self-justified and context-dependent. They can’t be trusted. It’s time to use tools and techniques involving social communities, task-based research and neuroscience. This will help us to understand the effects of technology on people – as our presentation on neuroplasticity at the most recent South By South West event in Texas showed.

Many of the brands people believe they have the strongest connection with are those one would expect – but our research found there’s more to the actual relationships.

Many industry commentators would describe the obsessive relationship a lot of people have with Apple, for example, as ‘brand love’. We found more than 35% of respondents actually describe the product as a ‘best friend’; and 55% said that they ‘couldn’t live without’ it.

Meanwhile, EasyJet was described as a ‘friend with benefits’ by more than 70% of respondents. Contrast this with what people said about their brand love for British Airways – while many were professing ‘love’ for the national carrier, they were actually off having a friends-with-benefits relationship with the budget airline.

Our research also studied in-store behaviours in the energy drinks market, using neuroscience to understand the behavioural triggers. We saw how a low-loyalty brand could win over supposedly loyal buyers of a competitor with a cult following. We were able to get people to switch due to pack design changes and in-store messaging, without resorting to price discounting.

So, what did we conclude? Brand love doesn’t always matter as much as we think. Brands often see loyalty as love when it’s really something else. To survive and thrive in this world of changing relationships, brands need to understand where they really sit within these relationship typologies.

Excitement, stress, anxiety and joy

There’s one final point to consider about Tinder: the emotional response of swiping right and matching with someone. People experience excitement, stress, anxiety and joy. That’s four emotions in seconds. This is intoxicating stuff.

It’s no longer just about ease through technology; it’s about how brands are helping us solve problems by simplifying them, but also wrapping them up in the types of emotional responses usually associated with love and loyalty – as well as potentially creating addictive chemical responses in our brains.

Some brands seem to be training people for a new type of loyalty, based on offering super-simplistic life problem-solvers, with deep emotions and chemical responses built in. In turn, this raises the possibility that ideas of ‘brand love’ are dead. Perhaps it’s time to start over.