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Will Indian youth ‘StepOut’ to drive the online dating market?

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Remember the moth-eaten chat rooms? ‘Online dating’ was picking up pace in India during the dial up era. It lost its relevance when social networking websites entered the market; Hi5, Facebook and Twitter took a toll on the lives of the Indian user. But what now of the dating sites?

Virtual to real
StepOut formerly known as Ignighter founded in 2008, a New York based online dating website came to India in 2011 and in one year claims to establish itself as India’s number one place to meet new people, have fun experiences, and form real life relationships. “We came to India because the market here discovered us and started using our product long before we ever imagined we’d be successful here,” says Adam Sachs, CEO, StepOut. But what is the concept behind this name? Sachs explains that the users certainly find value in meeting new people and chatting with them online. He however, adds, “Our ultimate goal is to encourage users to ‘step out’ into the real world and have fun experiences and make real world relationships.”

Adam Sachs

Adam Sachs, CEO, StepOut

Commenting on the differentiating factor between the Indian site and the one in New York, Sachs says that the site has changed a lot over the past year and a half after conducting months of focus groups, internal research, and studying the usage patterns on the site. “We’ve changed the brand name and positioning away from dating and toward a site that is meant for meeting new people. We’ve built some pioneering technology that helps us ensure that as we scale, we continue to have the same high quality users on the site that we’ve had from day one. We’ve also built fun features like live chat that have really taken off,” he adds.

According to StepOut statistics of August 2012, it has approximately 40 lakh active monthly users and 1.25 lakh to 1.5 lakh new active users every month. With 70 lakh chats messages exchanged the site has a male-female ratio of 80:20 and a monthly ratio of 75:25. While 95 per cent of the users are of the age bracket of 18 to 30 years, 20 per cent of the total users are women.

Pegging it right
How does StepOut position itself in the market in relation to its TG? Sachs explains that the cultural demographics in India are shifting rapidly creating a really exciting gap in the Indian online market. He says that, young Indians are getting married later than ever before. “The arranged marriage rate is lower than it’s ever been. On average, urban Indians have six relationships before they decide to settle down for marriage. There’s now a six to 10 year gap from the time that Indians graduate from college and ultimately get married. That group is massive, internet savvy, and working. Those are our users,” he appends.

Based in Mumbai, StepOut has no hard core communication strategy but claims to be focusing at word of mouth. “Press combined with a constantly improving user experience helps to ensure that we’re getting good word of mouth,” says Sachs. He explains that 60 per cent of the users are from the top six cities in India; four Metros, Hyderabad and Bangalore. StepOut statistics also claims that it adds approximately 10 lakh unique visitors to the site each month and has over 3 crore monthly page views.

Social networking vs socialising
StepOut’s Sachs claims that Facebook is a great tool for connecting with people one already knows. StepOut, on the other hand, is the market leader for meeting with new people. “I love Facebook and I use it all the time, but my grandparents are on Facebook. I don’t want to mix my world of meeting new people with my grandparents,” he adds.

Anand Jaiswal, Professor Marketing IIM Ahmadabad says that there is a change in the Indian environment, a sense of westernisation in most of the spheres of life. “Gradually these things are expected to come into the Indian market. Dating sites are quite popular to my knowledge in several developed markets so that is the source of optimism,” he adds.

But he says, at the same time, social media that has completely penetrated the Indian market, has filled up the gap that is existing with this kind of social need. Jaiswal feels that the social sensibilities are also to be kept in mind so that they are in sync with Indian values and will have to go through a long process to become a hub. Openly scouting for dating partners is a metro or big city phenomenon.” It is something that you cannot easily see in Tier III or smaller towns,” he adds.

Bright or bleak future?
The website is focused at online ads like SEM and display as of now and is testing the waters for more. But how responsive is today’s youth to the chat room concept? “StepOut offers a live chat feature, but it’s not so much a chat room as a one-to-one chat, more closely akin to an instant message or Facebook Chat,” says Sachs.

Long story short, will this platform really be able to make an impact on the internet users? Will it really be able to come up to the mark as Facebook or Hi5 have? Or will it toil with the fact that, like the country, it is also suffering with a low male-female ratio, for a site pegged at developing ‘real’ relationships. Only time will tell.

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