What Marketers Can Learn From TikTok and Dating Apps About Loyal Customer Relationships

Brands must focus more on the 'why' than the 'what'


Over the next five years, the global marketing industry is forecasted to grow by 19%. By 2026 brands are expected to spend $66 billion annually on data, technology and new analytical approaches to convert shoppers into buyers, up from $27 billion in 2021.

This conversion funnel obsession has inadvertently confounded brand marketer’s single most important goal: creating enduring relationships with their best consumers. Think about the barrage of re-marketing campaigns that hit you when you considered buying cowboy boots: weeks of banner ads and emails trying to convince you to buy Justin, Lucchese and Corral cowboy boots in black, brown or tan.

For loyal consumers, this modern junk mail and digital harassment likely turned them off, as these brands demonstrated how little they really understood their best customer.

The key to building loyal relationships with a brand’s most valuable customers is to understand how their motivations and preferences drive brand choice, usage and lifetime value. Put simply, companies have been investing in data that reveals what people are doing or might do next, but not why they are doing it.

As digital marketing shifts from conversion craziness to relationship building, how can companies access and operationalize the data upon which true relationships are built?

Look at TikTok’s business model

To start, they can look at online dating and TikTok.

A swipe right on a dating profile is simply much more reflective of who these consumers are.

In the online dating ecosystem, individuals reveal deep insights through their clickstreams. Depending on the particular app or dating site, those looking for a match reveal everything from their sexual orientation to their political views. With this high-resolution data, a dating app could ascertain, for example, that when a 28-year-old woman increased her age preference for the men she was interested in by five years and included those who had previously been married after a series of flops with men her own age, that she was not only motivated to date older men but also likely looking for a more serious relationship.

TikTok is similar. Its business model is to keep users engaged for as many hours as possible by serving increasingly relevant content based on preferences discerned from the videos they watch. TikTok builds out user profiles rooted in viewer preferences directly revealed from high-resolution behaviors, often delivering content users wouldn’t have found just by following their friends.

Acknowledge the power behind the swipe

It isn’t that online dating apps and websites and TikTok aren’t making decisions based on clicks, like other brands are. But their personalized recommendation models are trained on clickstream data that explicitly underpins the preferences and motivations they are seeking to understand, in a way that a click on an ad for cowboy boots on Instagram does not.

A swipe right on a dating profile is simply much more reflective of who these consumers are. This allows these companies to effectively predict what their audience wants next, building deeper customer relationships and a more loyal, more profitable customer base.

So how can credit card marketers or home goods retailers, whose businesses are not based on high-resolution behavioral data like Tinder and TikTok, make the leap to discern preferences and motivations?

Just as an online dating website uses every swipe and match to extrapolate composite profiles, digital marketers in industries from financial services to consumer technology can build deeper customer relationships through emerging methodologies that quantitatively define personas. These techniques combine survey, behavioral and transactional data with advanced analytics to discover clusters based on how consumers’ underlying motivations and preferences drive their economic behavior (brand choice, frequency, price sensitivity, etc.).

Systematically understanding consumers’ motivations and preferences at scale will allow all digital marketers to make the next big leap toward greater personal relevance, more enduring customer loyalty and enhanced customer lifetime value.