How consistency helped Bumble diversify

Bumble’s VP EMEA and APAC marketing Naomi Walkland explains how the female-first dating app kept the brand focused on its core proposition even as it diversified into new products and territories.

A still from Bumble's 2023 My Love Is Black Love campaignBumble has always had a unique proposition. When the dating app launched in late 2014 it did so with a strong differentiator – that the women on the app had to make the first move. That female-first approach set it apart from the majority of dating apps on the market and, according to its VP of marketing for EMEA and APAC, Naomi Walkland, this is key as it continues to diversity into new product areas and markets.

Since entering the market Bumble has added 58 million active users and launched into a variety of new territories across North America, Europe and India. The company has more than 3.6 million paying users across its apps, according to its most recent report. Walkland told attendees at The Marketing Society’s Global Conference 2023 today (14 November) that, despite that growth, the brand has never lost sight of its core differentiator.

She attributed that to the impact of its founder Whitney Wolfe Herd’s background in marketing roles:

“Our founder is a CMO. [She] started as a marketer, which [provides] a real advantage just having someone who understands the brand and the purpose. Having Whitney lead the organisation has meant that we’ve got a really clear branding narrative,” she said.

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Wolfe Herd has this month (November) stepped away from the CEO role at the company, taking up the role of executive chair while Slack CEO Lidiane Jones is taking over the CEO role. In the announcement, Wolfe Herd said those move would allow her to “get back to my founder roots and bring immense passion and focus to this next chapter of growth”.

However, shares in Bumble have fallen around 80 per cent since its 2021 initial public offering as a result of missed earnings. It means that the company’s need to find new growth areas is acute – and Walkland says its laser-focused on its users is the basis of that future growth.

Wolfe Herd’s founder-marketer mentality, Walkland said, means that Bumble has always had a focus upon its users’ safety, and has continued to double down on those safety features as it has grown.

The app now uses AI to detect unsolicited images sent by male users that are a perennial problem on many dating apps. Walkland explained: “We knew that was a real problem for a lot of women in our community. So that feature leveraging AI allows the recipient to choose whether they want to view or not see that image as well.”

She also confirmed that as the brand moves into 2024, it is putting “a lot of resources and investment” behind those safety-minded AI tools.

So by continuing to invest in technology, the team has built upon Bumble’s core proposition of empowering women in the online dating space.

Returning to consistency, Walkland explained that it wasn’t just about brand narrative but a consistent focus on users, backed by market research, said Walkland, that has enabled it diversify its product portfolio in a more confident way.

Walkland referred to Wolfe Herd’s approach again, stating: “I’ve often been in meetings with her where she’s like “let’s go bigger and let’s dream bigger”. And I think as a result, it’s also allowed a really customer centred approach”.

Growth from a single proposition

For example, earlier this year Bumble launched a standalone app version of its BFF service. ‘Bumble For Friends’ is designed to connect its users platonically, whether to find flatmates or simply like-minded individuals for friendship.

Walkland said the launch was based upon its own understanding of its users combined with the unwavering focus on its own core purpose: “Over the last year, which many of you will be familiar with, there’s just been a really big loneliness epidemic. And we’ve noticed that there’s been such a desire for connection: half of 18 to 24 year olds actually see platonic relationships as more important than romantic.”

We’re probably one of the only dating apps where people feel really happy to see people wearing our hats and our jumpers

Naomi Walkland, VP EMEA and APAC marketing, Bumble

Walkland stated that a focus upon serving the Bumble community is vital for growing the brand in the competitive world of online dating apps: “We know that the only way to drive great market share is by generating word of mouth and by having people tell positive stories” of their experiences with the brand.

That, she argued, would not be possible if Bumble deviated from its core proposition as users would then not buy into its purpose and mission.

She also stated that its goal of generating word of mouth has been aided by partnerships with brands, which she said match Bumble’s values. She cited its partnership this year with health and fitness brand Gymshark – in which users could identify matches based on workout and fitness preferences – as an example of one of those tie-ups.

Commercial and moral imperatives

Walkland argued that it is because of that laser focus upon the core of the brand as determined by Wolfe Herd that Bumble has been able to launch other commercial endeavours. Success in that area, she said, is predicated on the goodwill felt towards the brand. She noted that “we’re probably one of the only dating apps where people feel really happy to see people wearing our hats and our jumpers, because they want to be part of the community that we’re creating as well”.

Improving the diversity of people both on the app and in its marketing is part of that community mission. Walkland explained that it is a particular focus for her, both as a commercial imperative and a moral goal: “Diversity and inclusion is so paramount and aligns very clearly with the values of Bumble and what we strive to do.”

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She pointed to the brand’s My Love Is Black Love campaign, now entering its fourth year, as an example of one of those drives that has become “so synonymous” with the platform. The ad accompanying that refreshed campaign, launched last week (9 November), features a number of Black women discussing and debunking some stereotypes they have faced while online dating.

Walkland said that campaigns of that kind call back to that core proposition of empowering women even as it moves the perception of the brand forward. She said: “Bumble’s mission is really creating connections and fostering a great empowering space to do so.”