How challenger Indian brand Aisle is trying to make dating locally relevant
In a world crowded with Tinder and Bumble, India-born dating site Aisle wants to be the ‘high-intent dating app’ that has been built keeping Indian sensitivities in mind. In an exclusive chat, The Drum gets founder-chief exec Able Joseph to share the game plan of the seven-year-old challenger brand as it gets on its journey to create relevant dating solutions for the Indian consumer.
The dating category truths
Dating in India is at an interesting cusp. Rapid urbanization coupled with large consumption of western programming by the younger population has meant many urban Indians are well acquainted with the concept of dating. And yet in India, the generation before millennials had never experienced classic old-school dating, so it is still a new phenomenon for a large universe.
Aisle’s Joseph points out: “An interesting outcome of this phenomenon has been that older generations did not have enough knowledge on dating etiquette to pass on to the next one.”
Another pain point in this space is establishing trust among female users. He adds: “A lot of women in India have had very unsavory dating experiences in the past, which means most are very cautious of the app they choose to find a match on.”
The Aisle solution: make a product fit for Indians
The cultural uniqueness makes India a complex market, even in categories such as love and dating. Joseph says: “Although the entry of western apps warmed people to online dating, they don’t fully match up to Indian dating needs.”
The way love works in India is quite different from other parts of the world and aspects of family, culture and language are missing in the western concept of dating, he points out.
Aisle’s solution for this unique challenge is to build products that are a natural fit for Indians. “With Aisle, we intend to leverage the knowledge of the way Indians approach love to create a trustworthy community of Indian singles who are looking to find meaningful long-term relationships,” says Joseph.
Date with numbers
Aisle completed seven years in 2022, and has built a community of over 7 million members and a consistent position in the top three on revenue charts, shares Joseph.
Recently Info Edge, one of the largest tech public companies in India, behind brands such as Naukri, Jeevansaathi, 99 acres and Shiksha, acquired 76% in the ‘high-intent’ dating company.
Unraveling the ‘high-intent dating app’ positioning
Indians have not been accustomed to dating for generations, and dating sites in India, like in many other parts of the world, are a new phenomenon. Joseph says: “The onset of western dating apps meant the introduction of a hook-up/casual dating culture among Indian singles.” These apps invested millions and successfully captured large mind share, thereby establishing themselves as the only new-age dating apps in India, he adds.
Further in India, it is assumed that the flip side to casual dating is matrimony, whereas the consumer is looking for a solution that is somewhere in between.
The concept of high-intent dating can be simply defined as dating with a specific goal of finding a long-term partner, according to Joseph.
Finding the sweet spot between the dating and matrimonial market
The concept of ‘high-intent’ comes from the gap these apps created in the country, and Aisle intends to find the middle path between casual dating and archaic matrimony services.
According to Joseph: “Aisle does not fall into the same category as most casual dating apps, nor is it a conservative matrimony app – it aims to empower users to independently find a partner and forge long-lasting relationships.”
Talking about the genesis of the brand name, Joseph says: “The name ‘Aisle’ came about because it indicates the closure of the dating phase and brings users closer to something more meaningful and long-term.” Signing up on Aisle is simply the first step in putting an end to your dating life forever.
Brand journey and evolution
When launched initially, the brand’s tagline was ‘designed for romance’ in accordance with its early positioning around selling the concept of romance and love. As Aisle grew, it was realized that a large majority perceived ‘swipe-type’ dating to be the only form of dating in India, shares Joseph.
Thus, there was a shift to the current position, ‘nothing casual about this dating app,’ to push out awareness of Aisle’s differentiated offering.
The brand recently launched its new campaign, titled ‘Real Dating App,’ to redefine dating and change the perception between casual dating apps and high-intent dating apps.
Post-pandemic learnings and brand pivot
For most categories, the pandemic created a radical shift in the way the ecosystem functioned, and most faced a rather uncertain landscape. Due to the nature of the pandemic, meeting in person became an unsure offering, which also meant Aisle had to put an abrupt end to its new ventures such as Jalebi, which matched users to meet at curated restaurants, and Aisle IRL, an offline-focused speed-dating venture.
The brand did a pivot and saw merit in going regional and local, with its offerings focused on creating a personalized experience for different cultures and regions.
Joseph says: “We found that when users are offered the opportunity to communicate in their native language, the platform is accepted with much more ease.”
Taking dating regional and local
Keeping in mind various cultural sentiments, Aisle decided to introduce two vernacular apps – Arike and Anbe – exclusively for Malayalam and Tamil-speaking audiences residing in and out of India. In 2021 Arike was launched as India’s first vernacular dating app for Malayali singles – a first of its kind.
The idea was to remove the barriers of region and language and give users a greater sense of connection with other individuals, he adds. The suite of apps, starting from the name right down to the user experience (UX), is personalized to fit different cultural experiences.
While it is expanding its footprint with Aisle in most metro cities in India, it is also adding consumers with the vernacular apps for Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu-speaking audiences.
Joseph says: “At Aisle, we wish to build something so customized that global industry giants will be torn between whether to build for India or continue to focus on existing markets with a higher return in the short run.”
The suite of vernacular apps is a moat Aisle is building that foreign apps with larger funding may never be able to climb over, he concludes.