Special guest post by Jeff Copeland, owner of Simple Weddings and Tampa Bay Search.
I’m a marketing guy, and I’m also a wedding vendor. Sometimes the two complement each other nicely. But the wedding industry is unique in many ways and, frankly, wedding vendors are sometimes better off ignoring traditional marketing and advertising advice aimed at other industries.
Here are five major challenges faced by businesses in the wedding industry and some ways to cope with them:
1) Marketing to a steady stream of new prospects instead of a “cycle” of repeat customers – The wedding industry is unique in that you only get one shot to market to your prospects. Generally speaking, couples only get married once. So, even if they are absolutely thrilled with the service you provided, they aren’t likely to be a repeat customer anytime soon. This fundamental difference from many other industries makes a lot of typical marketing advice null and void, and makes things like email marketing very difficult.
Ways to cope:
- SEO – Increasingly, today’s brides and grooms aren’t picking up the yellow pages or watching many television commercials. They get their news and entertainment online, and if they need something, they Google (or Bing) it. You have to be there when they search! If you have not invested the time and effort in search engine optimization, you are missing more and more potential customers every day. [Check out my "What the Heck is SEO?" series and "How Google Instant Affects SEO and What It Means for Your Website" for more info]
- Social Media – Granted, your wedding clients probably aren’t coming back. But their friends might! That is what makes social media platforms such as Facebook so powerful. If your happy clients “friend” you on Facebook, all of their friends and contacts are introduced to your Facebook profile. Some of them may be in the wedding market soon.
- Reviews – When you shop for something on Amazon, what is the first thing you read about a product? I don’t know about you, but I always scroll down to the customer reviews section before anything else, and it’s often the only thing I read before making a purchase. Your prospects are hungry for feedback from people who have already used your service…feed them! Choose a single, reputable platform (such as Google Places, OneWed, or WeddingWire) to capture all of your customer reviews and make getting these reviews an integral part of your follow-up with clients after their wedding (we have had great success by offering a free gift such as a wedding picture). And most importantly, make these reviews prominent and easy for new prospects to find and read!
- Diversify – Think of some ways you might be able to get your wedding clients to come back or use your skills and equipment for other related opportunities . Family portraits (for photographers), vow renewals, other special events?
2) The long buying cycle – Brides and grooms often have a very long lead time from the time they enter the market until their wedding date. What this means for you as a wedding vendor is brides may be checking out your website, blog, social media presence, and customer reviews a year or more before their wedding day, and possibly months before they even contact you.
Ways to cope:
- Quality content – Give your prospects a reason to keep coming back! If a bride visits your website or blog, saves you to their favorites, then comes back a couple of months later only to find nothing has changed, she probably won’t come back a third time. It’s fine for your website content to be relatively static (as long as it is current and accurate), but you can always add pictures from recent weddings or stream your blog’s RSS feed to your website to keep things fresh.
- Blog – Your blog, on the other hand, needs to have a steady stream of quality fresh content. You should be posting your favorite pictures from your recent weddings, planning tips, advice, and guest posts from industry professionals on a regular basis in order to give your prospects a reason to come back on a regular basis. Remember, if nothing else, time spent looking at your website or blog is time spent staring at your logo!
- Pictures – I can’t stress enough how important it is to have high quality pictures on your website, blog, and social media presence. Brides love pictures. Let me repeat that – BRIDES LOVE PICTURES! And this is one area where the wedding industry has a leg up – If you’re not a wedding photographer, chances are you work with a few on a regular basis. Most would be thrilled to share some of their work with you for display on your website or blog as long as they are credited for the picture.
3) The seasonal nature of bookings, weddings, and cash flow – In most areas, January and February are the busiest time of year for wedding inquiries and new bookings (people tend to get engaged over the holidays and start their wedding planning after the first of the year). Unfortunately, the holidays and the beginning of the year also tend to be the slowest time of year for actual weddings – meaning your cash flow is probably at it’s lowest at the very time you need to be out there advertising to new brides!
Ways to cope:
- While it’s sometimes easier said than done, try to save some money and plan your advertising spending for maximum impact. Often, this means spending as much as 50% of your annual advertising budget from January through March in order to lock in those Spring and Summer weddings.
- Consider offering payment plans. Many wedding vendors take a deposit when the wedding is booked, then collect the remaining balance on or just before the wedding date. If a couple has six months or more between the time they book and their wedding date, consider letting them make interest free monthly payments in the months leading up to their wedding. This has the double benefit of spreading out your cash flow more equitably throughout the year, and decreasing the likelihood of cancellations.
4) The Economy, Stupid – Every wedding vendor knows that our industry closely follows national economic trends. Let’s face it, many wedding services are “optional” and aren’t absolutely necessary to ensure a beautiful wedding. When the economy goes south, so does wedding spending by brides and grooms-to-be.
Ways to cope:
- Go where the money is - consider offering lower cost alternatives to your typical services or well-conceived discounts to brides on a budget or including more services in your current prices.
- Partner – could you package your services with those of another vendor (or group of vendors) to offer a broader range of services and increase the perceived value to your prospects?
5) Low cost competition – Some segments of the wedding industry have low barriers to entry. Let’s face it, anyone with good organization skills can call themselves a wedding planner, and anyone who can afford a decent camera could conceivably take someone’s wedding pictures.
Ways to cope:
- Educate your prospects and clients – many of your prospects would be shocked to find our how much your equipment cost or how much time you spend on pre- and post- wedding activities. Pull back the veil (no pun intended!) and give them an inside look at how you prepare their wedding venue or edit their wedding pictures [Note: Your blog is the perfect place to do this!]. If your prospects and clients really understand your art, they’ll value it accordingly.
- Build your brand – Imagine you are looking at two rental cars. You have to choose one for your trip, but both are under a cover, and all you can see is the hood ornament. One says Mercedes. The other says Kia. Which one do you choose and why? Obviously, Mercedes is the stronger brand, and (all other things being equal) consumers will choose the trusted brand everytime. Your brand has value. I want to stress that this has nothing to do with your logo, and everything to do with your business model, marketing, copywriting, and reputation. This takes time to build, but it serves as insurance against upstart competition!
- Find your target market – Once you truly understand your target market, the competition dwindles. This is called your unique selling position. Focus on doing one thing and doing it like no one else can. If you are truly unique, there is no competition, is there?
Jeff Copeland and his wife, Claire, own Simple Weddings, an award-winning destination wedding planning company specializing in Florida beach weddings. He also blogs about small business marketing, advertising, and strategic management on The Nifty 150.
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