Interview with Two Bright Lights - Wedding Marketing Done Brilliantly

Monday, September 28, 2009

social media expert for the wedding industry
It's no secret that I get excited about smart businesses and by people who aren't afraid to dream big and push the status quo. Last week I had the pleasure of chatting with Rosalind Bordo (left) and Siri Eklund (right) of Two Bright Lights, and these ladies embody all of the traits above (you can read more on each lady's background here). Two Bright Lights is a new company that aims to help wedding vendors produce beautiful marketing materials while networking with each other to maximize referrals.  Here is my interview with them (we're chatty, so grab a cup of coffee for this one) . . .

What exactly is Two Bright Lights?
The goal of Two Bright Lights is to bring people together to allow synergy between wedding industry professionals in a way that is profitable for them. There are a lot of people using Twitter and Facebook and who are trying to make them work in ways that those platforms are not intended to. We believe that there has to be an exchange of value: a use of images, form of referrals component. That gets to the "wedding marketing done brilliantly" - the idea is to provide people who may not have the tools for marketing to be able to make beautiful customized marketing materials that allow them to customize their own work.

Two Bright Lights integrates with existing social media. We think Facebook and Twitter are great tools for what they are, and that they are complimentary to what we have.  We are creating a business-to-business community. Two Bright Lights is for vendors only, so brides cannot log on and use it. It is really a vehicle that allows for that transfer of value between vendors.  The main value our software has is in image sharing and referrals - it is much more utilitarian in terms of exchanging that value.

Photographers will be able to upload all the photos from a wedding and enter all the information about it - the bride and groom's name, the venue, etc. They'll also be able to tag all of the vendors who worked on the wedding so that those vendors have access to the photos.  The vendors can then create inspiration boards and marketing materials customized for each potential bride.

We also have a submission process for editorial partners.  The editorial members will be a select group of invitation-only publishers with a legitimate editorial reach. Not just anyone with a blog will be considered an editorial outlet, so the list will be fairly healthy.  The photographer will then be able to choose where they want the wedding to be submitted to and will be able to see that editorial partner's requirements.  The editors can decide if they want to be exclusive or non-exclusive so photographers will know which ones they can submit to.  We did this because every magazine or blog has a different process and submissions often come with missing information, etc.  If the photographer had uploaded 100 images from a wedding, they can put together an inspiration board using our tools (takes two minutes) and then all of the wedding's info goes through with the boards, including the names of the couple and the vendors who worked on it. 

What was the inspiration behind this company?
Rosalind: As a photographer for 7-8 years, I felt that there had to be an easier way to share images. Necessity is the mother of invention, and I was needing to share images with the people I worked with in a smarter, faster and more efficient way.  I would spend so much time selecting photos for each vendor and then burning discs and sending them off, and then would spend more time because they would ask me to recrop, resize, etc for their various projects. Knowing something about database structure and with my management background, I knew "there has to be a better way to do this". Siri has a background in luxury goods marketing and knew that what vendors needed beyond the sharing was also that they really needed to be able to produce beautiful marketing.  So Siri, inspired by my framework, took it to the next level.

Why should a vendor use your service to create inspiration boards when there are other free online services that allow them to do that?
Two Bright Lights allows you to put everything in one place. It also allows you to show off images of YOUR work, as opposed to showing what somebody else did. All of the images in your library demonstrate what you can do for a client.  We also eliminate the need for photographers to do something different for each vendor, spending time selecting different types of photos for each vendor and burning individual discs for them.  The photographers upload the images, tag the vendors who worked on that wedding and then those vendors can download the photos they want or need in a self-serve format.

With the referrals, this idea is that if a photographer feels like "I give images to these planners, but they never seem to send anyone my way", our referral process allows you to see who is giving you the most referrals, so the photographers feel more inclined to give more images. A lot of vendors will say "oh we have referred a bunch of weddings" but you never really know if they did or not. With Two Bright Lights, you can see the actual number of referrals people are sending you. 

Our software brands the email with your logo and sends through our system. If the client clicks through those links to those referred vendors, that is tracked and those vendors will be able to see who referred them. Everything is personalized.  We are also hoping to raise the ethical bar in the industry through this process, so that there is a level of accountability in referring each other.  

We also have a way to benchmark against peer groups and will have real time averages based on what kinds of images each type of vendor is using.

And is that information private? If a wedding planner refers a certain photographer or florist for an event, will the other photographers or florists see that?
No, the other vendors won't be able to know who else you are referring.  Each vendor's dashboard is completely private to them.

Will Two Bright Lights work if the other vendors aren't members? It seems that its functionality is dependent on the photographers being members - will a vendor be able to upload images if they are not the photographer?
Two Bright Lights is predicated on the purpose of photographers providing images. The value of providing the images has to come back to photographers in the form of referrals. The different parties get slightly different value from it. We truly believe that images are sacred and so with our software all images are appropriately credited, and all output automatically credits them. We want to make it easy for vendors to give that credit and the only way to ensure that is for the software to do that. There is also a benefit for vendors to invite other vendors to join - for each person who joins, the person who invited them gets a month free.

Where did the name Two Bright Lights come from?
As we had come up with the business concept, the word "networking" came up over and over.  While searching, we found that the word networking is so overused, and we wanted words that are more accessible. We started thinking of a constellation of stars; a constellation is about connecting lights together and every constellation begins by connecting two bright lights. By connecting one to another, a constellation is born. For our logo, we included butterflies because we believe that networking has to be more than social, it also has to be smart.

One of the things that has impressed me has been the very systematic approach you've taken to launching this company. Why did you choose to go about it in the way you did, bring on advisors, etc?
Siri: Within the industry there are a couple of different phases in our roll-out efforts: The first phase leveraged a little bit of a megaphone - speaking to the audience, speaking to the people who have everyone else's ears already. We were positioned to do that already with Rosalind being in the industry. We formed a partnership with the Digital Wedding Forum (DWF) and had over 700 participants in the survey.  We wanted to know how do they get most bang for their buck given the economic times. We also wanted to be sure we were giving back to the community before trying to sell them something; giving rather than taking.

Next was focusing on a critical community: wedding planners.  Planners are generally the first point of contact in the engagement process and have a tremendous amount of influence on brides. Ali Phillips, a wedding planner here in Chicago, recommended that we connect with Rebecca Grinnals, a marketing consultant to the wedding industry. We hired Rebecca for an Engage 1-to-1, which she does with a number of people in the industry. She's seen and worked with the software, so she's integrated into what we're doing from a level of knowledge.

We have a very localized strategy within Chicago and have worked with a number of individuals in the local market so they are very in tune with what we're doing. We also reached out to some people on the national level - Jessica Claire, who is a personal friend of Rosalind's, and who has a tremendous amount of influence in the industry.  We also reached out to Jen Campbell of the Green Wedding Shoes blog to include the editorial and blogging side.

We are incredibly excited about beta testing, which will be starting up in a few weeks. This will add another wave of people and hopefully that will expand to greater community.  We've been using email marketing campaigns through MadMimi. We definitely practice what we preach - cost effective marketing. We really believe that you start with a list of people who want the information and you add to that.

A leopard can't choose its spots, so our approach to how we came to view this roll-out of our business comes from being in a professional and academic environment.  We sat for days and weeks asking about our objective, starting with strategy first then going to execution. This is not necessarily something that a lot of artist types have intuitively, not necessarily the first way they would think about it. We set up the advisory board because we know that there are certain areas we are very good at, and at the same time there are others that are not our areas of expertise.

You're launching a new venture during a time that many are afraid to do so. Do you feel that the economy has helped or hindered you in any way?
We're crazy enough. We quit our jobs and are definitely bootstrapping it; using cost-effective matters to market the business.  We're also wearing Old Navy and Target t-shirts these days.  The web agency we worked with did a fantastic job and we couldn't have afforded them in a good economy. We are launching the business for 30-40% less than if we had started it 2-3 years ago. People are hungry right now, us included. We do a lot of things ourselves. We have a few interns and one person working for us now. We are definitely not operating in the old world dot com environment with ping pong tables and dogs in the office - we're lean and mean.

If you get started during the darkest hour, you rise with the recovery. There is something to be said for when everybody is hunkering down, take a risk when everyone else is not - that will have payoffs. Not to say it isn't scary, but we believe our best days are in front of us.   There's a saying that when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. Well, when the going gets tough, the tough start investing. We really believe we are a good value for people and are an accountable marketing source. We offer something very tangible for a very fair price. Several people have told us that we are underpriced, but we priced that way because we want to help small businesses accelerate their growth.

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
Rosalind: I left the corporate environment 8-9 years ago, and the most important thing I learned was that there are a million people who will tell you why it won't work and why it will fail so if you are trying to get validation from the universe that it will work, that will fail. You really have to have inner strength, and granted you cannot just be a Pollyanna about the whole thing, but you should have the confidence in yourself to go out there and do it. If you need people to say "OMG you're so wonderful, you're so awesome", you will be disappointed. The people looking for that will ultimately fail and if you start with needing to do that first, you'll set yourself up for failure.

Siri: Understand systematically where your strengths are. No one started knowing everything about everything. Recognize what you're good at, what you aren't, and where you need help. Create a strategic environment; in the last six months my community of friends has changed. Think very strategically about what you need to succeed and how you're going to get those skills. Asking for help is not a sign of failure, it is a smart business tactic and something to not shy away from.

Rosalind: Also, saying "teach me everything you know" is not the same as asking for help. Come to people with specific questions.

Siri: I also did a quick back of the envelope cash flow model. Before you make the jump, you need to be prepared for what you're looking at and preliminary analysis is very important. Part of being fearless is knowing that some days will be a fabulous day, some days won't be, but knowing there is another fabulous one coming right after that.

Also, be very clear up front; we set up legal agreements at the beginning. Not to be doom and gloom, but just to make sure that we had talked through them at the beginning, and that we know what the process is if we disagree or one of us wants to leave the business, etc.

You can learn more about Two Bright Lights by visiting their website and you can follow them on Twitter here.

Photo of Rosalind by Becker, Photo of Siri by Rosalind Photography

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