Millennials and the Wedding Industry

Saturday, October 22, 2011

In my new book, Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace, I talk quite a bit about the millennial generation -- the group born between 1979 and 2000. Up until 2007, most weddings were for members of Generation X and bridal marketing was rightly focused on them. Today, more than 70% of people getting married are millennials, and they are entirely different. Their values, perspectives on marriage and weddings, the way they use technology -- all of it is different. The way wedding businesses market, however, hasn't changed that much. In my book, I get into why this generation acts and thinks the way they do, how that relates to the advances in technology and the advent of social media and how you can take all of that and make sense of it for your business.

My interest in this topic goes beyond my professional interest in marketing and psychology. I turn 30 this coming week. I am a millennial. Most of the insights I've heard about my generation have had bitter undertones and sound more like people yelling "get off my lawn" rather than being welcoming of differences. To be fair, every generation faces this. Still, the "us versus these young idiots" mentality doesn't help the conversation.

The things I heard people sharing about my generation didn't ring true to me. For example, we are commonly described as lazy. Um, what? Aren't there lazy people in every age group? Companies like Design*Sponge, Mashable, Facebook and Groupon were all started by members of my generation. In addition, there are a growing number of millennial-owned businesses in the bridal industry. Styled Creative, Once Wed, The Bridal Bar, and Style Me Pretty are just four of a long list of wedding companies founded by millennials. I've met the ladies behind each of these respective brands and they are all hard working and creative. To describe an entire generation as lazy is just lazy research.

We're also described as selfish. Just yesterday, I received a press release from a reputable company that dubbed millennials the "Me Generation 2.0." Sorry, but no. This generation may be close to outspending Boomers on luxury goods (just don't call it luxury -- more on that in my book), but their motives behind buying are much different. Millennials also donate more to charity and volunteer their time 33% more often than older generations do. Selfishness, like laziness, is tied to depth of character and is generation-agnostic.

Here is one of the many stories that I didn't get to share in my book -- it illustrates one of the key differences that wedding businesses are going to need to take into consideration as they do more work with a new generation of clients and customers:

I had a conversation a few years ago with a wedding planner who was working with a millennial bride. The bride was upset that the planner had marked up the candy for her dessert table to a price higher than she could find online for the same brand. She felt the planner was wasting her money and trying to take advantage of her. The planner was frustrated because her business model had always depended on marking up products. She also didn't understand why the bride would hire her and then turn around and still spend hours researching online. She felt as though the bride didn't trust her to do her job and was "being cheap" by arguing over a relatively small amount of money in her six-figure wedding budget.

This is a generational difference, even though the planner is only in her late thirties and not too much older than the bride. It is not a personality trait of the bride and has nothing to do with the "type" of client she is. This sort of consumer behavior is here to stay and it's not necessarily a bad thing; it's just different.

Millennials were raised in classrooms where teamwork and group consensus were emphasized. Each person had a voice and people had to defend their opinions to the rest of the group. As such, this generation of brides and grooms expect to be joint decision makers. If you ask them for their opinion, they will give it. If you don't ask them for their opinion, they will still give it. Over the course of their entire lives they have been taught that the best decisions are made through peer feedback, so why wouldn't you want to hear their point of view? Being a highly educated generation who grew up with technology and a world of answers at their fingertips, millennials will also do homework you don't assign. The "I will tell you what's best because I'm the expert" mentality does not make sense to this age group. Instead, they want you to bring the best of your knowledge to the table, they will bring theirs, and together they expect to create an unforgettable wedding. When it comes to their event, sitting back and relaxing while you do your thing is out, hands-on collaboration is in.

Like I said, this style of decision making isn't a bad thing, and with millennials now being the largest generation alive, it's certainly not going away any time soon. Companies today have to adjust to a clientele that thinks differently than the group they had primarily worked with up until four years ago. It's not the end of society, it's not the end of an industry, it's just a different mindset.

PS: Don't call millennials "Generation Y." We hate it.

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