Consumer Psychology

Millennials as Clients and Competitors

For Generation X, hiring a wedding planner or a team of wedding professionals wasn't just about being too busy to spare the 250 plus hours it takes to plan a wedding. It was more deeply engrained psychologically: Gen X values personal success and personal achievement. The U.S. Army recruiting slogan for Gen X was, "Be All That You Can Be," putting the emphasis on personal achievement – fighting through the limitations of your mind and body and coming out the winner. This focus on the strength and importance of the individual is partly why Generation X was also dubbed, "The Me Generation."

And so, when marketing to Gen X, selling wedding services tapped into that line of thinking. You are too busy and too important to plan your wedding yourself because you are SO successful. You have reached a level of success where you can delegate not just because you literally don't have the time to do it yourself, but also because the ability and resources to delegate is a status symbol of the level of personal achievement you've reached. Well done, you. Hire us and we'll handle it all – you won't have to think about a thing.

Ten years ago in 2007, millennials became the majority bridal consumer. Yet mainstream wedding marketing still has largely not changed. The focus is still on the values that Gen X hold, and that the majority of millennials do not relate to. Wedding professionals then blame social media for not working, or they blame magazine ads for not working, or they blame bridal shows for not working. The fact of the matter is that they're pushing outdated messaging through those various channels and that is what is not working. The problem is not the platform, the problem is the way the platform is being used and the lack of understanding of the person on the other end.

When it comes to the millennial generation, the U.S. Army's recruiting strategy is very different. Their slogan is now, "Army Strong." The emphasis is on community, teamwork, and being in it together. For millennials, success isn't as sweet if it doesn't include everyone in the group. Millennials truly believe that they are better together and stronger together than they are as individuals. This mindset is why they are also known as "Generation We." When it comes to weddings, they value the input of everyone in their social circle, including not only their wedding party, but family, close friends, and friends they haven't seen in a while but keep in touch with via Snapchat and WhatsApp.

It's important to note here that both sets of values have their merits and one isn't better than the other. However, if you are a Boomer or Gen X selling to a millennial, trying to get potential clients to buy into your set of values is a losing battle. If a millennial client is sitting in your studio and you need a decision right then and they can't reach friends or family via text or Facebook Messenger in that amount of time, they will either postpone the decision until they can get group feedback or second guess their decision until long after their wedding day. Even if the decision turned out to be a great one, the discomfort they feel from having to decide without peer feedback is going to sour the overall feeling of the experience they had working with you.

The generational issue is tough for millennial business owners as well. Right now, they are faced with two choices: do things in a new and different way that makes sense to them and face the fact that it will likely be misunderstood by their older colleagues, or model their businesses and marketing on a value system that neither they nor their clients share because that is the "norm" and the way "it's always been done" and ensures an invitation into the "wedding clique" in their area. Not being accepted by your peers because you don't do things the way they do is a bitter pill to swallow, particularly for millennials who value peer approval.

This is already causing friction in the industry. In every single city I visit, the conversations go something like this:

Millennials: "The older vendors in this town just don't get it. I'm talented, I have a right to be here and I'm not going to wait around to make it happen. My god, they are not willing to help anyone but themselves."
Boomers and Gen X: "The younger vendors in this town just don't get it. I had to work my way up, they should too. My god, they are so entitled."

Gen X values paying your dues and working your way up. Millennials, not so much. Yet, millennials crave mentorship, value heritage, and are willing to listen to anyone with a smart idea, regardless of how old that person is. They do not share the Boomer mindset of "Don't trust anyone over 30" nor the "Damn the man" mantra embraced by so many Gen Xers. Millennials believe that the industry is also "stronger together" and many are mystified as to why their older colleagues aren't willing to sit down in a group and work together to make that happen.

In addition to the wedding industry trying to figure out how to reach this new generation of brides and grooms, it also needs to figure out how to coexist as different generations of competitors and colleagues.


Originally published March 2012

For Millennials, Age Is Just A Number

One of the more prevalent lies that wedding industry professionals tell themselves is that younger brides and grooms won't want to work with wedding pros in their 40's, 50's, or older. That as they age, they are less relevant to today's generation, no matter the experience they've accumulated. Fortunately, it's not true.

Millennials (the generation born between 1979–2000) don't share the Baby Boomer mantra of "don't trust anyone over 30." Millennials also value heritage and legacy. This means that if you've been in business for a few decades, you have an advantage – but only if you play to it.

Use your newsletter, blog and social media platforms to share the stories you've accumulated over the years, and tie them back to today's couple. (Your stories are great, but clients don't hire you because of your story. They hire you because they believe your story will make their story better.) History repeats itself: what trends have you seen over the years that have made a comeback? Which ones do you wish would? You have a lot of great content that's relevant to today's couples. Use it.

If you're a millennial yourself or on the younger side of Generation X, here are some common words and phrases that can hurt your brand: fresh, new, revolutionary, and the one that induces the most eyerolls: "nothing good existed so I created it." If you're under 40 and claiming to have invented something in the bridal space, you need to get better at doing your homework. This goes for anything except apps and some software – the first commercial wedding blog was DIY Bride, created in the early 2000s, and the first wedding PR firm was founded by Lindsay Mann in 2001. 

Using marketing phrases that position you as the original when you're in your twenties or thirties will cause millennials to automatically distrust you. Remember, this generation has laser-focused BS detectors. They know other talented people came before you and that you're standing on their shoulders. Don't pretend to own the industry legacy but do share how you're a part of it. You don't have to be the first in order to succeed in the wedding industry, but you do have to respect the people who went first. Millennials view disrespect of heritage as a turn off.

This generation will hire regardless of age, so please let go of the myth (excuse) that the reason you may not be booking is because you're older. If you're 80 and and a millennial couple clicks with you and you can deliver what they want, they won't think twice about handing you their credit card. Same goes if you're 23.

Showing how your legacy makes a potential client's legacy better is a powerful way to connect with millennial clients and increase your word of mouth.


Originally published May 2012

Selling Luxury to Millennials

I was recently quoted in an article in the Tennessean on how "millennials are driving a dramatic change in the food economy." In the piece, the author also shares that Costco is now the number one seller of organic produce in the United States, beating out Whole Foods.

This isn't exactly surprising since:

  1. Costco is more ubiquitous than Whole Foods, and

  2. the average household income of a Costco member is $100,000+.

This is a good reminder for people who sell luxury goods and services in any industry: luxury consumers rarely buy luxury in every category across the board.

Believing that luxury consumers buy luxury all the time is the number one myth I see my clients and others working in the high-end of the wedding industry buy into. Their thought process tends to be that if a person is wealthy, they'll spend a high dollar amount on everything. This simply isn't true, and embracing this fact can help you understand your clients better and sell more effectively.

Wealthy people often stay wealthy because they're smart with their money. They will spend more on what they value, but they are not into spending just because the price tag is high.

Costco markets to a higher-end demographic because people with higher incomes like to save money. Similarly, Ann Taylor has consistently outperformed among high net-worth shoppers over the past several years. Ann Taylor. Not exactly the first brand that comes to mind when you think of luxury fashion. And yet, these high net-worth women will often pair their Ann Taylor dress with Prada heels and a Balenciaga handbag.

A bride or groom hiring a luxury wedding planner may not see the value in having a high-end cake designer, and vice versa. Value is personal to each client, and part of the initial meeting is sussing out the priorities each couple has.

You can be expensive, and people will pay you handsomely, as long as you're showing the value of what you bring to the table. What you bring to the table goes beyond your portfolio: stylish, beautiful work is now the bare minimum standard, not a competitive advantage. (Don't believe me? Scroll through any wedding hashtag on Instagram. Gorgeous work for days.) If you weren't talented, the potential clients you meet with wouldn't have reached out to you in the first place.

Dig deeper than talent and price, and focus on selling that. In the luxury end of the market this is more important than ever.


Originally published August 2016