Brand Positioning

Playing For The Stage

There's a saying in improv: "play for the stage, not for the seats."

As it relates to what you do as an artist and visionary, it means taking what people think they want and delivering what they really want instead. In the wedding industry, Calder ClarkDebbie Geller, and Marcy Blum are all geniuses at this.

You're the expert. If you want to produce a unique wedding or product, you don't start with images from Instagram, Pinterest, blogs, or magazines. By definition, if an image of the idea exists, it's already been done. If you want to be known as an artist with a perspective then you have to play for the stage. This means not doing what others have done or what's already been published. This means not taking what your audience or clients say they want exactly at face value, but instead digging deeper.

Make no mistake: there's money to be made in playing for the seats, in creating work that pulls its inspiration from what's been done before. More importantly, there is nothing inherently wrong with this. If creating work that is on trend rather than being the one who is setting trends is how you want to pay your kids' tuition, then more power to you. There are literally hundreds of thousands of couples who simply want a pretty wedding and an awesome experience for their guests. This is a completely legitimate choice. Target makes zillions of dollars selling products that are on trend, but they are not the ones setting the trends. It is not their business model and it doesn't have to be yours.

Here's the thing though: you can't have it both ways. You can't play for the stage and for the seats. You can't be known as the most creative company in the history of ever and simultaneously be copying ideas from other artists.

The fact of the matter is that playing for the stage is hard. The work is hard, pushing yourself to be creative after you feel you've spent all your creativity is hard, attracting the right clients is hard. Playing for the stage requires a level of grit and moxie and thick skin and tough conversations that playing for the seats does not. Playing for the stage means you will be judged more harshly and that you will have to forgive and forget more generously.

If your goal is to be unique though, then playing for the stage is really the only option.

Originally published September 2013

The One Area You Should Be Less Efficient In, Starting Today

"The people at the very top don't work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work muchmuch harder.” – Malcolm Gladwell

The one thing that almost every wedding professional can do to immediately improve their customer service and brand positioning?

Stop sending automated email replies.

This is especially true if you work in the luxury market. 

High-end means high touch. The saying, “Work smarter not harder” is well-intentioned, but the fact of the matter is that if you want to command a higher fee for your services, you will need to work both smarter and harder. If you want to position yourself as a high-end brand that understands the nuances of the luxury client, you have to put in the actual effort. You have to actually “touch.” 

Here’s some tough love: automated and canned replies may help you feel more organized and efficient behind the scenes, but they make you look cold and uncaring. 

I’m willing to bet that when you wrote out your core values and mission statement for your business and marketing plans, “cold” and “uncaring” were not traits you included as wanting to be known as. 

Yet thousands of wedding professionals are actively branding themselves as such in the name of efficiency. 

The first name mail merge and seemingly personalized, “Hi, how are you?” greetings don’t fool anyone. Nobody likes receiving automated emails. They’re like receiving unsigned holiday cards in that they convey to the recipient that they are nothing more than a checkmark you need to tick on your to-do list, and not someone you actually care about. 

Tighten corners elsewhere in your business. When it comes to client communication, it is much better to do things the long, hard, stupid way. 

Your advantage is that most of your competitors will read this, roll their eyes, and continue to automate everything. Let them. Focus on yourself and your own company and step up your game.

People almost always hire the person who makes them feel the best from the very beginning of the process. Be the person who’s willing to sacrifice a little bit of efficiency in order to make people feel truly valued, heard, and connected.

PS: Since telling people that you'll reply to them within 48 hours is seen by most potential brides and grooms as too long to wait, you can use tools like IFTTT or Zapier to send you a push notification or text message when you get a new inquiry. This way you or a team member can reply quickly while still maintaining whichever boundaries you’ve set around the rest of your inbox.

How You May Be Proactively Self-Sabotaging Your Brand

Perspective is deeply personal. Mine is different than yours and both of ours are different from the person's sitting at the next table. All of our experiences, all of what we've read, all of what we listen to and watch, all of our travels and conversations filter into unique perspectives that no one else shares.

And while no one else can share our exact perspectives on the world, others can relate to them in some way, draw inspiration from them, see a reflection of themselves in them. The people that relate to our perspectives are the people we want as clients. The ones who "get" us and "get" the work that we do.

People can't hire you for your perspective if you aren't first showing them what your perspective is. If you're constantly quoting other blogs, magazines, Instagram "influencers", industry peers or leaders, and never offering your original take, then you are only lumping yourself in with everyone else. This is proactive self-sabotage.

To get the clients you really want, the ones who really "get" you, you first have to be willing to embrace the fact that some people won't relate to your perspective at all, that some people will never "get" you.

Next, you have to share more of your perspective than you parrot someone else's.

Originally published February 2012