Millennial Brides and Grooms

The Wedding Industry Experts (and the Charlatans)

Wedding Spending Is Down: 6 Things You Can Do • No. 5

Photo by    Cameron Clark

Photo by Cameron Clark

Here’s some not exactly splendid news: wedding spending is down in every budget category across the board, with the exception of the Ultra Luxury Wedding segment (budgets of $500,000+, not including the honeymoon).

Economists have been forecasting a recession to hit towards the end of 2019 for a while now, and while those predictions are not always accurate, wedding spending tends to be a canary in the coal mine for how people are feeling about their financial future.

At the end of my 2019 State of the Wedding Industry post, I outlined six things wedding professionals will need to do in order to navigate the coming uncertainties. In this blog series called 6 Ways to Survive a Recession, I’m diving into each one a little bit more. Here’s what’s been previously covered:

  1. Get super clear about what your brand is about and adjust your messaging accordingly.

  2. Diversify your marketing and play the long game by building equity in the brand house you own.

  3. Cultivate an inclusive community that authentically cares about something beyond themselves.

  4. Don’t buy into your own hype and don’t assume your popularity will last forever, especially if you’re one of the current industry it-girls.


The fifth thing you should focus on is this:

Acknowledge that true experts never stop learning and work relentlessly on pushing yourself to be better.

It is true that not every wedding professional is an expert. It is also true that there are a ton of wedding professionals who are experts but who refuse to identify as such.

True experts:

  • Are consistently good at what they do

  • Have a proven track record

  • Have the skills and knowledge base necessary to make solid, effective decisions on the fly when things don’t go as planned

  • Can go beyond reciting facts and information

  • Know how to approach and adjust for nuanced situations

  • Never advocate one-size-fits-all solutions

  • Are insatiably curious and always finding ways to improve (to paraphrase an old saying, “An amateur works to get it right, a professional works to never get it wrong.”)

If you read this list and realized you are not yet an expert, that’s totally fine. Now you have a goal to work toward.

If you meet all the criteria of this list and are still uncomfortable calling yourself an expert, I’d encourage you to dig into why that may be so that you can get to the root of that discomfort. Does it comes from your people-pleaser tendencies and not wanting anyone to dislike you? Does it come from a misunderstanding of what true humility is? Does it come from a teacher telling you that you would never be the best? Does it come from a parent or sibling never letting you upstage them? Does it come from giving imposter syndrome too much power? Does it come from a fear of gossip from colleagues or friends who don’t necessarily want to see you fail, but definitely aren’t okay with you outpacing them?

Consider this: Warren Buffett and his long-time business partner Charlie Munger are very open about the fact that they read voraciously, each devoting about 80% of their day to reading. Are we going to say they aren't experts at finance or investing because they set aside so much time to continue learning? Of course not.

Buffett and Munger are both experts at what they do and part of what makes them so successful is that they know that no matter what they’ve done, how many billions of dollars they’ve each made, there is always more for them to learn, more areas in which they can improve.

If you think you’ve “arrived,” you’ve settled. Calling yourself an expert and then resting on your laurels holds you back. Refusing to call yourself an expert also holds you back. False humility can harm you just as much ego can.

Photography by    Cameron Clark

Photography by Cameron Clark

Setting Yourself Apart From the Charlatans

Ten years ago I spoke on a conference panel with two other industry colleagues. The panel was offered as a breakout session option, with us basically repeating the same presentation three times that day to three different groups of attendees. We had a phone meeting prior to the conference and nailed down what each of us would cover. The first breakout session went great, with each of us following our pre-determined topics, me speaking last. During the second session, the first panelist started talking and instead of giving her topic, decided to parrot exactly what I had said in the first breakout. Fortunately, because I am expert at what I do, I was able to draw from a deep well of knowledge and didn’t have to rely on my prepared notes and talking points that she decided to present as her own.

The wedding industry is full of true experts who are creative and who help raise the bar for everyone. Unfortunately, it is also full of charlatans. And for people who don’t know what they don’t know about what you do – which is almost all wedding clients – you will have to show what sets you apart from the fakers and the takers.

In order to do this you need to know your field, your subject, your product, your process inside and out. You have to be able to roll with the punches and be able to say, “Don’t worry, there is way more where that came from” when someone copies or straight up steals from you.

You need to know how to handle a situation where your roll of film malfunctioned and didn’t capture the couple’s ceremony kiss. You need to know how to securely rig a truss so that you don’t get every other designer banned from hanging floral chandeliers in that venue in the future. You need to know what to do when the fire inspector shuts down your production installation three hours before the wedding begins. You need to know what to do when you find the groom passed out from a cocaine overdose.

And yes, all of these are true examples of things that have happened.

I shared a story previously in this series about how being copied hurts and how Tory Burch still gets bothered by it. And while that is true, and while you should do what you need to to legally protect your intellectual property, the very definition of being a trendsetter means setting the trends for others to follow. If no one is doing what you’ve done, then you did not set any trends at all.

If you want to be a trendsetter, you will need to stay ahead of what everyone else is doing. This means constantly pushing yourself to learn more and approach things with a level of curiosity that the average professional either does not have or is too lazy to exercise.

On a related note, over 90% of journalists, editors, and producers use the term “expert” when they are researching sources for features and stories they’re working on. If the only people willing to call themselves experts are the charlatans, you only have yourself to blame when editors and journalists call them for an interview instead of you.

Letting Go of the Myth That Time = Expertise

We need to let go of the myth that length of time in a job automatically translates to deeper expertise. Yes, we all learn a certain amount through trial and error, and those lessons come with time. We also all know people who have been around forever who are simply not great at what they do.

During the 2008 recession, many young event planners making 6-figure salaries at banks and Fortune 500 companies where they planned 200+ events a year were laid off, thanks to the fine print in the bail-out laws that penalized corporate event spending. When they decided to open their own planning businesses in order to pay the bills and as a way to scratch the creative itch they had missed in the corporate world, many in the wedding industry wrote them off as "newbie millennials" when in fact their expertise could run circles around some of the industry veterans.

A person who planned close to 1000 events in the 3-5 years they worked in-house at a corporation has the skills required to plan a complex wedding. They already know all about permit processes, load-ins, power supply, union labor laws and exemptions, complicated budgets, multi-page schedules, etc. They can do all this in their sleep.

Length of time in a field can only make you an expert if you are committed to learning from your mistakes, changing things so they aren't repeated in the future, and remaining insatiably curious so that you are always thinking through how to make things better or different.

Photo by    Cameron Clark

Photo by Cameron Clark

Selling Your Expertise to Gen Z

Gen Z is the "activist generation" (I sometimes refer to them the "get s*** done" generation) and they expect the experts they hire to be able to do things, not just know things.

For Gen Z, expertise is a given, much more so than it was for millennials. Millennials want the best and consider custom to be standard, not an upgrade.

Gen Z not only expects custom to come standard, they expect you to be constantly upgrading your own knowledge. If millennials were the MySpace and Facebook generation, Gen Z is the YouTube generation. It is their preferred social network, their preferred search engine, and their preferred method of learning and sharing what they learned.

Millennials primarily consider DIY to be a creative outlet rather than a money-saver, thanks to watching Martha Stewart or the original Emeril cooking shows growing up. Gen Z considers DIY to be a part of their every day life. Their favorite TV shows are Chopped, Chopped Junior, Nailed It, Cake Wars, Amy Poehler’s new crafting show Making It, Project Runway, etc, and then they take to their own YouTube channels to show off their own creations and teach others what they’ve been learning. For Gen Z, being creative isn’t an outlet for when you need to relieve some stress, it’s very much just part of who you are as a person.

If your expertise is limited to who you know or to basic information, the days of being able to monetize that are over. If it can be found on Google, you cannot charge a premium for it. Period.

For Gen Z especially, you will need to show why you are an expert and that you have the ability to do what they are envisioning. This needs to happen in the marketing, sales, and in the working together stages of your entire process.

During the sales process, the ability to show your expertise is going to be in direct correlation to your ability to listen deeply.

You already know that the number one mistake wedding pros make is sending pricing right away without having a real conversation with the potential clients first to figure out what they really need from you.

Another common mistake is expecting potential clients to have things figured out before they meet with you. Maybe they do, but most often the ideas they have are lovely in theory but won’t work in practicality. To figure out what they really want and how they approach decision making, it’s wise to ask questions that may seem “fluffy” or superficial. The fact of the matter though is that we as humans are relational beings first, and task-driven second.

One question almost every wedding pro should ask a prospective client is how they met and/or the story behind the proposal. You’d be surprised how many wedding sales conversations don’t include this at all. If the bride or groom gives you a clipped answer (“Online.” “At church.” “At work.”), move on. Otherwise, let them talk.

You can learn a lot about people from this question, including what type of restaurants they enjoy, what they do for fun, family dynamics (rule of thumb: if someone proposed in front of their entire family, they will typically have more than the average amount of decision makers weighing in on wedding decisions – something you definitely need to know that they may not be able to consciously pinpoint), etc. Plus these questions give you the perfect opportunity to show your expertise based on various points in their story:

"It sounds like you both really love being outdoors, but you're getting married in February. Let me show you some photos of how we transformed a ballroom to look like a garden. It was a three day install and we had to fly these particular flowers in from Honduras. We'd need to plan for a longer lead time to make sure the rentals don't get grounded by UPS because of a snowstorm, but our process takes all of that into account so you won't have to worry about it at all."

By simply letting them talk about themselves and listening to their stories, you are able to show your expertise by tying it to particular details rather than just saying "We do this, this, and this."

After this, it’s not unusual to get a reply along the lines of: “OMG, I never knew so much went into all the pretty photos I've saved on Instagram and Pinterest.”

Let your competitors ask questions that demand the clients have decisions made already. Your job is to be their guide, no matter your field. They have likely never planned an event of this scale before. They have likely never spent more than a few hundred dollars on photography, and those experiences were probably in a studio or for no more than an hour at a time of day that had perfect light. They likely don't know that they should reserve more shuttles because the country club they've chosen as their venue is easy for their destination guests to get to during the day, but tough to depart from at night because of the curvy mountain roads and fewer street lamps thanks to the city's light pollution ordinances, not to mention the open bar factor on their guests' sense of judgment. They likely don't know that the specific flowers they saw in a styled shoot and now want at their food stations for their courtyard reception attract bees.

Your job as a planner or photographer or transportation company or florist or caterer is to guide them through these decisions. You are not an order taker. You are the expert. There are plenty of wedding pros who cost a lot less than you do who would be a better fit for a couple who just wants someone to do exactly what they say, no questions asked, no expert input required.

If you are going to charge expert-level prices, you need to provide expert-level work. In contrast to this, if you are not an expert, you need to be charging amateur prices. Hopefully you’re able to get past whatever hangups you may have about calling yourself an expert. The wedding industry is better when the creative entrepreneurs in it confidently bring all their gifts to the table.


The Power of Cultivating Community When Marketing to Gen Z

Wedding Spending Is Down: 6 Things You Can Do • No. 3

Here’s some not exactly splendid news: wedding spending is down in every budget category across the board, with the exception of the Ultra Luxury Wedding segment (budgets of $500,000+, not including the honeymoon).

Economists have been forecasting a recession to hit towards the end of 2019 for a while now, and while those predictions are not always accurate, wedding spending tends to be a canary in the coal mine for how people are feeling about their financial future.

At the end of my 2019 State of the Wedding Industry post, I outlined six things wedding professionals will need to do in order to navigate the coming uncertainties. In this blog series called 6 Ways to Survive a Recession, I’m diving into each one a little bit more. Here’s what’s been previously covered:

  1. Get super clear about what your brand is about and adjust your messaging accordingly.

  2. Diversify your marketing and play the long game by building equity in the brand house you own.


The third thing you should focus on is this:

Cultivate an inclusive community that authentically cares about something beyond themselves.

If you haven’t read my 2019 State of the Wedding Industry post yet, I recommend you do so before you continue on. Pay particular attention to the part about inclusive communities, Supreme, and Gen Z, because that’s what I’m going to expand on today.

Caught up? Okay, let’s go:

The oldest of millennials are turning 40 this year, and the oldest of Generation Z are in the early years of tying the knot.

For the next ten years, you will be marketing to both millennials and Gen Z. One generation grew up experiencing September 11th as tweens, teens, and young college-aged students, and one generation grew up post September 11th. These two generations approach the world very differently from one another.

One of the things that is important to millennials when choosing wedding vendors is that they want to know if they can potentially be friends with you. They want to know if you personally are someone they could grab a glass of wine with or catch up with over brunch, long after the wedding day.

Over the past ten years, Boomer and Gen X wedding pros struggled with this more so than their younger peers as their mindset tended to be, "I already have friends, I just want to do your wedding, go home to my family, and have you trust my talent enough to hire me again for your future baby showers, kids' birthdays and mitzvahs, and your company's holiday parties and incentive events."

For the most part, wedding pros of all ages came around to the idea that talent alone was not enough to make them stand out and shifted their marketing to be a bit more personal – sharing more about themselves and giving a peek behind the scenes into their lives.

What you will find is that while sharing your personal life will still work well in attracting millennial clients, it will not resonate as effectively with your Gen Z clients. In fact, Gen Zers will be turned off the most by wedding pros who post their kids in every photo. These clients are the children of the mommy blogger and Instagram influencer generation and have first-hand experience in having their lives splashed across the Internet without their consent or knowledge. As a result, this is a generation that fiercely values their privacy. For the older members of the group, their mindset as consumers tends to be, “If you won’t respect the privacy and wishes of your own children, how can I trust that you’ll respect my privacy and wishes?”

Do not underestimate how strongly they hold this value. While you don’t necessarily need to stop posting photos of your kids altogether, if that’s currently a large part of your marketing, I’d recommend figuring out a balance so that you can still appeal to millennial clients while not alienating Gen Z clients.

Unlike millennials, Gen Z does not care that much about whether or not you are someone they could be friends with. Gen Z wants to know if your other clients are people they could potentially be friends with. They want to be part of an exclusive yet inclusive community that you have created.

Your Goal Is To Create a Community, Not a Cult

Some business coaches will tell you to select 4-6 topics to talk about in your wedding marketing and rotate through them in your social media, blog, and newsletter. While having a schedule is helpful, and a tactic I often recommend, my approach to what goes on that schedule is a bit different.

To effectively reach Gen Zers, you’ll want to base your marketing on your "life guidelines,” as I call them, so that you can remain authentic to who you are and also attract an audience and potential clients who connect with your values rather than just your story.

Remember, people may like your story, but in the end what they really care about is how you can make their own story better in some way. Not focusing everything on yourself also means that you can live your life and not have to worry about having to mine the same stories week after week of how you left your corporate job or how you met your spouse or how you took a leap of faith and opened your business with just $40 in your pocket.

Your goal is to create a community, not a cult. If your marketing is developed based on your life guidelines, you will cultivate a community who can connect with one another over the meaningful things they have in common rather than over merely being a fan of you.

Plus, you are human, which means you are going to inevitably make mistakes, exercise poor judgment, or have some days where you are not the best version of yourself and say or do something you later regret. If all of your marketing is based on fauxthenticity (aka “curated imperfection” and select Gram-worthy “flaws”), you will face a backlash any time your carefully-designed mask slips, because you were actually the one who built the pedestal for yourself.

Authenticity doesn’t mean laying all of your cards face up on the table, and if your marketing is based on your life guidelines rather than on your “Story of Me,” you can allow yourself to truly be yourself, to share your opinions on a variety of non-surfacey issues, to apologize when you’ve dropped the ball or hurt someone, to not be “on” all the time. It is a much healthier way to run a business, in my opinion.

What Are “Life Guidelines?”

Your "life guidelines" are based on your core values – they are essentially how your core values play out in your daily life, how you ensure you actually walk the walk of what you say you believe.

Using your life guidelines in your marketing is in addition to a client avatar, not as a substitute for it. The latter shows you the demographics and psychographics of who you want to work with (household income, where they like to shop, how they dine, etc), the former allows you to narrow that group down more specifically to how they approach life in relation to deeper issues. If you are creating a community of clients that could potentially be friends with one another, you will need to focus on more than ensuring they all carry a Neverfull and love SoulCycle.

I’ll share a few of my life guidelines and the “why” behind them as examples. If I am going to create a community of people who would want to hang out with each other and who I would enjoy working with as clients, then I want to focus on showing what I care about through my marketing and conversations, so that if it is something they care about too, they know they’ve found a group who is on the same page.

My Life Guideline: Whenever possible, support the original artist.

One of my core values is being a good steward of the resources I have. One of my life guidelines to ensure this happens is: whenever possible, support the original artist.

While I rarely talk about being a good steward, supporting the original artist is something I talk about more frequently because it is something I am passionate about.

This is a lesson I really learned after owning a business. Before, I didn't see the issue with buying a well-made knock-off (or, as they're more commonly called these days, "dupes") because I viewed it as being smart with my money. I thought being a good steward meant making your dollar stretch as far as it could go. I later learned that being a good steward means using every dollar as a "vote." Now when I spend my money, I am "voting" for the people who originally created the products/designs/ideas, not the copycats. And because my budget didn't magically increase when I changed my mind on this, it means I usually end up buying better, but buying less.

Not supporting the copycats matters to me. I've had people steal my work and pass it off as their own (not just newbies, but industry veterans, too), and it's hurtful, especially when done by someone I considered a friend.

I once read an interview with Tory Burch where she said she still gets upset when people steal her designs. It made me feel better that the founder of a famous fashion brand had those feelings as well, but it didn't surprise me because the creative work we all come up with, develop into something marketable, and put out into the world is deeply personal. After all, how many of us jokingly refer to our respective companies as our "first baby?"

When someone copies your ideas, they are hurting you, they are hurting your family, they are hurting your employees, they are hurting the creative community and the industry. It is personal and it is okay to be upset about it. Don't allow a grudge to rob you of future creativity, but you don't have to pretend it doesn't hurt.

When it comes to the community you’re cultivating for your clients, don’t forget your community of professional colleagues. While I'd recommend spending your time and energy with the people who support your original work, sometimes you do need to take an extra step to give yourself mental and emotional space. If the person who took your ideas was a friend, you don't have to allow them to be part of your inner circle anymore nor someone you continue to do business or collaborate with. You are also allowed to unfollow them on social media. Focusing on the good sometimes means removing the people who hurt you yet somehow think they still have a right to suck up your oxygen. You can set healthy boundaries now while still allowing for the possibility of redemption later on down the road. (I recommend the book Beyond Boundaries – part of the Boundaries series by Dr. John Townsend – if you're dealing with whether or not to let someone back into your life.)

My Life Guideline: People have a right to live fully, not just merely.

Another one of my core values is that every life has equal value. One of my life guidelines for this is the belief that people have a right to live fully, not just merely.

I am passionate about the fact that there is more to life than food and shelter. Basic needs matter, obviously, but so do art, athletics, and, yes, fashion and parties. The details matter. Being able to imagine, to create, to push yourself beyond what you thought possible, to feel self-confident and worthy of nice things, to be able to relax and joyfully celebrate life's milestones with the people you love and who love you matters. They matter a lot.

I want to spend my time with people who see everyone as fully human and worthy of every good thing life has to offer. More than that, I want to spend my time with doers – people who use whatever resources they have (money, time, creativity, literal votes) to help add good to the lives of others and who don't sit around waiting to "give back" later on.

It is not about which charities or organizations I am personally involved in – the people who resonate most with this life guideline likely also view generosity as a muscle to be developed and consistently exercised and not something to use as a PR or networking opportunity. They would probably get along with each other if they all found themselves in the same location.


These are examples of a couple of my own life guidelines. Yours may be different. Spend some time drilling down into your core values and examining how they play out in your life. How can you incorporate these into your marketing so that you are sharing your interest in something bigger than yourself?

Won’t My Life Guidelines Turn Some People Off?

If you use your life guidelines to shape your marketing, you are 100% guaranteed to turn some people off.

This is okay.

If you are marketing to everyone, you are marketing to no one. You are creating an inclusive community, yes, but you are also creating an exclusive community. You are creating a community where people can connect with each other based on what they value, which is going to be based on what you value. This will automatically exclude those who don’t share your values.

This isn’t about creating a bubble, and everyone won’t agree on every tactic of how you go about supporting the arts, for example. The point is not to believe all the same things, the point is to create a community built on the foundation of the ideas you and they find most meaningful.

Gen Z wants to know more about who you actually are on a deeper, more philosophical level than they do about the behind the scenes of your daily life or your favorite brands or what you made for dinner this week. Fortunately, since you’re still marketing to millennials while starting to market to Gen Z, your life guidelines often play out in your daily life. You can dive deeper into the “why” behind the choices you make in your day-to-day routine, allowing both marketing strategies to support one another while these age groups overlap as wedding clients.

The Biggest Myth About Luxury Clients

A couple of years ago I was 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 often 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