Wedding Buyer Behavior

What You Need To Know to Succeed in the Wedding Industry

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

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.

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

The sixth thing you should focus on is this:

Pay attention to what’s happening in the world so that you can adjust your business plan as needed.

It's often said that we are in an age of information overload, which is technically true. It is also true that this has been said every time technology has advanced since the beginning of time. It was said when books became something commoners could own and were no longer restricted to only the ultra wealthy. It was said when everyone had their heads buried in the morning paper on the train on their way to work. It was said when radios and then later televisions could be found in living rooms everywhere. It was said when phones, telegraphs, fax machines, computers, and the internet became commonplace. And it will be said in the future when something comes long that's even more advanced than the mini computer we all carry in our pockets every time we leave the house.

Technology will always move forward, never backward. This means that – by default – our society will always become more overloaded with information.

So how do you pay attention to the news that could impact your business on top of running your company, taking care of your family, and just generally having a life without becoming overwhelmed?

Decide what you need to know and stay up on, and then set systems and boundaries for how you'll consume that information. Here’s what I recommend for wedding pros:

  1. Pay attention to the news that impacts your company and your clients.

  2. Pay attention to the industry and your competitors – within reason.

  3. Don’t confuse gossip with news.

Let’s take a closer look at these three areas:

photo by    Cameron Clark

photo by Cameron Clark

The news that impacts your company and clients might include:

  • News about the commodities or product supply chain you may use in your business or things that impact your services (temporary bans on certain flowers set by the Department or Ministry of Agriculture, disease outbreaks such as the Zika virus that impact certain destinations, a shortage in cocoa beans that will ultimately wind up impacting your costs as a cake designer, changes in the diamond industry, etc)

  • Political news that impacts your business (tariffs that increase the cost of your rental or inventory imports, finance reform laws that penalize certain companies for event spending, the recent U.S. tax law changes, etc).

  • Market news that potentially impacts your clients’ investments and finances (the Madoff scandal, oil prices or real estate rates, etc)

  • Technology news that affects your work or marketing (how artificial intelligence (AI) is changing event design, changes in social media, etc).

Let's dive into this last one for a moment with the recent news that Instagram will be hiding the "like count" and follower counts on profiles (which they have already begun testing in Canada).

While Facebook claims that the reason they are doing this is to help people stop comparing themselves to others and to feel less pressured while using Instagram, the real reason has to do with the almighty dollar. If a company is spending money on an influencer, then they aren't spending it directly on ads with Instagram. Remember, Facebook is a business, and its purchase of Instagram was a business decision. The changes they make will always be in favor of putting more money in their pockets, not in yours. Here are some ways this decision will impact wedding companies:

  • It will make it easier for your work to be judged on talent and creativity, rather than have your work perceived as good simply because you are perceived to be popular because of your follower count.

  • Press features (in print and online) will start to carry more weight again as human nature will always look for a way to quantify things like status. Since people will no longer be able to publicly see how many followers or likes you have, they will look to other status signifiers to determine how to evaluate you against your competitors. (This may seem unfair, but effective marketing always centers on human behavior and how we actually make decisions – not on how we wished people would make decisions.)

  • You will have to develop a more holistic social media strategy based on more than vanity metrics and pretty photos. This has always been the best way to use social but, for a long time, people were able to skate by on pretty photos and build up a following without diving deeper. Those days are numbered.

  • We will see a lot more people sharing photos of their stats behind the scenes under the guise of, "I just totally want to be #authentic with all of you." The pressure to compete by manipulating numbers will not go away entirely.

  • We will see a lot more "influencers" open up consulting businesses as their ability to make money as influencers dries up and as wedding spending continues to plateau. Some will be legit, some won’t.

  • We will also see more wedding businesses add corporate services or move into corporate entirely. (For wedding planners looking to do this effectively, I recommend ROAR Playbook from Caryl Lyons – this is not sponsored, she is simply the real deal.)

  • Instagram will continue to be inundated with ads every third photo, and possibly more.

Staying up on the news about the coming changes allows you to think through and prepare ahead of time for when those changes arrive. It also allows you to explore what's next.

Which brings us to that popular question: What's after Instagram? What's the next thing?

The next thing has been here since 2016, and it is TikTok. If you want to understand how Gen Z views creativity and how they incorporate it into their daily life, download the TikTok app and look through some of its 500 million+ active user accounts.

As I mentioned previously in this series, Gen Z wants to know that you can do things, not just that you are an expert. TikTok is a social app focused on documenting actively doing things, not on "perfectly imperfect" selfies or having a color-coordinated “light and airy” grid.

While you should go ahead and reserve your company's social media handle on TikTok* so no one else can take it, I do caution against engaging before you have a strategy in place. You will definitely give off a "how do you do, fellow kids" trying-too-hard vibe if you do not take the time to get to know the platform and patterns of how people use it first.

*The social app was acquired and merged into TikTok in 2018, so if you had a account, you most likely already have a TikTok account.

Pay attention to the industry and to your competitors – within reason.

You should know what’s going on both with the wedding industry and with your subindustry within it. You should also know what’s going on with your competitors. That said, it’s important not to become obsessive about these things, as it can impact your work and creativity in a negative way.

Knowing what’s happening in the wedding industry allows you to know that business is slower in every budget segment except the ultra-luxury market (budgets of $500,000+ USD) and that it’s not just impacting you.

Paying attention to your subindustry allows you to know whether your wholesalers are able to source ingredients or supplies from a different place or if you are going to have to absorb the added costs of trade deal tariffs for clients you’ve already contracted with.

The idea that if people really want what you’re selling they will find a way to pay for it is true – to a point. There are market realities and everyone has a budget. It may be the biggest budget you’ve ever worked with, but every person has an amount where they will say “no more.” Don’t believe me? Quote a price of $10 billion in your next proposal to a dream client with an “unlimited budget” and see if they go for it.

The way this piece of well-meaning but not great advice often plays out is that the client will decide to splurge more on you by cutting what they’re spending on another vendor. Or, as the case may be, they will splurge more on a different vendor or supplier and decide they don’t actually care as much about what you offer.

It also means that you’ll know when you’ll be competing not just with direct competitors, but with other category suppliers whom your clients may prioritize more. If a couple places a high priority on design, then the tariffs on decor and rental imports means they have less to spend on their photographer or on their venue or on their invitations.

It’s also important to have an idea of what your competitors are offering so that you can realistically compete against them. Yes, your work has intrinsic artistic value, but, again, market realities are a thing. This doesn’t necessarily mean compromising on your price, but it may impact what is included in your price or what you prioritize in your business model so that you still meet your revenue goals.

For example, as a keynote speaker for the wedding industry, I do not use speaking as a loss leader in order to gain new clients. Many of my competitors do. That is a perfectly valid decision on their part, but my business model requires that speaking generate direct income for me. Because of this, I turn down speaking requests every month and choose not to compete on volume. Knowing that my competitors speak for free or for below market rate helps me shape other areas of my business to make up for any potential losses, but it does not change how I charge nor does it make me selfish. (Here are different ways to price speaking fees if you’re interested for your own business.)

Stay up on what the industry and what your competitors are doing, but don’t allow it to change anything without deeply considering your own goals and strategies behind it. A knee-jerk reaction to a price difference doesn’t do you any favors in the long-term.

Photo by    Cameron Clark

Photo by Cameron Clark

Don’t confuse gossip with news.

Everyone gossips to some extent – right or wrong, it’s another fact of human nature. That said, it’s always a good idea to take any gossip with a grain of salt, especially when the piece of gossip originates from someone's competitor. If a story makes one person look amazing and the other totally terrible, the truth is more likely somewhere in the middle.

Making decisions based on industry gossip rather than the actual facts can be incredibly harmful to your business and sometimes you may not even realize that’s what you’re doing. There's a term in digital media called "banner blindness" which refers to the brain skipping over sections of a web page where it expects to see ad banners.

A similar phenomenon happens in the offline world as well. When you're used to seeing or doing something so often, you stop noticing it. You become used to it or take it for granted. It's like the air you breathe or the water you swim in. Also, most company culture issues start with the person at the top, and if that person is you, it can be more difficult to pinpoint because it means taking an honest look inward and being upfront about your flaws.

If sharing information on other people's lives is the conversational currency you use to make or keep friends, then gossip is going to be a problem in your company and it is going to infuse itself into your decision making and the decisions your employees make without you even being fully aware of it.

Take an honest look at some of the decisions you’ve made and whether they were based on facts or gossip. Did you choose to not work with someone who could be an important creative partner because of gossip their competitor spread? Did you skip meeting with a venue because of an unfounded rumor about the owner? Did you skip attending a conference because someone who only looks for silver bullet/magic wand solutions and whose business never seems to improve said it wasn’t worth it?

Feedback is important, yes, but consider the source when making your decisions and whether or not they gain something (either tangible or ego-related) out of making the other person look bad.

Photo by    Cameron Clark

Photo by Cameron Clark

Practical ways to pay attention when you’re busy.

Everyone’s busy, either with paid work or with work that will hopefully generate paid work. Adding more things to pay attention to can seem overwhelming. Here are a some pragmatic tips to help you stay in the loop without going insane:

  1. Take stock of how much time you actually spend scrolling social media. 15 minutes a day adds up to over two 40-hour work weeks per year. Most people spend much more time than that scrolling Instagram or Facebook and falling into the trap of what my friend Marcy Blum calls, “Compare and Despair.” This does you no favors (plus following only wedding peers and competitors pretty much guarantees your work ends up looking the same).

  2. Channel some of that now freed-up time to use social media as a listening device rather than just a marketing tool. Twitter Lists are a highly underrated feature and can be your BFF when it comes to staying up on the news or in the loop with certain thought leaders (and yes, if you want more mainstream media features or corporate clients or C-suite wedding clients or GenZ clients, Twitter is still very much a relevant platform.*)

    Twitter lists can be public or private and are different from your main “following” feed. I use my main feed to follow people I want to hear from any time I check in. I use private lists to sort by topic and check in on them weekly or even less frequently than that. I have a certain list that I check once or twice a week with thought leaders on a variety of topics (most academics end up on this list because they tweet A LOT). I also have respective lists for VCs so I can stay up on the investment world, tech leaders, editors and producers, journalists, etc, plus a list of comedy writers for when I just need to laugh. You can learn a lot that ends up benefiting your business and creativity just by listening.

    *If you haven’t used Twitter in a while, it may appear the same, but the culture and how it gets used is very different than it was in the early 2010s. Take some time to learn how it is used now. Also, if you have your Facebook or Instagram posts auto-linked to it either through the apps or via IFTTT, disconnect those immediately. It’s not 2014 anymore and it is an ineffective, outdated tactic that actively brands you as out of touch.

  3. If you are not a news or politics junkie, I’d recommend following specific writers and reporters who cover the topics you want to stay up on – this also allows you to continue following them when they change media outlets. Following just the main news sources can cause an overload of updates and if that’s not your thing or you’re not checking in every day, you’re more likely to give up rather than stay attuned to what you need to know in relation to your business.

  4. When it comes to the news, pay attention, but let it simmer before you make a decision related to your business. Political and technology-related news is moving so fast these days that what was breaking news this morning will be contradicted by another source tonight and tomorrow someone will leak documents or recordings of what really happened which likely will not be even close to the first two stories.

    There is no need to delete your Instagram account just because Facebook is changing how it gets monetized or Congress is considering regulating social media tech companies the way they did telephone companies.

Knowing what’s happening in the world – both in the world of weddings and in the world at large – can help you make smarter, more effective decisions. Yes, it is more work, but in the words of Malcolm Gladwell, “The people at the top don’t work harder than you. They work much, much harder.”

5 Reasons Potential Clients Are Ghosting You

Photo by    Cameron Clark

Photo by Cameron Clark

No one likes being ghosted, and it can be extremely frustrating when you’ve done all you can to communicate with a potential client only to hear crickets. The most common reaction to ghosting in the wedding industry is to assume it’s all about cost and to lower your prices. While it sometimes is about money, there are other reasons that cause people to avoid telling you no:

1. You’re sending your pricing right away.

Sticker shock is real, and if you’re one of the wedding pros they’re considering at the beginning of their planning process (namely planners, venues, or photographers), it is likely that the budget they have in their mind is not based in reality whatsoever.

People hear that the average wedding in the US is around $30k, they watch the “reality” wedding TV shows that display costs on the bottom of the screen without noting which items or services were comped or discounted by the vendors in exchange for publicity, they find creative inspiration on wedding blogs and magazines and don’t know that they will have to pay triple to make that design happen because they are getting married in a union town, and when they ask their friend what they spent on a given item, the friend feels uncomfortable sharing real numbers, so they tell a little white lie to seem smart and like they got a deal.

Your potential clients likely don’t know what real weddings cost because they have never gotten married before. Your primary role at this point in the process is to educate them in a way that shows your value.

Also, if you are sending prices right away, you’re not educating yourself on what their wedding will actually require from you. On top of that, you’re branding yourself as cookie cutter because you’re essentially saying “we only do these types of weddings, so we know how much to charge without talking to you.” Lose-lose.

If you’re still sending pricing right away, make 2019 the year you break this bad business habit.

2. You’re sending too much info too soon.

I’ve spent years doing research on how couples and their families truly approach their wedding spending and as a result developed WedType, a scientifically-based wedding buyer behavior model. Of the four types of wedding consumers (Seekers, Drivers, Researchers, and Lovers), Researchers are the ones who will read everything. For them, when it comes to information, more is better. For the other three types, more is too much.

While you won’t know right off the bat which WedType you’re dealing with, if you’re sending every possible piece of information, if you’re counting on people to read through all of your website and move on the exact right path through your marketing funnel, if you’re asking them to take a quiz or fill out a multi-page questionnaire before you even talk to them, you will overwhelm the majority of your potential clients.

When people feel overwhelmed, they subconsciously associate that feeling with you and your brand. This means that they may love your work but, for some reason they can’t quite put their finger on, feel like you would be burdensome/tiring/a drag to work with.

3. You’re being a little TOO efficient.

No one likes to feel like a number. No one likes to feel like a checkmark on your to-do list. And no one wants to feel like their wedding is one of 2.2 million a year and therefore not all that unique.

Automated replies have their place, but you probably don’t need to use them. 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.

If you’re in the luxury space, this is especially true. High end means high touch. You get to charge more because you have to hold their hand through more of the process.

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.

4. You’re not scheduling a followup BEFORE you send the proposal.

If you want to close the sale faster, or get to a firm “yes” or “no” answer more quickly, schedule a 10 minute call for a couple days after you send the proposal to discuss it and answer any questions they may have.

This is a decades-old tactic that is used by sales people all over the world because it works. Here’s a very simplified example of how it goes:

Monday AM: You receive an inquiry via your website. Yay! You reply right away that you’d love to chat for 10 minutes to learn more about them and their wedding.

Monday PM: They’re available for a call after they get off work, so at 6 pm their time, you have a quick call. Towards the end, you say, “Congratulations again! I love your ideas! I’m going to send you a customized proposal by Wednesday. I want you to take a day or so to bounce it off your friends and family and get their feedback, then on Friday I’d love to chat with you to go over it and answer any questions you may have. What time works best for you this Friday for a quick 10 minute call?”

Wednesday: Send the proposal with a reminder to bounce it off their friends and family.

Friday: On your 10 minute call answer any questions they may have. Sell your value as you go through it.

The idea that if people want you they will find a way to pay for it is true to a point. Money doesn’t grow on trees and you may just be flat out of their budget even if they decide to scale back in other areas. If this is the case, tell them that you understand (because you do, because you also do not have an unlimited bank account), and that you’d love to refer them to some wedding pros who may be more in line with their budget. While you may not get the sale, you’re raising the bar for the industry by referring them to talented people rather than charlatans who are only good at Instagram.

You’ll want to tell them 10 minutes for these first phone calls because it is too early in the process for them to feel comfortable committing to a longer period of time. Typically once they’re on the phone, they’ll want to speak longer, but showing them up front that you are respectful of their time and schedule is important.

A quick note on telling them to bounce it off their family and friends: millennials and Gen Z grew up making decisions in groups thanks to a change in the educational system in the 1980’s. Giving them space to solicit feedback from people they trust allows them to feel more comfortable with you and not pressured to make a decision they may end up regretting. Their putting a priority on their college roommate’s opinion may feel like a slap in the face to you, the actual expert, but building trust with your potential client is the most important factor here.

5. No one likes being the bearer of bad news.

Everyone is human and no one wants the icky feeling that comes with letting someone else down. Even if you have an “it’s just business” mindset, your potential clients may still feel terrible telling you they’re going with someone else. Add to this the fact that they may have interviewed a dozen other wedding professionals in your category and it’s easy to understand how telling a dozen people “no” could put a huge damper on their day.

One way to combat this is to tell them that if you’re not the right fit, you’re happy to recommend someone else who may be better suited for them. This shows that you genuinely care about them having the best wedding, even if they don’t end up booking you. Generosity wins.

Ghosting is not a new phenomenon. All ages do it, and blaming it just on millennials or Gen Z is lazy thinking and a way to avoid doing the work of examining where you could be running your business better.

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