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.
If you haven’t yet felt the pinch in your own business, count yourself lucky, because many wedding professionals have. While you may not be dealing with it now, you can ask any colleague who went through the 2008 (or any previous) recession and they will tell you it’s better to prepare ahead of time than to be caught off guard.
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. Over the next few days, I want to dive into each one a little bit more in a blog series called 6 Ways to Survive a Recession. The first one is this:
Get super clear on what your brand is about and adjust your messaging accordingly.
When most people hear "get super clear about what your brand is about," they think of the age-old concept of "defining your why" (recently made popular again by Simon Sinek's book.) While it is true you need to know your intrinsic motivators for doing what you do (supporting your family, paying for your kids' Ivy League degrees, creating experiential memories for your family through amazing vacations, extending hospitality through a beautiful and nurturing home, building orphanages, etc), that is not what I am talking about here.
I am talking about getting clear about what you do and who it is for.
You’re smart, so you know that you need to go beyond “I plan weddings” for “brides and grooms.” Maybe you’ve landed on something like this:
“I specialize in planning beautiful weddings” for “couples who love love.”
This sentence may sound sweet, but it is meaningless marketing jumble. Let’s unpack why:
“I specialize in planning beautiful weddings." Yeah, no kidding.
Here’s where marketing messaging diverges from reality a bit: while there are definitely unstylish weddings out there, if no one is marketing themselves as “specializing in ugly weddings,” then saying you specialize in beautiful weddings lumps you in with everyone else. If no one is claiming the opposite, you will not stand out. If you specialize in beautiful weddings, you specialize in nothing.
Now for the second part: “for couples who love love.”
Again, this sounds sweet, but it is super generic: some people may be afraid of love, but very few actively dislike love. It does not drill down enough into which type of engaged couples you are actually looking to target.
To come up with who your work is for, ask yourself who you most want to work with and which types of weddings you most enjoy working on. Maybe your favorite clients are those who have multi-day weddings with a heavy religious and/or cultural focus. Maybe you want to work specifically with fashion-forward socialites. Maybe you’re happiest with clients who are “basic” (I’m currently typing this while drinking a latte from Starbucks, using a mousepad from Target, and wearing jeans from Nordstrom, so I’m definitely not knocking being basic). Maybe you want to specialize in luxe elopements. Whatever it may be, spend some time figuring out what type of client work brings you the most joy, that you can still make money at.
When you think about what you do, you will also want to primarily think about how it benefits who it is for, rather than making it all about yourself. In the end, people who hire you do so because they believe you can make them better in some way. Even your most loyal Instagram fans who double tap every photo and watch every Story do so because they believe you can make their own life better in some way. It is really not about you at all.
A Real-Life Example:
I’ll use my own company as an example here because I spent a lot of time figuring this out, plus I don’t want to highlight someone else who may be happy that others haven’t yet figured out their secret sauce. Think Splendid’s tagline is, “We help wedding industry leaders succeed.” Here’s an abbreviated version of my thought process behind how I landed on this:
What I Do:
I get bored easily. I like working on projects that vary from one another. I also like figuring out solutions to the challenges that come up after a company has been in business for a while. I most enjoy the cognitively difficult parts of consulting – the parts that require me to sit and think deeply and strategically through all different angles of a problem.
On top of that, I am good at this type of work. Really good at it. Being a deep thinker and overly analytical can often be unwelcome traits in many areas of my life, but they are wonderful assets in my career. Downplaying my gifts in this area is a surefire way to end up miserable in my job.
In order to do the type of consulting work I most love and that I am most good at, I have to set specific boundaries on the type of work I won’t do: I am not going to set up Quickbooks for you. I am not going to plan and produce marketing activations for you. I am not going to manage your social media for you. I am not going to pitch media outlets on your behalf. These are all valuable services and there are talented people you can hire to help you with them. They are not what I want to spend my time working on so they are not what I do.
Who It Is For:
I have actively studied (and practiced) leadership for the past twenty years. I like working with leaders. I like working on the types of problems they come to me with. These can be leaders who have been in business for several decades or people who found themselves in a position of leadership early on. Either way, being a leader requires a different mindset, and I prefer to work with people who already have that mindset. It is totally fine if someone doesn’t consider themselves a leader – there are lots of other business consultants who are happy to work with them and possibly even help them develop into someone who views themselves as a leader. But again, that is not the type of work I want to do.
Success, on your terms. However you define success – whether a number, a lifestyle shift, a feeling or emotion, whatever – my work can help you achieve it. The keyword here being “help.” You are responsible for your own success, and the work I do can help you make it happen. It is not a magic wand or a silver bullet.
Why It Works:
First, it works because I am now more tightly focused on the work I enjoy doing.
Second, it works because my messaging is clear about what I do and who I am for (helping wedding industry leaders succeed), while leaving it open to various types of projects within those boundaries.
Third, it works because not every business consultant in the wedding space claims to work with leaders, so I am not lumping myself in with everyone else. Some people help companies just starting out. Some people focus primarily on finance and accounting. Some people focus primarily on tactics over strategy. Some people try to be a Jack- or Jane-of-all-trades. Not me. I want the hard problems that wedding industry leaders run into. That’s what I enjoy. That’s what I’m good at. So I say so.
Tell Potential Clients Why You’re Splurge-Worthy
As wedding budgets tighten and couples have to make decisions about which categories to cut back in and which to splurge in, you want to be the person they splurge on. Producing beautiful work and calling it beautiful is not enough. People won’t know how what you do is different or valuable until you clearly say so. So say so.
True humility doesn’t hide its gifts.