Where are you on the Wedding Marketing food chain?

wedding marketing food chainMany years ago, I read Robert Ringer’s ‘Winning Through Intimidation.’ One of his axioms was the ‘Theory of Reality:’ Essentially, things are as they are, not as you’d like them to be. Failure to acknowledge reality in business is akin to banging your head against the wall. You must accept the present reality and work with it, work around it, or develop other strategies.

Over time, reality changes slowly. When it has finally made a significant evolution, espousing the reality of a decade ago (or more) is incredibly foolish.

Your standing in the wedding marketing food chain is, essentially, your dependence or independence on the referrals, agency bookings, or simple goodwill of others. Living in San Francisco for 25 years, and now in Las Vegas since 2003, and talking with business owners everywhere, I observe a changing landscape. here. The change is more pronounced and is probably the leading indicator of changes, elsewhere. Take heed.

25 or 30 years ago, and even a decade ago, a wedding vendor that did a good job could just work their way onto the referral lists of a number of quality venues, and that was it. Just continue to do a good job and you would get a steady flow of excellent leads, many of which became bookings.

As part of this, you usually give some complimentary service, periodically, for the referring venue. All pretty loose.

Relationships

relationshipsThen, a few ‘situations’ began to appear and started to muddy the waters. The first one was a hotel’s relationship with Audio/Visual companies. It was not obvious to me, then, that this would have an effect on wedding referrals, but it has become a model for the changing scene.

The financial relationship works like this: Audio/Visual Company ABC pitches Hotel XYZ to be their exclusive in-house service. For that privilege, they offer the hotel a 40% commission (give back) on all the rental revenue. So, the customer who spends $100, actually spends $60 on A/V, and the hotel gets $40 (invisibly), as part of the transaction. This is, to coin a phrase, ‘invisible outsourcing.’

Often, to acquire this relationship, the A/V company would give a substantial advance on commissions, such as $25-100,000. This is a windfall for a hotel to deal with an unbudgeted expense. In fact, in some areas of the country, this model has been used for entertainment services, for a while … Read on.

Venues lead the way

Venues, particularly large ones, are always looking to become more efficient and earn revenue from every dollar spent by their clients. Consequently, over time, more venues have sought to create more in-house departments and/or use invisible outsourcing, in the quest of client control, quality control, and profit.

In Las Vegas, this food chain has become extended, for both good and bad reasons. For example, a large destination wedding is booked at a strip hotel. The hotel will act, effectively, as a full-service event management service.

Certain services, such as an in-house bakery, are now proprietary to the hotel. Flowers might be brokered through the hotel and marked up to the client.

When it comes to services such as entertainment or decor, life gets even more interesting, and expensive, for the client. Hotel XYZ tells the wedding client that they work with three, approved, DMCs (Destination Management Companies) to provide services at their property. This is the appearance of choice.

In fact, the three DMCs work with their own circle of approved vendors. Perhaps the client wants a live band. The food chain continues as the DMC calls a Talent Agency, that in turn books a band (from its approved list of entertainers).

Can you spell M-A-R-K-U-P?

The client may be getting a band that is priced at $3-4000, but they are paying $8000 or more, because of all the markups, along the way. You also see $40 centerpieces that sell for $95.

From an ethics point of view, I have no problem with middle-men earning a markup for booking a service; however, when the disparity between value of the service and the price paid by the client because so massive that the client feels ripped off, that’s a problem. One can’t forget the vendor has invariably been asked to discount their service to make these markups possible.

Often, your contact is in the Catering Department; however, these folks rarely make the policy decisions. Those decisions are made even further up the chain of command.

What to do about it: First, accept the reality. That’s right! If you think you are going to change the top-down policies of mega-companies, you’re kidding yourself. We all know no one sells your service as you do; however, you don’t always have that opportunity.

Here are some steps you should consider in re-evaluating your relationship and wedding marketing.

  1. You should reexamine your venue relationships and actively decide which are actually profitable, and which are just churning business, but not much more.
  2. Perhaps you should be dealing with more medium-size and smaller facilities that don’t have such extreme policies.
  3. Look at what you can do to improve selling directly to your prospect, to extricate your business from the food chain, as much as possible.
  4. Band together with other wedding vendors, formally and informally, to support ‘direct selling.’
  5. Scrutinize your website and make it your highest priority for direct contact with prospects. Websites are the pivotal screening tool for prospects, and you can’t afford to have any prospects overlook you.
  6. Take the time to look again at all your options for being in communication, directly with brides, such as wedding publications, direct mailing, bridal shows, and social media. Do not live with old experiences, it is today. Look again, in the present tense.
  7. Cement your relationships with facilities you like working with. Take the time to educate them about the relative quality and features of your service. In order to fully appreciate you, they must fully understand you.

If you represent a facility, and you’re reading this, some of the responsibility is yours.

The vendors servicing your clients are an extension of your venue, whether hired through you or not. At least, that is the way the clients and guests perceive it.

Ask yourself the following:

  1. Are you doing everything you can to understand vendor services, including the strengths and limitations?
  2. Do you really understand the difference between the price and value of various intangible vendor services?
  3. Are you acting in the best interest of your client, and your property, if you’ve reached a ‘lowest bidder mentality’ when subcontracting services?

These are the big questions and answers

Andy Ebon
Wedding Marketing Authority
The Wedding Marketing Blog

Wedding Leads Decline: What gives?

wedding leads decline

Fewer Americans are getting married. On average, the ones getting married are having slightly smaller weddings. Their celebrations are shrinking; however, not necessarily becoming less expensive. Wedding leads are an important part of profitability.

Wedding couples are deferring wedding dates. In 2015, the average American bride was just under 28 years old and the average groom almost 30 (Source: according to the most recent data available from the Census Bureau). A decade earlier, brides were 25; grooms about 27.

Wedding Statistics

wedding leadsThe number of new marriages per 1,000 people (The U.S. marriage rate) has declined for decades. It crashed especially quickly, in 2008 and 2009. However, there’s little evidence people began getting married at a quicker rate, despite the recovery of the economy. The marriage rate is unlikely to improve, significantly in the foreseeable future.

On the world stage, this is no shock. The United States marriage rate must plummet by about one-third to match marriage rates elsewhere. Recent data shows a U.S. marriage rate of 6.9%, compared with an average rate of 4.6% for countries in the European Union.

In the United States, couples are postponing marriage indefinitely, as it is more socially acceptable for couples to cohabitate and parent outside the bonds of marriage.

Year Over Year Statistics

wedding keadsWhile advertising costs continue to rise, it’s important to compare the cost-per-lead from the various sources of traffic. It is reasonable for prices to rise, commensurate with website traffic, but only if cost and activity are rising in tandem.

You will know, immediately if a proper relationship between marketing costs and click-throughs or leads exists.

As a wedding business, your website or storefront on sites such as The Knot or WeddingWire are key factors. Most of all, they should be in proper order. That means current photos, accurate copy, etc.. This goes for local and regional sites as well.

Review your wedding statistics and marketing costs not less than every three months.

Andy Ebon
Wedding Marketing Authority

The High Cost Of Integrity and Independence

Being RightSince returning from three and half weeks of business travel, for speaking, I’ve been in a somewhat contemplative state. I admit to having tuned out most of the ‘debt ceiling debate’ while on the road. Hopping from city to city, and country to country, in major chunks by car and plane, gives you quite the opportunity to be introspective.

At a relatively early age, I think most of us learn that life isn’t fair. Recently, I’ve become more aware of the plummeting value of integrity and ethics. I know… this is a wedding marketing blog. Somewhere along the line, I made the declaration that…

“…marketing is everything that touches the customer.’

In the wedding industry, it has become far more complicated than that. The interactive dance of bride-media-venue-vendor-et al has become a conglomeration of overreaching, on too many occasions.

Code words such as: “my bride” or “my couple” are mindless inferences that a single business has ownership of the bride or wedding couple and their decisions.

When someone says “I recommend them because they always follow our rules.”, it may be code for: “We don’t want anyone’s creativity interfering with our ability to get home in time for Saturday Night Live.”

“I’m not a public service, I have a business to run.” is code for: “I know I’m doing business with a jerk, but if it brings me business, I’m going to employ situational ethics.”

“The percentage we take for referring business is simply the cost of doing business.” is a ham-handed way of saying, “We narrow the field of leads for you, and if the value of business is worth it to, your business will happily pay it.” – Fair enough, but with the absence of transparency (revealing that percentage to the customer), I’m not sure if the policy passes the complete smell test.

I continue to look for fairness or reasonableness from time to time, but mostly find abuse of power, situational ethics, and lack of integrity.

You’d think I’d be used to it by now. Not so… I continually seek to do business with like-minded people.

How about you? Do you think about who (and what companies) you do business with? What bugs you? What makes you happy?

Share YOUR wisdom… and philosophy.

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Andy Ebon
The Wedding Marketing Authority
The Wedding Marketing Blog

Wedding Sales Fable of Goldie-Bride and the 13 DJ-Bears

mixed-signalsOnce upon a time there was a bride named Goldie. She had met her prince charming and couldn’t wait to start the process of planning her wedding. She stopped at a bookstore and came home with an armload of wedding magazines. Goldie was inspired.

Goldie set her DVR and recorded many wedding shows. There were shows about cakes, shows about brides-behaving-badly, shows about wedding dresses, and shows about planning the almost-perfect wedding… including one with a white knight named David Tutera who rides in on his trusty steed, Marky Mark (named after his favorite actor), to save the day from incredibly amateur wedding planning. Goldie drank gallons of coffee and watched the wedding shows until the wee hours of the morning. Goldie was jittery… and further inspired.

Goldie took her inspiration to the internet where she registered at every wedding website known to humanity… local sites, regional sites, and national sites. She read many message board postings of incredibly uninformed and self-centered brides, most of whom had not yet married, and therefore knew little of what they spoke. Nevertheless, having logged dozens of hours, swimming in information and data, Goldie was convinced she was becoming a wedding expert. She now forecast a career as a wedding planner, as soon as she completed her own wedding.

Like a college student, cramming for final exams, Goldie‘s head was ready to explode. She had consumed seemingly unlimited amounts of information, but hadn’t made one decision. Poor Goldie. A bridal show… that would be the answer. She could meet many wedding professionals, under one roof, on one day. Surely this would make decision making easier. Go Goldie, Go!!

disc jockey bearGoldie started with wedding disc jockeys, knowing how important they would be in the success of her reception. She was quite excited after meeting the first couple of DJ’s. And then, at each aisle, it seemed, there was yet another disc jockey. They were all dressed in bear suits and had matching accessories from a local tuxedo store.

Goldie learned a new word… commodity.

And with each successive encounter she filled her wedding basket with a treasure trove of CHOICES. Choices of music, disc jockeys, wedding entertainment directors, uplighting, dance floor lighting, gobos, party motivators, more equipment, less equipment, CDs and vinyl records. Goldie’s eyes started to spin like a cartoon character that had been conked on the head with a frying pan. Poor Goldie…

Goldie was no longer inspired. She was confused.

Goldie wanted fewer choices.

There weren’t too many bears… uhh, DJs. Though each of them offered too many choices. Goldie’s head was splitting with options. She couldn’t make one decision, until she met the 13th bear. That bear offered a single choice, an appointment.

“I’m sure you’ve met many other bears and DJ’s, today. I know we all have a lot to offer. Perhaps it would be easier if you came to our office, brought your fiancé, and enjoyed some porridge. Then we could answer all your questions without your head exploding. Would afternoon or evening be better?”

bear-coupleAnd so, Goldie deferred her decision until she met with the knowledgable and professional 13th DJ-Bear. Goldie was able to clear her head, at least for a little while, and decided to hire this particular bear to entertain at her wedding.

Goldie was no longer inspired. She was content and relieved.

As she made her way around the bridal show floor, Goldie made appointments with other wedding professionals who understood the wisdom of how to work a bridal show.

Morale: Disc jockey wedding bears and other wedding professional bears that make appointments at wedding shows, make more sales. Any other strategy would be… well, unbearable.

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Andy Ebon
The Wedding Marketing Authority
The Wedding Marketing Blog