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The Susan Southerland SecretPersonality Marketing to Today's Bride
By Susan Southerland Kristy Chenell Karen Gingerich
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Just Marry!, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWho Is Today's Bride?
"Today" is a relevant term. In an industry that constantly introduces new brides over the years, that also means new generations. As we get older, the age difference between our clientele and us thus becomes greater and greater. Many times, we think we know and understand the new generation with whom we are working, but as we lead our busy lives and try to keep up with the latest trends in our respective specialties (photography, floral, planning, etc.), how do we continue to keep up with who "today's" bride really is in regard to her ideals, her preferences, her buying styles, etc.?
After extensive research on the elements and traits of today's bride, I understand how the challenges we face as vendors are heavily influenced by the changing dynamics of a new generation. In learning more about this upcoming generation, we are preparing ourselves more strategically in marketing and sales, with an ultimate goal of making more money and lessening our stress.
Identifying with Echo Boomers
Let's face it—we have a variety of challenges that we face each day just from being part of a small business. However, the majority of vendors that I speak with say that marketing and sales are two of the areas of greatest concern for their companies. That's not a surprise given the new generation of Echo Boomers we are now working with and the preferences and priorities that they have and expect.
Vendors today have the notable challenge of marketing and selling to a generation of brides who were born into a diverse, high-tech world. Known collectively as Echo Boomers, Generation Y, or the Millennials, today's brides and grooms are not only used to technological change and economic competition, they expect it. Because of this, the landscape is changing for the way we market and conduct our businesses.
Even more, with the Echo Boomer generation containing more minorities and a wider economic spread than any previous generation, today's vendors need to adjust their marketing and sales strategies to compensate if they want their businesses to succeed.
Born between 1979 and 2002, Echo Boomers are the children of the Baby Boomers. With an estimated 71 million of them on the scene, Echo Boomers represent the largest generation since their parents'. Though they're the offspring of the Baby Boomers, don't mistake their tastes and attitudes for Mom and Dad's. Unlike tradition-bucking Baby Boomers, Echo Boomers are often described as "neo-traditionalists." They believe in marriage and they want a traditional wedding, but they want to put their own spin on it. Traditional religious ceremony? Sure, say some Echo Boomers. Complete with the standard house of worship cantor? No, thanks. Flying in a musician the couple heard on a recent vacation is more appealing to these sophisticated pairs.
Echo Boomers are also more tech-savvy than any group before them. This is, after all, a generation who doesn't know life without fast computers, tiny cell phones, or the Internet (and we don't mean dial-up!). Echo Boomers embrace technologies like e-mail, texting, and instant messaging (IMing). These brides and grooms are much more likely to e-mail a potential wedding vendor for information than to pick up the phone and call. Additionally, creating websites, joining online communities, storing their music on iPods, and burning their own CDs and DVDs are second nature to the Echo Boomers and impact the way they plan their weddings.
Dum, Dum, Da Dum: The Impact of Echo Boomers on the Wedding Industry
The oldest Echo Boomers—those around twenty-eight and twenty-nine years old—are just starting to tie the knot in large numbers, and their presence and particular way of navigating life are revolutionizing the wedding industry.
First, there is the fact that there are so many of them: "In the next fifteen years, the number of Echo Boomers turning twenty-seven (the average age for women to marry) will grow 22 percent. Assuming that the average age of a bride and other factors remain constant, an increase in marriages seems likely due to the sheer size of the group," reports the Fairchild Bridal Group, publishers of Bride's, Modern Bride, and Elegant Bride magazines ("The American Wedding," 2004). Second, they have significant resources. A 2007 study by VISA USA estimates that by the year 2015, the Echo Boomer generation will account for approximately $2.45 trillion in annual spending, some of which will be devoted to planning their weddings.
In general, Echo Boomers differ from engaged couples before them in several ways. Here are the biggies:
They're older . Over the last forty years, the average age of marrying couples has risen steadily. Today, the median age of a bride is twenty-seven and a groom twenty-nine, according to the Fairchild Bridal Group.
They've been exposed. An explosion of television shows such as Whose Wedding Is It Anyway?, Platinum Weddings, Rich Bride, Poor Bride, Weddings Away, and Bridezillas—as well as televised "celebrity" weddings—has given Echo Boomers an unprecedented look behind the scenes at what goes into planning a wedding, and the possible results. Because of this, Echo Boomers care a lot about making their weddings "perfect" and "unforgettable."
They're more pragmatic in their spending. We wouldn't dare call them cheap—they aren't, by any means—but Echo Boomers do place a premium on getting a good value for their money. In the VISA study, 83 percent of Echo Boomers identified themselves as bargain shoppers and 80 percent said they stick to a strict budget when making purchases.
They're more diverse. Men and women of this generation are more likely to marry outside of their own religious or ethnic groups than ever before.
Their definition of "couple" is broader. They recognize partnerships between two men and two women instead of strictly a man and a woman.
They take a more global view of wedding planning. Whether it means tying the knot at a distant spot (i.e., a destination wedding) or searching far beyond the borders of their wedding locale for talented wedding pros, Echo Boomers see no reason to be restricted by geography. They're more influenced by word-of-mouth than traditional advertising. These couples have grown up with plenty of screen-time—from TV to the Internet—and are extremely media savvy. They hate "being sold," but are significantly moved by recommendations from their peers. According to a Nielsen Global Online Consumer Survey of over 25,000 Internet consumers from fifty countries, 90 percent of consumers surveyed noted that they trust recommendations from people they know, while 70 percent trusted consumer opinions posted online ("Global Advertising," 2009).
We've Got a Front-Row Seat
As a wedding planner, I'm seeing firsthand how our Echo Boomer clients are approaching wedding planning from a fresh perspective. For instance, there was a time when I primarily worked with the bride and her mother (who wielded a lot of decision-making power since she controlled the checkbook). Over time, the groom became a more active player and helped choose menus, musicians, and more. These days, grooms still play an important role, but my Echo Boomer brides are as likely to bring their best friends along to meetings with me as they are to show up with their moms or fiancés. This is part of a bigger trend: Echo Boomers have very close relationships with their peers and are often involved in helping to plan each other's weddings. Today's bride may be in several other weddings across the country at the same time she's planning her own. This presents some unique opportunities and challenges.
Another huge trend related to Echo Boomers is the increase in couples marrying outside of their faith and/or ethnicity. For that reason, they have a keen interest in finding special ways to combine the traditions of the bride and groom's cultures and religions into their wedding. I recently planned a wedding that beautifully integrated the bride's Vietnamese heritage with the groom's Irish background. (Think a chic bamboo altar, bagpipers, flower girls scattering four-leaf clovers, and a feast featuring Lychee martinis, shot glasses of potato leek soup, and petite corned beef sandwiches). I've planned numerous weddings that blended Jewish and Christian elements (often presided over by a rabbi and a minister or priest), as well as Hindu-Christian weddings pairing a traditional Christian wedding ceremony with traditional Indian dress and preceremony henna painting on the bride's hands.
I am also seeing a big change in what couples feel constitutes a wedding. The options have expanded far beyond the usual church, garden, or hotel ceremony followed by dinner and dancing. Today, a couple might opt for a bountiful brunch, a swank cocktail party, or a decadent all-dessert reception. Perhaps they'll jet off for a destination wedding with family and friends in tow. Or maybe they'll elope and then host a big bash when they return home. Some couples are even opting for a private ceremony for just their closest friends and relatives followed by a blow-out reception for hundreds.
In addition, Echo Boomers have an eye on Hollywood. This generation has grown up poring over celebrity magazines such as People, InStyle, and US Weekly, and they have their BlackBerries set to Perezhilton.com and TMZ.com to kill time with celebrity news while waiting in line or at a stoplight. As a result, they're greatly influenced by their favorite stars' weddings and other parties and are eager to find ways to recreate celebrity bashes—though usually on a more modest budget!
Echo Boomers have grown up in a culture where they are constantly inundated with information. Have you ever noticed how short many of their attention spans are? There is so much available at their fingertips that they don't have to linger long on a website, a television or radio station, or even a magazine before flipping to the next, most intriguing thing.
This is why marketing messages must be clever and expertly delivered to have any impact. After all, effective advertising is extremely difficult in a society where spam filters reject all but the most innocuous e-mail messages, television commercials go unseen using TiVo or another DVR, and even radio ads are ignored by flipping the station or streaming XM radio. Vendors working with this generation of brides and grooms certainly face some unique challenges.
Planning Echo Boomer Weddings
In regard to planning their weddings, Echo Boomers have a keen interest in achieving trendy looks, and they want their wedding vendors to identify the most affordable (or most bang-for-their-buck) ways to achieve that. With an increasing amount of vendors to select from, Echo Boomers have the fortunate opportunity to search until they can find just the right team to pull off the newest trends at prices that offer them the most value for what they spend.
Have you ever asked a bride what her vision is for her wedding day and she answers with, "Simple, yet elegant," only to realize that there is much more extravagance and details once the planning begins? It happens to me all the time.
I could write about all of the latest trends that are "simple, yet elegant" that I've seen, as well as what I think may be most popular for the next few years, but with Echo Boomers, it's not that easy. With them, it's all about one thing: customization. Today's couples want to feel that their wedding is unique, that it's a reflection of them, and that it is unlike what any bride has done before (even if you as a vendor have seen it before), and it goes beyond just having something monogrammed.
It's crucial that we keep this in mind as we market and sell to today's bride. Even though we may see certain trends emerge, it's important that we sell or customize the idea to each couple. Some of the best salespeople I've witnessed in consultations are those vendors who can sell the same space, the same bouquet, the same package over and over again in a way that makes it seem as though the current couple is the first to experience anything like it and that it was made for them.
Gone are the days when the parents of the bride footed the entire bill for the wedding. Now the cost is often shared by both sets of parents and/or grandparents, and just as often directly shouldered by the bride and groom. Because of this and the effects of the economy, the cost of wedding services is more of a factor than it has been in decades.
There is much information available regarding the average cost of weddings, and I do see that fluctuate slightly every year. However, with the Echo Boomer generation, overall cost seems to be less of a predictor on whether they will purchase your services than their list of priorities. Echo Boomer couples vary significantly on their lists of priorities. For example, some couples rank photography as number one on their list of importance and are willing to spend high to get the quality they want. Because of this, they are willing to forgo things such as videography, a band, or even their dream honeymoon in order to get exactly what they want for their first priority.
What is both fun and challenging at the same time is that each couple (not to mention each bride and groom separately) has their own individual priorities and preferences. Just as one couple prefers to spend the majority of their budget on the reception, another one may elect to spend it on paying for ten of their closest friends and family to travel to Europe for a small, intimate ceremony.
I hear many vendors say that they only prefer to contract weddings that have a certain minimum budget ($50,000, for example). While in theory this may result in excellent photographs of the weddings to share with others, there is no predicting how an Echo Boomer will spend that $50,000 budget. It could possibly be spent on an element such as extraordinary wines because that happens to be a passion of the couple, or maybe the majority of their budget will be used for a top-rated band so their guests can dance the night away. This isn't the case every time, but it is noteworthy to mention, as I have witnessed many vendors lose sales because of this perspective.
In Defense of Today's Bride
Throughout the year, I travel consistently, speaking with wedding vendors across the country and listening to their industry comments and concerns. Over the past ten years, I have seen a trend in complaining about nasty brides, clueless brides, overbearing brides, and flaky brides—the ultimate "Bridezillas." After noticing that this was at the forefront of vendors' minds from coast to coast, I confess that I found it concerning, and I started wondering why this conversation was becoming so common.
This is why I find it crucial to look inside the mind of a bride. For a moment, let's take into consideration what brides are faced with when planning weddings today.
Their Friends' Expectations: The Echo Boomer generation holds their peers in the highest regard. Most often, the bride and groom's friends have a greater impact on their decision-making process than their parents. They also tend to have very large circles of friends, which makes for a great deal of opinions to sort through.
When I think of the friends' sphere of influence, I think of a trip that I took to a gown salon with one of my brides—we'll call her Laura. Laura brought an entourage of ten women with her: her mom, her maid of honor, four bridesmaids, four classmates, and me. I sat back to watch the interaction that took place among Laura and her group. First, she would pick a gown that she liked and then would hold it up for the group to see. If there was even one negative reaction, the gown would go back on the rack. When five or six gowns finally met with everyone's approval, Laura went into the dressing room to try them on. She would then emerge from the dressing room and not even glance in the mirror. Her entire focus was on her group's reactions. Again, one nose wrinkle and the gown came off, never to be seen again, regardless of how much she truly liked it.
Excerpted from The Susan Southerland Secret by Susan Southerland Kristy Chenell Karen Gingerich Copyright © 2011 by Just Marry!, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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