Launching a wedding fayre amidst ridiculous competition.
The wedding market is an exhilarating place to make a living, and even in our wee Scotland, it's crowded. Today, there are fewer barriers to entry than ever before - cheaper access to equipment and affordable marketing opportunities have meant more suppliers, more venues, more competition in the Scottish wedding scene across all sectors. If you want to succeed without competing on price alone, the name of the game is undoubtedly differentiation.
Braw Brides is an awesome Scottish wedding blog that seeks to feature the best and most inspirational online wedding content in the country. Like most wedding blogs, Braw Brides serves two masters: it provides content for free to the public, and it pays the bills by offering a range of services to select high-end independent wedding suppliers, including an online directory, and bi-annual wedding planning events in Glasgow.
Here's a look at how we worked in collaboration with Braw Brides to launch a successful alternative wedding fayre amidst ridiculous competition.
UPDATE: here's a video version of this post, from 27:46 onwards.
1. Understanding the market that already exists
The wedding blog market in Scotland is not especially saturated, but the wedding fayres market is very busy and there are wedding events of various sizes running most weekends up and down the country in what you might consider the wedding planning seasons of early autumn, and late winter. So when Braw Brides expanded to incorporate wedding fayres as an additional revenue stream and an extra service for its members, they immediately wanted to do something that was drastically different from the competition. Good call!
The first step was to understand what's already available in the marketplace, and to understand the potential problems with the existing model. That meant interviewing all stakeholders - not just newlyweds-to-be, but also exhibitors, venues and even businesses that had never exhibited before, to get a sense of the issues.
From interviewing potential exhibitors already working in the wedding market, immediately a pattern emerged - from an exhibitors' standpoint, a good bulk of the existing fayres shared a number of common issues. We've listed a few of them here:
crushing too many suppliers into one space, thus overloading on competition;
having no unified aesthetic standards or conceptual vision;
offering a stilted, sales-first environment;
no guarantee of attendance rates being high, nor of audience on the day being appropriate for their businesses.
Similarly, from interviewing brides and grooms who had visited multiple wedding fayres in the past, a few issues were commonly cropping up, including:
a reluctance in approaching suppliers because of the expectation of a sales pitch;
cost of entry without guarantee of quality.
This feedback really helped us to make sense of the opportunities out there, both from a bride/groom's perspective and from an exhibitor's perspective. That meant designing an experience that took advantage of those opportunities.
We should note that during this research, we also encountered examples of very accomplished and high quality fayres, such as the Wedding Collective Bridal Markets.
The take home:
A great first step towards differentiating yourself within a crowded sector, is to try and identify problems to solve. Problems are opportunities. And don't just think about solving problems that the customer has - think about every stakeholder in the entire process.
2. Defining an ideal target audience
Braw Brides has an existing roster of directory members, who very broadly speaking share the following attributes: they're small, independent and creative suppliers to the wedding market across various disciplines. Some are alternative and some are traditional, but for all of them there's a strong emphasis on bespoke services and on quality. However, they're also diverse and have different priorities. Heather had done a great job of recruiting creative and subversive names in the wedding business for the directory, and the job was to find an audience that was going to be primed for those suppliers.
Therefore, creating customer profiles that matched a large and diverse group of suppliers became the first challenge. That means choosing a few attributes that were common among the suppliers, and focusing on an audience for whom those shared values would likely resonate, that was broad enough to fill a room for four hours on a Sunday afternoon in Glasgow.
Without giving away a client's specific targeting secret sauce, here's a broad overview of the audience profiles we built using the Facebook Ads Manager for Instagram and Facebook ads:
We wanted to create a broad audience for the shows, who would respond well to the independent nature of the suppliers at the event, and who were unlikely to be led primarily on price; we focused on people who were newly engaged near Glasgow; we targeted audiences who had an interest in some of our favourite existing sources of creative wedding inspiration.
We built an audience based on the above audience profile on Facebook Ads Manager, and used it to serve ads across the Facebook newsfeed and also Instagram. We found that actual click-throughs from Instagram were costing us about 5x as much as click-throughs from Facebook, but we also found that our organic strategy on Instagram delivered loads of sign-ups independent of the ads (more on that, and the other social media tactics used, at #5).
The take home:
Don't be afraid to shrink your audience - targeting a smaller number of people is preferable if that smaller contingent are likely to be more passionate about your event. Our goal was to get 300 people in the room who were going to be a good match for the suppliers, not 2000 people who weren't likely to care.
3. Defining a style and a concept for the show
After the research phase, we got together with Heather and we all landed pretty quickly on the idea of a wedding workshop - somewhere that brides and grooms could come and basically get a bunch of free advice about their wedding from some seasoned professionals. It was a new approach based on the very simple principle that giving stuff away up front was a really good way to build trust and establish relationships. We also wanted them to be free to enter for the public for the same reason. It was clear from the research that the relaxed, no-hard-sell approach was absolutely crucial.
So the exhibitors were challenged: if you're going to come and exhibit then you need to do something interactive. Each exhibitor had to bring something to the party that was legitimately constructive and interesting for prospective brides and grooms. It's a "workshop" and the idea is that newlyweds-to-be could come and workshop their wedding. That meant taking advice from experienced professionals without needing to worry about being sold to, or being thought of as a time-waster.
The feedback from the attendees on the experiential differences in the workshop, compared to a standard wedding fayre, has been immense. People have really responded to the interactive elements: we've had dressmakers doing live sketching, photographer roundtable discussions, calligraphy demonstrations, free cake (that's interactive, right?); there are breakout areas with tea and coffee and space for attendees to just sit and chat either with suppliers or with each other.
The take home:
This is basically content marketing - the idea that, to introduce yourself to a prospective customer and to start to form a meaningful relationship with them, you give something away for free that is truly and genuinely customer-focused and valuable. Content marketing works; that's why you're reading this right now!
4. Lots of high-end, design-led promo materials
The wedding industry is obsessed with aesthetics. That is just the very nature of the industry - how things look is of paramount importance. And weirdly - there was a massive gap in the market for a wedding show that, basically, had really nice looking promotional collateral. A key weakness of most (not all) of the competition in the wedding fayres and events space, was a lack of quality promotional collateral. A wide open goal.
Heather's vision for the Braw Brides aesthetic is 'punchy but pretty', and that's the standard that we tried to instil in the branding and website, and then throughout the workshop collateral.
Interestingly, putting together really nice collateral was a great way of getting suppliers to buy in as well. It really helps people to get on board when they're buying into something that just looks good. It also helps to encourage them to advocate on your behalf, which was a crucial way to expand our reach and also to legitimise the event by associating it with all these great suppliers. More on this in a minute.
The take home:
If your business is your aesthetic standards, then you have no choice but to look good. Your collateral should look as good as your product, so take it seriously - it makes a massive difference.
5. Social content tactics: turning our exhibitors into ambassadors, and using strong calls to action
We selected Facebook and Instagram, and email marketing, as the principle channels for the campaign, and we set up a landing page on the website with a quick sign-up form that could track conversions from each channel. We've looked at the targeting above (#2) - here's a couple of interesting tactics that we used in trying to serve the right content for that audience on social media.
Firstly, we asked each supplier to send in some professional photography of their work (no iPhone photos!) and we basically designed each of them a personalised workshop promo image for them to post on their own Instagram. It's a win-win for the supplier and the event - the supplier gets some nice new content to put on their social media (who doesn't need more social content?), and the event finds multiple new audiences. Having the exhibitors be ambassadors for the event was a really effective way of reaching more people, and also of legitimising the event and establishing the Braw Brides brand with new audiences. The posts functioned as endorsements of the event, and meant that Braw Brides as a brand was being associated with great businesses in the Scottish wedding scene, on their timelines.
Secondly, we used a really effective call-to-action on several social media posts which helped massively to push the post out further than the initial targeted reach. We challenged readers with some variation of the following: "our wedding workshop is an excellent fit for alternative and creative-minded newlyweds-to-be, who love independent suppliers! Got an engaged pal that fits the bill? Tag them here!". That simple tactic - asking people to tag a friend - worked incredibly well, and led to great engagement and loads of extra sign-ups. The rationale being - even if the post lands on the "wrong" timeline (someone who's already married; someone who's not planning a wedding, etc.), there's still a call to action that's very possibly relevant to someone they know. It even mirrors the goals of the targeting, so that the additional audience acquisition is still likely to be within that target audience.
The take home:
1. Make your customers your ambassadors on social media. Give them every reason to shout about you, and make it as easy and as appealing as possible.
2. Asking your community to tag suitable future customers is a great under-utilised call to action. People who are interested in or passionate about your services, are likely to know other people who will also be interested in your services. Lean on their goodwill and everybody wins!
6. Post-workshop event feedback from suppliers and attendees
After each workshop, we've asked for public feedback and supplier feedback. And in every case it's thrown up little things that we've tweaked as a result. The research part of the project is never really finished and there are always ways to refine the process which come to light with post-event feedback. Here's a sample of responses to the question "did the Braw Brides Wedding Workshop differ from other wedding fayres that you've attended?":
"More personal and relaxed. No hard sell or tacky elements."
"Well chosen suppliers definitely - being picky is good."
"Yes, much more relaxed and able to talk to the suppliers."
"Attended (a larger fayre) the previous week... quite overwhelming compared to this wedding workshop."
"A lovely and welcoming idea too to offer coffee/ teas and cake!"
"Yes, much more relaxed and friendly"
"People seem more honest and interested. Not just your usual stalls with the same things round every corner."
The take home:
Okay, at this point we're just bragging - but the positive responses perfectly mirror the problems that came up in the research phase way back at #1. And as a result, the event has seen consistent growth, and a growing reputation for quality - each show gets easier to produce as a result. It's hopefully a good lesson that strong research up front is a great way to identify potential areas of differentiation.