Evaluation key to sparkling wedding future

The wedding industry can move quickly, but must continue to self-evaluate wherever possible. The message came loud and clear from the recent Engage!10 conference, held at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. There, assembled wedding industry professionals debated and discussed trends and issues facing the industry. Joe Shooman reports.

Intriguing indicators to the sector were given by Carley Roney, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Knot, whose presentation Luxury Market Insights and a Look Into the Future was enthusiastically received.

Roney said that the wedding industry has changed a great deal since she started working in it some 15 years ago. The Knot had undertaken an exit survey of 40,000 brides in the luxury segment of the industry. That segment, she said, may comprise only 13 per cent of annual brides but it was also responsible for 37 per cent of the annual spend.

She said that The Knot defined a luxury wedding as having a spend of $40,000 or more, not including the ring or the honeymoon. This sector is recession resistant, said Roney, who noted that changes in luxury spend between 2008 and 2009 were very slight. It was only the group spending over $100,000 that saw any real decrease.

However, budgets were only guidelines rather than limits, and more than 55 per cent of luxury brides went over budget, in contrast with only 3 per cent under budget. The cash spent, however, was far from evenly-distributed; reception venues took up nearly 50 per cent of the spend with photographers and videographers the next largest slice, which was 9 per cent. These ratios altered to 40 per cent and 12 per cent respectively for weddings costing under $40k.

Reception venues for the luxury sector cost $33,000 on average, including food, drinks, bar service, site fees and rentals, noted Roney, who said that was 3.5 times more than the non-luxury market.

Wedding professionals most likely to be hired were videographers and wedding planners, she informed delegates. A videographer could cost more than $4,500 with brides wanting documentary-style video and 2/3 of the market asking for a mix of traditional and documentary photos. Brides also liked putting their own stamp on matters, such as personalising place settings.

Luxury brides, she said, spent 10 hours a week on average planning their wedding with a third spending longer. Planning a wedding was on average a year before the event with 41 per cent more than 12 months prior to their wedding. These resources were online and in print, noted the wedding professional, but the luxury wedding bride was less likely to be inspired by bridal events or shows.
Emphasising the importance of anticipating the needs of the bride as they change and evolve, Jo-Anne Brown, owner of Cayman’s own wedding planning and design company, Celebrations, says that it is imperative to continuously raise the level of the bar.

“You can never stop,” she says. “You have to keep in very close tune with the brides and their expectations.”

Brown says that when she started arranging destination weddings she used fax machines. “Now we have a 1-800 number and all of our planners carry a Blackberry 24/7 and are constantly accessible,” she states and continues:

“I keep the design elements current and fresh. I don’t like to copy – our style is always unique and as a result the “over the moon” reaction of our thrilled newlyweds means that word of mouth is really our best advertisement. We keep in touch with leaders in the industry, work with editors of the major destination wedding magazines and wedding TV and of course keep up to date with social media through my personal blog, celebrationscayman. blogspot.com and we increase our reach weekly through followers on Twitter and Facebook.”

In a subsequent question and answer session, Roney said that China presented an amazing opportunity for wedding professionals. Wedding magazinee The Knot was launching a special Chinese edition, which would tap into the 10 million weddings held per year. People had a lot of money there, she noted, and were looking to spend it and make the event a spectacular one. New York City style was particularly popular currently, she said.

Another significant survey was undertaken by Rosalind Bordo and Siri Eklund of Two Bright Lights. The survey dealt with how wedding professionals could better utilise their online marketing and, as Bordo noted, answered the questions everyone asks. These included whether blogging and tweeting were important, whether getting published in wedding magazines mattered and how pricing should be structured.

In this way, they could find out what marketing worked for particular segments of the wedding industry. It’s the first of its kind to quantify what they called the revenue benefit of marketing activities and took into consideration the thoughts of 700 wedding industry individuals in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean.

The sector can be regarded as unique in numerous ways, said Bordo, not least because it is comprised, generally, of many small businesses rather than a few dominant behemoths dictating how things need to be run. This enables speed of thought, which is also somewhat down to the personalities of the people involved, she said.

“Because there’s so much creative energy in the industry you don’t get people who are so set in their ways or tied to doing things that they’re not able to change up what they’re doing in difficult economic situations,” observed Bordo.

Some surprising findings came through from the survey, including that high revenue wedding businesses gained higher revenue if they held their pricing rather than negotiated. There was no significant drop-off in volume for those who held their pricing line compared to those who didn’t.

“One thing that was interesting was some of the data to do with marketing techniques [on social networks such as Facebook] that would work well for certain segments such as planners but not for photographers. We noted that some people had higher revenue that correlated with that behaviour compared to others.

“This offered insight into what it was about the way one group used social media and had an opportunity to realise it,” she said.

Time for smaller companies is a key resource, she said, and whilst there are countless ways to market a small business it was vital to focus on the marketing that was most affected, rather than trying to do everything at once. The survey gave hard data to see which techniques were aligned with revenue and that gave people something on which to work.

Intriguingly, it was possible to plot four main sub-sectors of which marketing streams were most worth the time. Cash Cows represented bookings that generated a lot of revenue and happened frequently, Rising Stars generated a lot of revenue but didn’t happen as often, Roster Fillers did not generate much income, and did so infrequently and Dogs neither generated revenue nor happened frequently.

These descriptions varied per sector of the industry but across the board it was vital to direct time and financial resources toward the Cash Cows as priority, then the Rising Stars, she said.

Evaluating your business on a regular basis is always worth doing; tracking where customers heard about you, and entering it into a spreadsheet is simple but very valuable, she concluded, and the industry survey was a good illustration of that.


From left, Kathryne Arce, Rebecca Grinnals, Jo-Anne Brown and Trisha Hay of Chariot.