» Challenging Bridal Brand Bias in 2016

This post was written by WeddingWire Education Expert Kathryn Hamm, Publisher of GayWeddings.com, the leading online resource dedicated to serving same-sex couples since 1999. Kathryn is also co-author of the groundbreaking book, The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide to Lesbian and Gay Wedding Photography. Follow her on Twitter @madebykathryn.

Having celebrated two major milestones in 2015 – full marriage equality recognition and the acquisition of GayWeddings.com by WeddingWire – I found myself in the position of asking if my work toward LBGT inclusion in the wedding market was complete.

Photo by Rhinehart Photography

Photo by Rhinehart Photography

One might make that argument. It’s easy to say that there have been many advances. We have:

  • Full marriage equality for same-sex couples in all 50 states and at the federal level, thanks to the June 26, 2015 US Supreme Court decision.
  • Representation of some level of training and education embracing LGBT couples at all of the major conferences for wedding professionals.
  • Attained a participation milestone of more than 120,000 wedding professionals in the GayWeddings.com LGBTQ-friendly directory of wedding professionals.
  • Realized an absolutely breathtaking, near-perfect count of 90% of wedding pros stating that they are ready, willing, and able to serve same-sex couples.
  • Enjoyed recognition by all mainstream wedding sites and a majority of vendor websites that prominent inclusive language and images matter.
  • Seen notable shifts in the inclusion of “grooms” in the media. According to Andy Whittaker, Director of Market Insights at WeddingWire, in six of the largest national and urban papers (both online and in print), there has been a general increase of usage of the term “groom” in articles since 2007, and a decline in the ratio of usage of “brides” to “grooms” in articles since 2011.

For as much ground as we’ve gained since 1999 when my straight mom opened the doors to her online boutiques and began our work, however, there remain some important blind spots in the wedding industry. Thus, there is some remaining work around ‘bridal bias’ to be done.

For some, there is a feeling that the LGBT market is one to be avoided due to its smaller size (4-7% of the U.S. population is estimated to identify as LGBT) or a conflict of belief systems. For others, especially where legal marriage equality is only months old, it’s a matter of ongoing education and exposure. There are also those who merely wish to stand on tradition and habit, and, of course, those who face a very real dilemma about updating a company brand identity that is recognized, has a strong URL and SEO presence, and seems to be working for the many brides seeking resources.

If you’ve had the chance to hear me speak or have interacted with me in the past few years, you know a few things about my approach: 1) I endeavor to offer information that supports pros in better serving same-sex couples (not treating them as a one-note demographic to which to market and profit); 2) I challenge all pros to recognize that thinking of client diversity in the wedding industry as whether or not the heterosexual Caucasian bride is a blonde or brunette is no longer acceptable; 3) I strive to work with and exchange ideas and stories with every pro, including those who are struggling with their intersection of their personal religious beliefs and professional responsibilities in public commerce; and, finally, 4) I encourage wedding pros to recognize that their portfolio images and choice of language matters, and that it is essential to make updates to be inclusive of “brides and grooms” and “couples,” rather than just “brides.”

In light of the above, I offer my final post in 2015 as a commitment toward the work I resolve to do in 2016. And that is:

I would like to have conversations with ‘bridal show’ producers, national brands, long-time wedding pros and journalists to encourage an update in language to embrace all couples, even if it is also true that, by far, the largest identified group of wedding consumers have been brides. The bottom line is that a majority of couples – two brides, two grooms and one bride & one groom – want to see inclusive practices. (For those wondering, while I’m at it, I’ll also have conversations with wedding professionals to push for more inclusive representation of non-White couples. The mainstream market has favored Caucasian couples over all others, and I believe that it’s time that we update our ‘default’ representation.)

Let me acknowledge that I recognize that this will not be easy work and will likely not result in 100% participation. For some, like ‘bridal shop’ owners who specialize in wedding dresses, it is quite appropriate that they carry on ‘as is’, but deepen their cultural competence and understanding of the needs that two brides might have as a pair rather than what one bride might need. For others, the cost of updating a brand identity, website, logo and more may feel absolutely daunting, if not next-to-impossible. To be certain, undertaking a brand overhaul should never be taken lightly, but it can be done; often with better-than-expected results.

Marc McIntosh, a veteran, award-winning producer of popular wedding planning expositions across the US, and the engine behind the Wedding Experience, shared with me his re-branding experience, which he characterized as a “bold move” and one that many of his industry peers looked upon with skepticism. Ultimately, though, he evaluates his investment of time and resources to rebrand his Washington Bridal Showcase, Richmond Bridal Showcase, and Baltimore Bridal Show as the Wedding Experience to be a “smart move” because his wedding planning exhibitions now offer a unified approach to embrace the needs of modern couples in today’s marketplace. Though he still includes the term “bridal show” on his site and speaks primarily to women (or brides) in his general materials, his revised brand, its services and its complementary micro-targeted advertising campaigns are inclusive of all couples.

wedding-experience-logos

Meghan Ely, Principal of OFD Consulting and a WeddingWire Education Expert, re-branded her wedding PR and marketing business after 7 years. She says that her goals and target audience had evolved, and the update also provided her with an opportunity to revise her logo (a somewhat abstract representation of a bride) to be more reflective of her support of marriage equality. “It was imperative,” she says, “that the new logo, web site and marketing materials were all gender neutral to reflect my support of marriage equality.” For Meghan, finding the time to do the creative work, team management, and revisions were the most challenging aspect, but feels that “it was well worth it in the end.”

ofd-consulting-logo

In a final and, perhaps, higher stakes example of upending a product imbued with bridal brand bias, I turn to WeddingWire’s own Sonny Ganguly who spoke at WeddingMBA about being a company that doesn’t rely on past successes but instead builds with an eye on the future.

WeddingWire had invested resources, a registered trademark, SEO value and more into its successful Bride’s Choice Awards reviews program. But WeddingWire also understood that the modern market is about more than brides; it’s about couples. Thus, driven by its commitment to inclusivity, WeddingWire traded short-term loss for long-term gain and re-branded their award program in 2014, offering it as the Couples’ Choice Award.

In 2016, at WeddingWire World and beyond, I look forward to having conversations with wedding professionals across the US about the challenges and opportunities, roadblocks and breakthroughs, that inform the process of retiring a brand identity with bridal bias that has worked in the past for one that is designed to engage brides and grooms, regardless of sexual orientation, in the emerging post-marriage equality market.

Do you have a “bridal” re-branding success story you’d to share? Would you like to submit your brand portfolio for brand revision suggestions from our panel of experts? Let us know or tag us at @WeddingWireEDU #BridalReBrand!