This post was written by WeddingWire Education Expert Kathryn Hamm, Publisher of GayWeddings, 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.
A year and a half ago, I spoke with a number of wedding professionals, including Meghan Ely of OFD Consulting and Marc McIntosh of the Wedding Experience, about the importance of challenging bridal bias in 2016. That is, the importance of taking an in-depth look at one’s marketing language and, as needed, looking for ways to update and reinvent one’s marketing language to be more inclusive of both brides and grooms. For some (and you know who you are), this might also include completely rebuilding your brand or business name to be more relevant in today’s marketplace.
It’s a little campaign I like to call #BridalRebrand.
After more than a year’s worth of conversations with Marc about this topic, I reached out to him for an update on the work he’s done to challenge bridal bias, refresh his brand, and continue to evolve his product. As you’ll see in our conversation below, he has taken the concept of undertaking a #BridalRebrand to a whole new level.
As you consider this update in the Wedding Experience rebranding journey (the backstory of which you can read here), I hope you’ll also consider the scale and impact with which his work impacts our industry — couples and professionals alike.
Further, I hope you’ll take note: if you are a wedding professional who markets your services through expos like the Wedding Experience, it’s incredibly important for you to recognize how any bridal bias you have in your marketing language might be interpreted and potentially draw the wrong kind of attention to your brand.
Remember: unless your services are intended exclusively for women (eg, wedding gowns), wedding marketing needs to be about “brides and grooms” and/or “engaged couples.” Undertaking a #BridalRebrand may feel daunting but it’s doable. Case in point: the evolution of the Wedding Experience.
KATHRYN: Beyond updating your general language to be more inclusive (for example, using “engaged couples” and “brides and grooms” instead of “brides”), what other changes did you make in your marketing materials?
MARC: In the past, when we relied primarily on mass-appeal advertising, our message tended to focus on the white female that made up the majority of our audience. Today, there are advertising opportunities that can be narrowly targeted, including social media, online music services and retargeting ads. We can now run ads that reach, for example, only Hispanic engaged couples within a 25 mile radius of our event. This has allowed us to target specific audience segments with a message that speaks directly to them.
While our events have always been designed to be open and inviting to everyone, we didn’t do a great job of communicating that in our advertising. Through targeting, we are now able to appeal to attendees regardless of their ethnicity, age, or sexual orientation. We have advertising that includes images of same-sex couples, and we were the first major wedding show producer to do so. We have also integrated images that include multi-cultural couples, and we now include models of various shapes and sizes in our fashion shows.
“I see our changes as more evolutionary than revolutionary.”
– Marc McIntosh, The Wedding Experience
K: Did you run into any roadblocks or special challenges in implementing inclusive language in your print materials vs. your digital materials?
M: We have two audiences, the couples who attend our shows and the wedding professionals who exhibit. Our changes on the attendance side were relatively easy and involved tweaks to our advertising, registration forms and show branding. The changes on the wedding professional side proved to be a bit more challenging. Our exhibitor marketing materials screamed ‘bride’ (‘hundreds of brides attend’, ‘sell to a huge audience of brides’, etc.). The word ‘bride’ was so easy to use (and overuse), and we found that simply replacing it with ‘engaged couple’, or something similar, was a bit awkward at times. Making this change required a major rewrite of our marketing materials, but I am happy with the end result.
K: As you look back, what was the single most difficult hurdle to navigate during your #BridalRebrand overhaul?
M: The biggest hurdle was deciding how we were going to change our advertising to appeal to same-sex couples. Although same-sex marriage is legal, unfortunately, it is still a controversial subject and not yet universally accepted. This is a particular concern in the more conservative markets in which we produce our events. We realized that our changes might offend some prospective attendees and exhibitors, so the challenge was to find the right balance. Once we decided to make the changes, we proceeded without hesitation.
“The best piece of advice that I can offer…is that being more inclusive in your marketing message can result in increased business.”
– Marc McIntosh, The Wedding Experience
K: What was easier to implement than you expected?
M: I see our changes as more evolutionary than revolutionary. We have always strived to be fresh and relevant, and our ‘Bridal Rebrand’ was a continuation of that process. Many of our changes were very easy, such as changing the wording on the buttons we give out at our shows. These now read ‘I’m Getting Married’ instead of ‘Bride To Be’.
K: What sort of feedback have you gotten from the wedding professionals and engaged couples with whom you work?
M: We haven’t received a lot of feedback, either positive or negative, and that is exactly what we wanted. Our attendee audience turns over every year, as people enter the market when they are engaged and leave when they are married. The result is that most are seeing our advertising for the first time and don’t notice that we’ve made changes.
That said, we have seen a substantial increase in the number of couples attending our shows, whereas in the past our attendance was overwhelmingly female. We have seen a small increase in same-sex couples, but not as many as we would like to see, so we continue to tweak our advertising to that market segment.
K: Anything else you’d like to add or additional advice you’d offer to your colleagues in the industry?
The best piece of advice that I can offer, which was my largest takeaway from all of the work we have done together, is that being more inclusive in your marketing message can result in increased business. The millennial audience, regardless of their demographic, like and appreciate businesses that are inclusive.
Editor’s Note: if you are looking for a market research resource, check out WeddingWire’s WedInsights.