» A Roadmap to Inclusive Language For Wedding Show Producers

 

 

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.

» Bridging Differences for Business Growth

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kathryn-hamm-2016This 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.

It’s the time of year that your phones are buzzing and your inbox is filling with new leads from happy couples, ready to finalize a wedding date and and all of the services they’ll need to design a celebration they’ll remember forever.  So, before engagement season comes to an end, be sure you’re ready to serve all potential clients—even the ones who may differ from you.

 

Start With A Self-Audit

Since we’re early in the season, let’s think about setting the stage for growth and begin with a quick self-audit. As your leads roll in, what patterns are you noticing? Collectively speaking, are the inquiries following patterns of years’ past? Are you having conversations with couples that follow the same trajectory of questions? Are the couples with whom you are meeting booking you for their weddings at a higher or lower rate than in previous years?

These are all important questions, which have been addressed in various ways by my EDU peers, to help you consider the efficiency of your business. And, now, more than ever, the WeddingWire Storefront for wedding professionals offers many robust tools to get answers to some of these reflective, data-based questions.

 

Consider Your Inclusivity, Part One

On the question of becoming more inclusive of same-sex couples, how’s that going for you? Are you looking at the leads you’re generating from same-sex couples and evaluating your success? Are you booking those couples? Where are those leads coming from? Are they satisfied with your service? Or are you not getting any inquiries from same-sex couples?

Before you get overly critical about the results of your efforts to be more inclusive of same-sex couples, please allow me to suggest a rough measure by which to judge your efficacy: recent research suggests that roughly 4-7% of the population identifies as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender). Thus, it’s reasonable to set a goal for yourself to have 5-10% of your overall inquiries be represented by same-sex couples and 5-10% of your overall contracts to be represented by same-sex couples. When you think about your current track record and projections for 2017, how do your efforts measure up to that rough indicator?

wedding professionals differences diversity business practices

Consider Your Inclusivity, Part Two

My advice to you as you begin to challenge your old assumptions for growth in 2017 and not to, don’t just stop at being inclusive of same-sex couples. Have you considered what religious faiths seem most likely to book your services? What about couples of a different racial or ethnic group than the majority of you and/or your staff? For those of you who’ve been in the market since the days that we used phone calls and paper instead of text messages and electronic contracts, what sort of communications and success are you having with Millennial couples?

Challenging your assumptions, asking questions about what your first impulse is when marketing to and interacting with prospective clients, and taking steps to expand your comfort zone might result in broadening your business and solving a problem (that is a limitation to your ROI) you didn’t realize you had.

 

Bridging Beyond Discomfort

Ready for a deeper dive into converting a self-audit and openness to inclusivity to the next level? Begin by asking yourself these questions: When you open your inbox and see an inquiry from someone with a name you can’t easily pronounce or if you realize you can’t determine the gender of the person, what do you do next? When you meet a prospective client with a visible disability or encounter a language barrier, what do you? When a client identifies themselves to you as queer, how do you react?

Ultimately, it’s important to ask yourself if your well-intentioned concern about a lack of information or discomfort with someone unfamiliar to you negatively informs how you respond. You might find that you feel uncomfortable and less sure of yourself in a conversation, creating an awkwardness that interferes with the relationship. You might take longer to reply as you worry about what to do, thus reducing the chance that the inquiry advances. You might avoid asking the questions you normally would or give advice as you would because you are afraid you will say the wrong thing.

Many of you have shared stories like this with me. Sometimes, it’s clear that you have work to do. You need to have more conversations, continue to educate yourself and potentially even practice with some situation-specific role playing with colleagues you trust. But, sometimes, I find that many of you are open, are working hard to be inclusive but are so afraid of making a mistake that you silence yourself.

In either case, the best advice I can offer you is to listen with love, lead with love and serve with love. Approaching that which is unfamiliar to you with kindness and respect and without placing the burden on the people with whom you are unfamiliar to teach you is always the best way to go.

 

In Sum

It is critical that you prioritize what you know how to do and do well. That you are an expert in your set of services. That you are clear in how you define who you are and what you do. That you are clear on what the value is of those services you offer. That you know the rhythms of your local market. That you nurture and recruit new clients who are a good match for what your business offers. In these cases, working with strength within your comfort zone is key to a successful business.

But, I’m never one to rest on yesterday’s success. And I hope you aren’t either. I think it’s worth breaking out of your comfort zone and bridging into the unfamiliar to grow your business.

A true self-audit of your opinions, attitudes and comfort, along with an audit of the ROI on your business efforts these past few years, may tell the best story on the kind of growth you need to expand your business efforts and where best to get started. 

I wish you luck and I welcome your stories of success and setback!