While the Web often facilitates extensive comparison shopping, weddings are one event that frequently causes couples and their families to spend much more than they had initially intended. Regardless of their budget, every couple winds up trading up and down on different items based on what’s important to them. I examined the online marketing content and community and their relationship with weddings in my previous column; today, I’ll look at the role of commerce in this process and the metrics related to tracking the effectiveness of the three Cs.
What surprised me most about the wedding planning process? We made some very major purchases online, but online marketers overlooked some factors while trying to get our business. Here are a few examples:
- Invitations. While stationers and printers abound in New York, we chose an online provider because it was quicker and cheaper. We found that the combination of phone support and the ability to input our information exactly as we wanted it to appear left less potential for error. We were able to see proofs online and make changes easily. The provider was willing to send an advanced, physical sample of the invitation at a minimal cost.
- Photography. The Web has significantly improved the selection process for both the couple and the photographer. Every wedding photographer has a basic Web site where she highlights her experience, showcases the greatest hits, provides a portal to view wedding photos, and facilitates contact. Since the photos are the part of the wedding that endures, this purchase is a key decision for a family and personal referral is crucial. Interestingly, wedding photographers now use blogs to reveal their personality and give prospective clients insight into their creative approach. For us, these posts were the determining factor.
- Wedding rings. We started shopping online since my financé was convinced there were hidden gems for sale on eBay. He felt more comfortable with my ordering his ring online than dealing with the overzealous jewelry merchants on Manhattan’s 47th Street. Through trial and error, we determined the best set of keywords to find the product we wanted. Despite visiting our chosen online jeweler’s site multiple times, the phone representative who took our order never asked how I found the site!
- Travel. After abandoning several honeymoon destination options, I searched on the words “romantic honeymoon” and found the Cook Islands. Since we didn’t know anything about them, we used Google Earth to locate and view it and see other travelers’ photographs. Further, we used search, not the major travel sites, to locate the lowest airfare from the U.S. to the islands. While my financé spoke to a few travel agents, we ultimately put more faith in the combined consumer recommendations on TripAdvisor in deciding on hotel options.
- Gift registries. Weddings beget gifts, and bridal registries facilitate this process. While many retailers have set up a means to register online, we found that merchants tended to obfuscate their return policy when it came to returning product for cash. That said, all retailers offer newlyweds a discount for purchasing any desired items after the wedding.
From a marketing perspective, among the factors to bear in mind to facilitate the purchase process:
- Use social media to augment your own content so consumers can access and find out more about your product and offering, whether on your own site or on a third-party site.
- Track the source of your sales, especially when phone representatives close a sale that started online. While this may extend the call, it’s important for measuring the productivity of your marketing spend.
- Leverage online functionality to aid the post-purchase process, whether it’s providing online proofs for invitations and photographs or offering gift registries.
- Be open about your return policy. To our surprise, only one store allowed us to return products for cash. This fact was not posted online and required talking to a store manager to find out.
- Give prospects and customers an incentive to purchase from you and return to your site. One of the retailers with whom we registered worked to make us feel special. It invited us to a special champagne breakfast and gave us a small gift!
Each of the three major marketing components (content, community, and commerce) has different factors to track its success. As with any marketing campaign, it’s important to consider your business goals to determine which metrics are most important for you. Further, depending on where the consumer is in the purchase process, the metrics may vary.
- Pageviews, unique visitors, and registrations give a good indicator of how many people are interested in your offering.
- Search rankings can be an indicator of how well your content rates in terms of relevance to consumer needs and relative to near competitors.
- Monitor consumer forums to determine what’s being said about your offering. With weddings, where there’s a lot of planning leading up to a one-time event, a single negative comment may be all it takes to sway a consumer from using your product.
- Solicit feedback from customers and prospects to gather customer insight firsthand and to determine how your offering compares to direct competitors and near substitutes.
- Revenues are the most important indicator of success, particularly net sales. Since sales may happen over an extended period and may involve different channels, measuring the impact of the various sources of sales may require extra effort to track.
- Costs are another critical metric. Matching costs to revenues may be challenging for the same reasons as measuring revenues.
Weddings are special and, hopefully, once-in-a-lifetime events. And they yield lessons for marketing many types of products online and provide useful insights with regard to the three Cs: content, community, and commerce. Planning for a big event now requires research, planning, and communications online and off-. The savvy e-marketer knows how to how to get noticed by providing useful and attractive content, easy-to-use tools, and efficient communications channels. The end results should be a smooth transaction and a valuable contribution to a very special occasion.