Typically, weddings are expensive and involve multiple purchase decisions. Given how emotionally loaded the whole wedding process is and how many people are involved, it’s not surprising that the bride and groom look for all of the wedding help they can get.
As a Web savvy couple, my fiancé and I naturally turned to the Internet for assistance almost every time we faced a new decision. A wedding can be thought of as a series of large, considered purchases that often require input from a diverse group of influencers who may or may not be the people paying the bills. Further, adding the word “wedding” to a purchase inquiry can double or triple the cost of a purchase. And unlike many other high-involvement purchases, weddings build to a tightly timed series of events.
Having spent the last few months planning my wedding, I’m amazed at how often this process has been affected by the three major Cs of online marketing: content, community, and commerce. These factors have played a significant role during every step of my wedding process.
The Internet was generally our first stop for wedding information. We augmented this input with a few targeted wedding books and magazines and personal input from friends who’ve gone through this process recently. What I learned as a first-time wedding customer has implications for both content and commerce marketers:
- Include strong content. The Web was useful for prepurchase research. Consider ways to make your offering stand out by providing useful content, such as to-do lists, instructive anecdotes, how-tos, and various options, such as dresses, flowers, and cakes.
- Make search optimization a top priority. This should occur regardless of your marketing budget’s size, though it can be a challenge for smaller sites. Finding relevant information often required multiple searches using a variety of keyword combinations. For example, we had trouble finding phone numbers for potential reception sites because some tended to be listed under a different corporate name. Make your site visible under all relevant names and brands. This is particularly true for local merchants that aren’t part of larger, more Web-savvy organizations. Consider implications of local listings since many wedding suppliers are local. Remember that prospects are looking for addresses, maps, and phone numbers.
- Make information shareable. Use a variety of methods, including forward-to-a-friend, IM, and print-this-page functionality. Many decisions in the wedding process require group decisions that may involve the groom, parents, or bridal party. Facilitating this process makes your offering more attractive.
- Give consumers a reason to register with your site. Many wedding portals required registration to see the full breadth of their content. As a marketer, I appreciate the value of collecting information about prospects and customers. But don’t forget that consumers need to feel that they’ve received something of value for giving you their contact information.
- Have good databases and use true personalization. Many wedding sites ask prospects for a lot of personal information, including their wedding date. This information should be used to time the sending of relevant information. At a minimum, stop sending communications after the wedding date. I was warned not register with too many sites because they keep contacting you about wedding plans long after you’re married!
The Internet’s influence in terms of connecting us to our family and friends as well as to others who were going through this complex and stressful process was huge. Two factors that are important for marketers to consider:
- Who is involved in the purchase process. In addition to family and friends, we received recommendations, gathered input, and sought support from a broader network of colleagues, students, and fellow members of online communities. Some involvement was in the form of customer comments. Personal connections and input often trumped other factors in the final decision making. Given the one-time nature of a wedding, one negative comment, which may be taken out of context, could be sufficient to eliminate an option.
What constituted personal recommendations was interesting. For example, one friend recommended a photographer based on a blog posting. With social media, personal connections are broader and looser. Friendships occur where you connect with others.
- How information is communicated with influencers. We used an assortment of interactive tools, including:
- E-mail. We used e-mail extensively as a quick way to involve family and friends in our planning and reduce decision-making time.
- Blogs. We created a wedding blog to share our special stories and photographs as well as wedding-related details, like gift registries. Many major wedding sites give registrants the ability to build their own microsites.
- Text messaging and Facebook. These helped us communicate directly with our family’s teenage contingency.
- Online forums. These provided a means to connect with other prospective brides who could relate to the process we were experiencing.
From a marketing perspective, this translates to the following advice:
- Provide prospects with a means to communicate information from your site with family and friends. Make sure that communications as such forwards to a friend contain a variety of ways to contact your firm, such as an easy-to-use URL, a toll-free number, a physical address, and an e-mail address.
- Encourage prospects to engage with your firm with obvious e-mail contact information and a toll-free number. Remember that these communications may result in purchases once a consumer’s questions have been answered.
- Monitor a broad environment to determine what customers and prospects are saying about your products and company. They may be using a wide variety of third-party forums as well as e-mail and old-fashion face-to-face communications.
- Track your competitors in terms of their on- and offline presences. Given the importance of these purchases, consumers are likely to be looking at multiple options.
- Participate in relevant social media and social shopping sites to show that you are part of the community and to gather insight into current trends.
In the second of this two-part series, I’ll cover the last of the Cs, “commerce,” and the metrics related to tracking the effectiveness of the three Cs.