Wedding Bells

Meet Jennifer Randall. She’s 27 years old; lives in Chicago; works as an advertising account coordinator; earns approximately $42,000 per year; carries Visa, American Express, and Target credit cards in her wallet; and spends her summer weekends playing volleyball and sailing on Lake Michigan. She eats out frequently, but when she cooks at her apartment it’s usually a gourmet meal with her fiancé for a special occasion.

A quick glance at Jennifer’s profile, and she seems like any other 22-35-year-old, female, urban professional. Take a closer look. Her customer data makes her a target coveted by marketers. She is, after all, getting married.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal ran an article addressing the lengths to which marketers go to reach those about to take the big plunge. The article credited Condé Nast with estimating newlyweds are responsible for $70 billion in spending during the first year of marriage and that newlyweds spend more in the first six months of marriage than a settled homeowner spends in five years. Therein lies the reason marketers are in search of those about to walk down the aisle.

The article detailed how marketers target this group. List brokers aggregate newlyweds’ names from public records and wedding photographers and sell them to interested marketers for 50 percent more than a lonely Jane or Jim. AOL Time Warner went a step further, bundling and distributing a “Newlywed Kit” to town/city clerk offices across America. AOL Time Warner promotes its own products and sells to packaged goods companies the opportunity to include their products in the kit. Town clerks distributed 1.5 million of those free kits last year to those applying for marriage licenses. (My local government should have been wise enough to at least negotiate a revenue-sharing agreement.)

Reading that article got me thinking about two things. First, it’s amazing how the value of a single customer’s data increases when that customer is approaching a life-changing event, such as a wedding or the birth of a child. This drives home the point customer data in and of itself is not valuable. It’s the context of the data that drives value. Second, the creative methods marketers employ to reach target audiences, the Newlywed Kit for example, is a testament to the American spirit and capitalism.

Ten years ago, I met a direct marketing consultant who, it seemed, could do no wrong. He was the kind of person who was able to turn whatever he touched into gold. He would come up with money-making ideas that were so simple, when you heard them you couldn’t help but think, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

He told me one idea he hatched in the 1980s and quickly turned into a money machine. He negotiated a barter deal with an upscale national hotel chain. Each month, he’d give the hotel chain exclusive recognition in an ad placed in a high-circulation bridal magazine. In exchange, the hotel chain would provide him one all-expense paid trip to its four-star Hawaiian resort. The deal included stock creative elements (pictures, logos) of the Hawaiian resort with authorization to use it in a magazine ad. The consultant created a full-page ad featuring shots of newlyweds walking the picturesque beach at sunset. Readers were invited to call a toll-free number to enter to win a honeymoon of a lifetime at the resort. Phones rang off the hook. Plenty of brides-to-be, and more grooms-to-be than you’d expect, were happy to invest a few moments of time to win a dream honeymoon.

So where’s the money is this deal? In the data the marketing consultant collected on each sweepstakes entrant. In addition to traditional contact information, such as name, address, and phone number, each individual who called was asked to answer a few additional questions. It was made clear answering any of the these questions was purely voluntary. They included innocuous queries, such as name of the significant other, date and location of the wedding, and date of birth of both bride and groom. Callers typically were happy to talk about their wedding details and their future spouses. Chalk it up to young love.

Now, the money making began. The marketing consultant had companies lined up to pay for data on the future brides and grooms. Those companies were, in fact, the sponsors referenced previously. They sold everything from the obvious categories, such as bridal magazines, travel agencies, and bridal gowns/tuxedos, to not-so-obvious ones, such as home decorating, insurance (auto, home, and life), mortgage providers, and moving services.

In most instances, he was able to sell the same customer’s data to 20 or more separate companies in less than a week. Clients loved the results generated from the leads he provided. They were willing to buy as many leads as he could produce. A brilliant business model. I once joked with him he should complete some back-end research in an attempt to identify those couples most likely to split and sell those leads to divorce attorneys. The look he gave me made it clear it had already been done.

Google the term “honeymoon sweepstakes.” It returns over 7,700 listings. They are sponsored by everyone, from Kitchen Etc. to Harte-Hanks. I’m confident the proliferation of the Internet has created a plethora of newlyweds-to-be lists generated via the same sweepstakes vehicle the direct marketing consultant executed via inbound telemarketing in the 1980s. Don’t you love how the Internet makes everything old new again? Registration lists of Web sites such as Bride.com and The Knot would be the gold standard for direct marketers targeting the prenuptial crowd.

It’s easy to get stuck thinking about marketing in traditional terms. Put a media plan together, including a variety of elements; buy the media; measure results.

Sometimes, a little ingenuity goes a long way. Think how the newlywed example could apply to your business. Can you more effectively target your audience by identifying lifecycle events that naturally drive consumers to the category of products you offer? How could you creatively use the Internet to capture customer leads and relevant data? Where do your best customers go before they come to you? I bet an insurance salesman asked himself the same question 50 years ago and learned the wedding chapel was the answer. So he started spending more time at that chapel to find customers. Find your company’s wedding chapel, and you’ll find a gold mine.

Let me know if you come up with any great ideas!

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