Wedding Vendors Walk Fine Line When Wooing Frugal Web Shoppers

Engaged couples are taking to the Web in search of ways to save money on the most expensive party they will ever throw. Savvy wedding vendors — florists, photographers, caterers, etc. — are moving their marketing dollars online to reel in those consumers, but are finding they must walk a fine line to lure deal-seekers who are wary of appearing cheap.

“We want people to feel like we’re an aspirational brand and they’re special because they shop at be Beau-coup,” Polly Liu said of the wedding favors business she founded in Mountain View, CA, seven years ago. “But people are wired in this economy to get something, some kind of a deal, whether it’s 10 percent off, free shipping, something.”

Vendors attempting to woo frugal consumers without looking like a discount brand — while aiming to stretch their own advertising budgets — are looking for answers to some tough questions: Which keywords are worth the investment? On which wedding sites does it pay to have a presence? How do you spread the word about good prices without looking tacky?

On the search front, one answer is to avoid buying keywords that might, in a less image-conscious category, seem obvious. Marcia Green, sales and marketing manager for Relish Catering in New York, says her company bids on “affordable catering” for its corporate business, but would never do so for its wedding business.

“When you do that, you’re just attracting people who are only looking for a discount,” she said. “You have to have a fine line between finding someone who wants to spend $30 a person and someone who actually wants to book a wedding.”

Better, say some vendors, to bid on specific terms — “napkin holders” instead of “cheap wedding favors,” for example — and then put news of limited-time offers in the text of the ads themselves. That is what Beau-coup does.

“We see our conversion rates almost double” when ads contains time-specific deals, said Liu. “We do it once every month or month and a half, because we don’t want to overdo it. It works especially well in the last few days of the promotion.”

Few vendors seemed to put much stock in banners ads or ad networks, particularly when they could better target audiences through display on Brides.com or TheKnot.com, the 800-pound gorilla of wedding sites. (According to the site, 80 percent of consumers planning a wedding visit TheKnot.com at least once.) Paul von Rieter, a wedding photographer in Mission Viejo, CA, said that after three months on TheKnot.com — “the first month was just money down the tube,” he said — he had started getting nearly weekly bookings through the site, and his investment is paying off.

“Brides go back to that page and look a few times before they make a decision,” he speculated. “They click through to your Web site and look at your shots and think about it and then three months later you get an e-mail.”

But many agree that the most important site for wedding vendors to be on is not a wedding site at all: Facebook. The reason, they say, is that brides tend to prefer vendors their friends have used, and because advertising on Facebook is cheap, if not free.

Von Rieter said he now makes it mandatory in all his contracts that he is “allowed to tag the bride in every photograph I take and plaster it all over Facebook with my logo on it.” That lures the eyeballs of the brides’ friends, and frequently leads to new clients, he said.

“We’ve looked at paying for advertising on Facebook and ruled against it,” Von Rieter added. “It’s a free medium and it’s already working for us. So why pay for it?”

Beau-coup’s Liu said she is paying for display ads on Facebook because she appreciates being able to target consumers who identify themselves as engaged. But she concedes the display ads do not yield the leads that the free Facebook advertising does; in her case, a fan page and a “share this” button on the company’s homepage that allows Facebook users to place the company’s logo on their profile page.

“If someone clicks through to our Web site from our Facebook fan page, that converts a lot better than if they click on a banner ad on Facebook,” she said, adding that all customers who arrive from Facebook convert at a higher rate than do visitors to her Web site as a whole.

Liu also bucked the tide by saying her company continues to advertise in print magazines — though mostly as a brand-building exercise.

“If you’re everywhere in front of the bride, it helps people think you’re a big company,” she said. Liu added that Beau-coup tracks its magazine ads by building a separate landing page for each. The results? “We’re not losing money on them.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated Beau-coup’s Facebook traffic converted at a higher rate than any other source. In fact, those visitors converted at a higher rate than the site’s average.

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