Note: This blog post is a follow-up to our video that walks you through the wedding buyer’s journey. In case you missed it, check it out here: Watch Video
The typical event venue hosts numerous annual corporate events, parties, and other functions for happy repeat customers year after year. But anywhere from 50 to 80% of their annual business comes from weddings. If this sounds familiar, you know the cold, hard fact: More than half your business needs to be replenished each year. This is a pretty significant marketing challenge, we know.
But on the plus side, venues that plan the right mix of marketing to attract and engage couples will not only drive interest and bookings but also free up their time to focus more on the creative and rewarding aspects of delivering amazing experiences for their guests. The secret is in avoiding the common pitfalls and aligning your marketing to the typical wedding buyer’s behaviors, preferences, and expectations during all four stages of their wedding journey. We’ll walk you through the hurdles and how-tos of formulating a wedding marketing strategy that gets your venue humming – and your guests happy.
Stage I: Awareness
Within days or hours (okay, minutes) of getting engaged, couples take to their phones and laptops. In the earliest stage of dreaming about and planning their wedding, couples are searching almost exclusively on wedding websites, blogs, and social platforms to find inspiration and information. Your first goal is to get your venue on their radar so they include you in the initial set of venues they’re considering.
Make no mistake, even while couples are still riding the wave of excitement from getting engaged, they’re rolling up their sleeves and planning, too. According to WeddingWire’s most recent Newlywed Report, nearly half of couples start planning their wedding within a month of engagement – with researching venues at the top of their priority list. A combination of cross-platform paid and organic marketing (search marketing, advertising, paid social) is the first step in getting you noticed.
Here’s where your attention to SEO starts to pay off. Investing in content and keyword strategies and optimizing your website can make or break your chances of being found when couples are searching for venues on Google. Since most large wedding and event sites dominate all of the major keywords in Google search, you should focus your SEO efforts on longer-tail keywords that further define your unique venue. For example, you’re not likely to rank high for a keyword phrase such as “weddings near Boston” (unless you pay for that ranking), but optimize your site for keyword phrases like “organic rustic farm weddings near Boston,” and you’re much more likely to rise to the top.
Incorporating paid search in your game plan is another way to stay in the same arena as the big guys when it comes to rising to the top of search rankings. While the wedding powerhouses in your region will likely dominate the SEO space as noted above, effective pay-per-click campaigns like Google Ads provide the quickest way to jump to the top of the page listings and grab your fair share of attention. Don’t make the “set it and forget it” mistake here. Be sure to research and fine-tune the keywords you’re trying to rank for and experiment and test out different creative, wording, offers, and CTAs to optimize your paid ads – and ultimately increase your conversion rates and ROI.
Chances are, we don’t need to convince you of the importance and value of paid advertising across the digital realm, especially with platforms like WeddingWire and The Knot topping the list of where couples turn to first. When 50 to 80% of your business depends on attracting new customers, advertising is a crucial part of your strategy. (Our one-and-only cautionary note: avoid the common mistake of focusing too much on advertising to the detriment of the later stages in the wedding buyer journey – more on that later.)
Take the time to understand the differences between each digital platform and custom-craft your profiles and listings with images and content that suit each one. Enticing couples to click through to your website is the name of the game. If you’re not already investing in social media ads targeting the newly engaged or investing in premium placement on venue-listing platforms, it’s time to consider it – especially with the dwindling likelihood that your organic posts will show up in the feeds of your target audience. Instagram and Facebook allow very granular targeting and are usually worthwhile investments for wedding venues. We have an entire e-book covering social media marketing for wedding venues (you can get your hands on a free copy here).
Digital Marketing Solutions – Focus on creating events worth celebrating, we’ll take care of the rest
Stage II: Interest
At this point, couples have searched and browsed at length and their wedding is starting to take shape. They’ve maybe even drafted an initial list of venues they like. Now it’s time to roll up their sleeves, get more details, and decide which venues they’ll eliminate and which ones they’ll tour. They’ll dig deeper into social media, wedding websites, and your website to further vet their options and narrow in on their shortlist. They’re comparing venues on multiple levels, and if they can’t imagine themselves at yours, they’re crossing you off and moving onto the next.
Here’s where reviews on social media, wedding websites, Google, Yelp, etc. make a huge impact. A whopping 77% of millennials look to online reviews to make a purchase, including big-ticket items like weddings. If you don’t already encourage couples who’ve had weddings at your venue to write a review on The Knot, Wedding Wire, Facebook, and Google Reviews, make sure to start now. Reviews are second only to price on the list of factors that most affect couples’ wedding planning decisions. They’re the digital equivalent of word of mouth that gives your venue credibility.
Organic Social Posts & Content
While you’re at it, enlist your brides and grooms to share their real-life wedding stories on social media and get their permission to post, tag, and share their stories as well (the fact that more than 50% of couples today create a custom wedding hashtag is a good sign you’ll get what you ask for). And by all means, when possible, profile your venue’s real weddings through blog posts, videos, and any outside media opportunities. Whenever and however you can get it, this type of real-wedding content extends your marketing reach, helps display the diverse mix of wedding styles your venue can accommodate, and adds color and flavor to your content that money can’t buy.
This stage is also where all the time, effort, and resources you’ve put into building a fabulous website really pay off. All of the most important tactics in this stage point back to your website. In many cases, your website is the sole factor in whether you make the cut and get to greet the couple for a tour. Do this part well and you can expect to see a solid 10% or more of your website visits convert to site tours.
Keep in mind that four out of five couples shopping for their wedding are millennials, so digital research is second nature and phone calls are typically treated on an “only when necessary” basis (kidding, not kidding). Your potential customers want and expect to find the information and details they need to determine whether your venue will make the cut. So make sure your website not only serves up gorgeous images and inspiration but also covers important details like pricing, specs, options, packages, vendors, and all the other information these self-serve sleuths expect to find.
Last but not least, be sure to employ retargeting ad campaigns at this stage in the game to reengage with those who’ve visited your website and shown some interest level (e.g. have checked out certain key pages) but have not yet converted. Couples will be taking many pathways and visiting so many websites as they research that it’s all too easy for them to lose track of all the ones they want to revisit. Serving up ads through the Google Display Network is an effective way to remind them of your venue and get them back to your website to book a tour.
Stage III: Site Tour
They’re here. Awesome. All your hard work and investment to make it through the preliminary stages have brought the couple to your door. Don’t blow it. The biggest mistake we see venues make is focusing too much on marketing tactics for the first stages and dropping the ball when they’re this close to the finish line.
Keep your eyes on the prize: Your job is to dazzle the couple – during and after their tour – and get them to sign. Avoid group tours with multiple couples during this stage. Millennials who’ve grown up in the “me generation” see this as a huge turn-off. That said, couples touring your venue inevitably have many other tours lined up (typically 3 to 5 venues make it to their shortlist), so you’ve got to take steps to ensure they remember all that they saw, felt, and loved about your venue after they’ve left.
In addition to making sure your venue is gleaming and your team presents a polished presentation, the single most critical action to round out your tour is to hand your prospects a beautiful brochure to take back home. Couples will turn to your brochure in the days following to help remember the feelings they experienced and dream about what their wedding would be like at your venue. And they’ll use it as a “show and tell” piece to describe your venue to family and friends. Don’t forget, they’re millennials, so just like you’ve done with your website, make sure your brochure and supporting materials such as menus, proposals, and other types of collateral make it easy for them to find all the details they need to make their final choice to host their wedding with you.
Stage IV: Booking & Wedding Day
Time to celebrate. Your combined marketing efforts across the wedding buyer’s journey have gotten you to the signed contract. With the average couple spending more than $29K on their wedding reception last year, your ROI should be well worth it.
We’d be remiss not to remind you to think about your marketing cycle as you toast the happy couple (hey, we’re marketers, after all). Don’t be shy about reaching out within a month or two after each wedding to enlist the couple to help spread the word about your venue through their social feeds and through their honest, detailed (and no doubt favorable) reviews. An email or phone call from a representative from your venue who worked closely with the couple would be the best way to reach out with this request. And lastly, make a note in your calendar to congratulate every couple on their one-year anniversary. Post a photo of their wedding on your Instagram page and tag the happy couple as well. Your efforts will mean a lot to the couple that you remembered, and you’ll spread a little more marketing love along the way.