Before you start dropping dollars on advertising of any kind, it's wise to create a basic marketing plan. This plan doesn't have to be complicated, but it should be detailed enough to serve as a roadmap that keeps your business on track and your marketing efforts on target. In addition, it should be updated periodically as market conditions change so you're always in touch with the needs of your customers.
Your marketing plan can be a part of the business plan you've already written. It should describe your target market and the competitive environment you're operating in (this is where your market research comes in) as well as address how you're going to make your customers aware of your business. Information relating to pricing, industry trends and advertising also has a place in your marketing plan.
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Another important part of your marketing plan is your promotion strategy. Every wedding consultant, from the "one-man band" who coordinates just a handful of weddings annually to the person who needs a large staff to help handle the workload, must advertise to get new business.
The types of advertising that are most effective for wedding consultants include Yellow Pages advertising, magazine ads, brochures, business cards and word-of-mouth. Each method is discussed below.
Let Your Fingers Do the Walking
Without exception, the wedding consultants we spoke to said that their Yellow Pages ads were low-maintenance, low-cost workhorses that returned great value for their advertising dollar. There are two types of ads to choose from. The first is the line ad, which is the basic listing that's published under a heading like "Wedding Consultants" or "Wedding Services." Line ads normally contain only the business name, address and telephone number, and are provided to you free of charge when you turn on your phone service.
The second type of ad is the display ad. It's usually boxed and is much larger than a line ad. As a result, a display ad can contain far more copy, including details about the services you offer, your hours of operation and even a piece of clip art that relates to your business. Display ads are sold by the column width and the depth in inches. Most directories have their own standard sizes, so you'll have to inquire about both the size and the cost.
Magazine Display Ads
It's best to advertise only in consumer publications that cater specifically to brides since at any given time, only 1 percent of the population is considering marriage. The "biggies" in the bridal industry are Bride's and Modern Bride, but there are many others in the field. In addition, many cities have their own monthly bridal magazines, which are excellent vehicles for your ad. (One to try: Modern Bride, which publishes a regional magazine in numerous U.S. markets.)
Advertising in these publications can be expensive. To get the best possible rate, you should run a what's known as a schedule of ads, since the per-insertion rate is reduced when you repeat the ad over a set period of time. Another bonus: Studies show that ads that are repeated regularly tend to generate the most interest among consumers. It's really not beneficial to advertise only when you need business, so save your money if you can only afford one or two insertions.
A brochure is a great tool for reaching brides-to-be in the places they're likely to frequent, like bridal shops, bakeries that specialize in wedding cakes and so on. The cover should prominently feature your company name and have a meaningful graphic that represents your business (such as a happy bride, a bridal bouquet or entwined wedding rings). Other elements the brochure should include are:
- A detailed list of your services
- Testimonials from satisfied customers ("XYZ Bridal made my wedding a wonderful day to remember!"--Jane Smith, Anytown, Minnesota)
- Contact information (your address, phone number, fax number, e-mail address and website address)
You'll also want to consider mailing your brochure to prospective brides in the geographical area you serve. Many publications sell their mailing lists and can segment the names by ZIP Code or other criteria you choose. Regional bridal shows often compile their own mailing lists and make them available for sale. These are extremely effective lists because they're "hot lists," or compilations of likely buyers. A few weeks after a particular show, contact its public relations office to determine whether you'll be allowed to buy its list.
Here's a great way to advertise at a very low cost. Your business card is not only your calling card; it reminds a prospective bride or her parent(s) that you're only a phone call or an e-mail away. As a result, you should distribute your card freely wherever you go. The sole exception: Don't ever give out business cards at a wedding you are coordinating unless you are specifically asked for one. There's nothing less professional or tackier than placing a neat little pile of business cards on the cake table or--horrors!--handing out unsolicited cards to the unmarried guests in attendance.
Whoever said there's no such thing as a free lunch must have overlooked word-of-mouth (WOM) advertising. Not only is the price right, but WOM praise is one of the most powerful advertising vehicles you have at your disposal. One of its major advantages is that you often don't have to do anything special to garner this kind of freebie publicity. All you must do is perform your job to the best of your ability, and people will talk favorably about you and your willingness to do whatever it takes to satisfy the customer.
Alexander Hiam, author of Marketing for Dummies, says the key to getting good WOM is influencing what your customers say about you. You can do this a number of ways. Some wedding consultants call their clients a few weeks after the wedding to get feedback and verify their satisfaction. During that conversation, you can also get a referral or two from the satisfied bride, which you can turn then into a WOM opportunity by using her name when you call the person to whom she referred you.
Another way to influence WOM is by becoming involved in local business organizations, like Rotary International or the chamber of commerce. As you may know, many people have the perception that wedding consultants are "dabblers" who like to attend weddings and have turned that interest into a little side business. Although this perception is changing, you can establish yourself as a professional by networking at meetings of these local organizations. The members, in turn, are likely to use your services themselves or recommend you to others in need of a wedding coordinator.