FROM ITS LAUNCH in September 1996, The Knot today holds the rank of No. 1 wedding Web site, with 2.1 million unique visitors a month. Now that she has helped put a wealth of choices at brides' fingertips, Knot co-founder and editor-in-chief Carley Roney helps vendors stand out in the crowd.
SPECIAL EVENTS MAGAZINE: We hear that because brides today are more business-savvy, they aren't shy about pitting one vendor against another. Do you agree?
CARLEY RONEY: These brides and grooms are older — 27 is the average age of a bride, and 29 is the average age of a groom in 2004. They are professionals, many of whom plan events for a living. And they are paying for their weddings — 70 percent of couples are either paying for or contributing to wedding expenses. So of course it stands to reason that they are going to try to make the vendors work for their dollar. They aren't shy about approaching vendors with a budget in mind, with expectations about the service they want for their dollar, and knowing the demand for their business is much more competitive as the market becomes more crowded with possibilities.
Q: How can wedding professionals adapt to this new client? Must they market online?
A: Yes, it is crucial that not only are you marketing yourself online where the brides are looking for their vendors, but that your Web presence is up to par. You should not only have your contact information, but also portfolios of your best work, letters of gratitude from past clients, and a way to contact you about availability and pricing. A super-flashy Web presence is not necessary, but a professional one is. Marketing in print should not be neglected, though, because — as our savvy brides know — advertising is an indicator that vendors are serious about their business. If they see you in multiple venues, it will add to your credibility.
Also, e-mail is high priority: So much communication happens online, via e-mail — and vendors must be prepared for this. They should check e-mail every day and answer promptly and professionally. This is extremely important, as e-mail may often be the first time the bride has a professional experience with a vendor.
Q: Should vendors today be prepared to explain their pricing structure?
A: We encourage couples to approach their vendors with the number they want to spend — and that they should leave a 10 percent to 20 percent cushion to accommodate more-expensive ideas they might want to consider after meeting with the vendor. Vendors should be just as open to explaining their pricing structure — this engenders trust on both sides.
Q: Should vendors conduct more market research on clients so they understand how their clients have changed?
A: Yes, it is a must that every business — large and small — keep in the know if they want not only to serve their clients, but to gain new customers. Vendors should read up on market research, they should visit the bridal shows, they should read coverage of the wedding industry in both the consumer and trade press, and they should browse the message boards, understanding that both praise and criticism of their work — and their colleagues' work — will be constructive to their future business with brides. Evaluations and polls of their current customer base can also be helpful.
As we are telling brides to treat their weddings as a business venture, not a hobby, vendors need to treat their customers equivalently: as smart, professional, 30-somethings — not naive young brides. Assume their intelligence and sophistication — at least to start with. In addition, be prepared that, due in part to the Internet, brides are far more educated about weddings today. So don't be surprised or put off by it. They think they are doing their job — being prepared!
Q: Do you envision a new type of wedding coordinator or perhaps a tiering in services?
A: Definitely a tiering of services. There are many brides out there who need and want a full-time coordinator — remember, brides and grooms are often working round-the-clock and need someone to help them arrange the details. But, there are many brides who do not feel they need or want a full-time coordinator, most often because they find it glamorous to do the planning themselves — doing the research, making the choices, etc. Brides want control. That said, there is also a rise in the need for and openness to day-of services. Wedding coordinators should respond with tiered services.