Lessons Learned Navigating a Fragmented Industry

wedding-industry

In an effort to articulate the thoughts in my head (and maybe even help a few other wed-tech founders make sense of things) here are some random observations on the current state of the wedding industry.

If you’re reading this and have operated in the wed-tech space, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

The Wedding Industry

Most industries function along a pendulum. It swings from fragmentation to aggregation. As new technologies arise and markets evolve, an industry can go from being very fragmented to becoming more aggregated.

When it comes to the wedding industry, the last thing that ignited a dramatic shift was the Internet. And I don’t think anyone can dispute that The Knot was one of the first to aggregate and leverage content and tools online.

The Internet fundamentally changed how people planned their weddings. And while some argue that social and mobile will have the same effect – I’m not sure they’re powerful enough. Yes they’re important and have had (will have) a significant impact, but can they lead to more consolidation on the supply side? I don’t think so.

If anything, they’re contributing to increasing the fragmentation within the industry. After all, aren’t social and mobile simply a natural extension of what the Internet has allowed us to do?

What’s interesting about the wedding industry is that its fragmented on both the supply side (vendors, service providers, wedding professionals etc.) and on the demand side, specifically when it comes to digital content consumption.

The sheer noise created by the industry for a market full of brides (and increasingly grooms) that are only paying attention for finite period of time can be overwhelming. Add to that thousands of local micro-communities around each wedding and it gets even noisier.

The Supply Side

The supply side in the wedding industry is an example of fragmentation at its finest, including everything from global players to part-timers dabbling in the space:

  • Local vendors and wedding professionals
  • Part-time service providers (i.e. there are many part-time wedding planners, photographers etc.)
  • National and regional chains that supply wedding accessories, dresses, gifts, invitations etc.
  • Online resources ranging from publicly traded company The Knot, online behemoths Wedding Wire, a gazillion bride bloggers and everyone else.
  • Print resources such as bridal magazines

Everyone is blogging, pinning, tweeting, and sharing (us included) to inspire brides everywhere. It’s saturated on every level of service and product and is getting noisier with every wed-tech startup and part-time planner that arises.

And lets not forget Pinterest – arguably, Pinterest has profoundly changed the way we consume content online. When it launched, Pinterest felt more like a magazine than any other “digital” magazine I had seen to date. This could be why the wedding industry once still enamored with print adopted it so quickly.

The Demand Side

The demand side is also fragmented and this becomes an issue when we’re talking about keeping the cost of customer acquisition down for a wed-tech startup.

There are many segments that are consuming content in the wedding space, participating in forums and clicking on ads – finding your customer becomes challenging. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • First there are brides, a market that can be slice and diced a million different ways. DIY weddings, destination weddings, segmentation by wedding spend, urban versus rural, big versus small etc.
  • When it comes to demand for content consumption, you’ve also got wedding vendors and service providers. They eat up content as much as (if not more) then brides. Over half our blog subscribers are other wedding professionals.
  • There is also an overlap in content consumption between wedding and fashion / décor. In fact, wedding blogs are great vehicles for advertising in the fashion space.
  • Everyone on the periphery of the wedding – the bridesmaids, mother of the bride, mother of the groom etc.
  • Lastly, there is a category we’ll call “wedding enthusiasts. You know this segment. It includes the woman with elaborate Pinterest boards full of ideas and inspiration for her wedding – but she’s not getting married. In fact, she might even be single. The phenomenon extends well beyond Pinterest to blogs, forums and other forms of content.

Wed-Tech Funnels

If you’re a wed-tech play, understating your funnel can be a bit tricky. It isn’t always straightforward and depends on where in the wedding planning process you connect with brides and what kind of service you’re offering. A few things to account for:

  1. Where in the wedding planning timeline do you need to connect with brides?
  2. How many user funnels do you have? 
  3. At what point do you monetize? Pre-wedding? Post wedding? And how does this affect your viral loop?

In our case, calculating our reliable viral coefficient takes time for two reasons; the seasonality of the wedding industry and the length of the sales cycle (i.e. the wedding planning process). To answer the above:

We need to connect with brides at least 6 months before the wedding.

We have two user funnels (couples and guests) we only onboard one user: the couple. They act as our sales force driving guests to their registry. When it comes to the guest, we focus on creating a great experience from pre-purchase to post-purchase behavior.

We don’t monetize until the guest buys, which could be anywhere from 6 to 18 months after couples sign up. Combine this with the fact that weddings are seasonal and you’re limited in how quickly you can iterate on guest experiences.

While it feels like the longest cohort analysis ever (especially in the consumer space) there is still some rich data we can glean, but it takes time. And patience, which admittedly is not my strong suit.

Depending where you connect with brides in the wedding planning timeline and what service you’re offering your funnel will flow differently, but the same seasonal and cyclical challenges still apply.

So what do you do?

A Few Takeaways

Focus on planting the seed, optimizing your funnel will only happen once you’ve got people in the pipeline.

Measure everything! I’ve spent a spoken with a lot of wed-tech founders and I would say that only about 15% of the people I spoke with are measuring what’s happening on their website or app. In fact, the vast majority are using Google analytics and just looking at traffic.

Remember that brides are transient so unless you and have a clear competitive advantage (which from a technology standpoint is almost impossible in this case) its plausible that another company can swoop in and capture the next cohort of brides. But this also gives you the opportunity to do the same.

Brand is incredibly important. If you’re in the wedding industry, you probably understand this, but beware that if you’re relying purely on brand and you’re planning to scale in a major way – it’s expensive.

The nature of the industry leaves little room for an MVP (or in this case the MVP has to be pretty polished). Your user is only getting married once. You don’t get the chance to improve the experience for them “next time”.

Find a sustainable (read: cost effective and long-lasting) way to generate customers. Its also important to understand the difference between lead generation and growth hacking. I’m not going to delve into it now but there are a few great posts herehere and here by people that are smarter than I am.

Thoughts? Would love to hear them, leave a comment or reach out.

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2 thoughts on “Lessons Learned Navigating a Fragmented Industry

  1. I feel there is another important dimension which needs to be explored; are you in the high touch or low touch segment of the wedding industry? My next bride is often in the audience during a wedding. They get a feel for what I am like. It generates referrals. Photographers tell me the same thing. In a business where you only get a customer once – referrals are crucial along with branding. Guests get exposed to only a few vendors during a wedding ie officiant, photographer, planner/coordinator, venue. The rest as we say in theatre are off-stage and unseen. I believe this is the challenge with wed tech businesses. How do you get more high touch is the challenge. Cheers.

  2. Totally agree Alan. Anyone who is actually interacting with Brides in person is in a different situation. Referrals and a strong connection to the local wedding community becomes incredibly important for these business owners.

    I’m specifically referring to the wed-tech space – companies that are specifically offering services digitally. The reference to local vendors was really just to emphasize that they also have an impact on how noisy the content / search space is related to the wedding industry 🙂

    Thanks for your input!

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