Wedding Trader welcomes on board retailer Abi Neill who is widely regarded as an industry influencer. With a vast number of awards under her belt, she has a clear vision of what is needed in today’s environment to build a better business
When I launched my little bridal shop way back in 2005, the UK bridal landscape looked and felt very different. So much has changed and those of us old enough to glance back a few bridal decades will conclude that not only has bridal evolved but the marketing efforts and activity we are now required to carry out as retailers in order to engage with our customers and drive brides into store is quite different.
Once upon a time a speedy, well-constructed website packed with enticing visuals and a few regular print ads was largely what it took. That, in addition to the acquisition of a well-advertised and sought-after bridal brand on your rails, plus a few Sunday wedding fairs at local venues was the icing on the cake for many of us bridal retailers.
Lead generation, or enquiry building, is an entirely different game now. It involves a seamless blend of both traditional advertising and digital methods and it all starts with understanding your target bride and knowing her habits. Understanding things things like what she likes, where she shops, how she lives her life (virtually and literally) is important. In marketingspeak this is often referred to as your ‘customer avatar’. Once you understand your customer avatar you can begin to develop your brand with consistent messaging and create appropriately-curated social media content that will appeal to her.
The physicality of your store, your collections and products that you sell and your online style and social media content all need consideration and must be cohesive. Communicating the story behind your retail store and the ethos is important. Ask yourself – are you attracting the right customers? And does the design of your shop and online presence align itself with the style and personality of your target bride?
We all know who the enquiry-generating brands in bridal are these days and if you’re lucky enough to have dresses from a strong name on your rails you may have to work less on your digital, advertising and marketing strategy. Secure the right brands, back them up with a fantastic experience in-store with a savvy sales team and providing your sales approach is on point, the sales may come relatively easily.
A well-constructed, visually pleasing, up-to-date,quick and impactful website is essential. There’s no point working hard to generate enquiries but then falling at the last hurdle with a poorly-performing or unprofessional website. Brides will want to learn more about your brand and your values and in addition to your social media they will visit your site and assess what you have to offer.
Owning a well-designed website is a priority and ensuring it is mobile-friendly is a must! Don’t forget to sign up for a free listing on the Google business directory as this helps improve your organic search ranking.
A properly-written and fully-optimized Google My Business page can help your business to appear in local searches and research indicates that four out of five consumers perform a local search before committing to an appointment or a purchasing decision.
You must ensure that you have an SEO (search engine optimisation) strategy in place for your website. Your aim should be to ensure that your site will rank well ‘organically’ when the relevant search terms are typed in the search bar such as ‘wedding dress shops near me’. It isn’t enough that your site looks good, it also needs to perform well to drive brides to your boutique.
In the business and marketing world of today social media is king! The content you generate on your social platforms is one of the keys to driving bridal enquiries. The most popular platform is Instagram followed closely by Facebook and Pinterest. Tik-Tok is certainly where the most fun is and although the content is entertaining you do need to keep an eye on time spent versus the enquiries received.
Social media is a daunting prospect and is all consuming! Knowing what to post and when can cause a headache. Remember, it needs to be on-brand, relevant and of interest!
Strive to inform or entertain and create content that covers all areas. Share behind the scenes info, your beautiful dress images, inspo pics and boutique pics. Upload entertaining content and utilise the marketing assets that your designers make available. Don’t be afraid to share glimpses of your home life and your team as well as real bride images too. This mix will really showcase your boutique’s personality. Brides want to shop at relatable businesses and connect personally with your people in order that they can enjoy real experiences. Let your guard down. Be authentic, be real and be you.
Paid digital advertising is a strong and consistent lead-building option but without understanding the technicalities of social media advertising your money will be wasted!
Ensure that you know what you are doing before you spend on Facebook or Instagram advertising or invest in someone who can teach you or, budget permitting, do it for you. Ensure that you can access and interpret the stats and analytics or have an expert take a look at these – it is wise to learn what works so that you can spend your future pennies wisely.
Building relationships with local businesses such as hairdressers, photographers and venues could be useful. Working in tandem on social media projects or formulating a mutual recommendation partnership may prove fruitful for all and could drive enquiries. Becoming a recommended partner or, even better, a sole supplier can be really advantageous and although those relationships are hard to find they are certainly ones to aim for.
Thanks to email software like Mail Chimp (compatible with Bridal Live), it’s really easy to set up email marketing campaigns. Potential customers can opt to sign up for newsletters through your website and you can use your email campaigns to advertise promotions, designer events, and news stories that relate to your brand and its core values.
A captivating subject title really pays off and will improve open rates so take some time to think about how to grab attention..
Often underrated, newsletters can be really effective in developing your business fan base and an informal customer referral programme long after a wedding has passed.
Wedding shows / Open days
Providing you’ve conducted show or venue research and asked the organiser relevant questions and understood anticipated footfall, these can be a Sunday well spent. Even generating a handful of prequalified appointments or leads where you have the opportunity to talk to and connect directly with your target market might be beneficial.
Agreeing to attend an open day to assist the venue by showcasing wedding dress mannequins throughout the building would be a great opportunity to catch the eye of your potential brides. Add to that a competition or product giveaway in exchange for an email address and you are on the road to developing a marketable database lead list for newsletters or special event promotion.
Recommendations and reviews
Never underestimate the power of recommendations, referrals and online reviews. Develop a strong in-store experience to impress your brides and you will automatically create loyal fans and store advocates. They will spread the word and tell their friends and family.
Often retailers find that grateful brides who have been made to feel really special love being asked to write reviews. In many cases brides are happy to be given the opportunity to do something for the retailer in return for the memory of an amazing experience so don’t be too self-conscious about politely and directly asking for reviews.
Press / editorials
Developing good relationships with local press and lifestyle magazine editors is worthwhile. Google ‘press release templates’ and gem up on how to write a good press release and you could find that your charity efforts, most recent award win, business birthday, new label, special wedding couple or your latest competition are considered newsworthy. And your existing customer base will love seeing you in the papers!
As you can see there are many ways to lead generate and drive brides into your store and the list above is in no way exhaustive. We all know that the bridal business is competitive. Perhaps consider finding your marketing niche or establish which of the above suits your business and focus some effort there.
Trying to do all of the above will be ambitious so don’t feel inadequate if you are ticking the boxes on only ‘some of the above’ – most retailers are doing the same.
Abi Neill of Abigail’s Collection is available for coaching and advice at www.abineill.co.uk – she specialises in new business start-ups, staffing matters, marketing and social media. Connect with Abi on Insta @AbiNeill or DM with enquiries.