Start-Up Venue Marketing

Realistic marketing costs for start–up wedding venues with Isabel Smith

When consulting with start-ups, I often get asked about marketing costs and how much should be invested in the various marketing activities. The truth is, it entirely depends on the kind of business you are, but before you even begin to think about marketing costs, there are some essential steps you need to take. This process is always the same regardless of business, industry or sector:

  1. Create your offering – decide what it is you’re selling
  2. Profile your target market – think in detail about exactly who you are selling to
  3. Develop your brand – how do you want your target market to perceive your company?
  4. Write the marketing strategy – what will you do to reach your target market?
wedding venue marketing

Too often a lot of time is spent developing the product and writing the marketing strategy with the middle steps being overlooked, which is a huge mistake. How on earth can you expect to market effectively if you haven’t given detailed thought to who you are selling to?

Profile them down to the finest details; age and geographical location simply isn’t enough. Think about what they do for a living and how they spend their free time. Find out about their lifestyles, interests and spending habits. Having a clear understanding of them will ensure that you are marketing in the right way and in the right places, and not wasting precious marketing resources. After all, a flawless PR campaign in a national luxury bridal title is a bit of a waste if your target market is local, lower spend couples.

The other step which companies skip the most is creating the brand. You must give careful thought to your brand identity before you start marketing. After all, your brand is the soul and personality of your business. It is the way people feel about it and, as such, you want to make sure that everyone who interacts with the company feels the way you want them to. Most importantly, Millennials actually care about brand. The 2016 report on the UK wedding industry from Splendid Insights (the only wedding specific marketing research company out there), shows that a whopping 89 per cent of couples believe that your portfolio is important or very important when it comes to their decision making. The figure jumps to 95 per cent in reference to your personality. These being key parts of your brand, it just shows how important it all is.

Getting it right, however, is a big job, so to reflect that desired feeling in potential clients you’ll want to hire a professional branding agency to build a branding package. The agency will work alongside you to get an understanding of your business and present you with mood boards displaying a range of logo ideas, typography styles, imagery and colour palettes from which to base all your marketing. The costs for branding agencies obviously vary – the best in the business can charge upwards of £10,000 for their services – but there are many start-ups and mid-range agencies (often set up by experts from those larger agencies) offering more affordable services. So, do take your time to shop around for the best one for you. I recommend spending between £1,000-£3,000 on this (more if you are aiming for the luxury market).

OK, so now you’ve got your brand package together, it’s all about your website. The purpose of almost all marketing is essentially to drive more traffic to your website. You can be the world’s greatest marketer, attending lots of networking events and whipping out great PR left, right and centre, but if your website is pants (outdated, off brand, difficult to navigate or missing key information), you’re going to lose out on business.

To get those bookings flowing, your website will need the following elements:

  1. A consistent brand (obviously) – You will have already bought this from your branding agency – images, typography and logo should be all in line with your agreed brand and ready to go.
  1. Flawless copy – Content should be well drafted with no spelling or grammatical errors as well as informative to the client. Include relevant information such as location, facilities, approximate pricing and the flow of space. If you are dry hire, include which suppliers you work with. This can be a DIY project and even if you’re not the greatest writer. Look at websites of similar venues and what type of content they include. Don’t plagiarise, just take inspiration.
  1. Great build with intuitive navigation – This is where you spend. Costs vary depending on the functionality of your website – e-commerce or live availability calendars will be more complex to build and the costs will reflect that. But the chances are that a static website – one which can exhibit your photos and display all your well-written copy – will suffice. You may also consider installing a blog function (blogging is great for SEO!).
  1. SEO forethought – I highly recommend reading SEO 2017 & Beyond, by Dr Andy Williams. This book will give you enough insight into the subject of SEO that you can discuss your needs with your web developer and make sure you are covering the basics. From there, for a while at least, you can manage all your SEO yourself, maybe investing in some technical support further down the line.
  1. Outstanding photography – This is the other area where you just can’t compromise and need to pay out for a professional. You want to showcase your amazing venue both empty/vacant but also dressed to the nines for a wedding (think inspiration and aspiration). Doing this commercially, paying all the suppliers involved their full rates, would run to thousands of pounds, but it is currently very popular for wedding planners to offer styled shoot design for free, calling upon the suppliers from your preferred suppliers list to help out at low/no cost. Not only will you get excellent images for your site, and a chance to cement your supplier relationships, but great quality shoots also get picked up by the press – meaning exposure for everyone involved.

To get the professional website you’re after, you should be spending between £3,000 – £5,000.

costsNow you’ve built your website, it’s time to get it out into the world. Directory listings are a great way to do this. Most authoritative directories which offer links to your website will charge a fee for you to feature so you can find the costs racking up if you aren’t careful, but if you research thoroughly and focus on the ones that fit best with your target market, it can be really worthwhile. Treat directory hunting like going to a casino or an auction – have a budget in mind and stick to it! If you find you’re not getting referrals in six to 12 months from the sites you chose, you can always change them.

How about expenditure on printed materials? Luxury venues should be producing brochures and other take away material that is memorable and brand appropriate. As a farm or a rustic barn owner, it isn’t necessary to spend money on printed materials when a well-designed PDF with all the relevant information will do. Make this downloadable from your website and you’re good to go. It will need to be professionally designed, but you can always get your web developer to create this for you as an add on. You will, of course, need some business cards to match your brand, but these needn’t be expensive. The likes of Vistaprint offer great products. Think of it as like ordering wine in a restaurant; pick the next one up from the ‘house’. You’ll get quality at an affordable price. You really needn’t allocate more than £200 to £1,000 for printed/PDF materials.

At this early stage in the business, you can also start thinking about these other marketing activities:

Testimonials – begin collating these from couples as they come your way. Add the kind words to your website, PDFs, social media content and LinkedIn page.

Social media – pick the social platforms which work for you (you don’t have to do them all) and get social. Tweet useful industry content and share your most impressive photos.

Networking – in addition to the network you have built within your preferred suppliers list and styled shoot, start mingling with other local suppliers to see how you might be able to work together. You can do this by simply attending local business events and wedding showcases.

Blogging – you either blog or you don’t. Google loves it, so if you do it well you can really boost your SEO. But it may not be relevant for you, so if you don’t have the time, don’t bother.

You’ll be delighted to know that the costs for these extra activities is exactly £0.They can all be done in-house by your good self.

So, where does that leave us? By my calculations, you’ve followed the 4 steps so know exactly what you are selling, who you are selling it to, how you want them to feel about your business and, crucially, how best to reach them. Put aside between £5,000 and £9,500 to put the steps in place and you’ll soon be on the path of a solid strategy.

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