As you well know, advertising is crucial for creating awareness of your brand and products, enticing brides to visit your store and, ultimately, selling gowns.
    But what if business and/or the economy is sluggish? Do the rules change when economic uncertainty and rising prices have many people feeling apprehensive about spending? Is it still worth investing your time…and money…into advertising when your instinct may very well be to hunker down and cut expenses?
    The answer is a resounding yes! “I was taught a long time ago that advertising is a critical component of your marketing: You advertise when things are great and you advertise more when things aren’t so great,” says Brian Fortin, owner of Modern Bride and Formal Shop in Bedford, N.H. “Isn’t the goal of advertising to drive consumers to your business, and if business is down, don’t you need to drive them to your business? I always looked at advertising as an integral part of that.”
    Not only does advertising keep your boutique front of mind for new brides and help your revenue stream remain steady, but it also protects your market share by not allowing the competition to leapfrog you. In fact, during challenging economic times, it’s almost more important to advertise because nervous consumers are on the hunt for steady, reliable businesses. If you were to suddenly drop off the radar, they might question the viability of your boutique. Advertising sends a subtle but reassuring message of “we’re here. We’re doing well. We’ll always be here for you, even during the tough times.”
    Continuing to advertise is also an opportunity to gain market share, since a certain percentage of your competition is likely to cut their marketing budgets (in the aftermath of the great recession of 2008, for example, ad spending in the U.S. dropped by 13%, per the Economist). Not only will you be more likely to be seen by brides but numerous studies dating back to the 1920s have shown that businesses that maintain advertising during challenging economic times are more likely to be remembered as well when everyone starts advertising again.
    Finally, there are nuances to the wedding industry that underscore the importance of continued advertising.
    “Every year, you have to recreate your prospect base because you are in a once-and-done business,” says Marc McIntosh, owner of Team Wedding Marketing, an Ephrata, Pa.-based marketing firm specializing in the bridal industry. “It’s not like the coffee shop whose customers keep coming back over and over again. Even if you’re busy now, you must reinvest if you want to stay just as busy in the future.”
    A word of warning: with pandemic-delayed weddings now occuring, many boutiques are unusually busy – but don’t let this pent-up demand lull you into a false sense of security. After all, the dust will eventually settle and things will normalize. While famine can quickly change to feast overnight, the reverse is also true, McIntosh warns.
    “It is rare to find any business, wedding or otherwise, that doesn’t have to do anything in order to get people coming through their door,” he says.
    The trick right now is not only to continue advertising on the most effective channels, but also focus on sending the proper message.

What Brides Want to Hear
    During times of economic uncertainty, consumers reevaluate expenses, with many cutting back on the non-essentials in order to save or allocate more for daily living. Whether or not they consciously realize it, they are internally feeling nervous and in search of a sense of stability and security to calm those nerves. That is what your marketing message must do: push your advantage.
    Now is the time to reiterate your boutique’s longevity, your expertise, your community relationships, your ability to hold their hand through each and every step of the dress-shopping process. You’ve successfully ridden through many storms, including the Great Recession of 2008-09, and come out even stronger on the other end.
    Highlight your boutique’s story on your website, and occasionally link clips of it to social media. Rearrange your FAQs section to address their most pertinent concerns first. Prominently showcase satisfied customers’ shopping journeys. Play up your relationships with other local businesses and manufacturers. Explain in detail the personalized attention and amazing perks they will receive upon walking through your door.
    Be cognizant of the fact that each and every word you choose may be scruntized by nervous brides, but don’t dwell on the negativity. You want to reiterate how happy and special this moment is, and all the advantages of shopping with you. Now more than ever brides need expertise to guide them through the shopping venture, and you can give that to them every step of the way.

A Numbers Game
    While a reassuring message is important, it’s also crucial to select the proper advertising platforms. This is a time to double-down on what works well. And remember: all advertising is a combination of time and money.
    “Some forms of advertising, like organic social media, don’t cost money but they take time; advertising on wedding-planning websites costs money but it doesn’t take much time,” McIntosh says.
    The goal is to spend the least amount of time and money that gets you the number of inquiries that lead to the sales. “If you do less advertising, you’ll never get the inquiries that lead to the sales,” he says.
    “If you do too much, you’ll get too much business, and you won’t have the staff, space or inventory. Do the least that you can that leads to appointments, that in turn, lead to sales.”
    For example, if you need 100 sales to reach your goal, and you make a sale to 50% of those who book an appointment, then you need 200 appointments to get 100 sales.
    Taking this a step further, if one out of three inquiries makes an appointment, then you need 600 inquiries to get the 200 appointments that will bring you the 100 sales.
    Four very effective avenues include:

Social Media is King. Bridal is a niche industry, and as such, it’s better to target advertising to reach your specific audience versus casting too wide of a net. If you advertise on a billboard, for example, there’s a good chance that only a tiny percentage of passersby have a wedding in their near future. This is OK if you have extra room in your budget, but if you’re looking to focus your efforts, digital marketing is super-efficient and gives you the ability to laser-focus your message.
    “Everybody is just looking for content (on social media); they just want to see new things constantly; you can’t get content out quickly enough,” says Laurel Mungo, owner of Mon Amie in Costa Mesa, Calif., adding that you have to stay as current as possible.
    To use TikTok effectively, for example, Mon Amie puts models in dresses that have just come into the store and displays them on Reels.
    “Social media/search engines are the biggest way brides are finding and choosing where they want to shop so if you don’t have a presence there, you’re automatically doing yourself and your business a disservice,” says Taylor Jordao, marketing director at Lily’s Bridal in Orlando.
    It is crucial to be active on as many of the trending platforms as you can effectively keep up with, as each may bring in a different type of customer. To stay current, many stores either farm out their advertising efforts or hire a specialist to do this in-house. Be sure to post regularly, so your prospective customers will be able to count on, and look forward to, new content.
    And consider paid ads. Arguably, that can be more challenging with so many privacy updates on sites like Facebook.
    “However, we still have the greatest gift Facebook has ever given the wedding industry, which is the relationship status: engaged,” McIntosh says. “You can cast a wide or narrow net depending on how you set it up. I tend to be a fan of the narrow net, which is exactly where the fish are.”
    This might mean advertising to all engaged females within a 100-mile radius, but even this can be improved upon.
    “A better strategy would be to narrow it down to a smaller audience size,” he says. “You can target those engaged three months or less.  You can target or exclude certain areas, even by county or zip code. Upload the addresses of all of your customers to; you will learn exactly where they are coming from, and then you can focus on just those areas that have provided the best results in the past.”

Google Business Profile. “The most undervalued marketing opportunity that is available right now is your Google Business profile,” McIntosh says. “If you’re not investing in Google, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity. When done correctly it can bring you huge amounts of awareness with zero advertising spend.”
    But your GBP is not something you can set and forget. You should post on your GBP as often as you post on Instagram or Facebook: add images, FAQs and answer all reviews with keyword-rich replies.
    “Google will notice when you give love to your GBP and they will reward you with increased visibility,” he says.
    Fortin agrees, adding that he has a Google business account with a generic ad and description of his bridal business, which pops up when brides Google ‘bridal services’ in his region.
    “This is a generic ad created within Google with a fixed monthly budget; our account is charged every time someone clicks on our ad and continues till that budget amount is reached,” he says. “We also create new ads specific to events we are having. A budget is placed on those ads and for a specific period of time based on that event. Again, the ads are clicked based to stop when the budget is reached or when that time period is over.”
    Another investment in Google is SEO, which is like advertising in the long game, as it lets your website rank higher in search results.

Your Website. This can be an incredibly effective form of advertising, as it’s the primary means of driving traffic into the store, but it’s easy to let it fall by the wayside.
    “By the time someone makes a purchase today, they’ve already been on four (or more) different websites; your website is the window to the world,” says Arnie Begler, chief strategy officer with The Pipitone Group, an integrated marketing agency based in Pittsburgh.
    McIntosh agrees, adding, “It is so important because every gown purchased starts with a website search, and it is the last step before they make a purchase. All roads lead to your website before they walk in the door, so it is important to invest in that.”
    Besides being attractive, your website should be functional, with a focus on the user experience. Tips include:

• The path to the desired action, such as making an appointment, should be clear and require no more than one click

• Be mobile friendly; as many as 75% of website visitors use their phones

• Have someone who knows nothing about your business go through the user experience, and really listen to their feedback

   “If you lose just one or two customers a month because of a poor website experience, that could be costing you thousands of dollars in business over the course of the year,” McIntosh says.

Creating Community. Building relationships may be a non-direct form of advertising, but its importance cannot be underscored.
    “It’s never about the specific products; it’s about the relationships that retailers have with their customers,” Begler says. “I think the key thing we all need to do is foster and enhance those relationships. At any given time, we’re all going to turn to a trusted advisor. If we have choices to buy a similar product or service, we will go to someone we trust and have a relationship with.”
    “Even though the customer is going to go to seven stores, the one that they have the greatest relationship with is where they are going to purchase their gown,” Mungo agrees.
    And, importantly, when brides are happy with you, they tell other people.
    “The best source of revenue for bridal store is referrals from existing brides,” Begler says. “That is why staying in touch with customers is important.”

   Regardless of the economy, advertising should remain a continuous and consistent process, especially since many consumers do not pay attention to the bridal world until they are in the market for a wedding gown.
    When economic factors have people feeling nervous, it’s extra-important to play up your stability and expertise, as brides will be wanting assurance that the boutiques they choose to work with will be there every step of the way. Fortunately, this is something you’ve always excelled at. Now is just the time to share that message a little louder. You can do this by highlighting specific stories, updating your About and FAQ pages and reiterating your happy customers and community connections.
    These are great practices during any time, but crucial when the economy gets rough. That is when people are really searching for that lifeline and, if you offer it to them, are more likely to say “yes” – to the sale and giving referrals.