I was inspired to write this post after speaking with my friend Emily on the phone. I’ve known Emily for years as she used to be the Catering and Event Manager at one of the largest wedding venues in my city. They were booking around 100 weddings a year and were constantly all booked up. Then, a few years later, Emily started a new job with a hotel that had only been booking about 2 weddings a year. Her job was to single handedly turn the venue around with a limited budget and with no changes to the hotel itself. I caught up with Emily because that hotel is now known as the 2nd biggest wedding venue in our city, second only to the winery she used to work at. In just two and a half years, Emily transformed the little hotel into one of the busiest wedding venues in the city. I wanted to know how she did it so I called her up and she was happy to share her top 6 tips with me.
1. Think Like A Bride
My friend started by thinking like a bride. She realized that many of the hotel’s policies for weddings made it nearly impossible to have a wedding there. She was able to change some of the rules to enable wedding groups to stay a little bit later (until midnight) and also created a ceremony location in an empty area outside by the vineyard so that the venue could accommodate the wedding from start to finish.
She also realized that brides were booking other wedding services before they selected their venue. She made a point to partner with those businesses early on and offered special packages to their customers in exchange for spreading the word about the hotel. Examples of businesses she partnered with were jewellery stores selling engagement rings, bridal shops, and engagement photographers.
Some of the special packages that Emily provided to newly engaged couples included:
-Spa and Pedicure packages
-Lunch and Dinner packages
Emily wasn’t afraid to offer these packages at a discount as a loss-leader for couples getting married. It brought couples into the venue and gave them a great impression of the hotel well in advance of choosing their venue. It also provided Emily with a long list of wedding leads to send more special offers to in order to get on the radar of brides-to-be.
2. Google Adwords
Emily knew that one of the most popular places that brides looked when shopping for venues was online but she didn’t have time or money to hire an SEO company and wait for results. Instead, she decided to run an aggressive google adwords campaign so that she could start finding potential clients right away. She updated the hotel’s website with a wedding page, outlining all of the services the hotel offered, along with high quality photos. She also hired a local videography company to come and take a video of the venue that included a drone fly by. When it came time to run her adwords campaign, Emily knew that the website was ready, world class and included all the information that potential brides were looking for.
Next, she ran a google keyword search to find the ideal keyword for her wedding venue. To keep things simple, she used “Vancouver Wedding Venue” and “Vancouver Wedding Venues” as the keywords she wanted her ad to appear for. She bid $4 per click, which enabled her to be ad to be shown on the 1st page of the search results. She checked on her google adwords campaign every day and soon learned that it was taking around 20 clicks for someone to fill out her contact form. She was basically paying $80 for a lead, which was far too high. She then re-designed her website’s contact form to be simpler, asking couples only for their name, email and phone number. As as a result of the redesign, Emily was now getting a sign up for every 4 clicks, so each lead was costing her about $16. Since Emily booked 1 in 6 weddings who inquired with her (she is also an aggressive and skilled saleswoman), her cost per booked client was $96.
3. Local Directories
As emily searched her keywords on google, she noticed there were a lot of directories showing up when she typed in “Vancouver Wedding Venue”. Since she wasn’t satisfied with adwords and partnerships alone, she also decided to make a commitment and list herself on every single local wedding directory. She started by making a large excel spreadsheet and made a list of every wedding directory in the area. Once she was armed with her list, she posted photos, videos and long descriptions of her venue on every single directory on her list. She added her venue on about 1-2 directories per day and ran out of listings to add herself to by the end of the month.
Some of the listings she added her venue to include:
(She also added herself to a bunch of local wedding directories)
4. Facebook Ads
Emily knew that one of the first things modern brides-to-be do when they get engaged is set their Facebook status to “engaged”, but at first she had no idea how to target them. She tried paying for boosted posts on Facebook but that didn’t seem to work. She followed a guide on how to run Facebook Ads online and targeted english speaking females between age 24 and 38 in her city. She also used detailed targeting which was the most important part to ensure that these women were newly engaged. She set her Facebook ads to drive people to her website’s wedding page.
At first, Emily was getting OK results with her Facebook ads, but she strived to do even better. She read about the power of landing pages and decided to sign up. Instead of just sending potential customers to her website’s wedding page, she instead created custom landing pages for her Facebook Ad with Unbounce. She used A/B tests to determine which pages were capturing the most leads and tried different offers until she eventually saw a 25% increase in leads from the top performing landing page. In the end, the best landing page had several photos of the venue, a special package that couples could only find with her Facebook ad, and a single call to action, asking people to enter their email to get the special offer.
5. Featured In Magazines
Although it was a lot of up front work and planning, Emily teamed up with a local photographer, videographer and wedding planner and hosted a wedding at a huge discount at her venue early on. A very lucky bride and groom were able to host their wedding at the hotel for a price much lower than they’ve ever charged since, but the end result was a collection of photo and video of a real wedding at the hotel. Emily then submitted the images to various wedding magazines including WedLuxe, RealWeddings, Style Me Pretty and The Knot. She also entered the city’s local wedding awards and sent the video as part of her award submission. The couple was also kind enough to leave a review online for the hotel and also sent in a video review upon Emily’s request. She now had photo, video, press, written and video testimonials and had positioned the hotel as an up and coming wedding venue.
The final trick to Emily’s strategy was SEO, but it came much later in the process, when the hotel already had quite a few weddings booked. Emily knew from her time at the city’s busiest wedding venue that the best way to find new couples as a venue was through SEO. Millennials prefer to search for venues online before calling or doing a site visit, so she wanted to make sure the hotel could be found when they were looking. Although google adwords was great in the beginning, after about 6 months, Emily turned it up and hired a professional SEO company to rank the venue for the keywords: “Vancouver Wedding Venue” and “Vancouver Wedding Venues”. The SEO company also suggested that Emily try to rank for some long-tail keywords and also on google places. Although it was an expensive investment, Emily chose to go with the SEO firm that was ranking number 1 when she searched “Vancouver SEO Companies”. If they couldn’t rank themselves, she didn’t trust them to rank her site either.
After about 8 months of spending nearly $500 per month on SEO services, the hotel was page 1 and #1 on google, #1 on google maps and also was ranking for a number of long tail keywords. Although it was quite an investment, the hotel was now getting so many leads, they had a constant flow of new bookings and the hotel quickly booked up.
The Hotel’s Secret Weapon
The hidden secret behind all of Emily’s strategies was that she did a great job. Everyone who meets Emily instantly likes her and she really goes out of her way to make sure every wedding held at the hotel goes seamlessly. She’s treats her customers like family members as well as her venue staff and other vendors that operate at the venue. As well, Emily is a sales MACHINE. She told me that she follows up via phone and email with every single lead over 5 times. Although Emily used a lot of great marketing techniques to get new leads for the hotel, I also felt one of the things that set her apart was her sales ability and her likability. She’s the kind of person you want to do business with and that, combined with her persistence allowed her to book a very high number of inquiries she got. That of course, made Emily’s life a lot easier as she didn’t need quite as many leads to get all booked up. The more bookings she got, the more money she had to invest. In hindsight, it’s easy to see why the hotel is so busy, but it’s the right combination of marketing, sales and a winning personality.