SAN ANTONIO – Like marriage itself, motorcoach carriers must make a commitment if they want to succeed at capturing a bigger a slice of the $40 billion-plus annual wedding industry in the U.S.
The commitment takes the form of marketing oneself as wedding-focused to future brides and grooms and other wedding-related businesses that can be valuable referrals, said Christian Riddell, executive director of the nonprofit Motorcoach Marketing Council.
The principles apply to other “verticals” in which operators might want to focus, as well, Riddell said in referring to family reunions, church groups, sports teams and the like.
Weddings need to stand out in wedding-focused marketing materials – from wedding-specific pages on one’s website with unique URLs to business cards with the wedding-specific URL and brochures with the same address and wedding focus, Riddell said, cautioning operators not to “commoditize” weddings by listing them in marketing materials or websites as one of myriad sectors served.
If a groom goes to a motorcoach operator’s website and it takes six clicks to find wedding information, he thinks the company doesn’t do much in weddings, that “it’s one of the thousand things you care about, but you don’t really care about my business,” Riddell said. “Ultimately, you’re not the wedding people.”
Wedding parties will spend more for transportation services if they think they’re getting the best transit experience possible for the big day, he said.
There’s business to be had, Riddell said.
“Almost every single weeding has the need for transportation,” he said, citing 2.5 million-plus annual weddings in the U.S.
Combined with the multibillion-dollar impact nationally, “those are huge, huge, huge numbers,” he said, putting the average wedding expense at $25,000, excluding the honeymoon, and the average wedding party at 140 people.
“There is plenty of budget left in that $25,000 to offer some service to them and ultimately it will make their wedding better,” Riddell said.
But image is everything in marketing.
“If I am creating a brochure that I am going to hand out at a wedding show, if I am putting an ad up on Facebook, if I am doing any other thing that I would do to approach brides and/or referral partners for weddings – wedding venues, reception centers, caterers, event planners – everything that I give them in regards to weddings, what I’m trying to sell, is going to that domain, it’s going to that URL,” he said.
“Brochures, follow-up emails, anything that you send, any communication you have with that bride or that groom, has to say weddings,” he said, and not bury weddings among a long list of groups served.
He suggested focusing on referral partners for best results.
“You’re going to go create a relationship with wedding venues, reception centers, caterers, wedding planners, cake decorators, wedding dress shops, photographers – where they have a stake in referring business to you,” Riddell said.
“Caterers are probably the very best referral partner we can get for growing our wedding business,” he said.
Motorcoach operators also should pick someone on their staff to be the wedding person, he said. That person can be anyone, but telling callers you’ll connect them to the wedding reservationist implies wedding focus.
Limousine companies often charge more for the same transportation task because they market their experience, he said.
“In most markets, limo operators are getting between 30 and 40 percent more for a motorcoach service hour than motorcoach operators are,” Riddell said. “They can’t offer a service much different than ours.”
In their marketing, they understand they’re in the experience business and they’re selling how to use it, he said.
“If you can’t raise your prices, you haven’t done enough to differentiate your service,” Riddell said, urging operators to prove why customers should pay 30 percent more for one’s motorcoach experience.
“You could look like the wedding specialist tomorrow for a couple hundred bucks,” Riddell said of marketing materials and sites.
“It’s not that hard.”