The marriage equality movement has opened up a whole new market for the US wedding industry.
The majority of wedding pros are excited about the opportunity; surveys conducted in the WeddingWire network suggest that 86% of wedding pros plan on serving same sex couples.
For those who wish to serve this emerging market, it brings up powerful questions.
How do we best serve these couples?
How do their needs differ from my other couples?
What can I do to attract them to my business?
I turned to Kathyrn Hamm, president of GayWeddings.com, an education expert for WeddingWire and co-author of The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide to Lesbian & Gay Wedding Photography, for the answers.
The biggest mistakes wedding pros make when it comes to marketing to same sex couples occur in what Kathryn refers to as their “passive presence.”
It’s not necessarily something you say or do, but how you represent your business that discourages these couples from reaching out to you in the first place.
Here are the top mistakes she sees on a regular basis.
#1 – Use of non-inclusive language.
Wedding pros habitually refer to the client as “the bride” or “the bride and groom.” This immediately excludes same sex couples who don’t fit this label. In fact, referencing only the bride leaves out all grooms, including the straight ones!
Examine your website closely and adjust to more inclusive language. Marketing brochures and business cards also need to be modified.
If you’re not sure whether your website passes the “gay friendly” test, ask a gay friend to read through your website as if they were a client. Would they assume that you served only straight couples? Would they feel comfortable contacting you?
BEST PRACTICE: Use the phrase “couple” or “brides and grooms” in your marketing as a simple way to be inclusive.
#2 – Imagery that represents only straight couples.
The wedding industry as a whole typically promotes images of a white (usually blonde) bride and white groom with beaming smiles. This represents only a small portion of the couples getting married, excluding not only same sex couples, but ethnic couples and minorities as well.
The insidious form of discrimination against “non-traditional” couples was evidenced by the backlash against Cheerios for its commercial depicting a mixed race family. It’s especially prevalent in the predominantly traditional wedding industry.
BEST PRACTICE: Portray a diversity of couples, including same sex couples and various ethnic groups, in the images on your website and promotional materials.
Share the #WedWeCan badge on your website and social media posts to communicate your openness to same sex couples.
#3 – Contracts, forms and advertising that include non-inclusive language and imagery.
It’s not just your website and brochures that need updating for the same sex wedding market. Your paperwork should also reflect an inclusive mindset.
When we were approached by our first same sex couple years ago, I realized that our forms referencing “bride” and “groom” could alienate our clients. We reworked our materials for “partner 1” and “partner 2.”
BEST PRACTICE: Review all your collateral material, paperwork, directory listings and Google AdWords campaigns for non-inclusive language.
#4 – Referring wedding businesses that are not open to serving same sex couples.
You refer professionals who deliver excellent service, but if you inadvertently refer a same sex couple to someone who doesn’t support marriage equality, puts your couple in an uncomfortable position and can damage your reputation.
“Don’t assume you know who feels in what way about working with same sex couples,” Kathryn urges. “Ask.”
BEST PRACTICE: Contact the wedding pros on your referral list and confirm that they work with same sex couples.
#5 – Gender-based assumptions about the “man’s role” and the “woman’s role.”
When it comes to the wedding of a couple that happens to have two brides or two grooms, you simply can’t shove one into the role of “the bride” and the other into the role of “the groom” without asking for their preferences.
This makes the difference between a gay-friendly wedding vendor and what Kathryn calls a “gay competent” one.
“Most couples are interested in rituals and celebrations that represent who they are and what they’re all about. Ask a same sex couple about how they want to represent a ritual before assuming,” Kathryn says.
Kathryn noticed these gender stereotypes in action when she was a guest at a lesbian wedding. One of the brides wore pants and the other wore a gown.
The bride-in-pants came down the aisle first, and the guests didn’t know what to do. Should they stand for her? Should they remain seated as they would for the “groom”?
The wedding planner automatically closed the doors behind the bride-in-pants, and reopened them dramatically for the bride-in-a-dress, creating a completely different introduction to the ceremony that was similar to the one we expect for the “bride.”
“You could tell the planner missed this,” Kathryn comments. “She was super gay wedding friendly, but she didn’t anticipate that. She could have asked, ‘How would you like to come down the aisle and what would you like that to mean for you?’”
As a result, the guests were confused and the couple missed an opportunity to re-create the ritual in a way that communicated something authentic about their relationship.
Here are some examples of how you might help couples determine what they want in a sensitive way. Use phrases and suggestions such as:
“Commonly the couples I work with do this…”
“We tend to do things like…What do you think?”
“Let me give you an example of three weddings this year. Which elements resonate with you?”
“Tell me about your engagement. How your family has responded to this?”
Get to know your couple and help them determine which rituals and interpretations are right for them.
You know the ins and outs of weddings. They don’t. Same sex couples are relying on you to anticipate these issues and plan for them in advance.
BEST PRACTICE: Ask the couple questions and propose multiple options to avoid incorrect assumptions.
Same Sex Weddings Make Us Better Wedding Pros
Adapting our approach for the gay wedding market forces us to reimagine the traditional roles in the wedding. It reminds us to cater to our couples as individuals, rather than stereotypes.
When we assume that the bride is taking the groom’s name and automatically introduce them as “Mr. and Mrs…”
When we assume that the bride is going to wear a white dress…
When we assume the groom wants nothing to do with planning the wedding…
We do our couples a grave disservice. Straight couples, and wedding pros, can learn a lot from gay weddings.
These changes allow us to better serve ALL our couples, regardless of orientation, and make weddings a more personal, meaningful experience of the couple’s love.
“For any state with marriage equality it’s not enough to just be friendly and open; you need to know what you’re doing. Educate yourself, spend time talking with same sex couples and other wedding professionals who work with them, because if these couples are browsing for services and the market has plenty of inclusive language, images of same sex couples and they’re handling the introduction email well, you need to show that you can match it in order for them to consider you.” – Kathryn Hamm, GayWeddings.com
What do you think about serving the same sex wedding market?