While fashion and beauty brands have been flocking to influencers to, say, infiltrate your Hamptons summer (or encourage Coachella FOMO) for some time, the bridal industry has more recently jumped on the bandwagon. Luxury dress makers, wedding registry home goods brands and a number of other bridal-targeted companies have realized the marketing potential of Instagram stars, bloggers and former MTV reality show cast members. Working with influencers helps create this feeling of aspirational realness, which is especially appropriate for an emotional event like a wedding. Because even with deliberately posed and perfectly filtered Instagram photos, these women feel more authentic and relatable than a celebrity (or a model in an ad campaign).
In 2016, Pronovias launched its inaugural global It Brides campaign, featuring Rumi Neely, Danielle Bernstein of We Wore What, Jennifer Grace of The Native Fox and Whitney Port of MTV's "The City" and "The Hills" (above, #neverforget) for the U.S., where the Barcelona-based brand has a New York flagship and is sold at approximately 500 retailers.
"[It Brides] was borne out of a want to keep Pronovias innovative and current," says Samantha Hansen, social media specialist. "Nowadays brides look to be inspired on social media and they follow influencers, and so we wanted to be where they are." For the U.S. this year, Pronovias partnered with former editor and TV host Louise Roe and Blair Eadie of Atlantic-Pacific. (International It Brides include Thássia Naves for Portugal, Veronica Ferraro for Italy and Caroline Bassec for France.)
But influencer marketing for bridal involves a considerable initial challenge for brands: a wedding is (hopefully) a once in a lifetime event. Plus, all the planning to be documented on social media, lasts on average a year, and then it's back to regularly scheduled programming.
"It's really important that a brand catches an influencer right when they get engaged," says Mae Karwowski, CEO and founder of influencer marketing agency Obviously. In the case of more well-known influencers, a savvy agent might reach out to the brand, as was the case for Bernstein and Pronovias, or marketers, who are already diligently following influencers with aligning aesthetics, will jump on the opportunity before competitors do.
Or, in the case of Christian Siriano, who's an influencer in his own right, the partnerships come together more organically. The brides he's tapped are actually are his friends, like Nicolette Mason, who wore a custom-designed blush gown for her 2015 wedding (above), or friend of a friend (or sister of his stylist, Danielle Nachmani, rather), Something Navy's Arielle Noa Charnas. "It's word of mouth, which I think all bridal is," Siriano says. "It's friends of friends. It's moms and daughters. It's like a weird network of people."
But there are a finite number of Danielle Bernsteins and Nicolette Masons to secure upon engagement, so that's where the smaller micro-influencer — as in, say, 50,000 followers as compared to 1 million-plus — comes in. "It's really fun and it feels really organic," says Lovely Bride founder Lanie List, who also counts model/blogger Anna Speckhart and The Fashion Poet's Annie Vasquez as friends and recent collaborators. But if the micro-influencers aren't BFFS or built-in customers, how do brands get in touch?
Karwowski's agency Obviously uses a proprietary platform that scours social media to find appropriate micro-influencers for brand campaigns. The algorithm first filters for recently engaged prospects via hashtags (#engaged), the ring emoji, or @ mentions in comments sections. Then, her team performs a personal level of curation to whittle down to high levels of engagement (likes and comments for above 1 percent of their photos), on-brand aesthetics, the influencer's and followers' location and a predominantly female audience breakdown.
Karwowski sees the micro-influencer more effective for bridal brands because of quality over quantity. A micro-influencer follower count might be lower, but their engagement levels are much higher. "[A brand] is probably exposing their content to more eyeballs than if they were working with just one [major] influencer," says Donna Kim, bridal editor and social media consultant. "Micro-influencers are more likely to be collaborative and want to do form longer partnerships." Plus, going micro just makes financial sense for the brand.
"A brand could give [the influencer] a really great set of pots and pans or a really awesome dress or flowers for their party or even a venue for the reception," says Karwowski. "So we're working with that smaller influencer where we give them less in terms of incentive, than you would someone who has an agent, but [the compensation] is still really valuable to them. And it looks really authentic, too. When you look at someone with 20,000, 40,000 followers, you're like, 'oh cool, look at what she's doing with her floral arrangements.'"
Which leads to the other challenge of influencer marketing in bridal: analyzing the ROI. "It is very top of the funnel," says Karwowski, about campaign objectives. "We're looking for brand awareness here. We want people to follow our account or like that person's photo." The goal is to plant the seed in a potential customer's head (or earn a spot in her Instagram feed), even if a wedding isn't happening in the foreseeable future. "They're engaging with the brand's content and [the brand is] going to be top of mind when [the follower is] going to get married — or one of their friends is going to get married — and they're giving advice on what they might like."
Hansen emphasizes that the Pronovias It Brides campaign was created "purely" to meet social media and PR objectives. "Then, obviously, [it's] harder to measure, but those eventually will come in on returns and sales," she adds. Although, she does refer to a theoretical example from last year's U.S. debut, featuring Jennifer Grace in the Vicenta gown (above). "We can't draw direct correlations, but in the States, the Vicenta was one of the best sellers in the collection," she adds.
Bridal brands have a hard time tracking immediate dollar returns (if any), but they can at least increase their social media follower count, which might spike after an influencer posts and properly tags or links. "It's definitely about [creating a] relationship and, just like any bride who comes into our store, if you can convert them into people who love the brand, then that's our best case scenario. Because then they're telling their friends and sisters great things about Pronovias," says Hansen.
And brands might not ever be able to track the sales back to influencer campaigns, but that's OK. "When it comes to bridal specifically, [companies] understand that [the goal is] brand awareness," says Obviously's Karwowski. "[The brand is] now on the radar of this person's audience and [the audience] might convert three years from now and they're not going to be able to track it."
Unsurprisingly, influencers are becoming increasingly savvy about capitalizing on their upcoming nuptials. Karwowski has noticed that an increase in direct inquiries from recently engaged members of her network. "That wasn't something that was happening very often six or seven months ago," she says. "They think, oh wow, this is a really big opportunity. This is a time when brands are really interested in working with me." Also, weddings involve copious budget line items beyond the dress, so why not alleviate some expenses, all while creating new #content? It's a win-win, really.
Karwowski also notices brands gravitating toward the micro-influencers, which is the direction that List is going with Lovely Bride, too. "We always have to regenerate ourselves, literally every six months for a new set of brides," she says. "So we really have to hustle." Pronovias, on the other hand, has ambitious plans by expanding to YouTube vloggers with large followings (and recent engagements), plus coordinating It Brides roll-outs with international business strategies. While this year's It Bride Eadie is based in New York, she has a significant following in China. "That's been amazing for our social media there," Hansen says.
But some brands are just taking it as it comes. "I've obviously created tons of clothes for very famous women — custom all the time — we do that every awards show. But I've never been big on [the idea] I had to have a 'cool blogger' wear something," says Siriano, who is in the process of creating wedding gowns for five influencers right now.
"That was never my goal because — I think that that's super important and it's exciting — but our brand has survived almost 10 years now because of the customers," he continues. "Like we really focus on the women we want to dress and sell to and not all of those women read every blog there is out there. But I do get the importance for sure."