David’s Bridal on Storytelling – How Emotional Connections Drive Growth

Around 2008 when the economy started taking a nosedive, everyone thought that the bridal industry would be recession proof. People will always get married, right? Wrong.

According to Brian Beitler, Chief Marketing Officer/Executive Vice President, David’s Bridal, the number of weddings in the US declined 8 percent from 2005 to 2012. That was a big problem for the leading wedding dress retailer in the states.

“The recession hit us, our business went flat, we reacted,” Beitler said in his presentation on the second day of eTail West, 2012. “Our business has improved with percentage growth in the high single digits and now to the high double digits.”

David's Bridal homepage 2/29/12

David’s Bridal started to focus on how to expand that reach, and from 2008 to 2011, the company’s share of brides grew from 33.3 percent to 35.1 percent.

The reach of David’s Bridal is significant considering the facts:

– There are 2.1 million brides in the US
– 1.4 million of them wear a gown (he’s not sure what the others are wearing!)
– 1.2 million spend $1,500 or less on a gown – which is the company’s target
– 900K register with David’s Bridal

Beitler refocused the company on growth by honing in on some core principles:

Be Visionary and Bold

In February of 2011, the company launched a partnership with Vera Wang after looking at social media to see what kinds of things their customers wanted but didn’t have access to.

Create vs. Curate

David’s Bridal believes in the notion of curation coming from customer experiences. “Be informed by data, but make decisions based on personal experiences,” he said. “There’s so much data today we tend to want to sit in our offices instead of visiting our stores.”

Beitler recounted a story about his daughter’s quest for a prom dress and how it inspired a marketing effort at the company. He was shopping with her for a dress while simultaneously brainstorming about how David’s Bridal could take more share of the prom dress market when his daughter, frustrated, came out of a dressing room and said, “I wish I could design my own prom dress!”

David’s Bridal launched a design contest shortly after that, where the company partnered with Seventeen magazine to let high school girls submit sketches and give them a chance to become the youngest national designer in America. The winning dress is now on sale in David’s Bridal stores.

“Needless to say our prom business online is up 160 percent, in the stores it’s north of 20 percent,” said Beitler. “It’s all because what we did was provide an avenue for teenagers across the country to understand that David’s Bridal was not just a bridal store.”

Another experience that came from a customer (himself), influenced the way the stores survey their customers. Most store surveys focus on soliciting a 1 to 4 style rating that produces lots of data, but data that no one knows how to do anything with. After Beitler checked out of a hotel in London, he quickly received an email survey from the hotel comprised solely of yes or no questions. There were a lot more of them, but since they were so easy to answer and so specific (questions like, “Did the bellhop offer to carry your luggage?” and, “Did we perform turn down service?”), he answered all of them.

He took this idea to David’s Bridal where now the company’s surveys ask similarly specific questions to their customers, and they saw the number of responses go from 86 percent to 97 percent, even with more volume of questions.

Embrace the Lost Art of Storytelling

In David’s Bridal stores, associates ask customers to ring a bell and make a wish when they find their dress. Women have written in to share their stories of how their wishes came true and Beitel realized what a valuable pool of stories that could be. Now David’s Bridal has an archive of hundres of stories from brides and built this into contest called “Share Your Love,” which asked brides to share stories about their first kiss and solicited people to vote on the best stories.

While all of these ideas have helped David’s Bridal’s business and grown its brand influence and reach, none of it could have happened without the right partners, said Beitel. So he closed his presentation with some tips on finding partners that can help make it happen.

When looking for vendors:

Look for students
– Do they know your business and your brand?
– Do they know your industry?
– Do they know your competitors?
“I need someone who’s willing to learn and to listen – otherwise I really don’t want to talk to you,” said Beitel.

What’s their latest innovation?
– Where have they brought new/bigger thinking?
– Is it innovation for innovation’s sake or did it mean something to their clients?
– Do they innovate in existing channels or are they interested in digital/social?

Will they execute with precision?

Are they focused on the right things?
– do admire the “work,” but only celebrate the results?
– Understand the work is a means to an end?
– Do they ask about the results you want?

Are they putting the consumer first?

With four daughters who will one day shop for the products David’s Bridal sells, Beitel is constantly learning how turn his customer’s shopping experiences into stories worth sharing.