The Inspirations: Liene Stevens of The Splendid Collective

You’re probably all aware by now, that at the moment I’m loving teaching, learning and exploring the ideas behind running your own wedding business (hence The Green Room, my School of Rock workshops and my work with The Photography Farm!)

Very early on in my wedding blogging career I became aware of Liene Stevens and her blog Splendid Communications. I found it invaluable and full of amazing snippets of advice and guidance when I was navigating the murky waters of trying to be my own boss. When I launched The Inspirations, Liene was top of my list of people to interview. I hope you enjoy eavesdropping on our chat…

Photography Credit: Avery House

Hi Liene, can you give us a brief introduction on yourself and your company?

My name is Liene and I own a company called Splendid Communications. I am an expert on the intersection of business and social behavior and I specialize in how millennials (born 1979-2000), affluents and engaged couples buy. I’m obsessed with figuring out what makes people tick, and why they make the decisions they do. Basically, I’ve figured out a way to earn a living being a nerd (something I made my peace with a long time ago). I spend an insane amount of time doing things like studying scientific and academic journals, conducting qualitative research, and figuring out how to apply all of that to businesses within the wedding and lifestyle industries.

How did you come up with the idea for Splendid Communications and Think Splendid?

My educational background is in intercultural psychology and when I owned an event company, I realized that a lot of people in the industry were incredibly talented at their craft, but pretty clueless about the why behind client behavior. I knew that my interests and skills were better used in helping people improve their businesses behind the scenes so that they could remain innovators in their respective fields.

What about the other arms of your business?

The Splendid Collective is the umbrella company for Splendid Communications and focuses on providing initiatives that elevate the wedding community. There are currently two other brands underneath it: FindAWeddingJob.com and Live Splendid.

FindAWeddingJob.com is a job board (currently just for the United States, but hopefully will support international soon) where people can post job and internship openings. They cross post with LinkedIn and about a dozen other job boards so that you increase your chances of finding a qualified candidate.

Live Splendid is a non-profit initiative that explores the implications of weddings on social and economic justice. We have some things in the works for it for 2012 that I am really excited about.

Why do you focus on blogging about tips for wedding businesses as opposed to more general business tips?

To me, an expert is not just someone who has breadth of knowledge on a topic, but depth as well. I know weddings and I know social behavior and I know how to apply that to business. I have a professional background in events and I love that, at their core, weddings are about people. There is no better place to see human behavior on display than at any given wedding venue on any given Saturday night. Decades of family drama combined with an open bar combined with fancy clothes prove that even the best wedding professionals with the most meticulous of timelines can’t be prepared for exactly what will happen, because the human aspect is where it all goes off script. It’s fascinating to me.

Also, weddings bring out emotions that other life milestones do not. Mothers who suddenly are dealing with “cutting the apron strings” even though their children have been living away from home for 10-15 years. Men and women struggling with identity issues that may have been buried in their subconscious but are starting to surface (two common ones are brides who aren’t sure what to do with a joint bank account and what that means for their individual personhood or grooms who haven’t stepped foot in a church in 20 years who are suddenly very adamant that the ceremony be liturgical). The tradition and the symbolism involved with weddings and marriage go deep and this affects how people make decisions. The thought process behind spending on a wedding is not the same as spending on any other large party or buying a house. It is a season of life that carries different emotions and so purchasing behavior is very different.

What is it about millennials that is so different to generations before and do you have any general tips or words of advice for wedding industry professionals wanting to attract them?

Millennials (also known as Gen Y and Echo Boomers) are now the largest generation in the world (three times the size of Baby Boomers) and in 2007 became the largest bridal consumer group, accounting for more than 70% of today’s weddings. While there are many factors that differentiate this generation from the others, there are a few that wedding professionals should especially take note of:

Digital is a sixth sense: Millennials are also sometimes called “digital natives” because they grew up with technology. Even the oldest of the millennials were playing games like The Oregon Trail in the computer lab in grade school. While the other generations had to adapt to new technologies, for millennials it is simply something they have always known. Being exposed to technology for so long has changed the neural pathways in their brain. As a result, this is also the first generation in more than a hundred years who literally have a different brain on a microcellular level.

Peer feedback is a way of life: Many people credit social media for changing the way people interact, but it hasn’t, at least not for the millennial generation. Social media mimics the way millennials have always acted. In the late 1970’s, early 1980’s, educational curriculum globally started to shift towards group projects rather than individual study. Teamwork was in, the “Lone Ranger” mentality was out. Millennials have grown up soliciting feedback from and consensus from their peers.

Traditional (but not always conservative) values: Millennials tend to be very traditional when it comes to what they value in life and they are often compared to their grandparents’ generation. Friends and family come first and everything else revolves around that. They also place a high value on living a meaningful life and tend to avoid the shallow for more depth. While Baby Boomers are known for “keeping up with the Joneses” and Gen X is known as the “Me Generation”, the millennial perspective on money has more to do with what it can provide in terms of experiences with their family and friends. In fact, if given the option of a raise or more unpaid vacation time, the majority of this generation will opt for the unpaid vacation time because it means more time with the people they love.

As far as weddings go, this is definitely a shift, and in my opinion, a good one. Because of the focus on friends and family and living a meaningful life, we’re going to see the emphasis on weddings return to celebrating more about what the day is really about and less about showing off or trying to “out-do” another couple. Weddings are no longer seen as “the bride’s day,” and today’s couples routinely ditch vendors who refer to it as such and try to leave the groom out. To millennials, the wedding is about both the bride and groom and their love for each other and they want the celebration to be a meaningful and fun experience for their guests.

The second part is that the peer feedback and digital attachment isn’t going anywhere. This isn’t a bad thing, but it is different and wedding professionals will have to adjust to how this generation thinks and acts or they will struggle to stay in business. For example, once a florist makes his recommendation, a bride may immediately snap a photo of the prototype, post it on Facebook with a status update that says, “our florist wants us to have a mixture of garden roses, what do you guys think?” This, of course, confuses and frustrates the florist because he’s thinking, “I’m the expert! I’ve been doing this for 20 years! Why don’t my clients today trust me anymore?!” This is where wedding professionals have to adjust: soliciting peer feedback is NOT a trust issue. It is simply how millennials tend to make decisions (this ties directly back to their classroom curriculum of group work). Further, they genuinely value the opinion of their friends and family and the vendors who try to fight that are in for a long, hard battle, and frankly, a rude awakening. It’s not just the bride and the mom calling the shots anymore, it’s not the bride, groom, their parents, their bridal party, and their other friends, all connected at the hip via their iPhones and Blackberries.

Where does your inspiration for blog post topics come from?

Essentially, I get paid to think for a living, so my blog post topics tend to be an overflow of whatever is on my mind at the time I sit down to write. With the book coming out, I’m now talking more about things that I’ve been quietly working on over the past couple of years such as generational behavior.

What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve been given?

There are two, and they aren’t necessarily business related, but I use them for business.

The first: “Never doubt your ability to justify.” Someone told me this in high school and it has stuck with me. It is so easy to talk ourselves into or out of situations. This little piece of wisdom allows me to step back and ask if I am talking myself into or out of doing something based on its proximity to my comfort zone.

The second: “All they can say is no or hell no.” This one is a quote from Courtney Spencer’s (of Merriment Events) mother and I’ve now adopted it as my own. I say it at least once a day.

What’s the worst piece of business advice you’ve been given?

That I had to charge what everyone else did rather than what I was worth because “it wouldn’t be fair to people who had been in business 20 years” and I had to “pay my dues.” Fortunately, a late night conversation with Marcy Blum at the very first Engage! wedding conference in June 2008 gave me the aha! moment I needed and I literally doubled my rate overnight — and clients paid it. My only regret is that I spent several years listening to the bad advice before making the change.

If you could offer someone starting out in the wedding industry one piece of advice, what would it be?

Don’t expect people to fight fair. More importantly, don’t allow that to make you cynical.

Talking so openly and publically online about your opinions on business must have attracted a few snarkly comments or ‘haters’. How do you deal with this kind of criticism and do you have any advice for people either scared to ‘put themselves out there’ over this fear or for people that have also experienced it?

Frankly, the criticism hurts at times, and I think that’s normal. If what you’re doing matters, then it is normal to want people to share that vision. However, there is a big difference between liking approval and needing approval. Yes, I like to be liked and I like people to like what I do, but I don’t need them to like me or my work. My identity and self-worth are not tied up in what other people think of me. Because of this, I can make decisions that are true to who I am and how I feel I am supposed to be living my life. If people are on board, great. If not, then I hope they are on board with something else that resonates with their personal passions.

I remember checking my email on my phone while running errands once and an email came through that was so mean and vicious and, I felt, off-base. I burst into tears right there in the middle of the store, phone in one hand and a bottle of shampoo in the other. It’s fine to admit that the criticism hurts sometimes — in fact I think it’s unhealthy to pretend it doesn’t. The problems arise when you allow unwarranted criticism to shape your vision or self-worth.

There’s a great quote by Marianne Williamson that I’ve printed out and have above my desk that says, “Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that others won’t feel insecure around you.” It’s something I try to remember whenever I’m tempted to hold back out of fear of not being liked or seen as too different from everyone else or whatever.

You’ve just written a book, Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace: Marketing Your Wedding Business in Today’s World, due to be published in April. How did this come about? Why did you want to publish as book instead of just remaining as an online publisher?

I feel that you can much more effectively unpack an idea, or a series of interwoven ideas, in a book in a way that is difficult to do with a blog. This particular book is one that I’ve been working on for several years, and there are literally thousands of pieces of research and countless hours that went into it. I mistakenly assumed that writing a book would be similar to freelance writing or blog publishing and I was surprised by how much more difficult the book process was. It was one of the most difficult projects I’ve ever taken on and the finished product is very different than what I envisioned when I started, but I am really proud of it. I liken the process of writing a book to getting a tattoo — once you have one finished, you immediately want another. It’s addicting.

Can you tell us about your wedding survey you’re currently doing? What’s it for and how can people get involved?

I’m currently conducting a survey on how newlyweds and soon-to-be married couples from around the world plan their weddings. My company has no financial bias hinging on the results — it makes no difference to my business what someone’s budget is or if they read more blogs than magazines (or vice versa) and so forth. Because of this, the results can be presented as they are and in full. Also, because people participating live in various countries, have varying incomes, and aren’t all heterosexual couples, it gives a more accurate look into how people are actually planning weddings than a survey conducted by a company that only polls couples from one source.

To ensure that we get the most accurate data possible, I’d love for everyone to participate! The survey takes about five minutes, is completely anonymous, and can be completed here.

And finally what’s next for you?

I’ve started working on my next book and I’m working on some other projects that for now need to stay under wraps. Once they’re ready for the public spotlight, I’ll share them on Twitter or my blog.

10 comments

  1. Such an interesting post, thanks Kat – and thanks Liene – I’ve just read your post on millennials on your blog too, http://www.thinksplendid.com/2011/10/millennials-and-wedding-industry.html and I’m so intrigued. As well as being a millennial myself (I turn 30 in two weeks) I work with a lot of 18-22 year olds and it’s so interesting to observe how they interact and use social media. Your post was very insightful and revealing and has given me a lot to think about, I’ll be sure to order your book for my Kindle!

  2. Such a good interview, Kat and Liene! My journey into the wedding world has only just started, but having a background in media planning and buying I’m acutely aware of the differences between audiences, and the need for us to market ourselves in a way that is flexible, open and as transparent as possible. It’s not always easy, I must admit, but these discerning kids (I include myself since I’m 30) are not to be patronised, which is the problem I had when I got married! Your advice: “Don’t expect people to fight fair. More importantly, don’t allow that to make you cynical.” is by far the BEST piece of advice I’ve read! Just today I felt really disappointed by the behaviour of a peer in the industry and I had to force myself to keep my cool and not let it get me down. It hurst when you don’t expect it, but having a realistic attitude, giving the benefit of the doubt and lowering my expectations at an early stage in my career path means I won’t get as disappointed by others as much as I do now… Definitely a lesson I need to embrace…! Thank you!!! x Betta

  3. Wow – what a post – thanks to Liene and Kat for this!

    Amy – I was just about to make a very similar comment being a millennial and I too work with a lot of 18-22 year olds at a uni and we are rapidly reviewing our use of social media. Just this lunchtime we were talking about memes as students are all over them and facebook so we’re planning some tasteful memes to get to our audience! My birthday is in two weeks too, so I will be adding this to my kindle list!

    This article has really framed a lot of thoughts that have been bubbling in my mind about defining your customer and reaching out to them and this echoes through my work at uni and as a photographer…..I will be mulling this over this evening!!

    Cracking!

  4. Wow wow wow. So glad I clicked and took the time to read this article. Excellent interview!
    As a Photographer with a M.S. in psychology, how refreshing to hear from someone who is actually using real data to examine the wedding industry; specifically buyer’s behavior within the industry.
    My favorite section is “What’s the worst business advice you’ve ever been given.” LOVE the answer! I reached out to a popular, high-end planner probably a year or so before I should have that told me she couldn’t work w/me because I didn’t charge enough. I doubled my rates overnight, which was the best decision I’ve ever made.
    Great article!
    SW

  5. What a great interview. So much relevant and interesting content here. I’m just starting out in the wedding world and am constantly bombarded with advice and tips on EVERYTHING… some good, some not so good. I’m putting this in the ‘good’ category. I appreciate Liene’s perspective and look forward to following her blog–this one too. thanks for the great insights!

  6. Great interview Kat! I’ve been following Liene for years even before the name change to Think Splendid and have always found her writings insightful.

    It takes a lot of courage to stand in our own truth and be authentic especially in an industry that can cause us to question ourselves. Liene, thank you for sharing your light and inspiring other to shine! I wish you continued success!

  7. Thank you so much for this interview and the openness. I look forward to seeing what the future brings for the both you {and can’t wiat to read Liene’s book!}

Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *