Case Study: Soothing the Savage Bridal Beast
Posted Aug 8, 2003

Few women can honestly claim that they haven't been planning their dream wedding since they were little girls. While the details are typically hazy until an engagement makes planning an actual reality and no longer a fantasy, virtually every wanna-be bride knows from childhood on that there are certain traditions and stylistic touches she wants to bring to the big day—provided her fiancée doesn't object, of course.

Given technology's influence on most everything in modern life, it was only a matter of time before it found a way to serve brides-to-be, as well. For years, betrothed couples have relied upon countless books, magazines, and the solicited and unsolicited advice of already-marrieds to guide them in crafting their own celebrations, but only recently have interactive wedding planning services been equipped to assist the affianced with the actual wedding planning process in the way more time-honored resources have been consulted and faithfully followed. 

DVD Takes a Bride
To know what's available to impending brides from a technological perspective is to know what isn't, says Claudia Shields, owner/founder of Brides & Bows LLC, a Houston, Texas-based source of interactive wedding planning founded in July 2002 following Shields' own wedding. On a search for "inspirations and ideas on how to make my wedding day absolutely flawless," Shields discovered that few resources were available to educate and inspire brides in a visual, interactive manner. The company's signature tool, a 90-minute DVD aptly named Brides & Bows: Interactive Wedding Planning, "is not wedding software in which brides input their budgets, lists, and to-dos," Shields emphasizes, "but it does give them wedding planning advice and etiquette tips delivered by an actual person, along with tips and ideas on planning for that special day." At the time of its fall 2002 development—as today, says Shields—"there was nothing else like it out on the market."

Once Shields committed to creating a wedding planning tool that "actually educated and inspired the bride," the decision to do so using DVD was a no-brainer, she says. "I purposely chose not to do VHS, but rather opted for the DVD format because, quite honestly, everything will soon be available only on DVD. Plus, the cost to mass-produce a VHS tape was five times higher." What's more, she explains on her company's Web site, www.bridesandbows.com, "A DVD provides better visual quality and allows the viewer to skip around effortlessly from section to section without the hassle of rewinding, fast-forwarding, flipping pages, and searching through lengthy tables of contents."

If It Fits, You Must Commit
Released December 31, 2002, Brides & Bows features a photo gallery of wedding ideas, an introduction by Shields, and seven 5- to 20-minute chapters covering everything from invitations, flowers, and linens to photography, videography, jewelry, and beauty. "I decided to list those specific wedding categories primarily because that is what I thought would be of most interest to the bride in her wedding planning process," says Shields. "I knew that floral, linens, jewelry, and picking the photographer all would offer the level of visual guidance I was seeking, she adds, noting that segments on the cake and gown "didn't make the final cut due mainly to time constraints and conflicts with scheduling."

The seven Texas-based vendors featured in the various chapters include Bergner & Johnson Designs (floral); Zontini Studios (photography); The Linen House (linens); Media Distributors, Inc. (videography); Paperology (invitations); A.A. Benjamin, Ltd. (jewelry); and Image Max Dental Day Spa (beauty). Each chapter gives company representatives a broad showcase to highlight their particular product or service, as well as to educate and advise the viewer in the details of planning that particular aspect of a wedding. (Veteran wedding planner Angela Nix hosts some chapters, while others feature the vendor talking directly into the camera.) Shields says the vendors were given "great leeway in scripting" the focus of their content—a flexibility that ultimately makes some of the chapters more useful than others.

Citing the "overwhelmingly wonderful" response the DVD has received since its release—including being named in a May issue of Entertainment Weekly as the "Engagement Gift of the Week"—Shields already is planning to release a second edition of Brides & Bows in January 2004. (As of early June, 3,000 discs had been produced and nearly 1,000 had sold.) "The next version will have a huge gown segment with various designers displaying their work," says Shields. "After all, that's where all the fun is in wedding planning—in picking out the dress." The 2004 version also will feature a beauty segment focusing on "traditional hair and makeup," rather than the personal pampering options featured in the existing DVD. "I would love to get a big name like professional makeup artist Bobbi Brown to come on with me. A big name in and of itself would help" generate interest in the product, she explains.

Also new to the 2004 edition—to be shot this fall in New York, rather than Houston—will be a party favors segment and the cake segment that didn't make it into the existing version.

Ya Gotta Have Friends
Throughout the three-month, $25,000 production process, Shields worked closely with a handful of people who helped turn her broad concept into a marketable commodity. "Prior to those three months of production, there were eight months of brainstorming and research to come up with something that had not yet been done in the wedding business. First and most important was completing all legal aspects of the process," Shields explains, citing attorney Charles Vethan's efforts to draw up contracts for each of the vendors and to secure copyrights. "Then there was scheduling the shoots with each of the vendors, followed by another week of editing" the video footage for encryption and transfer to DVD.

In addition to appearing on the DVD, Zontini Studios contributed to the development process by designing the cover of the packaging; Media Distributors, Inc., meanwhile, handled video production and editing. (Founded in 1977, Rice Village, Texas-based MDI is equipped to provide videography and still photography services for a variety of business and personal special events.) The completed master was then sent to the Dallas-based manufacturing facility of Duplium, where it was pressed and packaged for distribution via the Brides & Bows Web site, Amazon.com, and Barnes & Noble. (Headquartered in Carrollton, Texas, with sales offices in Austin, Dallas, and Denver, Duplium provides media replication, packaging, assembly, and fulfillment services to a number of industries.)

For Better or Worse: In Search of Relationship Bliss
"I fully realize that this disc has been my guinea pig," says Shields. "When the product first came out, people thought it was cool, but many were put off by it. I tried to market it to the big department stores and to local hotels as a ‘thank you' gift for brides when they booked their events, but I found that a lot of hotels don't have DVD players. It was like pulling teeth" to promote the product, she laughs.

The problem, Shields continues, is that she hasn't had the capital to properly market the DVD. "I originally started this project with another person, who was going to provide the financing, but it didn't work out," she says, "so I basically went with it on my own." Over the past year, Shields has worked "to get myself and the product out there in every way possible," participating in various bridal trade and trunk shows throughout Texas. (Shields says she is close to partnering with Bridesmart, a regional bridal chain that has "shown a lot of interest in selling the product in its stores.")

Shields' Web designer, Mary Zane Addy, also has assisted with marketing and sales by developing a Web site that links to the DVD's featured vendors and allows visitors to purchase the product online. "There are a few people helping me out, but we certainly don't have a formal creative team," Shields explains.

Since its debut, Brides & Bows has "gotten a lot of press here in Houston, and the Entertainment Weekly mention was thrilling," Shields adds. "Ironically, though, 99 percent of my sales have come from the East and West Coasts, with a few trickling in from Atlanta and Chicago. Since the launch, I have been approached by several people who would like the opportunity to help me with both the creative and technological aspects of the upcoming DVD for 2004, but I have yet to actually contract with anyone for their services."

Brides & Bows, LLC, www.bridesandbows.com; Duplium, www.duplium.com; Media Distributors, Inc., www.mdvideo.com; Zontini Studios, www.zontinistudios.com.