Thoughts
January 22, 2024

When churn is ok – the wedding magazine problem

When I talk with friends who are engaged, there’s a joke I find myself repeating: the best part of getting married is no longer having to plan a wedding.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved my wedding. But planning it involved juggling competing needs of friends and family, organizing a team of vendors, and spending a truckload of money. Driving off to the honeymoon, putting all that behind us was a relief. As happy as I am with our photos, I don’t see us hiring a wedding photographer again.

That’s the nature of the wedding business – for the most part, each customer is a one-time deal. It’s a business with nearly a 100% churn rate.

Think about what it must be like to run a wedding magazine. For a few months, it’s one of the most important and anticipated pieces of mail for your readers. Then, all of a sudden, they cancel their subscription. When you’re done planning your wedding, you suddenly don’t need a wedding magazine anymore.

Do these “unsubscribed” or churned-out customers mean that your wedding magazine is a failing business? Not at all. Bridal Guide magazine charges nearly $50,000 for a full-page ad. The Knot charges $65,000 for the same. The wedding industry is doing gangbusters.

Lots of businesses are wedding magazines. Tourism, an industry I’ve worked in extensively, is one of the most notable. Once I’m done with my trip to Copenhagen, no matter how much fun I had, I will probably not go back for a while. Which means I’ll uninstall the local ride-share app, unsubscribe from my hotel’s email list, and unfollow some accounts on social media.

Other big life events are the same. I’m not buying a graduation gift every year, throwing a retirement party, or (hopefully) organizing a funeral. The average American only changes their car every 12.5 years and moves into a new home a little less than 12 times in their life.

Fundamentally, a lot of businesses are Groundhog Day operations – the same, discrete transaction over and over. I only need to buy one toaster, snow shovel, or podcast microphone. I don’t need these things to be subscriptions or memberships. 

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Amazon thinks my recent humidifier purchase was merely the inaugural move in a newfound hobby of humidifier collecting.</p>&mdash; Justin Shanes (@justinshanes) <a href="https://twitter.com/justinshanes/status/803453049603690496?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">November 29, 2016</a></blockquote><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

In that work in tourism, I’ve spent a non-trivial amount of my professional life explaining to stakeholders that unsubscribes and uninstalls are OK. Higher-ups often don’t like to see trends going in the wrong direction – and those metrics are often displayed in scary red numbers that immediately grab your attention.

But we get ourselves into trouble when we think that our business is something it’s not, causing us to chase the things that don’t matter. No matter how much The Knot tries, most people aren’t going to keep reading it two or three years after the cake is cut. For them, retention isn’t the goal. And for you, maybe it isn’t either.

PS: My other most-repeated wedding advice: After you get your photos back, go to Snapfish/Shutterfly/Costco/etc. and get all of them printed out as 4x6s. Stick them in a shoebox, and it becomes such a lovely thing to break out at family gatherings. Nobody wants to watch your slideshow, but everybody loves to flip through a table of photos with a glass of wine.

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About the Author

Ben Guttmann ran a marketing agency for a long time, now he teaches digital marketing at Baruch College, just released his first book – Simply Put, and works with some cool folks on other projects in-between all of that. He writes about how we experience a world shaped by technology and humanity – and how we can build a better one.

Get my new book, it just came out.

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