Love in the time of COVID: The Knot's CMO on weddings during the pandemic

Dhanusha Sivajee, CMO, The Knot Worldwide. Photo credit: Preston Schlebusch
Dhanusha Sivajee, CMO, The Knot Worldwide. Photo credit: Preston Schlebusch

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Weddings have been one of the casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic, with brides- and grooms-to-be canceling, postponing or completely altering plans for the big day. 

So when the virus hit, The Knot Worldwide wanted to be the No. 1 source couples, planners, vendors and guests could turn to for help.

Dhanusha Sivajee, CMO of The Knot Worldwide, says the global wedding planning company immediately set out to be a thought leader amid the madness and set trends for people to help them manage through the change.

But first, The Knot Worldwide, parent company of The Knot, WeddingWire, Bodas.net, Hitched.co.uk, WeddingWire.in, WeddingWire.ca, Matrimonio.com and Mariages.net, had to quickly alter its own content plans. 

And a major part of that was global collaboration. Sivajee reports to CEO Tim Chi and oversees 275 people. The Knot Worldwide’s U.S. PR AOR is Jonesworks.

The company has 17,000 employees across 17 countries, and while messaging has been tweaked to fit each market, the marketing strategy has remained the same around the world.

COVID-19 has led to more daily standups with marketing leaders across the globe to share best practices. There has been greater collaboration across teams globally, with more coordinated operations and rollouts.

“This way, we are giving people the most up-to-date information and developing campaigns tied to what’s actually happening in the market,” says Sivajee.

Quickly pivoting plans

The Knot Worldwide’s different brands typically match couples with wedding experts that help bring their special day to life. But now, couples whose wedding dates were coming up didn’t know what to do — and experts were in the same boat.

“Usually, we highlight weddings from all different types of people in different situations, but there has never been anything like a COVID wedding,” says Sivajee. 

In March, right at the start of the pandemic, the company launched The Knot and WeddingWire 24-hour COVID hotline and customer service email.

“We did this so we could start sharing what couples around the world wanted to know,” says Sivajee. “And we started doing a lot of education with our pros. On the couples’ side, it was helping them work with their vendors.” 

The Knot and WeddingWire received more than 5,700 phone calls and emails from couples asking for help postponing their weddings and communicating changes with guests. 

Through talking to customers, The Knot Worldwide discovered that fewer than 7% of couples wanted to cancel their weddings due to the pandemic. Most merely want to postpone the event, says Sivajee.

The main strategy, she notes, has been making sure The Knot Worldwide is properly serving its users’ needs with its content and features.

The Knot created an official guidebook for COVID-19 wedding help and decided to set some trends, such as “minimonies” (aka a small ceremony with a safe number of people) and “sequel weddings” (or a larger ceremony down the line). Another fad over the last few months has been weekday weddings. With all the rebookings, it’s harder than usual to get a weekend wedding.

The Knot Worldwide also launched new features and functionality and rolled those out globally. For example, it now has a virtual concierge on its platform. 

“When couples get engaged and want to start planning, normally they would just go to our marketplace and find the pros that meet their needs based on the reviews they see,” says Sivajee. “But we found they wanted extra handholding and that was true across the world, so we rolled out a virtual concierge to help them do that.” 

The company has also been highlighting its 3-D virtual tours for couples who haven’t been able to safely check out possible wedding locations in person. More than 178,000 couples have taken The Knot Worldwide’s 3-D virtual venue tours since March 1.

The Knot Worldwide also started putting out B2B educational content for pros around the country, offering dedicated resources it updates daily to help experts manage their businesses and clients; as well as consumer and wedding industry research.

“We have seen a 160% increase in people coming to our blog and engaging with our content,” says Sivajee. “Small businesses are looking for advice on how to navigate in these unprecedented times.”

Additionally, more than 14,500 couples have had video chats with vendors, a feature launched during the pandemic to help couples better plan from home during the pandemic.

One major campaign from The Knot over the last six months was its effort to support small businesses around the country. 

“Our couples, as much as they are struggling, also want to make sure they are supporting small businesses,” says Sivajee. “So, we have run campaigns encouraging people to write reviews for small businesses.” 

The Knot also ran a campaign called Love is Not Canceled to highlight how wedding planners and vendors are doing everything they can to support couples during these challenging times. 

“With everyone postponing, cash flow was a crunch during the past couple of months [for people who work in the wedding industry],” says Sivajee.

To assist its local advertising partners impacted by this crisis with their advertising payments, the company established a $10 million financial aid fund back in April.

“We have been surprised by how both sides of the marketplace have come together to support each other,” says Sivajee. “We have seen a lot of community groups form on The Knot and our global platforms. What has given me the biggest hope here is love is not canceled and my faith in humanity has been renewed.”

Another surprise for the company during the pandemic has been the success The Knot Worldwide’s WeddingWire brand has found on TikTok. More than a dozen of the brand’s videos have gone viral since its TikTok page launched in late January 2020. One video, with 22.3 million views, shows a bride about to throw her bouquet and then handing it to a confused bridesmaid who then turns around to get her own wedding proposal.

“TikTok has taken off for us during the pandemic because people want the escape of seeing people having a good time and enjoying themselves, for example, with their first dances,” says Sivajee. “As much as these times are challenging and plans have changed and will continue to change, at the heart of all of this is that [weddings are] about having fun and celebrating with the people you love.”

In 2021, The Knot Worldwide plans to focus on the notion that its “promise” is to help every couple — regardless of cultural background, sexuality, size, shape or gender — plan a wedding that is uniquely their own, explains Sivajee. The company will highlight some of the 40 million couples it has helped to plan weddings and the diversity and inclusion in the events globally. 

“We will have a campaign that ties into this notion of ‘The Knot made by’ because it is made by all those couples and people and the different types of weddings,” Sivajee says. “Weddings are a chance to empower people to do things their way and celebrate love their way.”

This article first appeared on PR Week US.

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