For those who planned their weddings for the spring or summer of 2020, it has doubtlessly been a rather stressful last few months, as the outbreak of a global pandemic arose and messed with everyone’s plans.
However, as Ryan and Samie Roberts, the CEO and chief operating officer, respectively, of Bustld told PYMNTS in a recent digital discussion — it doesn’t take a global pandemic to turn one wedding plans upside-down overnight. In their pre-entrepreneurial lives as an engaged couple trying to get married late August of 2011 in New York City — the quickly learned that Mother Nature has a lot of methods by which she can mess with one’s wedding. In their case, it was Hurricane Irene that came to call the same weekend they were set to say their vows in front of hundreds of friends and family members.
“We had a third of our guests who suddenly were not able to make it. And we just wish we had some easy virtual ways for guests who couldn’t make it to be there in some way,” Ryan Roberts said.
And like many founders, realizing the world didn’t have a solution to their problem, they decided to build their own in the form of Bustld. It’s a digital wedding planning platform that makes it easy for couples to be matched with the vendors they need and to build out the wedding they envision. Couples also can create a virtual wedding for guests who can’t attend, using its proprietary Love Stream high definition video streaming platform. It’s a service that, in the last 12 weeks, has skyrocketed in popularity as consumers are radically rethinking their weddings for the age of coronavirus.
“The biggest change we saw at first was people just postponing and kind of just waiting for later in the year,” Samie Roberts noted. “Now we’re starting to see people who are wanting to just go ahead and get married because they’re not sure when they are going to be able to get married otherwise. I think that’s where the virtual piece has become so huge and we predict that micro weddings — weddings with under 50 people — are going to be very popular for at least the next year, if not the next two years. And we really think virtual is where people are going to go so that people can still celebrate with you.”
So how does one build a virtual wedding? As it turns out, the Roberts noted, there is a bit more to doing it well than simply flipping on the camera and letting the home audience follow along. Because whether it be in person or online, personalization and curation are critical in designing the full experience.
Streaming Love Right
While every virtual wedding is its own creation, Samie Roberts noted, there are best practices that Bustld recommends to all its customers when they plan for their virtual guests. The first rule is that less is more and that no matter how excited someone is to attend one’s digital wedding, they aren’t interested in sitting in front of a screen for several hours on a Saturday watching every moment of the reception. Instead, they recommend curating the digital wedding into a roughly hour-and-a-half-long experience where those logged in on the Love Stream get to see the ceremony itself, the first dance, the toasts and then a personal greeting and send-off from the bride and groom thanking them for coming and being part of the wedding digitally.
From using that basic layout and 90-minute time structure, she noted, the Bustld platform allows the couple planning their wedding to add in all kinds of distinct and specialized features to make the virtual wedding feel more inclusive for their guests.
“We’ve talked to some couples who have done things like added in a cocktail session where they’ve hired a bartender to teach people how to make the signature wedding cocktail at home. Or they have arranged for food deliveries so people can participate in the reception remotely or sent the wedding party favors directly to virtual guests. There’s a lot of different ways that you can kind of personalize it depending on budget constraints and things like that.”
Moreover, Ryan Roberts noted, the point of the platform is to make the construction process simpler and more streamlined for people planning their wedding. The kind of connectivity issues people often report, he noted, “we don’t run into the same issues.”
“We’ve built our own proprietary platform and we just really pride ourselves in having that high definition stream that is easy to tap into in a variety of ways.” Ryan Roberts said.
The Digital Future Of Weddings
The world has not seen the end of large and elaborate weddings, Samie Roberts noted, and there will be a time when we see people go back to throwing large events in exotic destinations once there is a coronavirus vaccine. However, she suspects that going forward they are going to become rarer. As she noted, are the long multi-year engagements necessary to plan those events.
Going forward, consumers are going to have a preference for weddings that are simpler, smaller and more intimate.
“I think people are going to have more intimate weddings and value that more intimate experience where you do truly get to talk to everybody who attends your wedding and have a true relationship with them. And those times, I predict ... are here to stay and become a big part of the industry as we see it moving forward.”
Because, Ryan Roberts noted, going forward, the idea of a virtual wedding won’t feel nearly as niche as it once did. People have been going to work via Zoom meetings, attending virtual cocktail hours on Skype and finding ways to have movie nights with friends via Netflix and Facebook Messenger.
“Even when we get past COVID-19, even though it doesn’t feel like that is ever going to happen, once we do, we still think that this is going to be a very viable product because by then virtually attending important live events is going to have become thoroughly mainstream. Arguably, it is already.”