Okay, this one might seem like a stretch or maybe controversial but stick with me. When we started planning our wedding in Portugal, I thought about it in a very similar way as I do branding. What is the experience we want our guests to have while they are at this event? What expectations can we set up along the way? How do we want people to feel? What do we want them to take away? How do I reinforce this at every step?
In most weddings, the wedding is all about the couple. And for many people, that’s great! But for us, that wasn’t the point. Sure we wanted to celebrate our love. But ultimately we wanted to celebrate the life we had built and that of course included our friends and family that supported us along the way. In other words, we wanted our guests to feel celebrated as much as we were celebrating our own relationship.
First things first. To reinforce this idea we lovingly did not call our wedding a wedding but rather our “Love Ceremony”. Is it cheesy? You better believe it. Does it make you giggle when saying it? Yup. Did it better represent the entirety of the experience? 100%.
Second, most of our friends have never met. We met them all throughout the 7 years of our relationship and they live all over; from L.A to London. And because our main goal for our Love Ceremony was to celebrate the life we’ve built so far, it was super important for us that our friends and family were actually able to spend time together and get to know one another. Rehearsal dinner and a wedding day would not cut it. So, we set out to plan a six-day, five-night vacation for our friends and family so that by the time the ceremony finally arrived, people would have spent DAYS together.
This led to numbers three and four. Because our goal was to get everyone to actually spend time together, we knew we wanted to have an accommodation where our friends could mingle and interact. Fast forward a bunch of research and we ended up with a stunning villa in Gaviāo, Portugal that would sleep 25 of our closest friends. Considering how important travel and exploring lesser-known areas are to my partner and me, this villa in the off-the-beaten-path of Portugal was a perfect fit.
Now, Gaviāo is a tiny town in a very rural part of an already small country. It’s safe to say there isn’t a TON of things to do and we would be pretty isolated. We also wanted to ensure there were enough activities that people could actually bond and create memories together. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a party or event where no one knows each other without there being ANY structured mingling activity but it can be… well, uncomfortable. We wanted to avoid this at all costs. So we created a loose itinerary that combined practical activities like grocery shopping with relaxing activities like a beach day. The goal was to have enough structure so friends didn’t feel lost but loose enough that there was still serendipity. Like when we decided to have an impromptu family meal because one of our friends is a chef and it was a chance for friends and family to mingle, eat delicious food, and drink wine. Check, check, and check.
We used this theme, of celebrating the life we had built and the people that got us there as our guiding light. We wanted everyone who came to know that we thought of them, literally each and every guest, at every step. It started with our wedding invites that included a photoshopped picture of our guest so each invite was unique. It continued to our wedding website which provided resources for guests to plan their trip. But also included a ‘Cast and Crew’ section with photos of each guest, their name, where they’re coming from, and a fun (albeit useless) fact that we wrote for each person.
We continued this through to the ceremony where we included a toast mid-ceremony to thank everyone for helping us to build this life together. And finally, I hand embroidered everyone’s name on their napkin to use as our seating chart. Every opportunity we could find to celebrate and personalize an experience for our guests, we did.
And I can say with a resounding yes that it worked. We created an event and an experience where by the end, our guests were hugging like lifelong friends. The statement of the week was “I can’t believe I only met you days ago!”
How am I going to wrap this up you may be thinking? Is this just wedding advice? I mean, I do think this is a great way to plan your wedding but we are a design and branding agency so of course there is a larger lesson. Think about what you want the ultimate experience to be for your customer, client, or guest, and think about how you use that as your guiding principle. Where are there opportunities to delight them unexpectedly? Where are moments that are typically stressful or boring or unmemorable and you can make it something special?
Maybe it’s a hand-embroidered napkin or maybe it’s an amazing customer service experience. Whatever it is, find it and invest in it and you can thank me later.
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About The Author
Olivia Wisden is the Founder + CEO of UnderBelly Creative. She has worked with dozens of brands over the years ranging from city initiatives to product launches and beyond. When she’s not fan-girling over the design team’s illustrations she can probably be found reading a novel or attending a boxing class.