How Zola Is Keeping Couples Engaged Amid the Pandemic and Beyond

CMO Mike Chi joins Adweek Together to talk weddings, Hallmark and Lea Michele

lisa granatstein of adweek and mike chi of zola
Zola currently focuses on weddings, but it's working to broaden the range of life experiences it can assist with. Adweek
Headshot of MĂłnica Marie Zorrilla

Key insights:

When the Covid-19 outbreak spread across the country—and, within a surreally short time frame, the world—wedding bells went mute.

Some found the idea of sharing their vows to guests through a laptop screen to be a sufficient placeholder for their original nuptial plans, while others got creative (and kawaii), having intimate ceremonies on the digital island paradise of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Others were reluctant to give up the “big day” fantasy, opting to ride out the pandemic’s curves and waves to guarantee the Pinterest-worthy ceremony of their dreams.

That’s where Zola, a woman-owned site offering wedding registry and planning tools, comes in. “Literally 99.9% of couples are still getting married,” said Mike Chi, CMO of Zola, in conversation with Adweek editor and svp Lisa Granatstein during Wednesday’s special session of Adweek Presents: The Way Forward, part of our weeklong Adweek @ Home series. “They’re just doing it at a different time.”

When Adweek last spoke with Chi toward the end of March, Zola had already pivoted its entire outlook and strategy to help consumers and wedding vendors affected by the health crisis. Now, three months into adapting to a new normal restricted by risk, Zola has managed to keep its couples engaged and is addressing lifestyle changes related to Covid-19.

Even during March, April and May, when in-person weddings were basically nonexistent, Chi said nearly a third of the site’s consumers still continued with an event in some form, mostly smaller ceremonies, but delayed their receptions.

“I’ve been hearing people talking about Wedding Part 1 and Wedding Part 2, and breaking up the event, which is very different from what we’ve seen in the past,” Chi said. Couples who had originally scheduled their “I Do” for August or September are feeling more comfortable about keeping those dates on the calendar, Chi observed, while other couples are pushing their wedding dates to later in the fall and even into next year.

Throughout the lockdown, Zola modified its features to be more relatable amid Covid-19, such as how to communicate changes to guests and vendors. It’s also working on a product set to launch in the summer to host virtual events (which can be anything associated with the wedding process, like bridal showers).

Down the line, Zola is hoping to expand its purview, going beyond engagements and weddings to other major life decisions and changes down the road of married life. One tool it’s added that already helps couples look (and shop) beyond the wedding is algorithm-driven suggestions of home decor and appliances based on a user’s Zola gift registry.

What Chi finds unique about Zola (compared to other wedding-planning brands) is how the site goes to market for the consumer. “We’re not ad supported; that’s now how we drive our revenues,” Chi said. “And if you look at other wedding companies, that’s typically how they’re driving their revenue.”

This enables Zola’s marketing department to create tools—both free and paid—that make things like creating to-do lists easier for couples, rather than overwhelming them with ads and other product experiences.

Revenue for Zola this year, like the weddings scheduled for 2020, has been pushed out. The revenue associated with rentals, vendor deals and gift-giving are all happening, just at a later date. “We are seeing demand start to pick back up on the early funnel planning side as well,” Chi said. Search volume dropped significantly at the start of the quarantine, but has revved up again significantly in the last few weeks.

“In the next couple of days,” Chi announced, “we are getting prepared to go back, live on television. We created a new set of ads to speak to the current environment.”

With the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement prioritizing diversity and inclusion in the corporate world, Zola’s messaging has also been revisited. Formerly, the brand had worked with actress Lea Michele, best known for ABC’s teen musical series Glee. However, allegations surfaced from Michele’s co-stars about mistreatment and racist behavior.

“The partnership actually came to an end a few months ago,” Chi said. “Inclusivity is important to us, and we have no tolerance at the company for discrimination of any kind or discrimination towards the Black community. We expect that from our partners, and we were horrified and disappointed to hear about the allegations around her behavior.”

Previous drama with the Hallmark Channel pulling, then reinstating, a Zola ad depicting two brides kissing has also compelled the company to think more deeply about how it can help all of its couples, as well as use its platform to talk about weddings and other issues important to its community and its employees.

“All of us are reflecting on what we can do more to support the Black community, and what we can do to raise awareness of systemic racism. We’re thinking about programs that we can put in place there,” Chi said. Zola is also considering its hiring and managing practices to better support its Black employees.

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@monicroqueta MĂłnica is a breaking news reporter at Adweek.