How The Knot became the most popular nuptial-planning website

Peter Ginsberg and Melanie Nelson didn’t drive themselves crazy planning their wedding. Instead, they left the details of their big day to thousands of total strangers.

Those strangers were participants in an NBC Today show segment called “Today Ties the Knot,” and Ginsberg and Nelson were among 1,000 couples vying to receive an all-expense-paid wedding on the special.

The segment was part of a three-month joint effort between NBC and wedding destination site, The Knot, and during the contest’s run, an average 125,000 users logged on to The Knot site weekly to choose the pair’s wedding rings, clothes, reception menu, bride’s hairstyle, even their honeymoon location. The drama culminated in the Ginsberg/Nelson ceremony, broadcast live on September 6 from New York’s Rockefeller Plaza to Today‘s six million viewers.

That many eyeballs has helped make it a big year for The Knot. With 574,000 unique visitors in June alone, The Knot just slightly trails retail aggregator WeddingChannel.com. But when viewers of The Knot’s content on AOL’s sites are added, The Knot becomes the undisputed leader among the Web’s wedding sites, with roughly 1 million unique visitors, according to Media Metrix.

The Knot is in many ways what most dot-coms are not: savvy about deal-making, clever about its use of funds, and unusually committed to customer service and satisfaction. It has formed enviably tight and active relationships with its members and registers more than 2,600 new ones every day. It’s this combination of factors that could spell success or at least, survival for the nearly 5-year-old site.

What is most impressive, though, is that The Knot has become the No. 1 wedding destination by spending precious few marketing dollars. It is this fact, more than any other, that differentiates The Knot among throngs of dot-coms scrambling to stay in the game.

No budget? No problem

The Knot doesn’t advertise much in its quest to capture its share of the U.S. wedding market, worth an estimated $50 billion annually. It doesn’t even have a formal marketing budget. Part of the justification for that, says CEO David Liu, is that marketing is “so interdisciplinary.” He tends to hire successful entrepreneurs, so that each staff member “thinks like a marketer.” Besides, with net losses of $6.7 million on net revenues of $10.5 million for the first six months of 2010, the company can’t really afford much of a marketing budget.

No budget, however, doesn’t mean no exposure. From its inception as an AOL content provider in 1996, the company heavily promoted co-founder and editor Carley Roney (Liu’s wife, and one of four founders) as the company’s “face” an accessible, consumer-side spokesperson who can address all matters matrimonial.

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