By George Paul

I’m not talking about difficult to deal with families that border on being insane. Yes, those come along every now and then and we wonder why we even took the service call in the first place. What I’m referring to here are families that are diehard loyalist to your firm, pun intended. You may wonder does that even exist in this industry? Yes! It’s the difference between having a funeral home and a funeral brand.

Transforming your funeral home into a funeral brand doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not the result of a flashy gold logo. A brand is more than that. It’s the feeling people have when they see your fleet vehicles driving on the street. It’s the feeling they have when your name comes up in conversations related or not related to death. It’s the impression that stays with them after you’ve served a family whether it was their family or not. That’s why they call it a brand. The feeling families have when they encounter your business is your brand. Your logo merely symbolizes that feeling. Nonetheless, the feeling stays with them wherever they go. It’s the place your firm occupies in their mind. Ultimately, it’ll be the reason why they call you to serve their family over and over again.

How do you know your firm is a brand and not just another funeral home? Examine the questions and points below to see where you stand. Even better, ask your staff and trusted families you serve about these points and listen to their responses. Their feedback will help you make changes to your firm and help transform it into a brand.

1. Does your firm serve a niche audience?
Apples to apples comparisons don’t exist when you niche. When people say, “call Annunciation Funerals if you’re Catholic”, or “if your pet dies Carnegie Cremations will take great care of you”, or “Johnson’s knows how to help families that have lost loved ones due to homicide”, etc. then your firm serves a niche audience. You want to be the go to firm to serve either a specific demographic, faith or death care service. The challenge firms have is staying in their lane.

Much like pouring concrete once you pick a niche you have to give it time for it to set in the minds of people. That means turning away service calls you can legitimately handle because it doesn’t fit your niche. For instance, if you specialize in cremations and everyone says you’re the go to guy if you need to cremate somebody then by definition you shouldn’t do traditional burials. At the very least it shouldn’t encompass more than 10% of your business. The reason why is because point three in this article won’t be able to happen.

It’s gonna hurt. You’re gonna want to take on all the work you can do cause you’re trying to grow. You’re gonna think niching isn’t going to work because growth is slow. However, think of this. Generalist have to reach out for more clients. Specialists are sought out. Become the specialist in your area and people WILL seek you out in time. The ONLY exception to this rule is if your families fall into the group defined by point four of this article. By that time, they want only you to handle arrangements for them regardless of type. Before families can fall into the fourth point, though, you have to make sure you’re a big fish in a small pond.

The fewest number of competitors.
When there are multiple firms in your town or neighboring towns people will automatically group all of you into the same category. The problem is that the one who was first in that category is usually the one with the most service calls. One of the firms we do strategy work for has a competitor who does four times as many service calls as him. The reason is because he was the first funeral home in town and my client was the newcomer. This was slowly driving him out of business until he followed our strategy and niched his firm. Now his service calls as well as revenue is rising.

By niching your firm, you happily gain the advantage of being the only game in town. There’s an anime I love based car drifting called, Initial-D. The main character has a 1986 Toyota Celica GT-S that has been modified and maxed out except the engine. You’d expect him to get waxed by modern high-powered sports car, but it’s just the opposite. The reason why is because he’s known as the specialist of that car and the roads he races it on. In other words, he niched. He knew exactly where to put his car so that no matter who the competition is, he wins even if their car is better. This is because he’s modified his car to run at 100% while his competitor runs at 60%. When you niche your firm, you capture all of an audience rather than a portion. When you do that you can answer yes to the second point.

2. Do your families pay more for your services when there are cheaper options?
When I go to the grocery store there’s going to be products I buy the generic version of. However, when it comes to dishwashing, I only buy Dawn. Yes, it’s much more expensive, but it’s known to cut grease. Better performance equates to more value and worth the higher price. The higher price is actually less than what it costs me in time doing the dishes and how much dish soap I have to dole out of the generic version. The same should be true of your firm.

This doesn’t mean people won’t give you pushback on your prices. However, most will pay it after certain steps in the sales process are taken. Even better is if you list your prices on your website and you still get service calls and meetings with families. That means families have researched your firm, researched other options (because they do) and have decided to come back to you because you’re the best option with the most value.

Raised price no problem.
As you transform your firm into a brand you should be able to incrementally raise your prices. However, don’t just do it for the sake of doing so. While raised prices increase profit, they also increase family expectations. You don’t expect nor would you except a luxury car with cloth seats. It just doesn’t match up with the price. In the same way as you raise your prices you need to raise the value of what you offer families, so they continue to pay it. Doing so puts you in the position to let number three happen.

3. Can your firm handle service calls without your presence?
If you can’t take a vacation because you’ll lose money, then you don’t have a business. Actually, you have the worst job in America because you can never take long breaks from it. While your firm may be on call 24/7/365 you can’t be or else you’ll burn out. You’re the owner. Your job is to build and run the firm. In other words, your job is to work on the business not in it. While it may not be possible now you have to start building a team. It’s the only way you’re going to grow. It’s the only way you become a brand. When you build a team, you are going to have to begin creating systems that your team can run. Systems are crucial because they allow you to deliver the same result every single time.

Replace yourself with yourself.
Create systems for every part of your business. Do it for service call inquiries, family meetings, service preparation, the actual service, aftercare and so forth. As the systems in your business run and are refined to perfection you can confidently put people in place to run those systems while you tend to other things. Having systems in place allows others to handle tasks in the way you would since that’s part of the reason why families deal with you in the first place. They have a connection with you. When you create a system of delivery you confidently replace yourself with yourself. One key is not to expect perfection from your team. If you were to grade someone on their performance and that grade was a “B” then leave them alone and don’t micromanage them. B’s are passing grades, and no one can truly be you 100%, but your systems can get them close. Give them and your system room for growth and improvement by letting staff run the system. As the system runs smoothly, you will begin to deliver the same expectation all the time, every time and people will become stark raving mad for your firm.

4. Do your families scoff at the idea of using any other firm but you?
Anyone recall The Whopper experiment? It’s Burger King’s signature item on their menu. They wanted to see how much people loved The Whopper so they took it away and filmed people’s reactions. People flipped out! “What do you mean you don’t sell The Whopper anymore?” “I want my Whopper.” “I want to speak to the manager!” Those were some of the reactions people had because they loved The Whopper to the point they couldn’t live without it. If you don’t serve families multiple times for multiple generations then you don’t have stark raving mad families.

Deliver over the top.
Your systems and brand experience should be so over the top that families won’t even contemplate the idea of anyone caring for their loved one but your firm. Other family members may suggest other firms, but ultimately there will be someone in the family, usually the one with the strongest influence or the decision maker that will say, “Nope. We’re going with Jamieson Funeral Home. He’s served our family for years. He’s done everyone in our family: mom, dad, uncle and more. He’s gets it right the first time and we know what to expect from him.” Do you get comments like that from your families?

One of our brands has recently had the privilege of serving a family a fifth time and we average families returning or referring three times. This is because we’ve applied these four points and continued examining ourselves under them always making improvements. As a result, even the firms that work with us grow. When you have a brand everyone that’s a part of the brand benefits from owners, staff, vendors, families and more.

Funeral Brand Equal Future Security.
As you transform your firm into a brand, you will be able to successfully transition your firm to the next generation or successfully sell it. When that happens, you have created a legacy that will have touched and changed the lives of thousands in your community. That’s what real brands do. I know that’s what you want too. Until next time I wish you much success transforming your funeral home into an amazing funeral brand. FBA

George Paul III is a branding expert and award-winning designer. He’s the founder of Cherished Keepsakes, a provider of memorial keepsakes such as prayer cards, memorial programs, buttons, photo collages and more. Their innovative designs have been sought after by families and funeral homes across the country. Additionally, he assists firms and companies in the funeral industry with their branding and marketing. To connect with George, email [email protected], call 617-971-8590 / 617-980-1476, or or