The one thing that we can always depend on is change. That may sound like an oxymoron, but we all know change happens all around us. Our bodies change. Do you still have the track star figure you had in high school? Don’t worry; I won’t judge you I never did. Do you still dress they way you did 15 years ago? Is the economy the same as it was 12 years ago? How about, is the community your firm serves the same as it was 10 years ago? You see? We can depend on the fact that things change. Some changes allow us to become better. Some changes drive businesses to closure. The only way to embrace and adapt to change is if our businesses consistently produce the three drivers that resist the negative effects of change: marketing, experience and innovation.

Marketing

I mean this goes without saying. Every business must market themselves no matter what industry they’re in. I don’t care if you think that because you’re a niche business you don’t need to advertise. It doesn’t matter if it’s a challenge to market ourselves because of the stigma surrounding death. If no one knows you’re out there then they won’t use you. Please don’t say that people know you’re here because they drive by your location or you’ve been around for years, even decades. Congratulations your firm has been around long. Business longevity is truly praiseworthy, but if you don’t want to become another sad story of a firm closing after decades in the community then make sure your name is out there on a regular basis.

Did you know that people need to touch, see or interact with your brand at least 20 times before they buy? You might think that doesn’t apply for at-need services, but it does. If you’re branding and marketing yourself regularly that happens really quickly. Realistically, it doesn’t happen when at-need arises but long before through your website, online reviews, community involvement, formal ads, your vehicle fleet, driving by your location, social media and more. When at-need arises all that’s left is for you to pop up when they’re looking which invariably are the 18th-20th times they see you. Since you don’t know when they’re looking because none of us can predict death you have to make sure your brand is out there consistently and cohesively. This fact is still true for pre-need since you’re convincing them to buy with you before they even need you. Your marketing has to do an even stronger job convincing them that you’re the best choice to care for them when they pass 1, 5 or more years down the road. All of the touches they’ve had with your brand before they sit with you now reinforce you’re the best choice. When you do that you’ll be able to leverage the next product of firm longevity—your experience.

Experience

Experience is something you most likely have in spades. However, the key driver to leveraging experience into business longevity is systemizing your experience. If you know the process of onboarding a prospective family then document it and give it to your staff to implement. You’ve been doing it for years. You know how to read body language, address concerns, address competition and position yourself as the best choice to families. You also have tricks of the trade regarding embalming, dressing and more. Why keep all that to yourself? If you want to open multiple locations then you have to share since they’ll be responsible for growing your firm without your regular presence. You’ll be too busy doing other stuff to do it all yourself. You’re hurting your team if you don’t.

Staff wants to feel like they have growth opportunities within your firm. It doesn’t matter the size. In fact, if you’re an independent firm you can capitalize on that since they’ll be playing a much bigger role allowing them infinite growth. By sharing your experience with them they’ll take greater ownership of the success or failure of your firm. You need that to compete with the conglomerates. When I began sharing my experience with my staff I was blown away at the increased loyalty and out-of-the-box ideas I got from them. I wasn’t only sharing tricks of the trade to help them better perform their daily tasks. I looked at what they would need to have a successful career and began giving them the knowledge they needed. As a result when things were down, rather than updating their resumes they were coming to me with ideas to help market the business and get out of our slump. It was all because I decided to share my experience rather than treat them like they were going to commit corporate espionage. Experience in your industry naturally fuels the final driver of firm longevity—innovation.

Innovation

The key component of innovation is answering one simple question; what can I do that other local firms won’t do or are unwilling to do? I was recently listening to a Podcast, The Common Cents Show, and in it co-host Jonathan Neves talked about one of the things he did that his competitors were unwilling to do which was embrace demanding clients. No one wants to deal with a demanding client because they want more of us and ultimately become a headache. Most people turn their business away or quote them an egregiously high number causing them to go away because you’re too expensive. He did what his competitors weren’t willing to do which was embracing them as a client. His reasoning was that people rarely tell you when they’re dissatisfied with your service. You either get a bad review or never hear from them again. As a result you never get a chance to improve and address issues that will affect other families. Jonathan realized that these demanding customers are doing something very few do and that is tell you exactly how to make them happy. Yes, he did charge them more to compensate for the additional time, but in the end he got a loyal client that will readily refer him to others because they’re extremely satisfied. His company grosses seven-figures and is poised to double this year. How was he able to do that? By doing something his competitors were unwilling to do.
Innovation doesn’t have to be grand, but it does need to be researched. You need to have a futurist mentality. When I do brand discovery, an in-depth process of discovering problems hindering business growth, I ask my clients two key questions. Where will the industry be in 5 years? And, “What will your families look like in 5 years?” The answers to both those questions are drivers of innovation, brand awareness and brand loyalty. You also need to do something else.

One of my favorite quotes from Gary V. was, “drive yourself out of business, don’t let others do it for you.” He was referring to taxis cab companies driven out of business by Uber and Lyft. But this isn’t limited to one industry. Amazon drove out brick and mortar shops. Online stores killed malls. Netflix killed blockbuster. Deathcare is no different. Some say cremation is killing the industry. Change always comes. If you know your numbers, if you’re up to date on what’s going on in the industry then you could ‘ve seen the shift and been an innovator to delivering families the experience they want when they decide to cremate their loved one. One of the ways to do that is by viewing yourself as your own competition.

I don’t know who said it, but the saying goes, “You are your own competition”. There’s truth in that. If you’re constantly looking for ways to innovate—you will. What happens is that while you’re playing offense gaining marketshare your competing firms are playing defense trying to keep up with you because all the families are coming to you. They only way you can do that is buy being truthful with the current state of your business. Chess players play against themselves to sort out their weaknesses. How well do you know your weaknesses? Do you do a SWOT analysis every year? Your business changes yearly based on staff, culture, economy and neighborhood. These changes give you a chance to be an innovator in your area.

If you constantly look at your firm and your brand and see how you can continue to capitalize on your marketing, experience and innovation then you’ll embrace change wholeheartedly always using as a driver to keep your doors open. Until then I wish you much success continuing the legacy you built with your firm. 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 him at [email protected], call 617-971-8590/617-980-1476, or visit his websites www.chershedkps.com or www.seizethebrand.com