The next few years are going to be challenging for the American funeral home but if done right, can be more beneficial than ever before. Between consumers changing and evolving every day and battling the stigmas surrounding funeral service as a whole, death care businesses have their work cut out for them. This year will be a crossroad for many firms, where doing things the same way they’ve done for decades simply will not be acceptable anymore. Funeral homes were successful 20 years ago largely because families had no choice but to use the same funeral home a family member used. They had no way to really research what is out there and relied on word of mouth. Today, consumers have information readily available at their fingertips (literally) and they not only want, but they expect an experience that is unique to them. Oh, and it better not take too much of their time.
If funeral homes are to succeed in meeting families needs moving forward, there are three key contributing factors that must be accepted as imperative: Offering personalization, educating families and using technology as the foundation of their business. The firms that adopt a strategy incorporating each of these components will continue to attract and be chosen by consumers in a decade’s time. Consider 2018 to be the proverbial fork in the road. It is time to decide who will lead, who will follow and who may be best to move out of the way altogether.
Personalization is a byproduct of the evolving consumer and now it’s expected.
Today’s families want to be inspired, they want to connect with businesses and they want to be given the freedom to choose the best options for them. This custom-first, off-menu mentality is something that businesses just have to get used to. Think about it. Every time you go out to eat at a restaurant, you overhear someone modify their order. In fact, chains like Chipotle and Subway have built business empires on offering people the ability to craft their own dining experience. In many ways, this is the ideal blueprint of what ALL consumer experiences should look like – allowing people to take what they want and leave what they don’t. At its foundation, personalization is just that, the power to decide.
The personalization of funeral services is a very hot topic right now. But contrary to appearances, it is not a new innovative concept that has just revealed itself to the world. The “trendiness” of personalization is the result of the general public starting to treat funerals similar to graduations, weddings and retirements. Every one of these life events usually has some sort of celebration. People are starting to plan their funerals just as they would any special event. Now, we are even starting to see individuals and families outsourcing their funeral arrangements to event planning agencies who specialize in more glamorous affairs. In other words, people are interested in choosing between more than a chapel or graveside service and a stationery theme. They want the end-of-life celebration to represent and truly celebrate a life.
How does a funeral home offer personalization, exactly?
Funeral planning should be like any other consumer experience and if funeral homes do not offer a variety of convenient personalization options they may become the second choice. Even further, having a menu list of customizable options may soon not be enough to meet the needs of consumers. This will take a resourceful and outside-of-the-box approach from funeral homes. Because if firms don’t offer this type of comprehensive personalization, families are sure to find it somewhere. It is all about providing people with an experience that is everything they want it to be. Your advantage here is the experience and support you bring to the table, but you must respect that funerals are changing and let the consumer drive with guided directions.
Luckily, the formula for making this type of funeral service available to families is not complicated, nor does it involve a complete renovation of a facility. Rather, it is simply a combination of great marketing to show them what you are capable of, a willingness to go beyond traditional service offerings to give them their vision, and providing a little guidance to get through the unknown areas of losing someone close to them. In order to accomplish this firms will have to get serious about personalization, serious about marketing, and serious about education.
Educating families is fundamental for success.
With the vast majority of consumer research, and the buyer’s journey in general, happening online, it is absolutely crucial that funeral homes make every attempt to reach all audiences within their service area. That means branching out from what you know. A newspaper worked many years ago because it was the only medium to communicate to the masses. Consumers now spend so much of their time online and consuming marketing messages. According to CNN, the average American spends over 10 hours a day staring at a screen. So, if you’re not utilizing social media, search engine optimization, online advertising, video marketing, blog posts and your funeral home website to connect with consumers of all ages, then you’re not only wasting your money, but you’re not getting the results you should be. People turn to Google when they need an answer, so you are more likely to get business from these queries. Facebook is a very different game, while you absolutely can and will generate business from the world’s largest social network, the bigger win here is continuously building brand awareness and showcasing what it is that you can do, so families think of you first when the need is there.
When it comes to great marketing, an important step is often missed which is all about being a resource, earning someone’s trust and ultimately earning their business. Remember, it’s your job to educate families about death and funeral service in general. If you think it is okay to wait until they are in your arrangement office to educate them, they have probably already found another firm. It’ll be too late. The fact is, most people have no idea about what to do when someone dies, how to plan a funeral, what their options are and what to expect from the whole process.
Don’t miss out on one of the best marketing tactics available to funeral homes today, serving as an educational resource for families. People are likely to trust experts – and the men and women who work in funeral homes ARE the experts on death care. Sharing that expertise all of the time is a simple and easy way to strengthen a funeral home’s brand. It is also a great way to build trust with families. Not to mention, a great way to let people know about what you can do to help. And when you can do this online, allot of business can be won.
Leaders share, followers react and the rest watch it happen.
At our company, we’ve built content, marketing strategies and provided website solutions for more than 2,500 funeral homes. It is our job to study families and create educational content for the funeral homes we work with. Consider this an opportunity to learn from our experiences.
Generally speaking, those with the most knowledge and those who are the most in tune with what is going on in their industry are, or should be, most likely to share with the rest of us. This is a concept called thought-leadership. Defined officially as, “an individual or firm that is recognized as an authority in a specialized field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded”, being a thought leader is the best thing any funeral home can be. People want to get their information from the best sources – and being that go-to source is the best opportunity available to funeral homes everywhere. If a family has the option of choosing between a firm that offers generic or very little information and a firm that teaches them something, answers their questions or inspires them with great educational content – the choice will be obvious.
For death care businesses that want to lead the pack, there is no better way to do it than to give families (and even their competitors) every opportunity to learn from what they have done, what they have to say and where they see the industry going. Leadership and innovation can not only be preached, though. These ways of thinking must also be ways of doing – constantly practiced. If I had one piece of advice for funeral homes on this matter, it would be to constantly push the envelope with new ideas and different ways to celebrate people’s lives. There is virtually nothing negative that can come from trying to improve and reinvent experiences. And if you currently do this, then make sure it is seen. Build this into your marketing efforts and watch the shift in families choosing you. This is how leaders think and they take pride in sharing such information.
Technology is your best weapon, learn to use it.
Consumers are not going to get any less digital and their expectations are only going to get higher from the businesses they choose to work with. Funeral homes around the country need to start basing their entire operations on useful, efficient technology that saves time for their staff when getting the job done but also gives their families an unrivaled experience.
One major component of technology that will help firms improve their business is having an informative, appealing and simple website – serving as the first impression and in many cases the first touchpoint with families. A good funeral home website is one that answers the questions consumers have before they ever need death care. This brings us back to the importance of educating families: not only is it a great marketing tactic, but by providing useful information on their websites, funeral homes will also be easier to find on search engines like Google. In order to connect with families today and in the future, funeral homes need to be one step ahead, answering questions before they are asked and positioning their content where families are, online and on social media.
In addition to using technology to be more visible online, funeral homes need to start creating an inspiring and convenient digital experiences for families. This includes things like having flexible online payment options, the ability to generate a quote online, providing access to crowdfunding, other payment support options, and even offering an online arrangement process that allows families to collaborate on funeral planning, start or complete the paperwork, and make decisions without having to be in the same room. The list is truly endless of how technology can improve the experience that families have with a funeral home and firms need to start making this a top priority.
First and foremost, families are looking for and expect quality online experiences from ANY business they work with. Think about your interactions with businesses. Consumers are consumers and they will compare their experiences with different businesses, including yours – just as you would. This is perhaps one of the most important takeaways you could have from this article: today’s families are made up of savvy consumers from different generations, they know how to use smartphones, get answers from Google, and ask their friends for a recommendation on Facebook. And when they don’t, they will lean on each other to figure it out.
If funeral homes want to meet families in the middle, they need to equip their firm with the best technology and align themselves with great partners that will help them constantly stay ahead of the curve. Getting ahead is not the hard part, the challenge for today’s funeral home is going to be staying ahead. So, it’s important to have a technology partner that keeps your website in line with consumer expectations, because at the end of the day you’re in the business of serving families, not building websites.
Be the firm that leads the way
Firms should never wait to find out what other funeral homes are up to before reacting and certainly should never be the ones who sit by and watch it happen. No successful company should ever be inspired by their competition, that is the definition of being behind. Being a leading funeral home means no other funeral business in the service area is offering families the same experience, both on and offline as they do. Firms need to have a balanced approach that combines a willingness to meet the needs of families and the technology to make it happen. The death care businesses who lead the pack today and tomorrow are going to be founded on great technology – with informative websites, great search engine awareness, an engaging social media presence and who offer families a variety of online and offline options. These businesses will be run by people who feverishly maintain their status as a resource for the community and have aligned themselves with the right technology providers and marketing agencies to wow their customers.
The best part about all of this, is that every funeral home has an opportunity to be a leading firm. They just have to put in the work or hire the right partner to make it all happen. This new way of doing business may not be what you’ve known or what you’re comfortable with, but it is available to you and you will only experience the growth you want by evolving.
Committing to this type of success won’t necessarily be easy, however, today’s funeral homes have a wonderful opportunity to establish lasting connections with consumers and earn the trust of any generation before they ever need death care services. The battle I speak of in this article is not one that is lost. It is not even necessarily one that has started. The challenges mentioned are one’s that funeral homes must take steps to prepare for. Ones that require partners with an equal commitment to progress and innovation. Firms that do this will lead the pack into the future and will certainly set the trends that other funeral homes follow. The rest will simply have to move out of the way. Trust me, my team knows a thing or two about being a FrontRunner. FBA
Ashley Montroy, Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of FrontRunner Professional, is committed to helping funeral professionals understand and excel in today’s digital age. Ashley holds a bachelor’s degree, diploma and multiple marketing certificates, and has a long-standing history in funeral service. Each year, she teaches firms how to build marketing strategies and protect their firm online at state, provincial, and international association conventions across North America. Recently voted a top 5 speaker at the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) convention, Ashley uses her passion combined with FrontRunner’s experience of providing technology and marketing solutions to more than 2,500 funeral homes, and empowers funeral professionals to not only understand their markets, but educates them on the tools and knowledge they need to truly grow their business. She can be reached at [email protected]