Are you faced with the challenge of marketing cremation services and reaching the modern-day funeral consumer? Cremation is revolutionizing the funeral market. The new-age funeral consumer is opting for cremation. Their demand is leading a trend towards simpler, no-fuss, flexible and more affordable funeral alternatives. With the cremation rate now surpassing 50%, it is vital to a funeral home’s continued success to meet this demand.

So, who is the new-age funeral consumer? A large percentage of today’s consumers have grown up, or been assimilated to, digital culture. The Internet has revolutionized how we all think, connect, share and purchase. We are daily immersed in our reliance on Google to provide us answers to our questions, commerce sites to compare prices, and social networks to re-affirm our allegiances. We are price-conscious and modern, moving away from tradition, and believing we can have more control over rituals and rites of passage than our parents did. This new digital consumer is a challenge for the funeral industry, a business sector that has long relied upon more traditional customer acquisition.

The modern consumer expects price disclosure and understands about price-shopping. “Affordability” has become the new buzz phrase, not just for the funeral industry, but across many sectors. Even Dignity Memorial is now Google advertising for “affordable cremations” and has reduced their direct cremation base price. Consumers are embracing the ease of accessing funeral services and prices online and using the Internet to research about cremation. I believe this is where the direct cremation entry point is enticing many consumers to those funeral businesses that are openly targeting this market. The network of independent funeral homes we work with largely report that the entry point of direct cremation can be appealing to some families, who have price-shopped for services and realize that direct cremation offers a simple, no-fuss cremation option.

Does the new-age funeral consumer really want direct cremation? Direct cremation is still not a widely-used term from consumers, more often we are asked for a ‘simple cremation’, or a cremation with no services. Some of our providers offer 3 basic cremation packages with a direct cremation entry point, but more often than not find the family will opt for the incremental package. But the message from consumers is clear, be it a baby boomer planning their own cremation, or a Generation X faced with the cost of a parent’s disposition, “we just want something simple and affordable”.

With the diminishing value of tradition, religion and nuclear families, more funeral consumers are finding that cremation is the easy and affordable alternative to arranging a burial. It can also alleviate family having to make time-critical decisions about coming together to hold a memorial service, instead enabling the disposition to go ahead, and a memorial service to be held at a later date that suits the family. This, in essence, is the division of the funeral industry as we know it – disposition and memorialization. Direct cremation is the consumer opting to select a funeral provider to handle the disposition only.

How do you reach this cremation consumer and offer them what they want? I believe price is now a key aspect of a cremation purchase. Not only are families realizing it is a much more affordable option, they are becoming aware that there are disparities on what funeral service providers charge for the same service. This applies more specifically to direct cremation I believe, as the services offered by the funeral home are minimal in terms of family interaction, and therefore a family cannot quantify in the same way why they should pay more than the base price available in their area.

The cremation providers who are ahead of the field, in embracing the market for direct cremation, will reap the long-term benefits. There are already funeral businesses who positioned themselves for the wave of direct cremation consumers by marketing a value direct cremation to their locality. They openly disclose a direct cremation package on their website and work with other online marketing platforms to generate cremation leads. With the decreased margin for profit for a funeral home, the cremation business has also become about volume, and generating enough direct cremation cases.

Marketing funeral services is like no other industry. So how do you reach today’s new-age consumer? In the last 10 years, I have observed the changing landscape of marketing funeral services. From the first wave of funeral home websites, that spoke in detail about their history, but would not mention funeral prices; to funeral homes being encouraged to be active on social media and invest in PPC advertising on various platforms. All of this requires some serious marketing investment and management from a funeral home. How do you reach the new consumer who may not know your funeral home and is seeking information on cremation? An informative website that is responsive, and discloses prices is important, but is this enough? Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising can be effective and offers a means to guarantee some search ranking, but it can be costly and time-consuming to manage effectively for a ROI. Utilizing other websites that offer lead generation on a pay-per-call system is also effective for a funeral call to action. A consumer who calls versus clicks can have more value for conversion.

What effect is this new-age cremation consumer having on the funeral business? I will state the obvious – profit margins have decreased. With the shift to cremation, the only real solution for a funeral home, is to serve more families. What does this mean for a small, independent funeral provider? Several things…. firstly, consider your position in your own local market. Do you offer good value cremation packages that are comparable in your market? Are you using full disclosure of pricing on your website? Are your staff trained to handle calls for direct cremation and provide prices? Are you using lead generation platforms to supplement your own marketing strategies? Do you want to dominate your market as the ‘go-to’ affordable provider? Can you extend your service area?

Several of the independent funeral homes we work with embraced the shift to cremation by positioning themselves for the cremation consumer. Full-service funeral homes that created separate cremation entities to capture both markets.

One of the most leading and profitable examples I have witnessed is a provider, who extended his full-service funeral home offering, to expand to 3 brands – full-service brand, affordable cremation packages brand, and budget cost direct cremation brand. In many ways it is similar to the corporate consumer model, having different brands to serve the various consumer sectors and price-points. He moved his crematory to a lower overhead industrial area, equipped with 6 retorts, a call center, and 2 refrigerated vans capable of collecting 50 bodies at a time. Now he sees his future in his budget direct cremation brand and is significantly focusing on increasing his coverage area for direct cremations. His new business model is to serve his entire state for affordable direct cremation. Most of our network providers report that, on average, 80% of their cremation cases are direct cremations. This reflects the consumer demand for simplicity, affordability and disposition services only.

A funeral director stated to me in 2014, “if you had told me 10 years ago that I would arrange a funeral (cremation) and the family would never have stepped in my funeral home, I would have laughed at you!” However, this is a reality with the shift to cremation, and especially direct cremation. Families are dispersed, if arranging a simple cremation with no service, some have no desire to spend time at the funeral home. Online arrangements are growing, especially in offering a low-cost direct cremation, a funeral business needs to reduce their overhead as much as possible. Offering an online portal that enables a consumer to complete all the necessary document requirements, can both save staff time, and enable you to offer a direct cremation at a more competitive price.

The new-age cremation consumer is demanding affordability, sometimes non-direct contact purchasing, acceptance that their choice should be respected and that they do not need a funeral director to help with memorialization; and they are using web services to find and compare funeral homes. Is your funeral business positioned to offer this? FBA

Sara Marsden is the Communications Director at US Funerals Online and co-founder of DFS Memorials LLC. US Funerals Online was established in 2001 as an online funeral information portal and directory for consumers. In 2011, the DFS Memorials network was launched to help families access affordable funeral & cremation services from local, independent funeral homes. Sara has spent the last 10 years generating content for funeral consumers and helping families access affordable funeral services. Contact her at [email protected] or (646) 374-4212.