By Joe Weigel

In less than twelve months, the COVID-19 crisis brought about years of change in the way companies including funeral homes does business. As a result of the pandemic, firms accelerated the digitization of their interactions with families and their internal operations at warp speed. Funeral homes recognized this shift in consumer behavior, so they pivoted their operations to creatively solve new challenges such as limited in-person experiences, the inability to meet in person, new work environments, and unprecedented safety guidelines.

Initially, most funeral homes adopted “temporary” technology solutions to meet many of the new demands, much more quickly than they had thought possible before the crisis. What’s more, many funeral homes now expect most of these changes to be long lasting and are already making the kinds of investments that all but ensure they will stick. Never before have funeral directors been so dependent on Facebook Live or Zoom to simply get through the day, which means funeral professionals must make decisions on how to use this new technology to their advantage and grow their business.

As a result, now is the time to reset, pivot, and think big to transform a funeral home’s marketing to match new digital expectations. Funeral service has seen several dramatic transformations in the profession over the last nine months, including:

– an explosion in live streaming
– a surge in remote/online meetings and arrangements
– a renewed interest in prearranging funerals
– an increase in the firm’s staff working from home

As marketers, how should funeral directors respond in light of these developments?

Live Streaming
Since COVID-19, estimates show that virtual events are up 1000%, and you can probably guess why. Beyond live streaming a funeral service, hosting a virtual event is a fantastic way to gain exposure, engage with families, and grow a firm’s business. Depending on the audience you’re trying to reach, these events could be in the form of a Facebook Live session, a video series, or simply a webinar on an important topic.

The live streaming of funerals has enabled people to remain safely in their homes and still “attend” the service and the playback of these services can be scheduled at the convenience of each individual. While people won’t be sheltered in place forever, this trend isn’t going anywhere.

Many seniors may come to prefer viewing live streamed services as they continue to be reluctant to attend events where people are gathered indoors. Others may prefer streamed services as they can more easily be worked into a busy schedule since recorded events can be watched anytime.

Have you thought about how to use live streaming capabilities for something other than visitations? If a firm has an on-site crematory, perhaps the families who choose cremation would like to have the placement of their loved ones in the cremation chamber live streamed. And what about live streaming the memorial or celebration of life service that will be scheduled after the restrictions on gatherings is lifted?

Online Funeral Arrangements
COVID-19 has made it essential for funeral homes to find ways for families to arrange for their funerals in a seamless, remote experience. This situation is likely to only gain momentum. While in the past, funeral homes might have relied solely on face-to-face interactions; moving forward these in-person appointments will likely be paired with remote arrangements – both online and over the phone.

The combination of these methods will be a real advantage as it gives funeral homes more agility to meet the needs of every family. More importantly, it provides families with several viable options to plan a funeral for a loved one.
Prearranging Funerals
Sheltered at home, constantly bombarded with news about deaths attributed to COVID-19, seniors have reflected more frequently on their mortality and with it, the need to plan for their passing. How can funeral professionals leverage this interest in preneed with families? Might I suggest another use for the meetings and conference platform?

Don’t let the pandemic cause the cancellation of “Lunch and Learn” programs on prearranging funerals (and other important topics for that matter). Given local restrictions on gatherings or the reluctance of many seniors to attend in-person events, why not hold a virtual event using GoToMeeting, WebEx or Zoom meeting and conferencing software?

Consider partnering with a local meal delivery service to distribute a box lunch just before the event. Another option is to order meals from a local restaurant and have the meals delivered by the staff or a local service organization on the morning of the event. The meal doesn’t have to be fancy – just something that’s easily portable, such as a deli sandwich and chips.

Working from Home
At first blush, the funeral profession may appear to not lend itself to remote working environments. But that doesn’t mean that one should forego trying. Who says that a funeral director must in the funeral home to make the aforementioned online funeral arrangement? Post pandemic, as families continue to make arrangements remotely, consider allowing counselors to coordinate these arrangements from home if you are not already doing so.

For many on your staff, this will be a welcomed practice – as it will provide an opportunity to gain a much better work-life balance. And working from home may serve as a great recruiting or retention tool for talent.

Website
As you ponder the above opportunities, consider how these transformations should impact the content of a firm’s website. For example, does the website have an entire section devoted to facilities? Not that this is no longer important, but if a growing number of families start making arrangements on-line and the use of live streaming of services increases, just how important is all that information on a firm’s comfortable arrangement offices, the relaxing lounge, the spacious rooms for visitations and the parking lot that offers more than 100 spaces? Instead, in addition to facilities, make sure that the website showcases the staff and the new state of the art technology platforms and innovative services that are offered.

While internet usage has been steadily increasing for years, people have suddenly found themselves spending an uncharacteristic amount of time at home, which also means they’re spending even more time online. Not only are people looking to the web for entertainment, but they’re seeking information and virtual solutions in times of uncertainty. Make sure the website is ready to help these families – whether to plan a funeral at need, to consider pre-need, or just to learn more about your firm and the funeral process.

Online reviews
For many funeral directors, having families leave reviews following a service can be a daunting task. However, getting families to provide a review after they have made use of one of the firm’s technological platforms (live streaming an event, online arrangement, or preplanning a funeral) may be much easier to accomplish. While the experience is still fresh in their minds, they’ll be able to write a review thoroughly and enthusiastically. The more time passes by, the fuzzier the details, the shorter the review. Waiting longer than one week may be too late.

Final Thoughts
Funeral home marketing is changing because technology is changing. Families’ expectations are changing. A new normal is being established, and new behaviors (such as live streaming and online/remote meetings) are being instituted.

As the COVID-19 pandemic passes, the need for technology is here to stay. It never can–nor should–replace the relationships funeral homes have with their families. But technology can be a connection, joining people when physical contact is difficult or impossible, helping to make sure funeral professionals can continue providing comfort and peace of mind to families no matter what the future holds. FBA


Joe Weigel is the owner of Weigel Strategic Marketing, a marketing firm that delivers expertise and results across three interrelated disciplines: strategy, branding, and communications. You can visit his website at weigelstrategicmarketing.webs.com. He can also be reached at by phone at 317-608-8914 or email at [email protected]