Ask any ambitious business owner what’s on their agenda for 2020, you’ll likely hear something to the tune of working on marketplace differentiation and strengthening brand identity. Standing out from the pack and cultivating an appealing and engaging brand is a recipe for success in today’s economic landscape. The most successful way to achieve both of those sought after goals is through staging personalized and engaging experiences for consumers.
This concept was first put forth by co-authors Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore in their seminal work on experience innovation, The Experience Economy. First published in 1999, The Experience Economy was re-released this past December with an updated forward written by the authors discussing the present day challenges of competing for a customer’s time, attention, and money. The authors remind readers, “businesses that relegate themselves to the diminishing world of goods and services will be rendered irrelevant. To avoid this fate, you must learn to stage a rich, compelling experience.” (34)
Zooming in on Personalization
To zoom in on one specific element that is necessary for the creation of any experience that applies to the funeral profession, let’s first look at the power of personalization. Whether it’s the first or the 1000th time you’ve waited for a Starbucks order, there’s something special about seeing your name written on the cup, it’s that small, personalized touch that adds to the overall appeal of a Starbucks Experience. Think about where you can implement personalized updates within your funeral home or place of business. Think small too; sometimes the barely noticeable anecdotes create the most indelible memories. Evaluate where you can inject these powerful elements of personalization and begin updating everyday processes working towards turning every opportunity into experiential moments.
Don’t be afraid to stretch your comfort zone, if you do have the resources to go all out for a particular family, give them the experience of a lifetime. When you begin to effectively stage personalized experiences for families in your care, you’ll find that they are willing to spend what they can truly afford and plan what they truly desire for their loved one’s funeral; thereby increasing the customer’s perceived value of the funeral experience. Experiences are the basis for future growth and prosperity in all businesses. Once you begin putting in the work to stage a personalized experience is rewarding not only for the funeral director’s soul but also for his/her bottom line too.
Making the Experience Work for You
As you begin staging experiences for customers, the positive results will become visible and palpable within your funeral home. Families and guests will begin spending more time with you because of the immersive experience you provided. The return on the experience investment will be robust.
You will begin to see that the experiences that you are providing can replace tired and traditional marketing efforts. No longer will you and your competitor be toting the same tired messages of generational family businesses and updated facilities. When you provide compelling experiences, the event itself is all the marketing you will ever need. Pine and Gilmore explain this point further in the updated forward urging business owners to: “wean yourself off the increasingly unfit and intrusive activity that is advertising. Instead, create an entire portfolio of memorable and engaging experiences—a rich mix that in total can reach an equally great number of people, as advertising does, maybe more, especially when amplified via social media to quickly disseminate news, photographs and videos of unique experiences.”
Start thinking about utilizing your staff in different ways. Do you have anyone on your team that is interested in photography? Invest in a camera to keep around the office and some photo editing software to ensure professional quality photos. What if there’s someone on your team with sound, lighting, or audio/visual interest? Take a look at the talent your staff already possesses and challenge them to document each experience, building a portfolio like Pine and Gilmore suggest. Next, evaluate the assets your team has been busy stockpiling. If the experiences were done well, the photos of the experience will speak for themselves. Shape your advertising and marketing messages around the experience. Instead of targeting your potential customers with the same boilerplate ads or messages that your competitor may be using, showcase the customized content from the experiences you’ve staged.
Elevating the Profession, One Experience at a Time
Aside from the bottom line growth and marketshare advantages you will see experience staging creates, we are also heightening the standard for our profession. When we engage customers with a funeral experience, we add value and possibility to what it means to say goodbye to a loved one. With the experience method, funeral homes can begin to teach communities a better way to grieve and heal through a personalized funeral experience.
It’s our duty as funeral professionals to lead our communities through the darkest days. I believe author and theologian Thomas G. Long put it best when we he said: “The best funeral directors see themselves as helping professionals, public ministers of a sort, they are concerned about the health of their clients and of society. They know through experience that the rituals around death–from caring for the dying person to gathering for a funeral to the marking of the time after the funeral—deeply matter and can be powerful instruments of healing.” Pg. 98 Accompany Them With Singing
Through experience creation, funeral directors are helping to keep the sacred profession viable in the 21st century. Families still need someone to guide them through the unimaginable pain of losing a loved one. Ensuring a family’s journey through grief is one that is full of personalized touches and experiential elements are the keys to marketshare differentiation and bolstering brand identity growth. FBA
 Pine, B. Joseph, Gilmore H. James, The Experience Economy (Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press, 2019)
 Long, Thomas, G. Accompany Them With Singing- The Christian Funeral (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009)
Shannon Cummings is the Creative Thinking Writer and Storyteller for Life Celebration, Inc, a company that specializes in experience staging, training, and custom print design and production. Shannon can be reached at 888.887.3782 or email at [email protected] or visit www.lifecelebrationinc.com.