We live in an era of “squeaky wheel” syndrome. This syndrome is based on the idea that the group of people who complain the loudest, no matter how big or small they are, will take up a majority of the space in the media. This effect makes their opinions seem important, even if it isn’t supported by the majority. I recently encountered this syndrome when a former co-worker was describing why she only buys organic milk. Her concern was that regular milk contained antibiotics that would harm her children, and her research led her directly to websites and articles that encouraged and reinforced her fear. That’s because the group of people who were raising the alarm on dairy were “squeaky wheels.”

I don’t have any particular opinions on the dairy industry, but out of curiosity, I contacted my friend who owns a dairy farm. She was unsurprised by my co-worker’s beliefs and described the frustrations that misconceptions about antibiotic use are causing. My friend explained that, yes, they give sick cows antibiotics, but they legally cannot sell the milk the cow produces while it is taking antibiotics. It all goes down the drain, along with the farm’s returns. She further described how the misinformation about the dairy industry was causing hardships for small, family owned dairy farms who were losing customers. Consumers weren’t taking time to understand the subject and instead were being persuaded by the sometimes misinformed, fear-mongering “squeaky wheels.” The dairy producers needed better consumer education.

Like the dairy industry, funeral service faces similar misinformation and uneasiness from the general public because there is not a lot of accurate information or consumer education readily available. Plus, it is increasingly more difficult for high-quality funeral service resources to gain visibility and exposure online due to changes in the algorithms of major search engines. One of the most difficult aspects of consumer education is differentiating it from marketing. When someone markets a product or service, they explain the features, advantages and benefits to the consumer. Educating a consumer, however, is about asking, not telling. Here’s an example: creating a direct mail campaign that promotes your funeral home as the best in your area, and explaining why, is a marketing tactic. Hosting a lunch and learn in your funeral home to answer questions and have a general discussion about the importance of viewings and visitations is education. The most important differentiator is that education isn’t about promoting your business, it’s simply about creating an informed consumer. This may feel like a missed business opportunity, but educated consumers can actually become more beneficial to your business.

Education puts the power back into the hands of the consumer. An empowered and confident consumer makes confident decisions. Instead of shying away from the funeral profession, consumers could be more likely to interact with you and your business. Education can also help retain client families. These consumers are educated, and they trust you because you educated them, and that trust will help build loyalty.

There are other indications that education is as effective as marketing. One is the increased demand in the marketplace for funeral information. Look at the success of the Funeral and Memorial Information Council’s Have the Talk of a Lifetime campaign and the Funeral Service Foundation’s Youth and Funerals series. People are curious about how to navigate funerals and broach the subject of death with friends and family. Educated consumers also have trust in the businesses that have educated them. Consumers are inundated with marketing materials all day, every day, and they aren’t sure who to trust. Every consumer has a world of knowledge at their fingertips, but as we mentioned earlier, not everything on the Internet is true. Would you rather information on funeral service come from a trusted source like you or an unverified website that may promote misleading information about funeral service?

There are a variety of ways to start educating your community, but it’s important to pick those that best represent your funeral home. One of the first steps you should take is educating your staff. When you and your team whole-heartedly believe in your products and services, it shows when you interact in the community. You can also educate consumers through advocates. Thought leaders in your community, such as religious leaders, hospice workers, medical professionals and community groups for older adults and their children, can provide thoughtful information on the importance of funeral service. Once these groups become educated, they begin referring others in the community to you and your funeral home.

There are several marketing channels that can be utilized for education, too. Your funeral home’s website can provide information on several topics that consumers may have questions about. It can be a simple frequently asked questions (FAQ) page that covers information you are commonly asked, or a funeral home blog. Blogging about funeral service is a great way to keep your community engaged and informed while keeping you top of mind. Social media platforms like Facebook can function in the same way. Consider posting a variety of educational information on these accounts throughout the year. The topics can range from managing grief during the holidays to information on cremation and veterans’ benefits.

These same tactics can also be used in printed educational materials like direct mail and community presentations. Have you recently heard misinformation about the purpose of celebration of life services? Host a webinar or community presentation about the benefits of different types of services for families. Maybe your community has recently suffered the loss of a well-known figure or community member. Consider sending materials to your community about how grief is different for everyone and provide information and resources on how to get help.

When funeral homes start focusing on authentic conversations with their consumers, it can stop many of the misconceptions about funeral service and create lifelong customers. While you’re preparing next year’s marketing plan, don’t forget to include opportunities to educate consumers. With the right mix of consumer education and marketing, your funeral home could become the go-to expert in your community. FBA

Sarah Loghry is a Marketing Communications Specialist at Homesteaders Life Company. She previously worked as a writer and social media manager at a start-up digital marketing agency and managed communications and PR for a local nonprofit. You can reach Sarah at [email protected]