Imagine a business exists where the owners and managers universally keep doing things the same way the previous generations did. That is funeral service.
In the last 20 years, society has changed to a degree greater than in the last hundred years. Do you remember your first cellphone? Do you remember how much you paid for it as well as how much you paid per minute? We didn’t give out the number, as we didn’t want people calling us. A wrong number could cost $3!
Today, many people don’t have a landline. We use our cellphone to surf the internet as much as we use it to chat. Yet, so many of us in funeral service still don’t realize we have to change the way we market our businesses.
There are five new things we have to employ. These new things are evolving even as I write this article, Nov. 1, 2016, until today as you are reading it. This is a disruption to your comfortable behavior.
Don’t blame me. The world is changing. Your black felt pincushion bulletin board won’t cut it anymore. We need something newer. You know the five things. You just do not know the new, new ways to employ them.
1. Internet. The internet is not the keystone to your marketing and service offerings. It educates your consumers as to service offerings, but it also educates them as to why and how they can use your firm. Therefore, you should not have a website given to you by a preneed insurer or a casket company. The website is the hardest-working part of your business. Since this is a marketing article, allow me to focus on the website and your marketing efforts.
First of all, how people find you is different now than a decade ago. Back then they needed your web address or URL. Now, we use search engines. If your site is not speaking to the search engines, you are missing potential customers. We call this search engine optimization. The search engines have changed how they find sites.
For example, my website has 100 articles on it. I am proud of that library. However, rather than having 100 points of SEO promotion, I have been losing out, as these articles are in PDF format. A PDF is a graphic image; words within the articles cannot be seen by the search engines. If the articles are saved as text files or Word documents, the words can trigger a response from the search engines and make my site more powerful. As we unveil our new site, the articles are all being relaunched as Word documents to improve our SEO.
Another example is the use of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and blog posts. Many businesses don’t want to be on these social media sites. To me that is akin to having an unlisted phone number. When you post something on social media, it is “outbound” marketing. As people read what you have written, that attracts them to your site.
Imagine you write a blog post about an elder care issue. Only 100 to 140 characters are seen if you post about what you’ve written on a social media site such as Twitter or Facebook. The reader has to click on the post to see more. They are now “inbound” to your site. About 40 percent of website traffic comes from inbound marketing. Once someone visits your site, you get the chance to interact.
How we use websites and social media is changing rapidly. If your website is more than 24 months old, I guarantee it is outdated!
2. Email. When email first came out, it was like notes. It was informal communication. Today, email can be formal or informal. It can also deliver attachments and embedded images.
I cannot tell you how 1990s it looks if your company email resembles “firstname.lastname@example.org.” Each member of your staff should have his or her own email address. They should communicate with families through email if the family desires. One email account for the whole company is no longer acceptable.
Direct messaging for preneed and other marketing efforts can be set up via email. First of all, the cost is about 5 percent of a first-class letter. It gets to a consumer instantly. You can see if recipients opened the email. A well-constructed email will have multiple portals to facilitate more data. You can see exactly how many people have read how far into the email. If a family wants more information, they can ask for it immediately. You can even program the reply to the request to be instantaneous.
There is no postal mail service I know of that tells you how many people opened the letter, how many read it, how far they read it, if they reread it and that sends them a reply in seconds. Plus, postal mail is much more expensive.
From a marketing and communication standpoint, the new new thing is email, but you have to learn how to do all of these new new things. Most funeral professionals don’t want to learn how to do it. If you have a 74-year-old employee manning your phones, he or she most likely won’t want to learn how to do this either. You must embrace this new technology – not just use it superficially.
3. Video. People don’t like to read. That is a good thing. It is good because studies show that when people read they only absorb about 8 percent of the total message of the author. When we take the same message and add sound and video, more people view it by a rate of about 15 to 1.
Almost every website in funeral service has a page about its history. Many of these are an homage to their past. Some are 500 to 1,000 words long. Here is a flash for you: No one is reading them! This one page that honors generations past and shows your business as a living memorial is being ignored by people going to your website. I think this is a huge waste.
Instead, go to the previous generations who worked in your funeral home and record them. (Yes, you can do that with your smartphone). Have them introduce themselves and let them tell their story. The current generation can also introduce themselves. If you have kids coming into the business, let them talk about the future. Get a videographer to add images of the time, people, and building that your staff and former staff are talking about. Now, you have something worthy of two minutes of my life.
Some of you must think I am a hypocrite. I am writing this article to get my thoughts to you. I am a redundant hypocrite at worst starting Jan. 1; almost every article I write will be reproduced in our in-house studio as a video blog. You can view them on my website.
I know, it sounds expensive. But video production is no more expensive than a full-color brochure was 10 years ago. In fact, you have a video capture device on your smartphone, and you can go right from that to the internet to post your messages.
4. High touch. In his remarkable book “Megatrends,” John Naisbitt wrote about 10 trends that will change the world. Like most prophets, he predicted the world of today about 40 years ago. One prediction he made was the rise in technology to facilitate business. He also stated that we need to use high-tech, but we must also use high touch.
Why do we use funeral case management software? I think we use it because it cuts down on errors and saves time. I have measured the amount of time we save per call as firms start to use this software. By my calculations, it saves about 90 minutes per call. Ninety minutes per call equates to about 100 to 130 hours a year for the average funeral director. That is about 5 percent of the average work year. I ask you, what can you do with that time?
I respectfully submit you need to use this time marketing. However, market in a new way. Funeral professionals should go out and tell their story. This will accomplish two things. First, they will be in contact with more people. The number one reason a family chooses a funeral home that they have not used in the past is based upon the perception they know a funeral home employee. This is valuable. The extra 10 hours per month can be used to volunteer. Volunteer at the golf course or a hospital or animal shelter. I don’t care where, just go out and meet people you would not meet otherwise.
The second result from time spent in the community is introducing new people to the profession. I meet a lot of people that chose to come into the business. They weren’t born in a funeral home family. Many of them tell me the same story when I ask, “Why did you enter funeral service.” They tell me they met a funeral director as a child and that person impressed them. We need more people to come into this business. We need people coming in for the right reasons. Go forth and multiply with this newfound time off.
High touch also promotes aftercare and outreach programs. You need to know your families, and they need to know you. As the host of programs you get to spend time with families during nonstress moments. There are so many good programs you can employ to get cathartic healing times with families; you would be foolish to ignore these opportunities.
5. Eliminate religion from the funeral business. Over the past 40 years, no change to this business has had more impact than the change of religion. Don’t get me wrong; the deities of 40 years ago are still the deities of today. Forty years ago a funeral home described itself as, “a Catholic/Episcopalian/Protestant/Jewi-sh funeral home.” Today, the religious endorsement is often gone from your introduction.
While there are some holdouts to this, most people and funeral homes are assimilating to be more inclusive. The Catholic firm has worked to market to the Protestant community and vice versa. I had the great privilege to run a funeral home in Hawaii that had a rotating feature in the front of its chapel with one of eight choices of religious or nonsecular icons upon it.
The other reason to take religion out of the funeral business is because more people are taking religion out of their lives. The Pew Research Center shows that about 23 percent of all Americans answer “none” when asked what religion they are a member of.
In summary, marketing is not an option. You must do it every day. The option is how you employ technology. You can do it on the lowest level and your results will be on the lowest level. Marketing is different in so many ways. Try them all. •
Reprinted from American Funeral Director Magazine, January 2017, with permission of Kates-Boylston Publications. To subscribe to American Funeral Director visit www.americanfuneraldirector.com.