Running your business is like going on a long-distance drive. Long-distance, multiple-day driving trips take planning. Today we have mapping via GPS, rather than a paper map that requires refolding at 70 mph. Planning for daily hotels and where to stop for food can be done easily now.
Forty-five years ago, I did a cross-country drive – from Philly to L.A. – with some high school friends. To plan, three weeks prior we went to a nationwide auto club, and they put together a TripTik. The problem was, within three hours of departure, we discovered that the highway we were to travel upon was under extreme construction. We had to deviate to the south for six hours. Our entire plan outlining our seven-day, 2,200-mile-trip was now obsolete.
We had a paper map of the U.S. but no hotel reservations, no meal stops planned, no recommendations on where to eat as we now had a new route to take. In my attempt at an analogy, I am remembering the dilemmas we faced before our first night. Running a business is akin to this, except you don’t have a bunch of friends in the car with you.
For those of you that run a funeral business, you have had your roadway ripped up and been forced to make changes in your business direction. Let me explain:
- Society has changed.
- The loyalty of consumers has lapsed.
- What was important to most consumers isn’t important any longer.
- Cremation has increased.
- Churches do not need you to help run a funeral/memorial service.
- Religion is not universally accepted.
Business owners and managers cannot rely upon the standard methods of attracting and retaining consumers. You need to deviate from the set course. Allow me to help you by explaining the consumer of 2020, since they don’t look at all like the consumer of 2000.
5 Key Consumer Dynamics Affecting Funeral Home Choice
- Online Education
You have a website. Whether you paid for it yourself or a casket company or other vendor helped you, it is not enough.
The internet is not about online advertising – it is about education. A large majority of homebuyers begin their search for a new home online. The same is said for almost every other commodity. The internet is an inescapable force. If your website does not educate consumers as to what to do, why to do it through you, and why you are different, you are missing the boat. If you don’t discuss price and how the value equation of your firm works, you are missing the boat and the pier!
Imagine you want to go to a nice restaurant in a new town. You’d probably go to Yahoo, Yelp, Open Table or some other third-party site to help you choose. After identifying a place through a third-party site, you might then go to the restaurant website and check out the menu.
How do you make reservations? Probably through the internet, either via the third-party site or the specific site of the restaurant. Can you do anything like this with your website? No. Therefore, it is a failure.
Funeral homes used to be known as “the Catholic funeral home” or “the Jewish funeral home” or “the Protestant funeral home.” Religion used to be a key component to our communities, families and choices of funeral homes. Not anymore.
The Pew Research Center created an impartial study of religion in America that identified about one in three Americans as being a nonbeliever in a religion. Whether you identify as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular, this group is large and growing.
For the past 5,000 years of our civilized world, a funeral was about sending the deceased to “a better place” and doing it in a prescribed way. If the body and soul are not going to “a better place” then you can do things differently than they were done in the past. You don’t need all the religious pomp and circumstance.
The challenge for the funeral arranger is to explain to the families that you may come together for the sake of religion or you may come together because there is a need to do so as a community. The funeral gathering gives comfort to those assembled regardless of the religiosity.
This is where a leader of a gathering is necessary. Whether this leader is ordained by a religion or trained as a celebrant, the gathering needs to be organized. It needs to meet the needs of the surviving family. The convocation should be well scripted and personalized. Any service today should have images and music. Whether the family believes in an afterlife or not, those assembled can support their own mourning and the grief of the family, if we bring them together.
The typical funeral arranger thinks that price is a driving factor. It is not. If it were, there would be only one funeral home in every town. Research performed by the National Funeral Directors Association and my own company, (The Foresight Companies), shows price is a factor; however, it is the driving factor in less than 20 percent of the cases.
When a millennial or Generation X or baby boomer wants to buy something, they look for a number of criteria:
- a) Differentiation points.
- b) Images.
- c) Reviews.
- d) Ratings of previous consumers.
- e) Price.
This multipoint balancing act is called a value equation. Consumers understand a high-end experience costs more than a low-end experience. If you needed a hotel in a faraway place, you would go online to a hotel-booking site. You would read the reviews from others. You would look at the images others have posted. You would assess the ratings that some have given that facility. If someone gave a negative rating, you might look them up to see if they had rated other places, maybe even someplace that you knew. You might want to read the replies of management to the other posts. If you didn’t need a restaurant, you might not want to stay at a place with a restaurant, as those are more expensive. Ultimately, you can balance what a reasonable price should be for the qualities you want to experience. The same is true of a funeral home.
Your website can have third-party testimonials and should. It can and should have the point of distinction that you think separates your business from your competitor, show pictures of things other than your cars and caskets, and emphasize your staff and get them to comment why they enjoy working for you.
When you are a consumer, you, too, determine the value equation for a service or merchandise to purchase. Make it easy to do so for funeral consumers.
- The Movers
When I started consulting to this profession in the mid-1980s, everyone I spoke to told me about the wave coming: The baby boomers were going to retire and start dying, and that would make this business very profitable. Suppose I tell you there is a demographic group greater than the baby boomers, in fact, greater than baby boomers and Gen Xers together. They are called “movers.”
Movers are those people that have been born and raised in one location, but for job or other reasons, they have moved to another location. Almost 40 percent of the top 100 metropolitan service areas have movers at greater than 50 percent of the total population. Movers know their familiar historic funeral home, but it is now at least 500 or more miles away from where they reside. They don’t know the heritage firms in their present town.
How do movers decide on a funeral home? Well, the same way Amazon.com shoppers make decisions. They shop online. They look at third-party sites. They look for the opinions and experiences of others. You need to cater to movers!
- Strategic Relationships
We know that funeral homes located on cemeteries have a strong marketing power. In fact, so much so that several states forbid the joint ownership of funeral homes and cemeteries. That is because cemeteries and funeral homes make good strategic relationships. How can you run your business to promote strategic relationships?
- Many funeral homes allow their funeral home chapel to be used by a church that is constructing its own chapel.
- Aftercare programs help survivors learn how to care for themselves after the death of a life partner.
- Hospice is not the enemy. Find how to work with hospice organizations in your community and cultivate this powerful relationship.
- Find elder-law-focused lawyers and make good relationships.
- Have a restaurant that will allow you to coordinate post funeral meals. This makes for a solid bilateral relationship.
These are just a few ideas. The key is to find what works in your service area.
Coupling all these ideas helps you build a flexible roadmap that gives you the ability to drive your business for a long time during our present society’s construction. •