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Monthly Archives: July 2015

stuck

I was recently at a funeral home strategy/training meeting and the Broken Escalator video above was presented as a primer for discussion.  This is a fantastic and thought provoking example for us in the funeral industry.  The NFDA just posted estimations that cremation will eclipse burial this year (see: Rates of Cremation and Burial) and consumers are as scattered in their views about death/disposition as cremated remains in a hurricane.

Yet, the majority of funeral service providers are “stuck on the escalator.”  Here are some examples:

  • “It’s not a problem in our community.”
  • “My families don’t/won’t blah, blah, blah.”
  • “We have been through this before.”
  • “We’ve always done it this way.”
  • “Training?”

The “stuck on the elevator” syndrome is also an epidemic in the funeral supplier world:

  • Repackage the same offerings.
  • Same casket, different color.
  • Discount and rebate games.
  • “Our research shows.”

Jessica A. Smith recently published a great post  I Want A Direct Cremation, Please on the OGR blog offering common sense approaches to assist consumers with cremation choices.   The pundits and talking heads (see Talking Heads; What We Allow Will Continue) continue to lead the blind sheep over the cliff with their “charge more and show more value.”  I guess my question is; why are there so many funeral providers stuck on the escalator?  Thoughts and comments?  From the desk of The Funeral Commander, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

burning ad

Yes, “Cremation with integrity” depicting an urn showcasing a Nazi soldier is a real advertisement in the The Jefferson City News Tribune that was printed Sunday July 19th for the Millard Funeral Chapels and their Columbia MO – based crematory operated by Parker Funeral Service.  I can’t even make this up.

Let’s “unpack” this debacle for learning purposes because this exemplifies so many lessons and insights.

1.  Let us try to imagine the funeral home marketing “think tank” session: “We need to do something about our low cost cremation competitors and tell the community why they should use us.  Any ideas?”  <Hand raised from a staff member>: “we can’t match their prices, but we can tell the public that WE CREMATE WITH INTEGRITY!”  Brilliant!  <Person in charge of the think tank>: “let’s show our best-selling urn with a soldier, because the military depicts integrity and get the local paper to put the ad together and run it on a Sunday.  Good job team…this will help us bring back the business we are losing to the other guys.”

2.  The message itself minus the Nazi soldier image is hilarious on its own merit.  Cremation with integrity?  Help me understand…does this ad imply that competitors cremate without integrity?  I think that Missouri has regulations and certifications necessary to be a crematory operator performing cremations, so is there an inference of unscrupulous cremations going on in town by other cremation providers?  This is a blatant example of “we are better than them, we care more, we give better service,” blah blah blah of no of interest to the consumer, rather more of a 7th grade school yard spat.  Lesson:  words have meaning, think about the message you want to send.

3.  What is the correlation of the image of a soldier (albeit a bad one that was apparently selected by the local paper, not the funeral home) and “integrity of cremation?”  Why a soldier or any military personnel?  As a retired soldier and father of a soldier, my perspective is that this funeral home was trying to use an image that may exemplify integrity (as an image of a military person would).  But could they not muster much thought of an internal example of themselves?  Did the owners and funeral directors at this firm served our Country or just use images to boost their own self esteem for business?  Stolen valor comes to mind…  Frankly, I think Karma kicked their ass in this one with the depiction of a Nazi soldier…think about it.  Lesson: don’t try to be something you are not.

4.  Unfortunately, the person in charge of this project failed miserably as it’s obvious no editing or proofing was conducted with the “newspaper production department.”  A basic tenet of funeral director services, is to review and edit (sometimes even create) an obituary that also appears in local newspapers. Lesson: people do what you inspect; not what you expect.

5.  We consistently are striving to remind consumers that the services we provide are of value, have meaning, and therefore require the guidance of a licensed funeral professional.  There is an undercurrent from consumers and others that “do it yourself” or limited need for funeral directors is on the rise.  However, for some reason, many in funeral home management see no value in professional management from marketing/Social Media companies and attempt to “do it themselves.”  As the comedian Bill Engvall says: “here’s your sign.”   I can just imagine my friends at Disrupt Media (Ryan Thogmartin) and L.A.Ads (Rolf Gutknecht & Dan Katz) laughing hysterically at this entire scenario.  Lesson: hire a professional for marketing and advertisement.  

6.  Irony:  This advertisement was created for use in a local newspaper for local readership, however it turned into a Social Media nightmare being broadcast all over the world including the local television station, radio along with numerous funeral industry Facebook pages.  I guess the advertisement got quite a bang for its buck.  Lesson:  refer to #2, #3, #4, and #5 above.

We all make mistakes and this was a whopper; however as always there are lessons to be learned and teaching points to consider so that the mistakes are not repeated.  What are your thoughts and comments?  From the desk of The Funeral Commander, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

posers

“The Talking Heads; Often Wrong But Never In Doubt.”

I have often posted and shared thoughts, experiences, successes and failures of being a funeral industry entrepreneur; for example Funeral Industry Entrepreneur and Funeral Entrepreneur?  The path is paved with all sorts of challenges however I thrive on teamwork, critical thinking, beta testing, along with continuous improvement.  For those fellow stalwarts that do the same, bravo my fellow comrades!  But this post is to call out and challenge the “posers” that are emerging around us.  As defined by the Urban Dictionary

Poser: 1. one who pretends to be someone whose not.  2. who tries to fit in but with exaggeration

As Social Media provides a platform for anyone to share information, whether the information provided is correct has no relevance to building their audiences.  Even more interesting, when the background and experience of such a person is further vetted, we are surprised by the lack any credentials whatsoever to position themselves as an authority.

There are copious examples to undermine the theory that in order to create something fantastic relevant to the funeral industry that one should be a licensed funeral director, and I’m not advocating such.  What I am describing fits into one or more of these:

  • No formal death care or funeral service education.
  • Never worked actively at a funeral home in any capacity.
  • Does not regularly participate or observe in person funeral arrangement sessions.
  • Assumes process without experience.

Funeral product manufacturers, service providers (insurance, marketing, technology, etc.) and now preparing for “launch season” which is pretty much the NFDA Convention in October.  Many will bring “the newest and best” thing to their booths hoping to convince buyers that their particular service or product will “make a difference” at a funeral home.  The big companies have research/marketing departments that have either repackaged something or attempting to create a new “need.”  Smaller and new manufacturers/providers simply believe they have the “next best thing” in the funeral market.

Rarely does most ever conduct any BETA testing of the service or product; meaning real funeral directors sharing with real at need families.  Actually listening to what funeral directors think or suggest much less consumer needs and acceptance.  Focus groups don’t count or provide an accurate measure of anything compared to making selections in funeral arrangements and actually paying.  However, the “posers” will provide anecdotal scenarios and spew forth inane figures based on “research” which is contrived by people who have never set foot in a funeral home, much less looked a family in the eye during arrangements.

As the “launch season” approaches, start your own research to formulate investigative questions that are relevant to your needs.  Ask for actual data (if it’s printed in a brochure, it’s likely made up) and reference names of other funeral homes that have had success with the service or product.  Does the company actually manufacture the product, have in-house technicians/content writers/designers, actually own the service/laboratory, or are just a sales agent?  Unfortunately there are few funeral industry vendors that actually produce their own product and services…most are “farmed out.”

Allow

There is a great saying; “what you will allow is what will continue.”    Ask questions or challenge to the talking heads and decide for yourself their value.  If not, expect the same results of performance and behavior.  From the desk of The Funeral Commander, Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

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