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WTF 17

I rarely call out funeral homes by name simply because they usually know who they are when I write particular content. However, the high and mighty at Lindquist Mortuaries in Ogden, Utah gets a special Funeral Commander shout out! Wendy Thoresen Green was interviewed by the Standard Examiner, a newspaper in Ogden, UT  with title Meet ‘Funeral Lady,’ a Pleasant View woman who loves all things funeral-related. Linquist, WTF (What The Funeral) are you thinking by distancing  yourself from talent within your own funeral home? Please read an excerpt from the article:

Today, Green sells funeral plans for a local mortuary. We say “local mortuary” because, frankly, her boss would prefer his company not be named in a piece about Green and her obsession. She’s been called “eccentric” and “definitely not mainstream” in an industry where eccentricity and deviation from that stream isn’t exactly the dignified image mortuaries are trying to project

Now you boys don’t get your starched underwear in a wad; the article was published and as usual, I’m just pointing out the obvious.  See, we in the funeral industry are inquiring minds, we just want to know.

“Loves all things funeral related” seems to be a great headline, however this particular crowd doesn’t see it that way. Is passion and a calling into the funeral industry consdiered an “obsession?” Definition of Eccentric: (of a person or their behavior) unconventional and slightly strange. (“My favorite aunt is very eccentric.”) Maybe Wendy is not mainstream in Ogden Utah, but I shudder at the thought of what that definition may include in those parts of our country.

I have a question for the Lindquist’s Mortuary leaders: After looking at your website (with no social media links whatsoever) and seeing your staff, why are there no female funeral directors listed? Are women only relegated to pre-need sales and general staff… is that what you consider mainstream? Another question: Why you would be ashamed of someone like Wendy who projects a positive image for the funeral industry? Why wouldn’t Lindquist’s Mortuary proudly boast about such a devoted and dedicated employee?  Certainly no retribution will come as a result of her sharing her heart to the community.

Ok, all you non-Neanderthals in the business, how about let’s show the value of women in our industry and teach something about social media to the “He-man Woman Haters Club” in Ogden! I implore you to comment, post, and share this story on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Unfortunately, it appears the “leaders” don’t know much about this interweb social thing.  However, we can shed light on the darkness of their “mainstream.”

From the Command Post (West) and thick fog of cigar smoke along with being a bit pissed off about how backwards people try to push down achievers…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

conversation starterI’m just returning from another funeral convention and I would like to provide “color” on my observations.  I had conversations and meetings with many people from practically every facet of the funeral industry, however I am certain those conversations would not get published in any industry magazines…somewhat lends back to “The Truth” series I recently posted.

From vendors, the majority complained of a lack of attendance from buyers and decision makers. On opening day of the exhibit hall, a cannon could have been fired down most isles and not hit nary a funeral service provider.  Something new and never done before was the presence of a suicide prevention booth; however it was hard to get in as it was jam packed with new vendors/first timers seeking counseling trying to figure out why their booth is not full of buyers (I guess they failed to read and take my advice on being an entrepreneur in the funeral industry).  The non-conventional conversation among this particular crowd (vendors) was that “second tier” organizations should consider events with exhibits such as these perhaps every other year.  The cost to attend, lack of ROI, and dwindling attendance is going to force some tough decisions in the future from a vendor participation perspective.  Suggestions of one big annual funeral expo that covers funeral directors, cremationists and cemeterians would suffice with perhaps individual breakout sessions if needed for organizations.  The individual organization fiefdom is a drain on vendors, members and participants.  Every state has its own annual organizational gathering repeating the same madness but on a smaller scale.  The smart states have completely eliminated exhibits.  So my vote (and I’m sure lots of others if they had one) is to let’s quit doing the same thing the wrong way over and over again…what’s that called?

The speakers and breakout sessions had excellent content with relevant information.  Again on the notion of “one big funeral gathering” with many speakers and subjects would stop the redundant messaging under different flags…so maybe the presentations given at the “one big funeral gathering” could be recorded then retrieved in an archived library for those not attending.  That sounds like a smart revenue generation model with mass appeal, but what do I know?

Speaking of tough decisions, the funeral service providers I had the privilege of chatting with provided me with realistic reports of their experiences at providing services/products to the ever changing consumer.  Outside of the emerging Social Media, technology and of course DNA collection (yes, that’s a shameless but true plug) they saw nothing really addressed how to provide better service to the consumers they serve.  Think about that for a moment.  Basically, if the company/vendor is not providing or improving upon a technology based solutions (sales, service, arrangements, B2C marketing, operations, or product) then the relevancy to a funeral service provider is benign.

An interesting and emerging segment that was present in technology seems to be a platform for consumers to memorialize themselves using an online portal to capture their life stories, videos, etc. (I guess Facebook/online obits is just not getting the job done).  The fallacy for most is the choice some really odd names which I personally wonder how consumers find them in the first place.  One of those odd named providers makes claim that their product/service helps with the “family experience” but when I drilled down a bit I got the old “we’re still working on that” position.  Basically, capturing a life well lived is a great notion, in fact some of these cats have somehow found people (companies) to invest in this idea without a strong revenue generation model (you know, pay back investors’ money).  Aurora’s value added Be Remembered has all of the components for such a platform (at no cost to the consumer or funeral home) which leads me to believe that others fail to do any relevant market research before launch.

The best non-conventional conversations took place off the floor with a drink in one hand and a cigar in the other (yes, that’s my favorite environment for great conversations). I think that all would agree such funeral gatherings provide a platform for those in attendance to have all important face to face interactions.  During these important extemporaneous sessions,  I actually was made privy to a new product that I think is brilliant; cremated remains, the life story, storage and columbarium all in one…technology, sleek design and a solution.  Another was about a new brand of funeral service to consumers; a collaborative effort for a brand that will capture and address the majority market in America…the 75% that make less than $50,000.  Those folks die too, but we don’t talk about them much.  Finally, this is a big world but getting smaller.  The alliances of companies collaborating on a global scale are becoming more commonplace.  I personally had conversations with people from Canada, Australia, Spain, Italy, China, Ireland and even New Jersey.

In a nutshell, if it’s not a technology driven product at the exhibitions and expos that assists funeral directors to provide enhanced service to their consumers, the interest level is dwindling.  There is always some that will pine for the days of yore, but those days are going away with facsimile machines.  The from my vantage point, defined success for the future in the funeral industry is messaging, technology and collaboration.  That’s the view from the field and The Funeral Commander.  Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

Innovation word cloud glowing

Why are new ideas so difficult to introduce in the funeral industry?  The historic level of success for introduction, adoption and broad acceptance is low, at best.  I’ve been around this market now for several years and have witnessed products, services and vendors come and go.  At nearly every convention and expo, bright eyed newcomers rent booth space for display just knowing they will capture the hearts and minds of those that will share their ideas with the families they serve.  The truth is, most fail.

One factor for low success is that most of the “new idea” people are from outside the industry.  Consumer research may indicate opportunity will abound for success; however the stark reality becomes evident once launched.  Standing in the booth hoping funeral directors and perspective buyers will show interest by taking time for the new exhibitor to share their ideas becomes a lonely and expensive lesson.  Often if a cool and free giveaway is available, traffic will be akin to Halloween with open bags to take the trinket, but no real interest otherwise.  A fishbowl full of business cards may provide a glimmer of follow up hope with the vendor measuring success by all the “contacts” made, but the reality is few will ever respond. Speaking of business cards, it’s hilarious to me how may attendees “forget” their cards and if one is in their possession, how many have no email address.  I would venture to guess if these same folks were at a local church picnic, bake sale, pig picking, Friday night out at the diner or other “major marketing” event they would be handing out cards like methadone at a drug clinic.

Most of the naysayers including those that fill their goodie bags with “free stuff” along with the non-card carrying bunch have never created anything in their life other than a checking account for their check to be deposited.  Thus not having any idea or appreciation for the difficulty bringing a product/service/idea to market.  These same smug and often borderline rude people are the barrier between funeral consumers and innovation in the industry, however their stranglehold is weakening.  I recently saw a great commercial from Go Daddy (which I use) that reminds me of this crowd…named the Doubters:

Unfortunately the “new idea” people are often ill prepared to launch for several reasons.  The product/service has not been proven or beta tested in actual arrangement sessions.  This is an important factor because without data and feedback from the presenter (funeral director) to the consumers they are meeting, it’s impossible to gauge consumer acceptance.  Many new vendors haven’t a clue the intricate nuances that take place during an at-need arrangement session, nor are most directors willing to introduce something new outside their normal routine. Therefore, price points, presentation materials and the sales process are not vetted which is an uphill climb to any market penetration.  I wrote a post Funeral Industry Entrepreneur? relative to starting something new in the funeral industry; it’ not for the faint at heart.

Another factor is need…what does the funeral industry really need? Frankly there is over capacity of urns, caskets, vaults, fluids, funeral coaches, paper goods, pre-need offerings, life insurance factoring, and such.  Generally the same vendors are offering “new and improved” of the same stuff year after year.  The relationships developed between suppliers and customers usually remain firmly entrenched.  For funeral homes to make a change from one supplier to another usually takes place primarily because of finances; don’t kid yourself, it’s all about the money. The well funded deep pocketed suppliers will go to great financial lengths to retain or attract new business from a limited field of buyers which often squeezes out the “newbies” and smaller competitors (yep, I have seen HUGE discounts and rebates climbing over 40%).  Many of the “big boys” are rearranging the chairs on their own Titanic due to the shifting consumer, increase of cremation, decrease of burials and their own lack of innovation.  However, changing suppliers or adding new products/services also takes effort on the buyer side which deters many due to the sheer upheaval and operations of the “we have always done it that way” crowd.  Even if “new or different” costs less, easier to use, provides better service, or fills a needed gap, the resistance to change generally rules.

What if the approach to launching new funeral related products and services changed?  I think (I haven’t conducted much research on this) there are more living people at this very moment than those that are arriving at funeral homes.  Huh?  What if vendors/suppliers reach consumers prior to arriving at the funeral home creating demand for their particular product/service?  Basically consumers walking into funeral homes asking for the product/service by name…would this conduct change the market?  Of course, I can almost hear (even with some great Spotify tunes blaring on my speakers) “well, I don’t carry or do that, so you will have to choose from what I have to offer” from the before-mentioned “we’ve always done it this way” crowd.

The advent of Social Media has created a tremendous path to reaching and educating consumers about new services or products.  FTC Funeral Rule actually stands in the consumers’ corner regarding their choices.  Now this could create quite a quandary let alone great headlines for marketing of such products or services.  So, you don’t think this is possible?  Take some time to read about Invisalign and their launch into the dental market.  Early adopters enjoyed success and competitive advantage for their new service/product innovation. The push-pull strategy has not been attempted in the funeral service industry…

But don’t fret!  The Funeral Commander is developing a 5 Paragraph Operations Order that will have many scratching their heads and others proclaiming “well, I’ll be damned.”  The truth is, there are other avenues of approach to effect change.  For the early adopters, forward thinkers and those with the capacity to adapt for change, we have quite a great ride ahead.  For the others, please don’t change, really we need you! From the thick smoke of a great cigar at The Funeral Commanders desk, Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander #dnamemorial

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