May 26, 2016
This article was originally published in Kates Boylston Publications’ The Funeral Director’s Guide to Marketing (Vol 2): Investing in the Future of Your Firm by ASD Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer, Jessica Fowler. The article provides tips and ideas for how funeral directors can develop a carefully coordinated marketing plan to strengthen their brand and achieve organic growth. Click here to order a copy of the complete guide for more tactics and guidance for expanding your funeral home’s marketing and online engagement.
How a Content-Driven Marketing Approach Can Help Your Funeral Home Grow
What makes your funeral home unique? Why should families choose your firm? What can you do differently for them? These questions are at the heart of every funeral marketing strategy. For directors, it is just as crucial to understand what platform should be used to address these questions as it is to know the answers. You must be able to not only recognize your differentiators, but to communicate these strengths through a multi-channel marketing plan. If your funeral home is still utilizing the same advertising campaigns used five years ago, it is highly likely your messages are not reaching families no matter how different you are from competitors.
Directors must be willing to think beyond outdated approaches in order to attain brand recognition and gain a competitive edge in their region. In the past, most funeral directors relied upon yellow page ads and their rotary club memberships to promote their businesses. Then, print and television commercial ads became popular options for funeral home marketing. However, the last decade has shown a major shift away from these traditional methods. Digital marketing spend is forecasted to increase to 35 percent of total budgets this year, according to a CMO Survey. In 2015, content marketing generated three times as many leads as traditional outbound marketing (HubSpot).
What does this mean for funeral homes? Directors must recognize the benefits of digital communication and the use of multiple channels to advertise their businesses or risk getting left behind. To achieve organic growth, every element of your marketing strategy should be carefully coordinated and compatible with several different mediums. Replace static messages that convey little about your funeral home’s identity with engaging, content-driven stories. Recognize the important connection between a successful outreach program and new preneed leads and leverage this to promote your services. Finally, protect and monitor your communications to fully support your funeral home’s brand.
Embracing Multiple Platforms
Take time to explore and research all of the digital advertising options available. Utilizing different platforms will allow you to reach local residents on the medium they prefer. While some campaigns are designed to run continuously, such as a website banner ad or virtual tour, others require constant monitoring and tweaking, such as your blog and social media pages. Unlike static advertisements, social media is not passive. You must actively engage to grow your audience. Demonstrate your appreciation for those who follow your page by replying to comments promptly. Keep a constant eye on your newsfeed for interesting, relevant stories you can share from neighbors and other funeral professionals. Most importantly, maintain an active presence.
The primary goal of all digital advertising is to drive people to your website. Therefore, it is imperative that your site be up-to-date, a reflection of your standards and consistent with the graphics and language used in all of your online marketing. To generate a higher ROI, you must continually track the success of your campaigns to determine what works best and make adjustments accordingly. Use Google Analytics to monitor your website traffic and measure the success of your efforts. You should also evaluate the costs associated with each approach. This includes both the monetary amount as well as the time you invest in creating and managing your campaign.
While some messages may work best when customized to fit a platform, you should generally strive to create promotional experiences that are integrated and complementary across all mediums. This ensures your core mission statement and brand identity will not become diluted or fragmented. For example, if your banner ad, website and Facebook page appear as if they could have come from three different funeral homes, this can cause confusion and cost you valuable business opportunities. Look for ways to repackage content in a different format. Reinforce your brand by repeating certain elements in your ads to build a consistent and interconnected marketing strategy.
Key Questions to Consider
► What are some locally based websites that are visited often by people in your community (examples: community centers, local sporting associations, social clubs) and do these sites offer banner advertisements you could purchase?
► How many email addresses have you collected for email marketing newsletters? Are you currently keeping a record of email addresses from families served? Does your website provide an easy method for visitors to sign up for your mailing list? Quick Tip: Use your email list to create targeted ads on Facebook.
► Have you exhausted every opportunity available to promote your funeral home online for free? Have you taken ownership of your Facebook and Google Places page? Do you control your company listing on sites such as Yodle and Hot Frog?
► Does your website include a blog page you can control and update anytime? Quick Tip: If your website does not have a blog, you can create one for free on WordPress.com and link it to your site.
►Have you explored different options for sharing promotional videos online? This could include uploading any existing television commercials to YouTube or creating a new video from your phone or tablet to share online.
Developing Cross-Channel Content
Once you have determined how your funeral home’s stories and advertising messages will be posted online, you must work to develop engaging content that can be shared across multiple platforms. Many directors do not recognize valuable cross-marketing opportunities until they have already passed. For instance, if you are holding an event at your funeral home, quietly posting a link on your website is not likely to attract much attention. Instead, use your social media pages, blog, and email newsletter in conjunction with your website to share more details. Reach out to local publications to inquire if they would be interested in sharing a press release on their site.
Promoting your business online requires a great deal of time and consideration. The language used in your posts must be both catchy and well articulated. Writing should always be proofread to avoid embarrassing typos. Photos and graphics must stand out from other newsfeed images and should also contain a signature look unique to your online branding. For some firms, this may mean embedding your funeral home logo into images and for others it could mean using a special filter to give your graphics a distinct style. If writing and graphic design is not in your wheelhouse, look for people on your team who might be able to lend their skills to help you create a strong online presence.
At the 2015 NFDA Convention in Indianapolis, Speaker Erin Whitaker of Foundation Partners Group and Whitaker Funeral Home, explained how organic growth requires funeral home owners to think creatively and to trust their team: “Funeral directors have to be open to failure and open to trying new things. Changing conditions require different strategies and we know funeral service is changing,” Whitaker stated. “Some of us are natural funeral directors and not natural business people. Some of us are good with marketing but not so good with finance. You have to let your staff represent you. No one person does it all.”
Examples of How to Promote Cross-Channel Content
► Photos and video of your facility: Use your website and social media pages to share photos so visitors can see your funeral home in detail. Share updates whenever something is new or remodeled, such as your holiday decorations or outside garden. Use your blog to include more detail with the photos. For example, post a “Then and Now” blog that describes the funeral home’s history and shows how it has changed. Share staff photos with short bios or long Q&A style interviews. Hire a professional or use a mobile app to record a virtual tour of your funeral home and post it your website and social media pages.
► Funeral Home events: Create an event on Facebook and invite your followers to help you spread the word. Promote the event using your blog, email newsletters, and social networking sites. Your website should also include a page specifically for upcoming events. Reach out to local publications to see if they would be interested in sharing a press release. After the event is over, share a recap with photos and/or video as well as information about your next event.
► Funeral Director expertise: Your knowledge as a funeral director is one of the most valuable marketing tools you have at your disposal. When you’re searching for engaging fodder to share online, look no further than your own past experiences. From writing a first-person story about a service you handled in the past on your blog to posting a weekly tip about life insurance on Facebook, directors have a continuous supply of good content that can be shared on multiple platforms. Look for ways to incorporate these posts with your own unique graphics.
Ballard-Durand Funeral Home in White Plains and Elmsford, NY recently welcomed a new member to their team. Lulu, a Golden Doodle, is a special grief therapy trained dog. Not many funeral homes have a therapy dog on staff, and the directors there recognized that she was one of their differentiators. Director, Matthew Fiorillo, and Lulu were featured in several local news segments about the benefits of grief therapy dogs. The funeral home then added a video of Lulu to their website homepage and a photo of her to their staff page. The directors also use Facebook to regularly share photos of Lulu.
Using Community Outreach to Drive Pre-Need Sales
Community outreach is an essential component to any funeral home’s marketing strategy. When funeral homes devote more time and attention to these programs, it opens the door for new relationships and business opportunities. Yet, many firms fail to recognize the numerous ways in which preneed leads and outreach are inextricably linked. A nationwide consumer survey by the Wirthlin Group found that 80 percent of Americans “believe funeral prearrangement is a good idea.” If your preneed sales have dwindled, it is not because the public does not perceive prearrangements as a worthy investment. It is because your brand recognition has decreased as well.
Community outreach allows you to connect with families in your area and earn their loyalty by demonstrating your support for the local area. According to the NFDA’s 2015 Consumer Awareness and Preferences Survey, the two most common reasons consumers chose a funeral home are “previous experience with the firm” or “already knew the director.” These findings indicate that when the time comes for a family to make funeral arrangements, they are much more likely to choose a funeral home they know gives back to the community.
According to Whitaker, “Grief is not a moment in time, it is a journey so we must continue to support families.”
Rather than trying to sell preneed as a commodity, focus on ways to separate your funeral home from the herd by acting as a resource to your community. Hosting a single gathering once a year is not going to yield immediate results. You must be willing to coordinate meaningful events, fundraisers, seminars, charity drives and/or contests on a reoccurring basis. Your community outreach promotions should use specific language and original graphics to demonstrate no one else is doing exactly what you are doing. Create a schedule and keep a thorough log of the response you receive for each event. Listen to the feedback from those attending your events to help you think ahead and brainstorm new ideas for the future.
There are a multitude of ways to exhibit your funeral home’s values and differentiators through Community Outreach programs. Below are a few examples:
Social Events for Seniors: By encouraging seniors to come together in a fun and social setting, you can create an atmosphere of positive associations where seniors feel comfortable sharing stories and reflecting on the past.
• Movie nights
• Weekly walks or aerobics classes
• Painting or crafts classes
• Field trips
Educational Seminars: Many people aren’t sure where to begin when researching life insurance, prearrangements, irrevocable trusts, probate laws, estate taxes and other complicated end-of-life concerns. Funeral directors can act as a resource to those who need this information by offering monthly educational seminars on these issues. Providing facts and materials in an interesting format can help you to position yourself as an expert within your community.
Fundraisers and charity drives: Helping those less fortunate demonstrates your altruistic support for others. Ask yourself what causes matter most to you and how your funeral home might be best equipped to help. Use your blog, email newsletter and social sites to raise awareness and demonstrate your commitment to the cause.
• Hold a clothing, food, toy or blood drive for those in need
• Fundraise for a local charity
• Collect items for soldiers overseas
• Sponsor local schools and sports teams
• Participate in a charity walk or run
• Organize a rally or parade to bring awareness to a cause
Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home in St. Petersburg, FL used their website and social media to raise awareness about a food drive held over the holidays. The funeral home created an event on Facebook and shared photos of employees bringing in donations and loading up trucks. They also promoted the cause on the Community Events page of their website. Through these efforts, the funeral home was able to collect 179 lbs of food for families in need.
Grief Therapy: Family members will often turn to the funeral home after their loved one’s service for advice on coping with their loss. Directors can play a key role in helping the bereaved by providing resources, literature, classes and/or recommendations. While some funeral homes have a grief counselor on staff to offer individual or group sessions, others work with outside bereavement organizations.
Holiday Remembrance Services: Holiday services allow the bereaved to come together to honor their loved ones and interact with others who have experienced a recent loss. These events also provide you with an opportunity to reconnect with families you have served in the past.
• A Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony
• A Veterans Day ceremony with military rites
• A Mothers or Father’s Day luncheon
• An Easter egg hunt
Contests: Brainstorm some ideas for a contest your funeral home could hold that would inspire creativity in your neighborhood. Invite the public to help you name something such as a new pet or hold an essay writing competition. Send a press release to your local paper and use your social media sites to share information about your contest.
Synchronizing your Marketing and Communication Strategies
The ultimate goal of all funeral home advertising is to persuade the public to call your firm if a need arises. Therefore, it is essential directors ensure their marketing is fully supported by a communication strategy. It is very easy to inadvertently weaken your image by failing to properly safeguard your phone lines. This can have an adverse affect on the first impression others have of your funeral home and your reputation. Families are likely to form an opinion about your brand based on their first initial conversation.
One of the most common reasons someone calls a funeral home is because they have questions related to prearrangements or pricing. It is crucial for directors to make a connection and build a relationship with at-need and pre-need callers. Learning proper telephone etiquette and how to sell the value of your funeral home over the phone should be a major component of your marketing plan. Advertising efforts are likely to be in vain if you cannot provide open and consistent customer service. Here are a few ways to demonstrate your responsiveness to families.
► Call Forwarding: Through your local phone company, you can create safeguards to ensure your calls are answered when no one is available in the funeral home. With this option, you can program your phone lines to automatically forward to a secondary number when the phone is not answered in the funeral home by a predetermined number of rings. In most areas, this feature is called No Answer Call Forwarding. Learn more.
► 24/7 Answering Service: According to Fortune Magazine, more than 80 percent of people will hang up if their call is answered by voicemail. Instead of trying to answer every call yourself, partner with an answering service that works solely with funeral homes and understands the sensitive needs of your families. Be sure to carefully evaluate your service by listening to how calls are handled, testing the phone lines to confirm they are answered promptly and providing specific instructions to ensure calls are handled according to your standards. Learn More.
► Web Communication: In addition to safeguarding inbound calls, directors must also take steps to protect incoming web inquiries. When a death occurs, there are many scenarios when a person may be reluctant to call a funeral home directly. Families may use email, social media, or the ‘Contact Us’ form on your website to relay their needs to you. Be sure that someone is monitoring these open lines of communication 24/7. You can also give your website visitors a second option for communicating their needs by adding a Web Chat button to your website. This can help you capture more business opportunities and conveys to families visiting your site that you are always available to help. Look for a Web Chat solution that can alert you when a new chat is initiated so you can respond to urgent incoming chats from your cell phone.
Funeral service has changed dramatically over the past decade. In order to achieve a competitive advantage, it is no longer enough for funeral professionals to rely on families to know who they are and what they can offer based on past experiences and outdated ads. Directors must take proactive steps to bridge this gap by truly connecting with the public through a coordinated and well-considered digital marketing strategy. By utilizing multiple platforms to deliver unique content, investing in outreach programs, and safeguarding communications, directors can achieve organic growth and become thought leaders in their community.
About the Funeral Directors Guide to Marketing
In Volume 2 of “The Funeral Director’s Guide to Marketing,” you’ll get tips on using social media to build top-of-mind awareness as well as strategies to reach more families in your community. The guide includes numerous articles that have never been published before. Sponsored by Homesteaders Life Co., Volume 2 of “The Funeral Director’s Guide to Marketing” will give you insights and tools you can immediately start using to serve more families. Click here to learn more or order your copy.
About the Author
Jessica Fowler is the Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer at ASD – Answering Service for Directors. She has answered the calls of funeral homes nationwide for more than 12 years. Jessica manages ASD’s company blog and has been published in several funeral trade magazines. She has written articles on a variety of subjects including communication, business planning, technology and funeral trends. To contact Jessica, call 800-868-9950 or email email@example.com.
About The Author
Jess Farren (Fowler)
Jess Farren (Fowler) is a Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer who has been a part of the ASD team since 2003. Jess manages ASD’s company blog and has been published in several funeral trade magazines. She has written articles on a variety of subjects including communication, business planning, technology, marketing and funeral trends. You can contact Jess directly at Jess@myASD.com