Marketing your funeral and cemetery company with service

With the holidays just around the corner, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss service as a point of differentiation for your funeral home or cemetery property. In the last week or two, I have experienced countless service mistakes which potentially may prevent me from returning to that particular place of business. Jan Carlson is a Swedish businessman who was the CEO of Scandinavian Airlines in the 1980’s and 1990’s. He wrote a book entitled Moments of Truth based on a training program called ” Putting People First ” the key to the book and program was simple – problems are solved on the spot, as soon as they arise. No front line employee has to wait for a supervisor’s permission. Unfortunately, that idea is not prevalent In the retail world today. Over the span of several weeks, I experienced rude cashiers, disorganized check out lines, no one to help with questions about products and nonchalant front line employees. As a matter of fact, when I asked one cashier at a gas bar for a receipt because the pump didn’t work and neither cash worked, he told me that if this was too challenging, perhaps I should not come back here again. Marketing your business, whether retail or funeral and cemetery, includes delivering more than the consumer expects. In the words of Jeffrey Gitomer, ” Customer satisfaction is worthless, customer loyalty is priceless ” The simple touch points between your company and the consumer ultimately determine the long term success of your business. For more information, contact me at

Creating a marketing plan for you funeral and cemetery company

The first key to success is the creation of a marketing plan. Why a marketing plan? What will it do for you?

First, it will enable you to focus on your corporate objectives and the strategies necessary to achieve them.

Second, when it’s time to bring others into the marketing activities, their roles and functions will be clearly defined.

Third, a marketing plan is good for controlling expenses and offering a rationale for specific expenditures.

So, how do we create a marketing plan without the benefit of marketing professionals? By following a simple seven-step formula.

1. Spell out how you benefit your customers.
The only products or services that succeed are those that offer a benefit to consumers that is greater than their cost. It is essential that we focus on the benefit to our families rather than the features of our products and services.

In other words, the features of a funeral prearrangement might include a casket, a memorial service with music or a reception for family and friends, but the benefits are the celebration of a loved one’s life or peace of mind for the family.

Remember the ads for Michelin tires with the baby inside the tire? The feature was the tire quality, but the benefit was the safety and protection of your child.

Your marketing plan, or the way you tell your story to consumers, must convey the essential benefits derived from working with your cemetery or funeral home.

2. Determine your position in the marketplace. What business are you in? It’s important to clearly define your position in the marketplace. Are you in the funeral or cemetery business? Or are you Montreal’s cremation leader since 1901? Are you the only garden cemetery in your community that offers perpetual care? Are you a low-cost cremation provider with no frills attached? Be specific.

Once you have completed this exercise, you can develop your unique selling proposition, your sword in the stone. That message must be the central focus of all your marketing efforts, from both a media perspective and the internal culture. Every employee should be able to explain to any prospect your point of differentiation.

3. Position yourself for your desired target market. Whom is your product or service for? One of the key principles of marketing is that you can’t be all things to all people. So how do you establish whom to target? First, use a database to create a profile of your current customer. Are your customers coming from a specific geographic area, are they in a specific socioeconomic group, are they over 55 years of age?

Second, study market research conducted by firms such as Pollara, and see how your current customer profile compares with industry averages.

Finally, decide whether you are satisfied with the type of customers you are dealing with. If not, how do you reposition your company in order to take advantage of the desired demographic?

Positioning involves creating a perception of your company with potential customers. Your marketing efforts are designed to influence customer perceptions. To make positioning one of your success factors, you must learn what’s important to your clients, study your competition until you find a competitive advantage and then exploit that strength. To put it in very simple terms: Find a hole and fill it.

The perfect example is 7UP’s entrance many years ago in the soda battleground, where the company positioned its product as the “uncola.”

4. Devise an advertising strategy. Your advertising strategy takes the first three components and combines them into a plan of attack. A simple summation:
– Your product or service?
– Your target market?
– Your competition?
– Your product/service benefit?
– How is your product/service different?
– If the consumer gets one idea from your external marketing, what is it?
– What action should be taken?

5. Come up with a budget. The first step in creating a marketing budget is determining what percentage of sales you’ll be able to devote to marketing. A good rule of thumb is anywhere from five to 10 percent. Whatever the standard in your market, plan to invest a little more if you want to attain the position of market leader.

6. Select the right tools. Once you have determined your budget, you must select the tools or media you will use to deliver your message. One rule of thumb is to make sure you don’t spread your advertising dollars too thinly. In other words, it makes more sense to use one radio station combined with direct mail than to try and buy three radio stations and two newspapers.

Frequency is critical in achieving advertising success. Television is an excellent medium, but unless you have a substantial budget. it is difficult to buy enough frequency.

Radio is my preferred choice because it offers targetability, affordability and frequency. I don’t recommend newspapers because consumers just don’t spend enough time reading them, the price is high and there is no frequency.

Direct mail and database mailers are excellent choices as well.

7. Implement a month-by-month marketing timetable. Marketing is a long-term investment. Any marketing plan should be completed on a yearly basis, with a small reserve of dollars for any new opportunities that arise during that year.

Advertising doesn’t work overnight. It takes time and a commitment to make an impact in the marketplace; anything short term is doomed to fail. Track your results so that you can determine what works and what does not. This will enable you to hone your plan over time, eliminating the failures and building on the successes.

Simplicity in your funeral and cemetery advertising

We all know about the KISS principle – keep it simple stupid. And this principle holds true in advertising for your funeral and cemetery company. Over the years working with radio clients, advertisers insist on jamming as much information as possible into a commercial. They insist on mentioning every product instead of focusing on a singular unique selling proposition. Given the amount of commercial advertising that a consumer is inundated with daily, you as an advertiser have a short window of time to attract their attention. I was talking to an email marketing expert and he mentioned that an email has about the same length of time to get you to react and if not, it is lost as spam. In a radio commercialsp, you have about 7 seconds to grab the attention of the consumer; much like TV. Billboards should have no more than 7 words. And in newspaper, the headline determines whether or not the consumer will continue to read the ad. So, take the time to select your USP carefully, in other words, what is the one consumer benefit that your company offers that no one else does. And hammer that message home over the long term with solid frequency. For more information, email me at

Tracking your funeral and cemetery advertising

” Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half ”
John Wanamaker

John Wanamaker was born in Philadelphia in 1838 and opened his first retail store – Oak Hall in 1861. He was considered the father of modern advertising and a pioneer in marketing with a new concept for his store – one price and goods returnable. But his quote on tracking the results of advertising campaigns still holds true today. As a matter of fact, many large retailers spending millions of dollars on advertising are not able to determine which of their media selections are working and which are not. And if you are in the process of brand building in order to create top of mind awareness so that consumers will consider your product or service, the challenge is even more daunting. At that point, your advertising effectiveness is based primarily on sales growth. If you are looking for a more direct response approach, then there are several methods that you can use. First, make specific offers in each media choice, in others words, a different special on each radio station or newspaper. Second, if you are gathering names and contact information, use different phone numbers for each media selection. Every informercial on TV uses a different phone number or website on each TV station. Finally, depending on the type of business you are in, the sales team can ask every new prospect what brought them in the door. The science may not be perfect, however, it will give you a much better sense of cost efficiency. For more information, contact me at tim@

TV advertising for the funeral and cemetery profession

TV advertising for the funeral and cemetery profession is an interesting opportunity which has definite pros and cons. First, the average consumer will spend more than 50% of their media consumption time with TV. Of course, the combination of visual and audio is very compelling. And the big brands continue to advertise regularly on TV so there is merit based on return on investment. The challenge of TV includes price, fragmentation, and the onset of PVr’s. The price can be cost prohibitive and since advertising works based on frequency, you must have a substantial budget to consider using TV in your media mix. In the past, advertisers could select the big three networks and the decision was simple. Now, your choices are immense and include specialty channels like the food network, home and garden, comedy and so on. Finally, more and more consumers are using PVR’s and therefore zapping the commercials which diminishes the value. The best approach for the funeral and cemetery profession on TV is the testimonial commercial. Take advantage of your current customers and ask for their permission to use them in the TV ad. For more information, contact me at

Funeral and cemetery advertising in the newspaper

The challenge of advertising in the newspaper is enormous in this day and age. Traditionally, big brands bought print advertising to promote their business, however, with less than half of the adult population reading a daily newspaper, the option is not as obvious. Did you know that only 42% of readers of a newspaper will note a full page ad. That means that the average quarter page ad will only be noted by about 25% of readers. The other challenges with print are lack of frequency and price. In order to sell a product or service, your message must reach prospects with solid frequency and a page in the newspaper does not deliver. Also, the cost of print advertising continues to rise as the circulation decrease therefore the cost efficiency is decreasing. The argument that the older demographic is still reading the newspaper is one to consider, however, the return on investment doesn’t justify it. The one position that could be considered is the obituary section so simply add your funeral home or cemetery name and logo at the bottom of the announcement and you have a presence in the newspaper. For more information on funeral and cemetery advertising, visit our website at

What radio formats make sense for funeral and cemetery ads

So you’ve decided to use radio as a medium to promote your funeral and cemetery business. The next question is which format makes sense. First, radio stations can provide you with demographic information on their respective listening audience. So you can analyze the market and select the stations that target the 50+ demographic. On the AM band, the obvious choice is a talk radio station because the audience is actively listening and will absorb the commercial content. Every market usually has at least one heritage talk radio station as well as perhaps a sports station. On the FM band, the options are substantial. The first choice would be an oldies station that features either nostalgic music or 60’s and 70’s music. The other choices are a light adult contemporary station or even a classic rock station as those should target the 35 – 64 demographic. The other important consideration is the cost effectiveness. You may have a station with bigger reach, however, if the cost per thousand is too high then you may one to consider the # 2 station. For more information on selecting radio stations to promote your funeral home or cemetery property, please contact us at

How to stand out in the crowd

In 2013, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to rise above the onslaught of advertising that we are bombarded with on a daily basis. The average consumer is exposed to 3,500 messages daily. How is that possible? Just think about your average day. You wake up in the morning and turn on the radio and hear several messages, you get up and brush your teeth with Colgate, wash your hair with Pantene, and shave with Gillette. You may browse a newspaper and will definitely see billboards on your commute to work. And your day has just started. So how do you stand out. The answer is a combination of reach and frequency coupled with a compelling story and consumer benefit. The debate between reach and frequency is ongoing; however, the key is frequency over reach. Would you rather tell a compelling story to a smaller group of prospects or a short mention of your company to a larger group. Frequency trumps reach. As a matter of fact, larger reach equals a bigger price tag and limits frequency. Unless you are McDonalds or Coca Cola, the affordability factor must be considered. In terms of radio advertising, I would prefer 30 commercials weekly on a radio station with smaller reach than 10 weekly on a station with bigger reach. Consumers have to hear or see a message often enough to elicit a reaction. So when you are selecting media, also consider having a strong presence with less media than a weak presence with more media. For more information, visit my website at

A new creative approach to funeral and cemetery marketing

Have you noticed that the vast majority of advertising is based on one simple tenet – the best price. I have not seen an ad for the automotive industry on TV, radio or in the newspaper that didn’t focus on the price – whether it’s a low finance rate, low lease rate or just a low purchase price. As a matter of fact, one automotive manufacturer is featuring a weekly payment for a 2013 vehicle of only $36 per week. That’s less than I spend at Starbucks and a couple of lunches on a weekly basis. But what is this accomplishing in terms of brand equity. If I flip through a daily newspaper, my only criteria for judgement on a vehicle becomes the lowest price and ignores the other components including quality or benefits that may be important to me. It’s time to take another path in your marketing efforts and that is the path of educational marketing. We took this approach in the funeral and cemetery industry and it proved to be very successful. Instead of cliche filled commercials about compassion, families serving families and so on; we decided to educate consumers as well as demystify the concept of pre-planning, cremation, and memorialization. Our commercials started with a simple phrase ” did you know that ” and followed with pertinent information on why consumers opt for cremation or why it makes sense to plan ahead. This approach will position your funeral home or cemetery property from the competition and create a bond between consumers and your brand. This approach can be used in any professional industry, orthodontists talking about why young children should be examined and what to look for; or real estate agents giving tips on staging a home. For more information on this unique approach to marketing, visit our website at or follow our blog at