Right off the bat, I’ll give you a bonus reason for why your preneed funeral planning program is not what it could be (four for the price of three!): Too many consumers still do not know they can plan and fund their funerals in advance. Plain and simple, it all boils down to awareness. Can it really be this straightforward?
According to the latest Study of American Attitudes Toward Ritualization and Memorialization performed by the Funeral and Memorial Information Council (FAMIC), a majority of consumers age 40 and older would choose to prearrange their services, but only 17% have actually done so. My question is: how many of the respondents learned about preneed by taking the survey? If they were aware of it, do they know how to take action?
I travel a great deal, and when the topic of my profession comes up, the majority of people say, “I didn’t know you could do that!” Rarely is it, “Why the heck would anyone want to do that?”
Without further ado, here are a few key reasons why your preneed program may not be performing to your expectations:
1. Your firm does not have a “funeral planning” culture.
In many funeral homes there is an “at-need versus preneed” culture as opposed to a “need” culture. This isn’t surprising since the FAMIC study shows only 17% of respondents surveyed have prearranged. This is not for lack of demand — it is very likely a lack of awareness that prearranging exists or how to get started.
A “funeral planning culture” is one in which everyone in the funeral home seeks to increase the number of funerals planned — regardless of when services will be delivered. There is a commitment to seeking out more opportunities to plan because each arrangement conference helps the funeral director understand more about what people want, what they don’t want and what they don’t know they can have. Physicians call their business a “practice” because that’s what they get every time they see a patient. The more cases they see, the more they learn and the better they get at helping people.
If it helps you, think of it this way: Most of the people in your community who are age 40+ could be missing out on something they believe is important to do, once they learn they can do it. Make it your firm’s responsibility to tell these people about preneed funeral planning and help them do it! This exposes a greater number of consumers to the excellent service you provide, which is proven to lead to increased recommendations and referrals.
2. You rely on advertising alone to spread the word about preneed.
Advertising is a good thing for businesses to do if they already have strong brands, or if there is high awareness of a certain product/service. We have already established that most consumers don’t know they can plan and fund their funerals in advance, so how do you get the word out about preneed if you don’t make a radio or TV buy, or plaster, “Prearrange with us” on billboards around town? Because consumers have much less experience buying funerals than other services and products, a 30-second radio spot simply cannot convey the concept well enough to compel someone to say, “Hey, I need to do that!”
Successful preneed funeral programs are built with an education mindset. Direct mail and email can be effective if people read the message, but most firms experiencing growth use public relations as a strategy to achieve success. Here are a few examples of effective public relations efforts:
- Reach out to local media and offer content that explains the benefits of advance funeral planning and tells folks how to begin the process (articles, interviews, literature).
- Host workshops or seminars to educate people about preneed and explain the process of planning and funding funerals in advance.
- Learn how to leverage social media to engage consumers in a discussion about end-of-life needs and how your firm can help fulfill these needs.
3. You don’t have a person in your firm who is dedicated to preneed.
Hiring staff is expensive. In many firms, the funeral home owner wears nearly all of the “hats” because of a lack of resources for help. (Too often, delegation is a problem — but that’s another blog topic!) The problem is, doing all of the jobs all of the time is a recipe for failure — especially when part of the community is not being served.
A dedicated preneed funeral planner should be viewed not as an expense; rather, he or she is a revenue generator, a goodwill ambassador, a brand-builder. How many times in a year are you so busy with immediate-need cases that you cannot meet with someone who calls or visits the funeral home to ask about a preneed funeral plan? What are you saying to this person about how you understand and value their sense of urgency compared to that of another family? A dedicated preneed funeral professional educates consumers about advance funeral planning through workshops, speaking engagements and other promotions. He or she can meet with families at THEIR convenience to facilitate funded prearrangements. This results in earning trust and a commitment to your firm well in advance of need. All of this while you work less “in” the business and more “on” the business.
Three quick stats to support the importance of hiring a dedicated preneed professional:
- The FAMIC study mentioned earlier shows that 89% of people 40 and older believe that having a discussion about how they want to be remembered would be meaningful.
- A 2015 study of prearrangers by Homesteaders Life Company shows 100% are satisfied with their decision to plan in advance.
- In this same study, 41% of prearrangers had recommended preneed to someone else within two months of doing it, and 13% said they “plan to recommend” prearranging in the future.
The facts show preneed funeral planning is something consumers want once they learn about it, and most actively recommend preneed to family and friends. Having someone waking up every morning, thinking about promoting the benefits of advance funeral planning (and helping people do it) is a strategy that can pay for itself very quickly!
Dean Lambert is the Senior VP - Marketing & Communications for Homesteaders Life Company. He is a frequent presenter at funeral association events and has published numerous articles on funeral home marketing and PR. Click here to learn more about the leadership team at Homesteaders.