In 2004, Al and Laura Ries published The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR, introducing what was then considered a radical new approach to marketing. The father-daughter pair argued that, in order to remain effective, marketers had to address the needs of today’s consumers, rather than those of consumers who were making the majority of the buying decisions in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Consider the following excerpt:
“The weakest link in any advertising program is its credibility. An advertising message has little believability with the average person. Advertising is taken for what it is – a biased message paid for by a company with a selfish interest in what the consumer consumes.”
Modern consumers are more aware of marketing tactics and strategies than any former generation. These consumers understand that advertising is paid for by businesses to sell their products and, as a result, harbor inherit skepticism regarding traditional marketing. Advertising is no longer effective, the Rieses argue. Successful marketers need to navigate an entirely new landscape – public relations.
For funeral professionals, this shift marks a divergence from traditional types of advertising – newspaper, radio and direct mail – toward more relational marketing efforts. Community events, testimonials and aftercare are all great ways to combat consumer skepticism while still effectively communicating the value of funeral services.
“If someone calls you on the phone and says, ‘You don’t know me, you don’t know my products, you don’t know my company, but I would like to make an appointment to try to sell you something,’ you would immediately hang up the phone. On the other hand, if someone calls you on the phone and says, ‘You are a customer of Saks Fifth Avenue, and Saks is having a cocktail party to introduce a new line of designer clothes,’ you might be tempted to show up. Saks Fifth Avenue has credibility in your mind. It’s a name you know.”
One of the most effective ways to communicate the value of funeral service is to first communicate the value of you and your business to your community. When consumers attend a free lunch and learn at your funeral home, they perceive you as an expert in funeral service. When they see you sponsoring a local scholarship competition, they perceive you as a generous advocate for education. When they run into you at the local diner, they perceive you as a supporter of community-owned businesses. End-of-life care is deeply personal and highly sensitive. Once consumers see you as a valuable member of the community, they are much more likely to trust you with the care of their loved ones.
A 2015 survey of Homesteaders policy owners found that the majority of consumers – 72 percent – considered only one funeral service provider when making their final arrangements. When you and your staff are active in the community, you increase your name recognition and the likelihood that your funeral home will be top of mind when consumers finalize their end-of-life plans.
Hosting funeral home milestone celebrations, planning holiday memorial services and engaging in on-the-street marketing are all ways to boost your name recognition while simultaneously adding value to your community.
“Most people determine what is best by finding out what other people think is best. And the two major sources for making that determination are the media and word of mouth."
Today’s consumers may not trust advertising, but they do trust their peers. That’s why political candidates encourage supporters to put yard signs in front of their houses and why companies like Redbox reward fans who like, comment and share branded content on social media. This year alone, Yelp.com has been visited nearly two billion times by consumers who want to learn about their peers’ experiences before finalizing their own buying decisions.
Peer recommendations are far more effective with today’s consumers than traditional advertising. Communicating the value of your services through someone in the community is one of the most effective ways to lend credibility to your business.
Consumers want to learn about other people’s experiences and they also want to share their own. Think about the last time a friend asked you about your favorite television show. You probably named the show and then took a few minutes to explain what you like about it and what motivates you to tune in each week. You shared your thoughts with a level of enthusiasm that matched your level of enjoyment. Essentially, you endorsed the show as a way of trying to “sell it” to your friend. You had nothing to gain from this conversation other than the satisfaction of sharing your own enjoyment with someone who might benefit from the same experience.
Think about the families you have served this year. Are there any that stand out as having been especially pleased with your services? Consider following up with these families and asking them to share their experience with other community members. Chances are, they will be more than happy to offer advice to other grieving families. And, having been so well satisfied with your firm’s funeral services, they can become invaluable brand ambassadors for your business.
“It’s an axiom of the advertising industry that you need to reach everybody… With PR you give up the luxury of reaching everybody in favor of reaching somebody who counts.”
The goal with every marketing effort should be to reach the right person with the right message at the right time. When you place an advertisement in a newspaper, you often don’t know exactly who you will reach. Ideally, your ad will find its way to a baby boomer who is finally ready to complete his or her end-of-life plans. But your message could just as easily reach a 19-year-old college student who’s not at all ready to consider funeral planning.
Targeting is a particularly effective component of marketing, one that your firm can easily manage through a thoughtful and effective aftercare program.
Our policy owner research consistently identifies the recent death of a friend or family member as a powerful motivator in making end-of-life plans. As a funeral service provider, you are uniquely qualified to reach out to these individuals in the months following the death of a loved one, offering the grief support they need, underscoring the value of funeral service and introducing the benefits of prearrangement.
Aftercare is an important part of a funeral home’s marketing efforts. Staying connected with families who have used your firm before helps you generate testimonials that can offer value to consumers. It also fosters brand loyalty, helps you stay connected and ensures that you remain top of mind when these individuals need further care.