Gaining exposure, stretching marketing dollars and establishing credibility can be an ongoing challenge for funeral professionals. Unlike many industries, marketing a funeral business requires a level of sensitivity that can be difficult to achieve solely through “traditional” advertising methods.
Fortunately, we’ve seen a significant increase in the power of earned media in recent years, providing funeral professionals with a powerful tool to help amplify and finetune their marketing strategy.
WHAT IS EARNED MEDIA?
Let’s start by looking at the different types of media: owned, paid and earned.
Owned media is anything that is owned and controlled by your brand. Often, owned media is what we think of when we look at the core functions of your marketing staff: blogs, videos, newsletters, promotional material, webinars, email marketing, etc. If you are solely responsible for creating the content and distributing it, it’s owned media.
The second type of media is paid media, or any type of promotion that you pay a third-party to distribute through an exchange of money, services, information or resources. When people think of the advertising “Mad Men” of the 1960s, they are thinking of paid media like print ads, outdoor advertising (billboards or bus ads), newspaper ads, tv spots and direct mail. Today, most paid media is digital – pay-per-click ad campaigns, targeted social media ads, website ads, etc.
Earned media is something you neither control nor pay for. The easiest way to understand it is to categorize earned media as publicity or even free advertising. Earned media includes things you would think of right away, like media mentions, interviews and appearances in trade publications. But it can also include a fair amount of word-of-mouth buzz generated by online reviews, social media mentions and face-to-face recommendations.
WHY DOES EARNED MEDIA MATTER?
The U.S. Small Business Administration recommends spending 7-8% of your business’s gross income on marketing. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, in 2021 the median cost of a funeral with a visitation and burial was $7,848 and the median cost of a funeral with cremation was $6,971. In theory, a firm that does 100 calls a year with the average breakdown of burial vs. cremation (36.6% burial, 57.5% cremation) at the median service amount should be spending at least $48,000 on funeral home marketing each year. This will obviously vary based on your marketplace – the level of competition, the demographics, your current market saturation, etc. – but it’s a good benchmark to get you started.
If your firm is like many that work with Homesteaders, spending 7-8% of your income on marketing can feel steep when you’re already struggling to attract and retain staff, keep up with rising inflation and meet the increasing demand for cremation.
Earned media is an effective way to stretch those marketing dollars. When done well, earned media can help you generate positive word of mouth in your community that is often even more effective than traditional advertising methods at little to no cost.
HOW TO LEVERAGE EARNED MEDIA
How you use earned media will vary by your market, but there are a few common ways to get the attention of influencers in your community.
1. Online Reviews
This is one of the most powerful forms of earned media, though it is often not the first thing that comes to mind. When you encourage satisfied families to leave a positive online review about their experience, you are increasing your business’s visibility, leveraging the power of word-of-mouth referrals (which are often more trusted that paid or owned media) and increasing your overall online review score which helps you gain the attention of prospective families, local influencers and journalists looking for subject matter experts.
2. Influencer Marketing
There’s been a significant rise in influencer marketing over the last decade, largely driven by social media. However, influencers don’t need a large social presence to be effective. Think about individuals in your community who are admired by the families you hope to serve. Religious leaders, educators, politicians and community organizers often have broad networks of people who need the services of a skilled and compassionate funeral provider. Building relationships and connections with those who lead in your community is a powerful way to secure earned media.
3. Media Mentions
This last example is likely what you think of first when you hear about earned media. Media mentions are things like press releases that run in the local paper, interviews as a subject matter expert, even articles you write and have published on your behalf in a trusted publication. These types of mentions take time to generate and require skilled relationship building to ensure you’re top-of-mind when a local newspaper or TV station is looking to fill column inches and airtime.
Keep in mind that earned media doesn’t have to be a cookie-cutter addition to your marketing strategy. You will find that the more creative you get with it, the more impactful it will be for your firm. For example, when my dad was still working full-time as a funeral director, he would invite the local basketball team to have dinner at the funeral home and watch game footage in the chapel after. Many of the parents and coaches were influencers in their community, and that small gesture generated a lot of positive word-of-mouth for the funeral home. He also hosted an annual prayer breakfast for leaders in the community and regularly delivered treats to the local news outlets.
The best approach to earned media for your business is one that is tailored to the community, the influencers and the messages that resonate the most.
Interested in learning more about earned media for your funeral home business? Join me at the ICCFA’s Annual Convention and Exposition in Kansas City later this month for an hour-long deep dive.