Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, June 17, 2020
Updated: Monday, June 15, 2020
Lately, we’ve all had to reassess the way we do things. Talking to people in your community is different now that most of it isn’t done face-to-face. Fortunately, you can still make meaningful connections, just a in a new way. We must now lean more heavily than ever on technology to connect with our communities.
During social distancing, the ways you used to engage and connect with your families don’t always work, but you know grieving families need your support now more than ever. Grief just can’t wait, and families need you as a guide. As a funeral director, you’re already a problem solver, so think about lending support to those grieving in a way you never have before. Think differently, and think digitally.
Here are five strategies to engage your community virtually during social distancing so you can continue to serve your families in an effective and valuable way.
1. Host virtual events
If events were part of your marketing outreach before the pandemic, make them part of your efforts now, too. Just make them digital. When you plan digital events, thinking outside the box goes a long way. We’ve seen a number of firms use digital events to engage with their community and keep their outreach going. For instance, you can use inexpensive apps to engage your community online. You can learn more about how Guam Windward Memorial did just that in this interview using digital scavenger hunts coupled with community bingo sessions.
These fun-focused events engage your community and highlight your brand rather than directly marketing preneed or at-need services. When creating virtual events focused on engagement, spend a little time brainstorming things your community likes to do and how you can create a digital space to come together around those things. It could be a sport, a community landmark, or a recurring community event like a parade.
If you are ready to dive back into preneed events, hosting digital ones provides an opportunity to personalize your education more than you did in the past. When you host an in-person preneed event, most firms need to reach a broad audience for better attendance since in-person events take more resources (cost, set up, time, etc.) than digital ones. However, when hosting a virtual preneed event using a video conference call, like Zoom, less prep is required so you can hyper-focus your event. Consider promoting events specifically catering to the needs of a target audience: veterans, religious groups, recent widows or widowers, or any other specific group in your community.
Personalization like this has been proven more effective because people feel you are speaking directly to them and meeting their specific need. Thus, hosting smaller, highly targeted video events increases your chance of winning these individuals over.
2. New ways for people to connect:
Online donation options and digital grief classes
People need each other when they are grieving. Social distancing doesn’t have to stop the connection your community members make with each other after a loved one passes. Think about creating new opportunities for grieving families to receive support using virtual options. For instance, if you’re seeing fewer flower sales since the pandemic, consider adding other donation options. Several companies offer a donation tool that allows people to donate toward gifts or services (we are one of them) and community members love being able to contribute in a new way.
Donations can be made to help the family defray funeral costs, for a meal at home from a favorite local restaurant, for groceries, toward an at-home cleaning service, or for keepsakes or memorials. Having multiple options allows your community to choose what resonates with them, and you are the perfect facilitator to connect a grieving family with this act of kindness from the community.
Many funeral homes offer grief support as part of their aftercare program. Some offer grief support groups. If you’re used to facilitating in-person grief support, take these groups online during times of social distancing. Experiencing a loss during a time when families already feel isolated can make the pain feel worse. Talking about their grief with others will give people the chance to connect around shared experiences. Video services like Zoom or UberConference can be used for these virtual meetings.
3. What works on social media during a pandemic
Your voice on social media is powerful and important. Your families need your reassurance and guiding words to remind them that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and that you’ll be there every step of the way with them. Your typical educational content-based strategy still works, but think about adjusting the perspective in a few ways.
You want to remain thoughtful, positive, and informative with the content you share online. Make sure you are up-to-date on facts you post and always double-check your sources.
Beyond being educational, you can use your social media to inspire and spread hope. A few topics we’ve seen perform well with people during a crisis are inspirational or religious quotes, stress relief tips, coping mechanisms, and helpful resources around mental health and grieving. You can, and should, post details about your pandemic safety practices, changes to your services, hours, etc. on social media, too. However, that should not be the only thing you post.
4. Incorporate email to deepen the conversation
Although social media is a great place to initiate conversation with your families and stay in touch with them, not every message fits the same media channel. As you make connections through social media and other marketing campaigns and build up your contacts, you need to know when to move that conversation to a more private channel.
Your community is happy to see your inspirational posts on Facebook, and these posts are an important part of a solid top-of-mind strategy or conversation starter. Next, you want to deepen the conversation and build a stronger relationship. To do that, you need to move things to a private channel. Enter: a stronger email marketing plan.
Email marketing can help bridge the gap between connections on social media and an in-person or phone meeting. Using email to draw people in with a more meaningful message allows you to create a more personal conversation. Plus, people feel more comfortable sharing details about themselves or asking questions via email than on a Facebook post.
Ideally, you’re already sending a newsletter to your email list. In addition, segment your audience into different categories so you can send additional emails targeted at their specific interests. Some categories might be: Christians, recently widowed, veterans, losing a parent, losing a loved one to addiction or overdose, etc. Creating segmented email campaigns build connections, because the message resonates with their specific experience.
Pro tip: Include links on other topics in each email and see what people click on. This will give you even more information on what people in your community want to learn about.
5. Offer virtual services and teach people how to attend them
In navigating this strange new world together, we all have to adapt. Putting on a digital funeral service may be new for you; it’s probably new to your community, too. They need guidance on how to participate in digital services. Just as in-person funeral services help your families realize the finality of their loved one and really begin the grieving process, it’s important to share that digital services offer similar value.
Teach your community the importance of digital services. Also offer them tips on how to attend and participate, such as:
- Create a video tutorial showing people how to use Zoom or whatever video or conferencing platform you are using to stream services.
- Encourage people to share tributes online under their loved one’s obituary before the service starts.
- Provide an opportunity for people to share a pre-recorded video tribute to the family if they can’t attend.
- Encourage community members to reach out to the family in attendance with a quick text or phone call beforehand to express condolences; these before-service points of contact are crucial for support.
- Encourage people to reach out to the family after the service, too.
- Explain how friends and family can send flowers, donations, or keepsakes to support those closest to lost loved one.
- Remind friends and family how valuable and appreciated stories and memories of the loved one are. Sharing these can help the grieving heal.
And of course, give digital attendees clear information about when the digital service will begin, and invite them to join 5 minutes before the ceremony starts to get acquainted with the streaming service. Does your stream offer comments? This would be a great place to lead families who want to show their regards for the family during the service. It’s an easy and unobtrusive way to participate while the digital service is taking place.
Technology and change
You have the power to take control of the shift we face and challenges ahead. By using technology to virtually reach your families, you will stand out in your community and connect with new people. The next few months will surely bring new challenges and rapid changes, but keeping an eye on technology solutions – and being willing to adopt and implement them quickly – will help you keep serving your community no matter what happens next.
For inspiration on how to make meaningful, remote services, read celebrated Celebrant and instructor Glenda Stansbury's recent post. Download the free Ceremonies to Celebrate Together From Afar Resource for Challenging Times from Glenda filled with ideas on how to bring your families together.
Last week, CANA hosted a webinar with customer service expert Lacy Robinson You Got This! Practical Ways to Serve Families During COVID-19. You can watch a recording for free, and other recorded webinars, on CANA's website.
Heather McWilliams Mierzejewski brings marketing and additional writing expertise to the Funeral Innovations team. She previously covered breaking news, politics, and religion for print, digital and radio news outlets before slipping journalism’s tentacles and diving into the digital marketing world. She spent the past 3+ years at a digital advertising agency working on marketing and content solutions for adidas, Reebok, and Chipotle among other brands.
When not on the prowl for killer marketing stories, Heather spends time with her active kids and rides her bike on the Colorado byways. She’s always looking for new riding buddies.
tips and tools
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, February 19, 2020
Updated: Friday, February 14, 2020
More than 200 years ago, Benjamin Franklin said, "It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it."
A version of that is still true in today's digital marketing world. It can take many online mentions and a buildup of goodwill to develop a strong reputation. And while a single slip — or even a single negative review — won't bring the metaphorical walls of your deathcare firm down around you, online reputations can be fragile things.
One way cremation providers and other deathcare businesses can safeguard their online reputations is via proactive review management. That means actively encouraging clientele to leave reviews online while also interacting with those reviews in positive ways.
Why Are Online Reviews So Important?
It's no longer an option for any business to ignore the presence of online reviews. Local service providers in any industry are especially beholden to reviews. That's because almost all people (97 percent) read reviews as part of their research when choosing a local company.
Here are some other stats that drive home the message that reviews are must-haves for successful online marketing:
- According to BrightLocal, consumers consider review ratings when choosing a link from local search results.
- Review signals help you rank in Google local pack results, increasing your exposure in search results (aka SERPs).
- More than 90 percent of consumers say online reviews impact their purchasing decisions.
The Role of Online Reviews in Reputation Management
Simply getting seen online isn't always enough. Plenty of celebrities have had their careers derailed by scandals that pushed them into the limelight more than any of their positive achievements did.
You obviously don't want to be the deathcare firm that goes viral because your online reviews are terrible to the point of hilarity. But you also don't want to get fewer calls because a few online reviews make you appear less caring than your competitors.
The first scenario is unlikely; the second is very likely if you're not proactively managing online reviews. Here's why:
- More than 85 percent of consumers say negative reviews impact their buying decisions.
- Reviews are critically important as your target audience moves from Boomer and Gen X to younger generations; people age 18 to 34 trust online reviews as if they were personal recommendations from friends.
- Close to 90 percent of consumers look for and read a business's responses to reviews.
- Consumers want to engage with firms that have a 3.3-star rating or higher.
Improving the Quality and Quantity of Your Online Reviews
The takeaway here is that the overall quality of your reviews matters. And because it's unethical (and also banned by Google) to put measures in place to stop people from leaving negative reviews, cremation service providers and other deathcare firms must take additional actions to protect their online reputations.
The first step is to provide stellar service to all families. I'm sure you're already doing that, so I'll cover the other two steps for proactively managing your online reputation via reviews:
1. Try to get more reviews.
It's a numbers game based on the law of averages. If you need a 3.3-star rating or higher to help ensure people feel comfortable contacting your crematory, a handful of reviews can be dangerous. But if you have a large number of 3-star to 5-star reviews, you can weather several 1-star reviews without your average rating suffering.
A regular stream of reviews also demonstrates that your firm is active and serving plenty of clientele. Around 40 percent of consumers only pay attention to reviews from the last few weeks for exactly this reason.
Other reasons to chase more reviews include:
Most consumers want to read at least 10 reviews before making a final decision about a business
- Having more reviews will help your SEO
- Someone is almost 300 percent more likely to purchase services from you if you have just five reviews, as opposed to no reviews
How do you get these reviews? Simple: You ask for them. BrightLocal notes that close to 70 percent of people will leave reviews if they are asked nicely to do so. And you don't have to ask everyone; hedge your bets by requesting reviews from families that seem satisfied with your services.
2. Interact with your reviews
Leaving the review machine to its own devices isn't an option even after you've achieved a significant number of reviews. People expect to see businesses responding to reviews. Engaging with negative reviews in an effort to correct an issue actually helps increase your brand reputation in many eyes.
Plus, not all reviews are fair or true, and you can take action to report fake reviews or address untrue statements so other consumers are aware of your side of the story.
The conclusion is this: Crematories and other deathcare firms can't be passive about online reviews. They've become a critical part of online reputation, and how consumers view you through the lens of their internet search often determines whether or not they reach out to you for preplanning or at times of need.
Welton Hong, is the founder of Ring Ring Marketing® and a leading expert in creating case generation from online to the phone line. He is the author of Making Your Phone Ring for Funeral Homes, 2019 Edition.
Posted By Barbara Kemmis,
Wednesday, December 4, 2019
The pace of change driven by consumers is the greatest challenge facing funeral service. No option has fallen off the menu, and yet more options pop up each year. How is it possible to create or reposition a business to fulfill these diverse requests? The 70 practitioners, suppliers and explorers who convened in Albuquerque in October 2019 for the First Ever Green Funeral Conference were up for the challenge. Their interactive and engaging experience is challenging to reproduce in a blog post, but there is too much great content not to share.
Passages International was the obvious sponsor for this Conference. However, some potential speakers and participants and social media commenters—and even members of the media—weren’t so sure why CANA was hosting. Cremation is widely considered to be more environmentally friendly than traditional burial, but where does it fit on the continuum of green funeral practices? That is the kind of conversation I like to start. CANA doesn't shy away from hard questions, or from asking those questions of itself. We're proud to provide the space to have these frank discussions and attract the right voices to contribute.
Set the Stage
Since this was the first conference of its kind created for funeral directors and cemeterians, it was important to establish context and the intention to be inclusive in our definition of green practices. I will attempt to follow the flow of the conference in this post. Glenda Stansbury served as our emcee and she set the stage from the beginning, establishing that this conference was an exploration of green practices along a continuum. In that spirit, I invite you, dear reader, to identify where you are on that continuum. Are you a light spring green with plenty of traditional burial and cremation offerings? Or maybe you offer eco-friendly products, but want to promote more family participation and natural burial? Are you a deep forest green and all in? This post is an opportunity to learn more about the Conference content and how it may apply to your business and community.
Ed Bixby, owner of Steelmantown Green Burial Preserve and President of the Green Burial Council, kicked off the Conference with a presentation describing the wide range of green burial practices he employs in his cemeteries and has seen around the world. He challenged the audience to recognize that the spectrum includes traditional burial as well as established businesses seeking greener practices—including cremation. Yes, the attraction of green burial is related to environmental concerns, but it also appeals because it is simpler, involves less fanfare, and facilitates enhanced participation from mourners. Ed said, “Participation changes everything. You have the right to care for the dead the way you feel they should be cared for.” He challenged us—and I extend the challenge to you—to shift the mindset. You can work within regulations and laws, but you can reconceive the services you offer to families. In CANA language, "find a way to get to yes for your families."
During Ed's presentation, the topic of embalming came up. Why are embalmed bodies excluded from green cemeteries? Is this based on science or policy? Embalmers in the room shared why embalming remains an important tool for some families, but others expressed the belief that preserved bodies had no place in a green cemetery. While no consensus was reached, it was refreshing to hear so many opinions and suggestions respectfully discussed. However, many questions remained unresolved:
- People are buried with medicines in their systems and implants in place—so why is embalming prohibited?
- Should formaldehyde-free fluids influence policies?
- If embalming is required in order to transport a deceased person from the place of death to the natural burial cemetery, what happens then?
- If green practices aren’t defined by law, but rather by policies and preferences, where do you land?
Next, Darren Crouch and Kilian Rempen of Passages International joined the conversation by discussing green products and marketing tactics to help businesses remain relevant and profitable. In the 20 years since Darren founded Passages International, he has learned many lessons. His customers are serving families that value green, but also unique and beautiful options. Darren asserted that the challenge of incorporating green options into businesses should feel familiar. It is similar to the challenge of embracing cremation 30 years ago. It was once controversial to add cremation to the sign in front of your funeral home and commonplace for funeral directors to send the rare cremation customer down the street to the cremation society. Ignoring cremation didn’t turn out well for funeral service, so Darren challenges funeral practitioners to not repeat past mistakes.
Darren offered practical advice, such as offering scatter-friendly urns for the 50% of your cremation customers who intend to scatter. He argues that scattering does not equal low-end, but rather that an urn that contains cremated remains for a time can be used as art or to hold keepsakes after scattering. Darren echoed Ed’s message of changing your mindset to envision new offerings.
Put It Into Practice
Once attendees considered the various aspects of green funeral practices and started to plot their positions along the continuum, they heard from cemeterians and a funeral director who have added them to their operations.
Jody Herrington described her success in converting funeral home selection rooms to include green merchandise. She acknowledged how overwhelming it seems to offer yet more options in an already crowded space. Jody shared that her success was directly linked to the communities she has served and their green values. Incorporating local artists along with eco-friendly products and more familiar caskets can be appealing, but every community is unique. You know the communities you serve and should reflect that knowledge.
Jody posed a challenging question for me to hear – Is cremation a fall back? At this point some of you are probably nodding your heads in recognition, but I didn’t get it at first. Jody asserted that when faced with traditional burial caskets and merchandise, some consumers know they don’t want that so they fall back to cremation. Her experience showed that offering more eco-friendly merchandise and caskets resulted in more personalization and more sales to a satisfied customer. This leads me to wonder if green burial will slow the cremation rate increases we have seen. Only time will tell.
Our practitioner panel featured Donal Key and Linda Canyon of La Puerta Natural Burial Ground, Gracie Griffin of Bellefontaine Cemetery, Salvador Perches of Grupo Perches and Recinto de la Oracion, Ed Bixby, and Jody Herrington—continuing the conversation around green burial practices and tips for creating and offering green options in existing cemeteries. It is impossible to summarize the rich content generated by the discussion between panelists as well as with participants. Each panelist shared specific examples of practices they employ to promote participation and innovate new traditions. The questions from participants did touch on business models, pricing, training and incenting employees to dig graves and assist families to dress their loved ones. The key takeaway is that you can get to yes with families. It may take more time and creativity, but you can and should do it.
Next up was Tanya Marsh, a professor at Wake Forest University School of Law, who examined the legal trends surrounding green burials and green cemeteries. Tanya presented a framework for understanding green funeral trends. She started by sharing the macro trend of consumers looking for more control and input while also seeking authenticity and a meaningful experience. This is a trend influencing all aspects of our lives. And it poses a challenge for funeral directors and cemeterians who are typically risk-adverse.
Tanya outlined considerations to take into account when considering something new – i.e., natural burial or a new disposition.
Does the law prohibit it? The dead have rights, so that must always be considered, but there is very little cemetery law on the books.
- Are you in a gray area where there is no particular law prohibiting or allowing? If the law doesn’t say you can’t, then you can, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences for moving ahead without permission from the funeral or cemetery board or coverage from a court order.
The example she gave was natural organic reduction, commonly referred to as human composting. Washington state law explicitly stated that burial, cremation and removal from the state were the legal forms of disposition. This meant they needed to change the law in order to pave the way for a new form of disposition. In states that don’t affirmatively identify the forms of disposition, a court order or opinion from the board or attorney general may pave the way.
Tanya led a free-wheeling Q&A session that touched on grave reusage, family participation, disinterments, indigent cremations, and what happens when cemeteries are abandoned.
The last sessions focused on consumers’ experiences and insights. Gail Rubin shared her perspective on consumer views of death and mourning and emphasized the ongoing theme of promoting participation and education.
I moderated two manufacturer panels—Luis Llorens of US Cremation Equipment and Paul Seyler of Matthews Environmental discussed the environmental impact of cremation and made presentations on the macro and micro impacts of cremation on the environment. This warrants its own blog post and one is in the works for publication in 2020. Stay tuned!
A second panel, with Sam Sieber of Bio-Response Solutions and Nicki Mikolai of Resomation America, discussed the science and practical application of alkaline hydrolysis. There was significant interest in alkaline hydrolysis among the participants, with some current and future practitioners represented. The questions from participants ranged from inquiries about the fundamental science, presence of radiation and mercury, to viewings and zoning challenges.
Legally, alkaline hydrolysis is considered to be cremation, but the process that occurs in the machine is completely different than flame-based cremation. Does that make it greener? That depends on the formula that is used. Is there a lower carbon footprint? Yes—or probably. Fewer fossil fuels are used to heat the water or dry the remains, but water and chemicals are used—so how does one account for that in the green calculation?
While more questions were raised than answered on the overall environmental impact of all dispositions, Sam did point participants to an important a recent study conducted in the Netherlands by Elisabeth Keijzer, who attempted to calculate the true costs of different types of disposition. Sam presents a useful framework for understanding the various environmental impacts and “shadow costs” discussed in the study.
Consumers are significantly ahead of funeral directors and cemeterians in seeking, performing and creating greener end-of-life options, so this conference represented an opportunity to engage in facilitated conversation, query panel presenters, and learn from leading experts. All walked away with practical ideas to implement now, and probably some ideas they considered but discarded for their own businesses. Here are three of my takeaways.
Takeaway #1: Definitions Matter
Language matters and it was important from the beginning to tackle some tough topics in order to facilitate open conversation and advance our collective understanding. We named this meeting the Green Funeral Conference to encompass a variety of green practices, and people came with many different ideas and opinions on what “green” truly means. However, everyone left seeing the full continuum of green funeral practices.
So, what shade of green are you or do you aspire to be? Have this conversation with your staff and seek to understand what your community wants or will respond positively to. And then have this conversation with your vendors to educate yourself on more eco-friendly options. Figure out your carbon footprint and how you can offset or reduce it.
Are your own policies and procedures standing in the way?
Takeaway #2: Everything Old is New Again
For cremation, it took a few evangelists (and 100 years) to make cremation a tradition. Green funerals are completely different. For some, the practice is cultural tradition and anything else is desecration. For others, it's an attempt to mitigate their carbon footprint on the world by removing external interference (letting nature take its course). So, whether it's to save money, to save the planet, or to honor tradition, it means every option, every time. And providing that is hard work.
You know your communities and have served them for the length of your career or possibly generations of your family. Incorporating green funeral practices does not mean starting over from scratch, but it does mean shifting mindsets. You may consider following the path you took to embrace cremation.
Takeaway #3: Start now!
It took nearly 150 years, but cremation in the West evolved from a European fad to the dominant form of disposition in the US with the help from multiple types of leaders. First came the evangelists—those spreading the good news of the hygienic and aesthetic virtues of cremation. Then came the practitioners who formed CANA as a forum to share best practices and promote the practice of cremation. Those practitioners innovated products, technology and services to support cremation practice. Many of these practitioners ultimately formed companies that supplied practitioners nationwide. As those companies matured and merged and competitors formed, cremation products and services further developed to support the industry.
Will green funeral practices follow a similar pattern? Probably. Likely following a significantly shorter timeline, but it certainly will happen, thanks to a similar mix of contributors. Yet again, consumers are leading the way by demanding greener funeral practices. The participants and speakers in the Green Funeral Conference represented a mix of champions of funeral practices along the continuum, both current and future practitioners.
This conference was a true meeting of minds and collaboration in exploring green funeral practices. I'm proud of the conversations that happened at this meeting and have attempted to capture some of the content and the spirit of the event.
Consumers will continue to require and expect a wide range of options from you and your businesses. These expectations will evolve and advance as the media reports the unfolding story. CANA and Passages are planning the second Green Funeral Conference to provide an ongoing forum for practitioners to explore their responses to consumer demands. In the meantime, you can access the Green Funeral Conference content online. Most importantly, you can share this post with your employees and hold your own conversations about how you can incorporate green funeral practices in your business.
Want to learn more from the presenters and participants in the Green Funeral Conference? This is the shameless plug to buy the recordings and join in the conversation from the comfort of your office. Learn more: goCANA.org/GFC2019
Recent CANA research shows that cremation customers are less interested in body-centric products and services, and instead seeking experiences to honor a life lived. The presenters hadn’t seen this research at the time of the Conference, but their experiences and advice supported these findings. If the consumer wants to focus on the person and not the body, are you prepared to support with your services and merchandise? This research on "The Cremation Experience" took the cover story of the most recent issue of The Cremationist and will be featured in issues and blog posts throughout 2020. Join CANA to read the magazine, consistently voted the most popular benefit of membership, or follow The Cremation Logs blog to get the reports as they come out!
Barbara Kemmis is Executive Director of the Cremation Association of North America.
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, November 20, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, November 19, 2019
When I started in this profession, in 1991—remember there was less use of the internet then—funeral homes and cemeteries relied on loyalty and location to promote their businesses. Funeral directors and cemeterians were all involved in the local rotary clubs and chambers of commerce to connect with their communities. I’ve known a few funeral directors who even attended services at more than one church each week. That’s my memory of community outreach programs of that era.
In 1996 or 1997, I was working for Wilbert Corporate. One of our licensees in Minneapolis called me and said, “Julie, come with me tomorrow night because one of my clients is having their first-ever cremation seminar for consumers.” He and a Batesville representative were planning to talk about burial for cremation. I was so impressed with what I saw. That night, from 6-8pm, McReavy Funeral Home in Minneapolis had about 50 consumers come in, mainly couples, and the Batesville representative talked about cremation in general and the different things that you could do, and the Wilbert representative talked about burial as one of the final placements for cremation. Then, in one of their visitation rooms, they had products set up with coffee and soft drinks, and consumers could roam and talk. I was so impressed, I still talk about it to this day because I’m passionate about education, and to see that back then was wonderful. And that is just one example of effective community outreach.
Now, you all know that we live in a transient society and there are a lot of people who do not currently live in their hometown, so getting your company out there is more important than ever. When CANA asked me to facilitate this presentation, I started doing a little investigating. I was very surprised and happy to see some of the unique, creative community outreach programs that our profession is putting out there. You should all be really proud of yourselves. These events help to educate consumers that never would have known the different things that you do, so they can go, have some fun, learn something, and visit your business in happier times.
I have gathered some examples from CANA members on their successful community outreach activities. We’ll focus on events hosted by companies ranging from smaller firms to larger cemeteries. Our hope is that you don’t sit there and say that you can’t do that because you don’t have the time or the staff, but get sparked by interest and inspiration to do something—even something smaller in scale.
Why is community outreach important for funeral homes, cemeteries, and crematories?
1. Educate the Public
There are so many people who want to be cremated, but they’ve never done it in their family before and they don’t understand. Being able to educate your community—it’s going to help—because when they come in they’re going to be better informed about their options.
A lot of the things we do, because we have so many active senior centers in our neighborhood, is to either visit them or have events at our locations. We have found that, when we get them out of their element, you can have a lot of fun and you can educate them. Afternoon Movies is exactly that. We partner with a senior center, they promote it by email, newsletter and bulletin to their members, and we meet up at the movies about a half hour before the show time. Then, we introduce Mountain View and educate the seniors on the value of preplanning. We keep it fun and they love the chance to see the movie for free, so they’re happy to listen. A lot of the local movie theaters are happy to let groups in on an otherwise slow Tuesday afternoon. We buy the tickets, popcorn, and soda, and they get the movie and information.
– Elisa Krcilek, Mountain View Funeral Home and Cemetery: Mesa, Arizona
2. Promote Volunteer Participation
How many of you in your firms have volunteer participation? I would think there would be a lot of you. Individuals all have their own different causes that they want to be involved in, and encouraging volunteerism means giving back to the community that you live in. I’ve read articles which state that many large corporations now are promoting that their staff do volunteer work and even paying for them to do so because they realize the importance of it. It’s also a stress reliever to have staff do something that they’re passionate about, and you know in our profession there is a lot of stress.
Cremation Society of Illinois has 10 different locations in and around the Chicagoland area. We attend health fairs, street festivals, and other expos near each location. We’ve opened it up to all staff so that, if they see something in their town, they are encouraged to sign up for it and attend. We provide information on pre-arranging and show different items for memorialization, and we really have great conversations with people who are looking to do something. It’s great to get staff out in the community and spend a couple hours outside talking to people.
– Katie Sullivan Frideres, Cremation Society of Illinois: Chicago, Illinois
3. Boost Brand Awareness
This is no surprise.
We’ve been doing Wreaths Across America for several years and it’s a really great opportunity to reach out to the community and get them involved sponsoring wreaths that can be placed in our cemetery. The community member can place the wreaths or a volunteer will do it for them. We have a small service in our chapel where the wreaths for each branch of the military are placed in front of the chapel. It’s very touching service. Everyone processes out as a bagpiper plays and we have someone speak and place the first wreath. Each year it continues to grow.
– Megan Field, Evergreen Memorial Gardens: Vancouver, Washington
Our staff works very closely with many hospices in our area, so every month we choose both a hospice worker and volunteer of the month, which includes presentation of a cash award and a plaque. At the end of the year, we have an annual banquet for the hospice network we work with and we honor a caregiver of the year. This connects our business and staff with hospice and attracts press.
– Jerry Roberts, Flanner Buchanan Funeral Centers & Crematory: Indianapolis, Indiana
People see funeral home at an expo and think “ew, I’m not ready for you” or “I’m not going to die, I don’t want to talk about that.” So we needed to figure out how to attract people to our booths at community expos. We hired a massage therapist who gives a 10 minute massage, and while people are waiting in line, we get to talk to them about what we do.
Similarly, parades are a big deal for us. We never pass an opportunity to get in front of everybody. So we pass out candy and our information as well. At the end of the parade is usually a luncheon that we help sponsor so that we get 5-10 minutes to talk about our business. Our staff sits in the luncheon and answers questions from the community who attends.
– Elisa Krcilek, Mountain View Funeral Home and Cemetery: Mesa, Arizona
4. Provide a Non-Death Experience
A lot of people haven’t been to a funeral home or cemetery in a long time, and they don’t want to go. You’ve experienced this: they consider it to be gloomy and depressing. By providing community outreach events in our profession, what we’re doing is bringing the community in in happier times. That way, when they see you, they’re not only going to think that this is where you go only when there’s been a death. You keep a connection with them throughout the whole year besides just when there’s a death of a loved one.
Some of the establishments are embracing celebration events that are not death related such as weddings or other family gatherings hosted in their venues. These are bringing people in for a non-death situation — it says you can have fun here too.
When we opened our pet crematory, we wanted to do something that would get the word out besides advertising and social media. So we decided to do this Doggie Wash at our facility in front of the funeral home and pet crematory. With my staff’s help, we had over 200 people attend and we washed over 75 dogs. I personally got to wash a 180-pound mastiff and learned quickly that there are places you don’t want to touch him. We invited some vets, we had a groomer there, someone micro-chipped the dogs, and it was a really fun event and a way to know more about our business. We served hot dogs (we thought that was appropriate) and ice cream and it was a great time.
– Rick Snider, Baker Hazel & Snider Funeral Home & Crematory (Snider Pet Crematory)
Of our locations, we have one in an artistic and trendy area, so we choose an artist and let them bring in their works and display them throughout the funeral home. We put the art in our event rooms, the lobby, and throughout the building and then host an evening event, typically a Friday from 6-10pm, with live music, in-house catering and beverages, and the artist present to discuss the art. The art hangs for a month and we will sell the art for the artist. We have new artists several times a year and attract 400 people to these events.
– Jerry Roberts, Flanner Buchanan Funeral Centers & Crematory: Indianapolis, Indiana
Spring Grove Cemetery hosts Chocolate in the Chapel, an event that continues to grow year after year. We open the property and provide chocolate and coffee on a Sunday. Staff go out into the community and ask the local bake shops and confectioners to come and set up their tables with samples. People can taste and buy sweets. The vendors are assigned a famous individual buried at Spring Grove, called a Sweet Connection. It’s primarily women who attend the event, and they receive a handout about the famous person and the location of their grave, all branded with Spring Grove information. We attract about 350 people to a historic chapel which they can also rent for private events like weddings.
Moonlight Tours came about because there were quite a few incidents where security guards had a hard time getting people out of the cemetery at sunset. So we said, “Why not make an event out of this?” Tours are held between 9-11pm on full moon nights in July and we use a lot of volunteers because we organize twelve different tour groups, each with flashlights on different paths.
– Julie Burn on behalf of Gary Freytag, Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum: Cincinnati, Ohio
5. Enhance the Well-Being of the Community
Almost every facility has some type of remembrance program: Valentine’s Day, Winter Holidays, Thanksgiving, etc.
All of Roberts Funeral Homes locations are small combos, and for Memorial Day we partner with the boy scouts every year. About 15-20 kids come out on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend and place flags in the cemetery. We teach them to properly fold and raise the United States flag to provide a lesson on respect and the standards for the flag. They earn a badge and a good experience. Where staff would take days to place the flags, the kids accomplish in a few hours, running through the cemetery and getting hugs from the old ladies laying flowers. Their parents come out and we feed everyone pizza and pop.
Memorial Day Services take a bit more time because we put a program together. We have a pastor, a speaker who’s served in the military, and a couple high school students do a reading. It’s a great program that we’ve kept up for 60 years, which pre-dates the age of our cemetery. It’s a fun event, made more entertaining with families who come back on a celebration day when they’re not grieving. The widows come back to give us hugs and we build stronger relationships between the community and the cemetery. It offers an opportunity to showcase our cremation options – not a sales pitch, but to touch them with a service.
We’ve been doing an Easter Service about the same length of time. There are a lot of people who don’t go to church anymore, who don’t want to do church, but they come out to our Easter Sunrise Service because it’s not in a church. We’ll have a different pastor come out every year and do a little program about Easter on Easter morning. We’ve had as many as a couple hundred people, and as few as 75 depending on the weather. We have an inside/outside service. People are very picky about it – some people want to come out and watch the sunrise (and we’re in Cleveland and it’s often cold) so half sit outside and others sit inside the chapel. We have a piano player and singer and it’s over in about 30 minutes with coffee and donuts.
Our Luminary display is new. Our local Lions Club started a luminary project, and, when I heard about it, I said that we would co-sponsor and host it at the cemetery. We’d talked about having something like this at the cemetery but it’s difficult to get it started. The Lions Club put together the sales program and promoted it to the community, we included an order form in our Fall letter with options on placement at their loved one’s grave, on the path, or at our discretion. Many people would buy several, some to take home and some to keep at the cemetery. We had about 60 dozen, and it really only took our staff 30 minutes to light. People drove through the cemetery on Christmas Eve to enjoy them. It was difficult to get staff to volunteer because it’s on Christmas Eve so it requires more staff commitment. Some of our staff took ownership of it, bring their families out to make it a new tradition – light the luminaries on behalf of the families together.
– Alex Roberts, Roberts Funeral Home: Wooster, Ohio
The Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery is often considered too far to visit by our families, so we decided to host a bus tour to get our families out there to see the beautiful cemetery. We started with a local senior center, and we work with a local veterans group, and we filled the bus. We sponsor the entire event, coordinate with the cemetery to arrange a tour guide, and fill the bus every time we host it. The guide introduces them to the cemetery, explains benefits veterans receive from the government, and it provides an opportunity to get their name out there.
We do a luncheon every year around Veterans Day (not on the holiday – we found we competed with local restaurants offering free meals to veterans). We’ve done it for more than 7 years. We used to hold it at our funeral home, but it’s gotten so large that we have to rent a local church’s hall to hold everyone – around 150 people. We host the event ourselves, but invite local hospice centers and veterans groups to speak and explain their resources. We hire performers to sing and entertain at the event.
– Katie Sullivan Frideres, Cremation Society of Illinois: Chicago, Illinois
Promoting the Outreach Programs
To many, traditional media means an ad in the local paper or a direct mail piece, but this is not where you’re going to get the most impact. Email newsletters are good, but only reach the people who already know you. I always opt for websites and social media, and you’ll all agree, these are the avenues that we should use to promote our events. Some funeral homes and cemeteries will include “events” or “community” in their main navigation to place these activities front and center.
With social media, you can reach the community and let them know what you’re doing—and it’s less expensive than traditional media. Plus, it offers the opportunity to talk to the community – to thank them for participating in an event, for supporting you, etc.
In closing, a lot of these programs might be intimidating. You may think you don’t have the resources, you’re not big enough, etc. You have to start by thinking that you can try just a piece of it, just a small component at a time. As Tony Robbins says:
Stop being afraid of what could go wrong and start being excited about what could go right.
…with your community outreach program.
Looking for tips and trends on planning your next event? Check out our Accidental Event Planner posts for resources to bring your next community outreach event, or your next service, to the next level.
This post is excerpted from Julie A. Burn’s facilitated discussion on Utilizing Community Outreach as a Communication & PR Tool at CANA’s 2017 Cremation Symposium. CANA Members can get even more ideas to inspire their community outreach programs from our Technical Paper Library, compiled from their colleagues at the 2017 Cremation Symposium.
See what we have planned for CANA's 2020 Cremation Symposium and join us in Las Vegas February 26-28, 2020.
Julie A. Burn is a cremation specialist with over 28 years of experience in the funeral profession. She has served as the director of cremation services for StoneMor Partners and the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association and as the manager of cremation services for Wilbert Funeral Services. Burn served on the board of directors for the Cremation Association of North America from 2000-2003, and currently serves as a consultant to CANA on their educational online training program. Julie holds the designation of Certified Cremation Executive and Certified Supplier Executive and is a Certified Celebrant.
Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, September 11, 2019
Updated: Monday, September 9, 2019
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The future is here, and it's mobile.
In many ways, mobile advertising has transcended print and television ads. You might see an advertisement between watching YouTube videos on your smartphone or between games of Words with Friends. Companies are using mobile marketing to get your attention wherever you look.
Smartphones are the new frontier for digital marketing; here's why that matters for your deathcare industry business:
Mobile Phone Usage
Businesses in all sorts of industries are spending more on mobile marketing, and for good reason. In an increasingly mobile world, mobile marketing has a clear advantage as use grows. If you have a smartphone (as you almost certainly do), the fact that consumers spend more than five hours a day on their mobile device will not come as a surprise.
Think about it like this: You need to advertise where people are looking. If people spend a large portion of their day on their phones, spend accordingly.
Almost 20% of internet users in the United States use a mobile phone only so they can browse the internet, according to a survey by eMarketer. That number will only grow as people continue to move from desktops to smartphones.
Factor in that over 80% of internet users use a smartphone and that half of web traffic was mobile in 2018, and the importance of focusing on mobile advertising for the deathcare industry feels necessary.
And that's just for casual users. Let's consider potential clientele. We know that many people spend a large portion of their time on smartphones. There are now almost 4 billion unique active mobile internet users. That's nearly half of the world's population.
Eighty percent of those active users shop on their smartphones. They don't simply shop for for products, of course. They shop for services, and that includes cremation and related deathcare services.
Perhaps the most important statistic about mobile usage isn't how consumers are using their phones, but rather how tech giants think about it. For instance, Google has maintained a "mobile-first" indexing policy since as early as 2016.
That means Google considers the mobile version of your business website first—over the desktop experience—when determining how to rank it in search results.
Mobile Marketing Strategies
The trend toward mobile has been talked about for many years now. Marketing strategies bend toward what attracts consumers, and mobile-friendly marketing is certainly an inflection point.
Mobile marketing, at its simplest, simply means marketing via smartphones and tablets—including delivery channels such as email, SMS messaging, push notifications, in-app advertising. That's just a small sampling of the options.
Any effective marketing campaign must consider mobile advertising on some level. The top strategies being used by small and large businesses alike include:
- In-app mobile marketing: This is essentially what it sounds like: marketing that takes place inside an application on your mobile device. These advertisements can be deployed through the applications, in the loading screen, or perhaps as a sidebar advertisement.
- SMS mobile marketing: This type of mobile marketing has been around for a while (starting in the early 2000s). The most common use of this type of mobile marketing is to generate inbound marketing leads for your deathcare business or to communicate promotions/events.
- Push notifications: When we think of push notifications, we are generally thinking about Facebook or other social media applications. A message is waiting, so we receive a "push notification" with the app's icon on our smartphone. For marketing purposes, push notifications are great for keeping a conversation going and for client retention.
- QR codes: This might feel a bit dated, but QR codes that can be scanned by a mobile camera are still very much in use. The appeal for advertisers is that it combines physical and digital marketing techniques. Where other mobile marketing strategies are intuitive practices for your average smartphone user, QR codes remain more difficult to deploy.
- Mobile search ads: In many ways, mobile search ads are the gold standard. Users see these advertisements when they search for related products and specific keyword phrases. Location services can also allow for an optimized experience for your potential clients.
Regardless of the strategy you choose to employ, there are a few best practices to consider. Given that mobile marketing is about targeting prospective clients in a personal way, it's vitally important to keep your particular audience in mind.
Precision and optimization matter as well, because limited space translates to a need for nuance, and mobile marketing requires making sure it looks good on a mobile device.
Give clients a reason to engage with you! Strategies are constantly changing, so it's important to benchmark your results to understand if and how your strategies are benefiting your deathcare business.
Welton Hong, is the founder of Ring Ring Marketing® and a leading expert in creating case generation from online to the phone line. He is the author of Making Your Phone Ring for Funeral Homes, 2019 Edition.