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Identifying and Mobilizing Brand Advocates for Your Funeral Business

Posted By Danielle Burmeister, Homesteaders Marketing Communications Lead, Wednesday, March 21, 2018
Identifying and Mobilizing Brand Advocates for Your Funeral Business

 

Today’s consumers foster inherent skepticism toward traditional advertising. Instead, they prefer and rely on recommendations from people they know and trust. To effectively reach these consumers, you need brand advocates – individuals who have first-hand knowledge of your funeral home and can share their positive experiences through word-of-mouth referrals.

Your brand advocates are well placed to offer credible recommendations to their peers. They sing your praises to others in the community without incentives like coupons, discounts or special offers. They do it because you have earned it, and they are often your most effective recruiters, a compelling blend of advocacy and authenticity.

The most successful funeral businesses rely on word-of-mouth recommendations and testimonials to increase brand awareness in their community. But to truly capitalize on this valuable pool of promoters, you need to know how to identify and mobilize your brand advocates.

How do you identify brand advocates?

The most obvious place to look for brand advocates is among your client families. These individuals are well acquainted with your goods and services because they’ve experienced them firsthand. This makes them valuable sources of information about your business. However, not every customer makes an effective brand advocate. To ensure you’re focusing your attention on those individuals who are going to have the most impact on your business, you should identify customers who have had memorable and rich experiences with your funeral home.

Storytelling is an essential part of word-of-mouth recommendations for funeral businesses. No one truly wants to shop for a funeral – caskets, vaults, urns and monuments are not fun to buy. Very few people are going to be compelled to use your services because they hear you have an impressive collection of 18-gauge steel caskets. Instead, they respond to story-based recommendations that describe experiences and emotions. And the most effective stories are the memorable ones – the ones that get told and retold from person to person.

My family recently experienced two losses that illustrate the importance of memorable services. When my grandmother passed away, we planned what many of us think of as a “traditional” service: an immediate cremation followed by a visitation for friends and community members, a memorial service at the local church, a lunch reception at the community center and a short graveside service at the Veterans cemetery. While the day was certainly meaningful for my family, it was not necessarily memorable to those who attended.

When my cousin died a year later, we planned a very different service. We held the funeral in the high school gymnasium, with his name lit up on the scoreboard above a red bowtie – his favorite accessory. Every member of his graduating class wore bowties, even some of his coaches. During the service, dozens of teachers and friends shared stories, some sweet, others funny – all memorable. The luncheon afterward was even catered by his favorite barbecue restaurant. His service was memorable – so much so that many in the community are still talking about it three years later.

Consider the last 10 services you performed at your funeral home. How many of them were truly memorable? Can you picture attendees sharing stories from the service with their friends and relatives? Will people still be talking about that experience a year from now? Two years? Ten? If you’re not sure, you likely need to spend some time working with your staff on creative memorialization and personalization so that each and every family leaves your funeral home with a memorable experience that they are excited to share with everyone they know.

When looking for brand advocates, you should also consider the breadth of experience a family has had with your business. Someone who selected direct cremation is unlikely to have much to say about your funeral home – good or bad. They simply haven’t had much exposure to you or your business. On the other hand, consider the credibility and influence of an individual who met with you in a prearrangement setting for their spouse; interacted with your staff at the first viewing, visitation and memorial service; took advantage of your aftercare efforts; and then returned to plan and fund their own funeral. A customer who has this kind of rich experience with you and your staff is much more likely to be a loyal, informed advocate for your business.

How can you mobilize brand advocates?

Unfortunately, identifying your most effective brand advocates is the easy part. Learning to motivate and deploy them effectively is much more difficult.

To mobilize your brand advocates, you first need to build and nurture meaningful relationships with them. This first part is likely something that already comes naturally to you – after all, you work in a relational profession. You likely know many of your client families before they come in for an arrangement conference, and if not, you are skilled at establishing a connection with them within a few minutes of meeting. However, it’s just as important to continue to foster those relationships long after the immediate need has passed.

There are few tangible ways to do this. First, take advantage of as many fact-to-face interactions as you can. That means dropping off paperwork at a widow’s home instead of mailing it, offering to transport flowers to the family’s home so they don’t have to pack them into their station wagon, and taking time to greet your customers whenever you see them out in the community. You may even consider calling the surviving spouse three or four weeks after the service just to check in, or taking them out for coffee so they have something to look forward to once all their friends have stopped calling and visiting.

You should also leverage opportunities to continue to provide service to families through your existing aftercare. Make sure every family knows what’s available – newsletters, emails, grief support groups, etc. Let them know why they’re important and offer to connect them with others who have found value in participating in those programs. Whenever you have events at your funeral home, like open houses, memorial services or holiday events, make sure you invite your brand advocates. Attending provides them with more exposure to your business and gives them one more thing to talk about with their friends and relatives.

The last – and most important – step in mobilizing brand advocates is asking your client families for referrals. This is often an uncomfortable thing for funeral professionals to do, but it’s a key part of leveraging brand advocates to promote your business. Often, customers who have had great experiences with your business are already inclined to promote you in their communities, but it’s still a good idea to remind them that it’s a valuable thing for them to do.

When you ask for referrals, make sure you incorporate three things:

  • Explain why their recommendation is valuable. Talking about death can be uncomfortable for your client families, but you can help normalize it by encouraging them to share their experiences. I’ve found that the most effective way to do this is to focus on what they can do for other families: “Losing a loved one is difficult for every family – especially those who have never experienced loss before. You can help the people in your life prepare for the loss of their own loved ones by sharing your experience with them.”
  • Ask them to provide a testimonial or referral. Timing is important. If you already have a follow-up system in place (like a survey), that is the ideal opportunity to ask for testimonials. If not, follow up with families a week or two after the conclusion of services to check in and ask about their experience. If they have great things to say about you and your staff, encourage them to share their thoughts with others: “We’ve found that hearing from other families we’ve served helps others who experience a loss understand what they can expect when they use our funeral home. Would you be comfortable providing a testimonial about your experience?”
  • Let them know how/where to provide feedback. Decide how you want your client families to share their feedback. Ideally, they will be talking about your business everywhere they go. But it’s also a good idea to give them a concrete starting point – like your funeral home’s Facebook page. Once you’ve asked for a testimonial, make sure they know where to go to provide it: “We are honored you chose our firm to care for your loved one. Our service standard is to provide exceptional service to each and every family. If you feel we went above and beyond in our service to you, please share that on our funeral home’s Facebook page.”

One final note: The best way you can ensure you are identifying and mobilizing your brand advocates is to build the process into your standard operations. Make sure everyone on your staff understands the importance of providing memorable service to your client families. Train them to be on the lookout for individuals who have rich experiences with your firm and stories to share about your services. Then set expectations for how you will ask families for testimonials and ensure that every member of your team knows how valuable those testimonials can be for your funeral business.
 



Danielle Burmeister Danielle Burmeister grew up in an apartment above her parents’ funeral home, where she cleaned cars, arranged flowers, and played “Taps” for graveside services. Some of her earliest memories include family dinners squeezed between visitations and road trips to local and national funeral association conventions.

Now, Burmeister works as Marketing Communications Lead at Homesteaders Life Company, a national leader in providing products and services to support the funding of advance funeral plans. In her current role, she offers a unique perspective on blending the day-to-day demands of a funeral business with creative and comprehensive marketing strategy. Follow her on Twitter @burmeisterd1.

Tags:  consumers  marketing  public relations  storytelling  tips and tools 

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Why we're excited...

Posted By CANA Symposium Committee, Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Why We're Excited to Connect the Dots at the 2018 Cremation Symposium

 

This year’s Symposium will be our best yet. The committee and staff selected the theme, Connecting the Dots, to help attendees find success by combining critical elements of running a business into one comprehensive strategy. From beginning to end, we’ll build on the content presented, wrapping with a big picture view of how it all fits together.

In brief: The foundation comes from establishing and understanding the power of your story. From there, tell that story though your brand advocates or key staff and community members. Their online reviews leverage your position to improve your online reputation and get found.

Once you have their attention, keep it by transforming their interactions with you into something memorable, especially with the addition of a therapy dog. But none of this can succeed without evaluating these individual steps and making changes for continuous improvement.

We are so excited to bring these experts together for you in Vegas, we know you’re going to love it!


This event took the work of many people. Here’s what CANA’s Symposium committee members are excited about, and why you need to register now to join us at this remarkable event.


Jennifer HeadJennifer Head, CANA Education Director – I’m most excited for our Keynote Speaker, Kelly Swanson. Not only is she an award-winning storyteller who can take you right to the heart of a problem, she’s hilarious! Her message on crafting the right story is so critical for our industry right now. As I attended a presentation given by a different storytelling expert, I watched how, in a matter of minutes, she transformed a story that did nothing emotionally to one that tugged at my heartstrings and made me happy to buy.

That’s how you create brand advocates- people who tell your story for you. Because at the end of the day, it’s not about you. It’s about them. And you have to let them know that through your story. Don’t believe me? Let Kelly explain it to you at the Symposium. She’ll present two dynamic sessions at the conference, and whether you own a business or work for one, whether you are a practitioner or supplier, her message will resonate with you. I promise.


Lindsey BallardLindsey Ballard, Ballard-Sunder Funeral & Cremation – Our committee considers many options when selecting a hotel, and we’re excited to be returning to the Paris for a second year. The Paris Las Vegas Hotel is such a wonderful place to be when you're in Vegas. It's visually stunning, loaded with restaurants and entertainment, and the central location on the famed strip can't be beat. Our meeting rooms for the symposium are beautiful and provide the perfect ambience for our event.

Of course, I’m really looking forward to the Therapy Pet panel presentation. My dog Fletcher has been going through training to become a therapy dog at our funeral home, and I’ve learned a lot over the last year. He won’t be coming, but I have lots of pictures! Fellow committee member Robert Hunsaker as well as CANA member J.P. Di Troia will join me as we share our therapy dog journeys with you and provide some guidance about adding one to your team. We’ll also host one of the roundtables during the Coffee Klatch. I hope to see you there!


Sheri StahlSheri Stahl, The Island Funeral Home & Crematory – While CANA focuses on providing quality programming and exhibits, we also know that Vegas is the entertainment capital of the world. We like to end our evenings early, so you can continue the networking on your own as you go out and enjoy all that Glitter Gulch has to offer. Whether you hit the tables and slots, take in a show, or enjoy the variety of cuisine (and famous buffets), Las Vegas has something for everyone. And if you can’t decide, you can stay in and enjoy all that Paris has to offer. Personally, I can't wait to see all my CANA peeps!


Scott MacKenzieScott MacKenzie, MacKenzie Vault, Inc. – As supplier liaison for the CANA board and chair of the committee, my focus is usually on the exhibits. We have over 40 exhibitors committed to supporting you the same way you support families who choose cremation. CANA’s Symposium is the best place to learn about new cremation products and services.

Vendors from almost every area – technology, products, supplies, equipment, personalization and more – will be on-hand to show you what’s new and talk about what families are asking for as the personalization and DIY trend continues to grow. Your vendors are your best partners as your businesses continue to evolve to meet the demands of an ever-changing industry.


Barbara KemmisBarbara Kemmis, CANA Executive Director – And don’t forget, just for owners and managers, a new kind of event! The Art of Selling Cremation: A Preneed Summit

This one-day, highly interactive workshop places you with marketers and experienced providers to answer your questions and find new solutions to your preneed challenges. We have experts on using demographic data and targeting the right markets, advice on selling value over price with the staff you have or specialists, and stories from experience on administering and selling across multiple brands online and in-person.

We’re excited to see the discussions that emerge. Limited spots available, register now!

 


Why We're Excited to Connect the Dots at the 2018 Cremation Symposium

Join us for fun and quality professional development February 6-8 at CANA's 2018 Cremation Symposium! Register today.

Tags:  education  events  preplanning  storytelling 

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How Strategic Storytelling Is Key In A Crowded Market

Posted By Kelly Swanson, Wednesday, December 20, 2017
How Strategic Storytelling Is Key In A Crowded Market

 

My Grandmother’s Funeral

Five years ago we buried my grandmother, a deliciously bold woman who lived life on her own terms. I was her favorite, or so she said. I’m pretty sure it’s true. Everything that makes me weird (which I consider a blessing, by the way) came from my grandmother. I miss her smile, her warm hands that smelled of buttermilk biscuits, and her green beans that would leave a sheen of lard gloss on your lips for weeks.

I had the honor of delivering her eulogy being the only professional speaker in the family. (Yes, Aunt Myrtle, it is a real job.) As I stood at the podium, trying to sum up this woman’s 88 years on earth in 25 minutes, I looked around and realized that this was all wrong. None of this was what she would have wanted. The setting wasn’t right. The music was all wrong. People were bored. I’m pretty sure even Granny had stopped listening hours ago.

A stuffy room with plastic mauve flowers, green shag carpeting, and faded watercolor prints – well, it wasn’t my grandmother. She deserved something more than that. Something more to honor the fact that she was here. Something as unique as she was, to close out her chapter on earth. I found it ironic that we had spent a year planning my cousin Nadine’s wedding and a day planning my grandmother’s funeral. I had loved my grandmother for 47 years. Nadine’s marriage didn’t last six months.

After Granny’s service, a group of us sat around the fire in the lobby of the hotel sharing stories that made us laugh and cry, stories about the woman we knew and the woman we would miss. I’m pretty sure Granny was there the entire time, laughing harder than any of us. At some point we stumbled into a conversation about how we wanted our own funerals to be. The typical kind of conversation that happens when death stops your normal routine and makes you face your own mortality.

We all described our most important last wishes ranging from “nothing fancy,” to “please put me in this dress,” to “sprinkle me across the lake behind the mountain cabin and make sure it’s not windy that day so my ashes don’t go flying back into your face.” I made it quite clear that I wanted a big turnout, with lots of music (a roaming harpist would be nice) and some professional wailers, just to make sure everybody is certain of how much I will be missed. I want high drama. Standing room only, heavy hors d’oeuvres, and please show clips from my best speeches. Make sure they give me a standing ovation, and you can probably sell some of my books in the back. Hey, what can I say? I’m a motivational speaker. It’s what we do.

My ability to make people laugh, inspire them, move them, teach them, change their perspective and heal their heart, has never been about the points I teach, but the stories I tell. My entire career and every amazing door that has opened, was opened because of my ability to tell a good story. No amount of data or information can impact on an emotional level like a story can. Master that skill and you can master any job.
Kelly Swanson

As I sat there listening to the stories, I saw how passionate people were about how they wanted to be ushered out of this world – how they wanted their story to end. Each story was as unique as its author.

The funeral home did everything they said they would do for my granny. It was a perfectly nice service. They did all the right things. And yet, I’m pretty sure that not one person in that room will seek them out in the future. Why? Because the funeral home told the wrong story.

Why Story Matters to Your Business

Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.
Seth Godin

Hello CANA. Kelly Swanson here. I’m a motivational speaker and a comedian, which means I tell you that you can do anything and then I tell you I’m just kidding. I’m delighted and honored to be spending time with you at your 2018 Symposium as your keynote speaker and strategic storytelling expert. I’m even more delighted that I get this opportunity today to say a few words about a subject I have been studying my whole life – storytelling.

There’s no question about it, no matter what our industry, we are all fighting for business in a crowded market – to get customers and keep them, to get our employees to do more with less and be happier doing it, to convince our buyer of a need they don’t realize they have, to be stronger leaders crafting a lasting legacy, and to keep our business relevant in the face of constant change and uncertainty. And, in your case, trying to make a lasting impression when often you are the last thing on their mind.

Wow. No wonder we’re stressed. I’ve faced these issues in my own business and so have hundreds of other audiences I’ve visited over the years. All of these issues have one thing in common – influencing people. Yep. Getting people to do what we want them to do. No matter how much the playground changes, the game hasn’t. Our business success is in direct correlation to how well we influence people.

The ability to articulate your story or that of your company is crucial to almost every phase of enterprise management. It works all along the business food chain. A great salesperson knows how to tell a story in which the product is the hero. A successful line manager can rally the team to extraordinary efforts through a story that shows how short-term sacrifice leads to long-term success. An effective CEO uses an emotional narrative about the company’s mission to attract investors and partners, to set lofty goals, and to inspire employees. Sometimes a well-crafted story can even transform a seemingly hopeless situation into an unexpected triumph.
Peter Guber, author, American film producer & executive and Chairman and CEO of Mandalay Entertainment, from HR Magazine September (2008)

The way I see it, we are all sales people. Like it or not, we are trying to influence people all day long – whether it’s to get someone to date us, hire us, do business with us, trust us, give money to us, or simply getting our kid to clean up his room. We’re all in the business of persuasion. Every person who works in your company has the ability and opportunity to influence someone else – to affect the brand, the mood, and the culture of the business. Many of us already understand that. But where some of us miss the boat, is the next step…understanding that influence is emotional.

I’ll explain the science behind all of this to you when I get there, so let’s skip right to the thing you need to know most: If influence is like sales, then the cardinal rule of sales applies – that people buy from people they like, trust, believe, and feel like they know.

Like. Trust. Believe. Know. Take a look at those words. Those words have nothing to do with what you make people think and everything to do with how you make people feel – about you, your brand, and themselves. People buy based on emotion but many of us don’t get there. We stay on the surface. We miss that deeper opportunity to go beyond communicating to connecting.

Authentic connection is the key strategy in business today. No matter what you’re selling, where you’re selling it, or how you’re getting the message out – giving them the facts alone doesn’t work. It’s the reason why some win and some lose without ever understanding why.

Don’t Believe Me, Ask Around

I’ve been polling people in every audience where I speak. I just spoke for a college admissions group so I polled parents and students who’ve been on recent college tours. My goal? To find out why they chose the one they chose.

I’ve polled buyers of healthcare, insurance, beauty products, financial planners, attorneys – you name it – and while they were all looking for something different, their reason for choosing who they did were consistently the same. They chose the one they connected with emotionally.

As soon as I found out I would be speaking for you, I conducted another survey with my social media groups about you: your businesses and the services they’d experienced there. I gathered their stories and studied the reasons some were happy and some weren’t. Again – it was all about connection.

That’s what we’re going to talk about when I come visit. I’m going to share with you the best (and perhaps only) tool that will connect with anybody you want to influence – STORY.

Kelly Swanson

Many businesses have already figured out the value of strategic storytelling, or at least they think they do. But they are still not connecting with their buyer. Why? First, because they don’t really know what a story is – how to craft it and how to use the tool to get a desired effect. They’re basically just telling stories because someone told them they should. Many people talk about storytelling, but few can really teach it. Second, many businesses are telling the wrong story or, at the very least, an unfinished story. You may think it’s just about telling the world your story. But it’s not. There are actually three stories you should be telling.

That’s enough for you to chew on today. If you understand why connection matters over communication, you’ve got enough to think about. The next step is how to use story to do it. We’ll go deeper into it later – my six secrets to connecting and my story formula to help you craft stories that convince and persuade – at CANA’s 2018 Cremation Symposium. Just remember this: No matter how technologically advanced we get, or how much the playground changes and shifts quickly under our feet, the truth still remains the same – this is a people business. It’s about relationships. It’s about creating authentic connections. Focus on that, and the rest will fall into place.

Want to read some more articles or continue the conversation? Find me on LinkedIn.

I can’t wait to meet you at convention and swap stories. Buckle up, because it’s going to be an exciting ride!



Kelly Swanson sponsored by Batesville
Join Kelly and CANA at the 2018 Cremation Symposium to learn how you can set your business and yourself apart with the power of storytelling. Register soon for your chance to be in the “hot seat” and develop your story live, onstage with Kelly Swanson! Sponsored by Batesville.

Connect the Dots with us, February 6-8 at Paris Las Vegas at the 2018 Cremation Symposium.

Kelly SwansonKelly Swanson is an award-winning storyteller, motivational speaker, comedian, expert guest on The Fashion Hero TV show, author of Who Hijacked My Fairy Tale and The Story Formula, and a strategic storytelling expert. In addition to making people laugh, motivating them, and helping them tap into the passion and purpose for what they do and why it matters, she teaches them how to use story to raise their level of influence. She is a keynote speaker and workshop presenter at the 2018 CANA Symposium. www.MotivationalSpeakerKellySwanson.com

Tags:  public relations  storytelling  tips and tools 

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