By Leader Contributor Glenn Gould, CEO of MKJ Marketing
Most funeral businesses have a long history of public service and participation within their communities. Marketing and promoting funeral businesses have evolved over the generations based upon the technology available at the time, but the fundamental purpose of the promotion has always been to maintain contact with the firm’s clientele.
For decades, a funeral business’s clients represented the proprietor’s ethnicity as French, Italians, Germans, and other groups began to settle within communities. Promotion to these populations was person-to-person at churches, lodges, and fraternal organizations.
As ethnic identity began to fade and populations related more to the melting pot, promotion evolved to various forms of media — from church bulletins to local newspapers, radio, television, billboards, and public relations. But the objective remained the same: Maintain contact with the families in the area.
The digital revolution has changed the media but not the objective. Technology has created new opportunities as people and industries find their place in the digital economy. Just like earlier media served specific purposes, so does digital technology; digital media employs “high tech to maintain high touch.”
COVID-19 has restricted many of the public relations programs funeral homes would have employed to maintain contact with the public; even the simple act of going to a country club, a fraternal organization, or a pancake breakfast has been curtailed.
There has always been a reluctance to visit a funeral home to participate in services for a friend or relative. The pandemic has elevated this hesitancy to real fear — the fear of contracting a deadly illness. For this reason, a funeral business’s website has become the digital front door as most families will visit a funeral home website before calling them for information, followed by a phone call and a physical visit.
So how do we make the website more approachable? Organic search is similar to the Yellow Pages or directory listings. When the consumer is shopping for services or products, the search begins with Google. It is far more democratic than the Yellow Pages, as it is open to every competitor, not just those purchasing advertising space, and the information provided is not based upon the size of the ad. Instead, Google lists the funeral homes meeting the searcher’s requirements.
Pay-Per-Click (PPC) ads serve the same purpose as display ads in the Yellow Pages. Lesser-known businesses or new businesses purchase PPC to gain prime location on the search results page. PPC ads have proven to be most successful for e-commerce cremation arrangement websites, as most of the businesses are new and need visibility from consumers as well as algorithms. Over time, PPC ads will give way to SEO as the businesses gain recognition.
Social media combines public relations and advertising. One reason funeral directors and owners frequent restaurants and clubs is to make themselves accessible to families. Just as doctors are asked health-related questions and lawyers are asked legal questions, funeral directors are asked about deathcare issues in these casual environments too. Social media makes this same direct contact available online. Instead of waiting for direct mail, social media encourages pre-need questions every day with the expectation of an immediate response. As such, consumers and advertisers have higher expectations from digital media than they would from direct mail, newspaper, or any other media.
Reviews represent word-of-mouth advertising. Senior retirees have depended upon one another for business references ever since they started moving to California and Florida to retire. From dry cleaners to butchers, insurance agents to funeral homes, retirees have always asked their neighbors for recommendations. They probably still do, but they also seek reviews and testimonials online. Reviews can be a challenge for funeral homes, just as they are for every professional service, but there are techniques for generating reviews. The fact that many funeral homes receive few — if any — makes the reviews even more valuable for the firms making the effort to generate reviews.
Geofencing offers accessibility no other traditional or digital media can. It literally takes your message inside hospice facilities, competitive funeral homes, hospitals, monument stores, or any physical location a consumer might visit — or even a special event such as a senior services or health care event. If a consumer’s phone is on while they are in the targeted location, they will receive your advertisements for days on their telephone. There is no other media to compare with geofencing, and it’s not particularly expensive; certainly, a lot less than a newspaper campaign of 70 placements annually.
All of these platforms and technologies offer tremendous opportunities, but the only way to generate results is through effective application, which is both a creative and technical challenge. Many digital marketers have the technical knowledge to place your ads, but they lack the funeral industry knowledge and creative capacity to create effective ads. PPC, website design and copy, social media, and geofencing all include advertisements, which involve video, copy, and still photos. Social media has moved on from advertisements with verbiage only. The preference is for video, but creative photography will also work. Just as you can create a newspaper ad with weak copy and graphics, you can waste a lot of money running poorly constructed advertisements on social media.
One might think creating a PPC ad or Facebook ad is simple, assuming anyone can write or post an ad — but every word and placement matters so much. Understanding the research and data behind what these ads can convert is critical, or you’re just running bad ads with no results.
Many funeral homes already have a social media profile, so they assume they have Facebook covered. However, without effective paid advertising incorporating high-quality video or graphic art designed to raise brand awareness, attract leads, or send traffic to your website, digital advertising can be a waste of time and money … and you may never find out what you’re doing wrong.