By Glenn Gould, CEO of MKJ Marketing

Consumers rely on websites and apps for almost everything these days, so why would we expect anything different in the deathcare industry?

While it’s unlikely that traditional funeral services will be arranged online, simple cremation lends itself to e-commerce.

In fact, we have seen this model proven through investment-funded technology company Tulip Cremation. Tulip is spreading quickly across the U.S. – offering one package for simple cremation, low prices, and easy planning through its website.

However, online cremation is not for every funeral business because it demands a progressive mindset with an interest in expanding to serve diverse aspects of the deathcare consumer. It also requires being comfortable with technology.

Contemporary deathcare businesses want and need to serve all segments of their community to protect market share and to secure future business. The greatest challenge in serving all segments of a diverse consumer base is to minimize overhead costs. It’s just not practical to build a discount funeral home facility and a minimum cremation office. This is why so many local funeral homes are investing in online cremation arrangement websites.

What should I offer online?

With so many active cremation arrangement websites, we are beginning to see what works and how best to market them. One of the most significant findings is that the online customer wants to keep it simple and tends to purchase the simplest packages.

Because funeral homes are accustomed to offering ancillary services both to better serve families and to increase sales and profits, many initially include additional services and products on their website. Depending on the market, this can be a good strategy for increasing the average sale. For some markets, primarily large metro areas, it is better to keep the options streamlined.

How to market an online service

There are two fundamental branding strategies:

  • Promote as an extension of an existing funeral business
  • Promote as a stand-alone business

The recommended strategy is to name the online business differently, while promoting the online arrangement website as an extension of the existing funeral business. This will reduce advertising costs and accelerate the online business. The name should be chosen with search engine optimization in mind, as well as competitive analysis.

The primary reason for operating the online arrangement as an independent business is to avoid having to explain the price difference between the funeral home and the website. Most businesses – including auto dealers, hotels, apparel, appliances, etc. -offer lower price options online. Because there is a clear difference between a do-it-yourself option versus a full-service funeral home, the justification for the lower price is self-explanatory.

Best practices for staff

Even if the business starts out as a stand-alone business, sooner or later, the public will learn who is sponsoring the website. Interested consumers will call the funeral home with questions about this new death services option.

The best situation is to designate one individual staff member to take all inquiries about the online service.

However, all staff members should be prepared to differentiate the online service from the funeral home service. To demonstrate the difference between the higher-priced funeral home service from the online package, there should be a chart that contrasts the services provided.

Staff training for the new business should be mandatory. Funeral directors are trained from mortuary school on how to deliver quality service, but the online business is for simple cremation. Staff should only get involved in the arrangement process when a family chooses that option on the website and agrees to the additional “professional assistance” fee.

It is important the website includes a section for families with an at-need situation. There should be a 24-hour phone number that families can call if a death has occurred. Otherwise, the family might send a notification via email.

Handing first call

Many businesses handle first call just as they do with their funeral home. You can use the same team and the same vehicles – at least until the new business generates so many cases that it demands and justifies a separate first call service.

Even though the first call team is the same, this does not mean that the first call service is the same. It’s important to maintain a clear and definable difference between the funeral home service versus the online arrangement service.

How to price your services

The number of cremation businesses has grown over the years, and most of them tend to differentiate themselves by offering the very lowest price – often pricing below their actual costs. Most of these businesses do poorly. Just as with discounting, branding, or any other marketing objective, building a successful online business is a process. 

Instead of being the lowest-priced service, it is better to have competitive pricing but with sufficient margin to afford advertising.

The target audience is affluent, well-educated consumers that have ready access to the internet and can afford to put a significant charge on their credit card. These fundamental requirements eliminate the lowest-income segment of the market. The affluent population wants simple cremation, but they also want the peace of mind of knowing the deceased received dignified and professional treatment. 

How to advertise the service

The internet is not democratic. Instead, search algorithms report the sites where consumers have gone in the past. The challenge for any newcomer to the business is to elevate their site in the search results. 

The online business will need promotion to get started, as does any new business. The more promotion, the faster the online business will grow.

Promotional elements should include a press release to explain the new service, why it’s being offered, and how it better serves the consumer.

Because the internet is crowded, the website will benefit from search engine optimization (SEO) and social media. Television is always productive and is recommended if your budget allows.

Do I need a separate facility?

It is not typically necessary to operate from leased or storefront office space to begin the online cremation business. In fact, the objective of the online service is to minimize overhead expenses with additional staffing or offices. Initially, there will be more phone calls, but over time, there will be fewer and fewer calls. 

Some states require forms to be signed in person, which requires an office for consumers to meet with a funeral director. For efficiency and to reduce cost, this can be an office in a funeral home.

It’s not critical, but it certainly is an advantage if the funeral home operates its own crematory. The public has learned the advantages of not having their loved one transferred to another business, sometimes out of the county or state, for cremation. Since the website presents the online business as a “cremation specialist,” the consumer expects you to provide a total service.

Interested in learning about a strategy for an online cremation business? MKJ Marketing has assisted funeral homes across the country to brand, plan, and launch e-commerce cremation websites. Schedule a free web demo or call 888.655.1566 for more information.

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