The Future of Funeral Home Marketing is Inbound

The Future of Funeral Home Marketing is Inbound

Do you have too many telephone prices shoppers? Do you ever have a family come in and make arrangements, say they need to think about it, and end up going to a competitor who undercut your price. Most funeral home would answer yes to both questions.

In this article, I will introduce you to a style of marketing that may be new to funeral homes but has proven to be successful in a wide variety of industries including healthcare, legal professionals, financial advisors and many more. The best thing about this style of marketing is that it positions you as the expert and dramatically reduces the number of price shoppers.

Recently, I made my a presentation to a small group of funeral home owners and opened with the bold statement that “99% of all funeral home advertising was a complete was of money”. I let the statement hang in the air for about 30 seconds to see if anyone would comment. There were shocked faces and a lot of nodding heads. Finally a man sitting in the back said “We know that. Now tell us what to do about it”.

For the next 30 minutes, I showed them examples of Inbound Marketing; a different style of marketing in which you use educational content and social media to develop a loyal following of people who know, like and trust your funeral home. I contrasted Inbound Marketing with Traditional Marketing and showed them the benefits. The main benefit is that it creates your own community of loyal followers who would never consider using another funeral home regardless of the price.

Eventually, the same man called out “I know how to write a check to the Yellow Pages sales rep but I have no idea how to do what you’re describing”.

IM Roadmap whiteboardTo illustrate my point, I headed to a nearby whiteboard and listed seven components of Inbound Marketing. I went through every component, describing the purpose and the various tasks involved. By the end of the meeting, everyone understood how to take advantage of Inbound Marketing and stop wasting money on old school advertising.

In this article, I will give you an overview of the Inbound Marketing Roadmap for Funeral Homes. For a more detailed explanation, attend my Inbound Marketing presentations at the 2015 ICCFA and NFDA conventions.

Step #1 – Personal Education.

In the small group presentation I mentioned earlier, I made the mistake of assuming that most funeral home owners were already familiar with Inbound Marketing. Joe Joachim, CEO of FuneralOne, and his marketing team have been blogging about Inbound Marketing for at least 4 years. If you don’t already follow his blog you should.

Do the following Google search and you will find all of his related articles.

Site:blog.FuneralOne.com “Inbound Marketing”

It’s important to understand that Inbound Marketing is not just changing the funeral industry. It is literally changing every industry in every sector of the economy. The driving force behind Inbound Marketing is the expansion of the internet and how it has fundamentally changed how consumers shop for all products and services.

One of the companies leading the revolution is HubSpot. The founders of Hubspot, Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah, authored the book Inbound Marketing; Attract, Engage and Delight Customers Online”. I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of this book and make it your Bible.

You know about my website FuneralSuccess.com but you may not know about Customer Driven Marketing, Inc which is my internet marketing agency focused on Inbound Marketing and serving a wide variety of industries.

Let me tell you about one of our Inbound Marketing success stories. It is www.MichiganPoolNews.com which is a blog we created for Aquatic Source Inc., the largest commercial pool service company in the state of Michigan.

We launched the blog in 2009. Prior to that, Aquatic Source had sales people making cold calls, went to trade shows and spent a lot of money on direct mail. Today they’ve built up a loyal following of customers and prospects who read Michigan Pool News regularly.

All we have to do is publish an article or video that talks about a new product or service and the phone starts ringing. The best part is that, because they see Aquatic Source as being trusted experts, they are not price shopping, they’re asking good questions and placing their order. That’s the power of Inbound Marketing!

Step #2 – Strategy & Master Plan.

The business strategy supporting your Inbound Marketing transformation is critically important. Developing this strategy consists of answering two key questions.

  1. How are we unique in our local market?
  2. What existing or new causes or initiatives do we want to support?

You might think you are already unique. But let me ask…do you have price shoppers?

The reason you have price shoppers is that from the perspective of that family you are no different from your competition. You are both funeral homes. You both offer funeral and cremation services. You both seem professional enough. Unless you can give them a really good reason to choose you, it’s only logical that they would go with the lowest price. Right?

bistro signOne of my favorite examples of having a great unique strategy is Don Carson at Carson & Son Funeral Home in Maquoketa, IA. Don was on vacation and stopped into a coffee shop. As he looked around at the comfortable setting Don decided that he wanted something like this in his town. With that in mind he remodeled a room at his funeral home which had a separate entrance and called it The Bistro at Carson & Son.

The Bistro was an instant hit with families but business really took off when Don began offering his unique One Last Party ™ services at The Bistro. He has since added One Last Toast ™, One Last Ride ™, One Last Round ™ and many more service packages. Don has created options for families who were not interested in a traditional funeral but still wanted to hold some form of event.

The second strategic decision you need to make is which existing or new causes are you going to promote online? If the only thing you talk about in your blog posts is activities at your funeral home you are going to lose followers as fast as you get them. The internet is a very social community and like any social situation if the only thing you talk about is yourself people will be turned off.

Instead this is an opportunity to expand the conversation and show how you are really trying to make a difference in your community. idrivetextfree.com is an amazing example of how a funeral home can be the catalyst for social change. Fred Cook from Cook Funeral Home & Cremation Services in Grandville, MI developed this concept in response to a rising number of teenagers dying while texting and driving. Check out the video on his website and you will understand the power of championing this type of cause. This is not about promoting his funeral home, it’s about using social media to change society and save lives.

The Master Plan component of this step in the process involves the following;

  1. develop a profile of the ideal person that we would like to connect with online
  2. outline a body of content that will appeal to that person
  3. define the suite of inter connected internet properties that you will use (e.g., website, blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  4. establish guidelines for engaging people online (e.g., who gets to respond to a comment and with what tone)
  5. create a high level content calendar for the entire year and a detailed calendar for the next quarter
  6. map out a specific process for following up with people who have expressed interest in your content
  7. establish the success criteria (e.g., # of followers, # of pre-need leads, etc.)
  8. identify the team and resources necessary to implement the plan

Step #3 – Internet Properties.

Your Internet Properties consist of the following;

  1. Website
  2. Blog
  3. Social Media sites
  4. Content Distribution tools

Your website is the core of your Inbound Marketing system. The key part is your obituaries and they’re ability to go viral across the internet. You could write an amazing obituary for a very important person but if your website does not provide the right functionality people will not be able to share it and the obit will not go viral.

Do a Google search on “Harry Stamps obituary” and you will find articles on CNN, CBS and other media outlets talking about how this obituary went viral and was shared over 16,000 times. The obituary is an amazing piece of writing but it only went viral because the website made it happen.

The next Internet Property is your Blog. This is a place where you will be able to post your great content. For a funeral home I generally recommend that you do not attempt to integrate your blog directly into your main site. Instead put it on a separate website. The reason is very simple…you want people to stay on your website and read all of your content. I have personally tested in over and over again and people do not read articles when there is a list of obituaries beside the article.

The good news is that this type of blog website costs a small fraction of what your current funeral home site is costing you. If you are paying more than $25/month for a blog site you are overpaying.

The next set of internet properties to set up are your Social Media sites. This includes Facebook, YouTube, Google+, and Twitter. There are other sites you could use but those are the core sites to start with.

For each of those site you will want to create your account, setup your profile, and create images that match the color and style theme of your main site.

For Content Distribution I recommend an online tool called Hootsuite. This is a very inexpensive tool which allows you to set up the content in one place, schedule it and automatically distribute it to all of your internet properties at the right time.

Step #4 – Valuable Content.

You have your Internet Properties in place. Now it’s time to start creating some Valuable Content. The term Valuable is very important. Writing content that no one reads is a waste of time and money. The content must be something that your target audience will find interesting enough that they will actually read it and look forward to whatever your publish next. Hopefully you addressed this when you developed your master plan!

Now is the time to go back to your master plan and start producing your content in accordance with your calendar. Here are some general guidelines for the content.

  1. Keep the length of it appropriate for the destination. A blog post could be 200 to 1000 words but a Facebook post could be a few words up to 100 or even 200.
  2. Write in a casual style. Now is not the time to write an English term paper. Think in terms of a conversation not a doctoral thesis.
  3. Always write short paragraphs. Readers do not like long blocks of text and won’t read it.

Also, keep in mind that 74% of internet traffic is video. Writing great blog posts is important but creating some good videos will reach a wider audience.

Step #5 – Relationship Nurturing System.

The primary purpose of this component is to automate the conversion of website visitors into blog readers into Facebook friends into families for you to serve. That may sound unrealistic but trust me there are businesses doing this all over the world and you can too.

The key is to have a process all mapped ahead of time and then implement that process into your system. The underlying technology is often referred to as Customer Relationship Management (CRM). Because you will be using this technology in conjunction with your website and blog it is best to select and internet-based CRM system.

There are many different CRM systems available. SalesForce.com, InfussionSoft and OntraPort are three popular internet-based solutions. I’ve recently started using a new funeral industry specific option called Funeral Decision CRM. So far I’m very impressed. It doesn’t have quite the same functionality but the price point is much lower and the fact that it is already setup for the funeral industry is a great advantage.

The key is to map out the process that you want to take people through before implementing a CRM solution. Always remember… Process + CRM = Relationship Nurturing System. CRM without a Process is useless.

Step #6 – Reputation Marketing System.

The purpose of this component is to help you build and maintain a five star reputation online. The reason this is necessary is because people are constantly checking you out online on sites like Google and Yelp. They are looking at how many reviews you have and what other people think of you.

You can publish great valuable content but if you have a one star reputation online people won’t trust the content. If you have no reviews it’s almost as bad as having a low star count.

The best thing you can do is proactively build a solid five star reputation so that if a bad review does come in it won’t destroy your business.

Step #7 – Measurement System.

Traditional marketing is typically about creating something appealing and repeating it as many times as possible, hoping that the family will remember you when they experience a loss. Inbound Marketing is about creating content that helps people and then measuring every possible item and optimizing it to achieve your goals.

Are you writing content that people actually read? We can measure that!

Are you writing content that people pass on to their friends? We can measure that!

Is your content compelling someone to take a new step in the relationship such as asking questions? We can measure that?

Are some of your followers planning to attend your pre0need seminar? We can measure that?

At a bare minimum you will need to have Google Analytics setup to monitor all of your content. Combining this with Facebook’s statistics will give you a pretty good view as to how your Inbound Marketing is working.

Conclusion

The way consumers buy all products and services has fundamentally changed forever. The driving force behind this change is the expansion of the internet. Inbound Marketing works because it fits how people want to shop in today’s internet driven world.

Families don’t want to be interrupted with an advertisement. They want to meet you online, learn about the issues they should consider when experiencing a loss and learn how you are uniquely capable of helping their family.

There is a quote I’ve always liked from hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been”. Using this approach he became the leading point scorer in hockey history.

If you are spending money on traditional advertising, you are chasing where families used to be not where they are now or will be in the future. The good news is that Inbound Marketing puts you ahead of your competition, let’s you meet families where they are going to be in the future and allows you to build a loyal following of families who will always select your funeral home regardless of the price.

Author: John Callaghan, FuneralSuccess.com

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