Throughout the last three weeks, I spent time with funeral directors in Staten Island, North Jersey, metro Atlanta, Alabama, rural Georgia and more (all ends of the spectrum, as you can imagine). No matter where I was, everyone was talking about how “rollercoaster” this winter has been – really busy some times, but really slow other times. Funeral directors were curious about if we were busy and what we heard from other funeral homes, trying to gauge their call volume against us and others.
In a couple of my more in depth conversations, we talked about the landscape of how selecting a funeral home has changed. We talked a lot about the “undecideds”, the group of people in a given community that has an equal chance of using any funeral home that serves the community – no loyalties or preferences to a particular funeral home.
A funeral director once explained to me the competitive landscape from this perspective. Picture a traditional “Venn diagram” – yes, that’s right take yourself back to third grade when you probably learned about these things. Think of each circle as a different funeral home.
Back 15, 25, and even 50 years ago, families primarily selected funeral homes based on heritage (Irish, Italian, etc.), religions (Catholic, Protestant, etc.), race (African-American, Caucasian, etc.), church affiliation, and more. Back then, funeral homes served very segmented groups of families and those families were very loyal to those funeral homes. The circles were set far apart and the area in which they all three touched, or the pool of “the undecideds” was very small.
Fast forward to now, the pool of “undecideds” is quite large and only getting larger. Inter-faith, inter-racial, and inter-heritage marriages are occurring now more than ever! Because of this, the American public is losing its strong identity with heritage, is less and less affiliated with specific churches, has chosen spirituality as opposed to religion, etc. Thus, the traditional reasons a family would select a funeral home are getting blurred as the American public is slowly losing its identity with the traditions of the past. As a result, the circles of our Venn diagram are being drawn closer and closer together, with the “Undecideds” area becoming larger everyday.
Not only has the undecideds pool become larger, but many funeral homes have experienced increased competition, let’s just say… from a cremation society who was not there 15, 25 or 50 years ago.
Speaking of competition, in your own community the pool of “Undecideds” just might be larger than what you think. I was at a funeral home who had just opened in a town. They said that they gained about 40 or so calls in their first year, and I asked where these calls came from and they said they felt as if they took 30 calls or so from the longstanding funeral home in town, 5 calls from one of their other locations, and perhaps another 5 from other funeral homes as they drew people in from outlying areas. I bet the longstanding funeral home didn’t realize that they had about 30 “Undecided” families on their hands!!! That’s potentially the difference in being profitable or not profitable for 2015!!
As much as I hate to admit it, the smart political candidates do have it right: target your message and fight for the “Undecideds”. You will find that your “Undecideds” will be open minded – those who don’t have a religious affiliation, don’t care what racial community a funeral home traditionally serves, has no strong connection with their heritage, and more.
Does it shock you that your “Undecideds” will be your progressive baby boomers, your Gen Xer’s, and even millennials who have begun to make at need and pre-need arrangements? What’s another strong trend that runs between all these “non WWII/Greatest Generation era” people? They are technology savvy. Remember that old adage that a first impression is the most important? Guess where their first impression of a funeral home is most likely to be? Online – not just through a website, but Facebook, Yelp, Google Reviews and more! But more on creating a cohesive online presence later…
To wrap this up, it is critical that your funeral home:
Acknowledge that the pool of “Undecideds” is growing due to factors that you cannot control.
Assume that there are more “Undecideds” out there than you think. If you think there are 30 “Undecided” families in your community, assume that number is 50.
Work and campaign harder for that group of 50 “Undecided” families. Use your online presence, personal branding and more to sway this group of “Undecideds”. Keep in mind that if you keep yourself out there “campaigning”, the other guy might not be doing anything and even swinging 10 families to your funeral home can be a meaningful number when looking at your overhead per call.