It’s not obvious to consumers who are calling with an immediate need whether they are reaching a corporate-owned or local funeral home. Since most corporate providers retain the local name and often the staff at a local funeral home, they operate with a kind of brand camouflage.
For local and independent funeral homes to compete they have to do three things:
- Find ways to amplify the real value of local ownership and community engagement to overcome brand camouflage.
- Access the same tools and tactics used by the corporate providers.
- Become the brand that everyone remembers.
1. Defeat Brand Camouflage
What is Brand Camouflage? It's when a large institution continues to wear the outward appearance of a local company so that it maintains the goodwill of a community that is largely unaware of its ownership status.
To defeat brand camouflage, it’s important to raise the level of awareness in the community that there is a real difference between outside owners and locally owned funeral homes. The best way to do that is to demonstrate a different kind of commitment to the communities in which you serve.
How to stand out
How do other local companies do that? They support local causes, join boards, host events in their facility and participate in activities that make communities better. It’s not healthy for communities to only view funeral homes and the staff that work in them as people and places that are never discussed, nor funeral directors as people they only meet at funerals. Companies that are committed to their communities don’t choose their involvement based upon promotional value alone, they work on causes and support what makes a difference locally.
Corporate providers don’t look any different than locally owned funeral homes if both are absent from their communities. But local and independents can “out local” corporate entities by simply engaging in meaningful ways throughout their community. That should be true not just of owners and managers but staff as well - community engagement is healthy for staff, too.
The charity policies of local funeral homes can also help them stand out as uniquely local. That should include your service policies that offer special assistance in the loss of a child, with veterans or other special cases. It should also include participation in scholarship funds, charity drives, and other worthwhile causes. While you shouldn’t self-promote too much about this activity, it is very appropriate to list your charitable activities on your website and to celebrate the volunteer work of your staff on social networks. If you do these things, word will get around.
Note: Story Collaborative approaches our own community in this same way, we are a Virginia Benefit Corporation and share in our annual report what we’re doing to “Do Good While We Do Well."
2. Match Tools and Tactics
Corporate funeral providers have access to a variety of software and tactics that come along with their big national budgets. That can seem like a daunting challenge to a funeral home that operates in just one or several locations. Here is some good news: you can use the same strategies they use and employ the same enterprise-level software if you simply know where to look. The elements that have been put into their corporate system so that it works in hundreds of locations, can be overcome locally with one powerful strategy: personalization.
Here’s a start on your competitive advantage:
- Understand the real value of social networks as a way to connect you with your community and to reach people in a highly targeted and cost-effective approach.
- Corporate providers can measure all of the ways they invest in marketing. Don’t settle for legacy marketing that simply can’t be tracked or measured.
- Personalization is only possible on a broad scale using technology. The use of a customer relationship manager (CRM) makes personalization possible. For example, with a marketing integrated CRM, you can ensure that not only postcards and letters, but that every email, every phone call, and even web page visits can be auto-magically customized based upon who is visiting and what they are interested in or need help with.
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- Online searches are the new phone book, and websites are far more than digital billboards. There is a science to the way that people interact with a webpage, and the vast majority of people are going to look online when they search for funeral or cremation services.
- Reputation management in the digital world is not just for the big box funeral homes. You can build a strong digital reputation to go along with the word of mouth that you’ve earned in your community. It can seem unfair that a few grumpy people online can sink your reputation with just a few clicks on a review screen. Start by getting a report on your online reputation and then create a plan to improve it intentionally.
3. Become the Brand that Everyone Remembers
The goal for local and independent funeral homes should be to become the brand that everyone remembers. But being remembered happens in more than just the personal recollection of individuals, it happens in other ways too. It might seem funny, but people’s cell phones, internet browsers, inboxes, social accounts and pastors, financial advisors and other counselors need to remember too.
Building a brand strategy that moves you from one of the local funeral homes to the preferred local provider requires that you pay attention to a number of different factors. Here is a list to get started.
- Referrals- create referral relationships on purpose. Some of that is done the old-fashioned way by meeting and working alongside people in the community. But there are also more systematic ways to build referrals.
- Be easy to find online- Becoming the brand that everyone remembers, means becoming a brand that people can find when they search online. That results from a purposeful approach to your digital presence. A simple way to start is with a free report that shows you how you are doing in an online search.
- Brand consistency- For a brand to become cemented in the mind of an individual or referral provider, it requires multiple positive encounters - think of it as “brand cement.” If the brand is not consistent and unique then that brand will never become solid in the individual's mind. Since many of your customers first meet your brand many years before they have a need, your brand must be consistent in every encounter across the years. If you need to modernize your brand, then you’ll want to bring along some of the key elements from the legacy brand so that people can still recognize it.
You can get help with all of these brand-building approaches with services dedicated to independent funeral homes that take best practices and make them affordable and accessible.