Business, Products

The Experiential Funeral

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Via e-mail marketing the other day I received an invitation from our friends at the Cremation Association of North America (CANA) to take in a free webinar partially titled, “Families prefer experience over extravagance“.  The topic hit home with me and I think points out a very important detail about what the consumer public is willing to spend money on. . . . and why that may have an effect on how we offer our death care services to them.

I’ve said before in this forum that I am a fan of the television show “The Shark Tank”.  I always like to look at new investments and learn how entrepreneurs are strategizing to get their products to market and make money from them.  Mark Cuban, one of the Sharks on the show and the owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, talks frequently about how he likes to invest in “experiential” consumer companies.  In fact, he has invested and done well with businesses such as haunted Halloween settings where consumers pay for the right to go through them. . and for a series of “Warrior style marathons” where consumer/participants pay to participate much like 5-k runs or marathon runs.

I come from a very traditional funeral family, however, the “experience of what we wanted” when our mother died ten years ago led us to change some of the traditional features of her service.  My brother and I truly wanted to “experience” the cameraderie of our friends and family over any other events associated with her memorial services.  That meant a public visitation, public funeral ceremony, and public reception following the ceremony over all else.  We believed that those items, more so than anything else we could do, would give us the best way to satisfy the “experience” that we wanted.

We realized that if we did the traditional procession to the cemetery and committal service following the church ceremony that we would lose many of those who came to the funeral but would not wait for an hour or so for this procession/committal prior to the reception.  They would simply leave . . and we would not get to visit with them.

What we chose to do was to have mom buried in a private family only service at 9 am in the morning on the day of the funeral.  Her body would not be in the church for the ceremony, but it did eliminate the procession and allowed for the maximum of visitors to come immediately to the reception following the church service.  This choice served the “experiential” reasoning that we wanted. . that of maximizing interpersonal relationships with other friends and families.

It worked great. . . and we learned that we really enjoyed the private family time at the cemetery. . . . grandchildren were not intimidated by a large crowd and, in my opinion, were more in tune with the service because of that.  As a matter of fact, this has become my way of scheduling a family funeral.

I believe much like Mark Cuban. . . .the American consumer has, and is, changing all the time.  Today, it is not necessarily about the purchase. . .it is about the experience.  Consumers want great experiences.  Think about professional sports.  I owned a minor league professional basketball team in the last half of the 1990’s. . . . . the consumer experience was limited to getting a good seat to watch a game. . . and maybe not having to stand too long in line for the restrooms or popcorn stand.

Take a look at that same consumer today. . . .they expect a good seat and short lines. . .or even concierge service for concessions over the thought of leaving their seat and any lines.  They also want an experience that may include knowing about what restaurants/bars are in the building if they choose to eat there pre-game or post-game or watch part of the game from that location, what interactive statistics are available on wi-fi, is there interactive gambling/betting on certain aspects of the game during the game.  You get the picture. . . .it is just not about the seat anymore.  As a matter of fact, when I served on the board of a Big Ten land grant university one  of the most common suggestions I received was what craft beers to serve in our stadium/arenas.

The experiences are important. . . . and the same is true in death care.  There are any number of providers who for a small cost can uniformly make a removal, cremate, and return cremated remains to a family.  And, that may be fine if that is the experience that the family wants.  However, I think many are looking for a more emotional experience than that simple disposition.  To truly profit in today’s world you need to be in a position with facilities, staff, and ideas on how you can make those expected experiences work for those families.

You can see a flyer and register, if you would like, for this CANA webinar here.  It is scheduled for Thursday, October 28 at 2 pm Eastern Time, 1 pm Central Time.  One hour of CE credit is available for watching.  I’m guessing that there will be a lot to learn for all of us.

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One Comment

  1. The true value of a funeral is the “Gathering Together” of people and the “Sharing of Stories”. And that is exactly what you described in your post. 25 years ago when we opened our family center/reception room the saw the exact transformation you described in regards to processions and the typical order of events. People value the “Party” more than the “Parade”. And now we rarely go in procession to the cemetery and the graveside service is typically a private family affair. And at 70% cremation we usually don’t have a body to bury anyway.

    I also think some times we use fancy words to describe what we naturally do. Tom, I have almost never used the the word “experiential” in describing anything we do at the funeral home. It’s not a word my typical clients use. So I don’t use words like that when I talk to folks about what we can do for them. I talk to them on their level and in their language. Gather Together, Share The Stories, Remember a Life….We can help you do that.

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