Marketing for Results: Five Practical Steps

It's just shortly after 9:00 in the morning, and already I've been assaulted. More than once. You see, like you, I'm a victim of advertising assault. First, there was the dryer sheet sample that fell out of my newspaper and onto my driveway. Then, in order to read the news I had to peel off the 2-for-1 taco offer blocking the front-page headline. I settled in to watch "Good Morning America" which proved to be equal parts commercials and advertiser-sponsored segments. Why, even my cereal box lured me with 50 cents off a recommended brand of orange juice. Sound familiar?

With so many companies spending so much money on advertising in so many places, how does a small to medium-sized business compete? How can your business effectively and affordably cut through the clutter, get the attention, the interest and the sale?

Verizon may spend countless millions of dollars to get all of us to ask, "Can you hear me now?" but there are affordable, non-intrusive approaches to marketing, advertising and public relations readily available to you. Some are simple grassroots efforts while others are better implemented with help from professional outside sources. And they share something in common: if you focus on these options and put them into practice in your funeral business, your results will be substantial.

1. Technology, technology, technology. Embrace it. As recently as a dozen years ago, I was an orange barrel on the "Information Super Highway." A browser was a casual shopper, "yahoo" was a rodeo yell and Windows offered views of the outdoors. But yesterday I ordered Chinese carryout by e-mail, took a virtual tour of hotel rooms in Tuscany, let my fingers do the walking – not through the Yellow Pages but on Google – and even found time for a couple of hands of online poker. How times have changed. I rely on my computer in ways I never imagined. And I am no different from the families you serve and the ones you want to serve.

My message to you is simple: If you do not currently have a web site, get one. If you already have one, make certain that it's up to date, attractive, easy to navigate and a proper reflection of your funeral business. And don't overlook the importance of taking steps to ensure that when people search the Internet, your site is one of the results they receive. Using a web site professional for all of the above will be one of the smartest business investments you can make because in today's marketplace, a web site is as important as a telephone. People of all ages surf the web. When they are about to make a significant purchase, their first step is to explore options online before calling or visiting. So if you don't have an online presence, or your presence isn't inviting, or your site isn't searchengine friendly, your competitor will gain the edge.

A web site allows you to be "open for business" every day, around the clock. That's particularly important for reaching prospects that can't easily come to your place of business. For example, when a senior spending the winter months in Arizona starts an online search of funeral homes and cemeteries back in his home town, your web site becomes the virtual sales rep for your business. Similarly, people who are aged, ill or infirm are often housebound, and the Internet is their practical connection to the goods and services they need. Your prospective families are networked and wireless, and "at home" on the ‘net.

Creating a web site, or improving an existing one, isn't a do-it-yourself project, so don't hesitate to turn to professional web developers to create or update your site.

2. Establish your brand. Companies often make the mistake of trying to include every aspect of their business in their marketing and advertising message. They fail to remember that less is more. There are certainly many advantages to doing business with your company, yet it's not practical to try to sell all of them. Think of the national brands whose selling points have been singular. Ritz Carlton has plenty of features to tout, and the one they hang their hat on is unmatched service. Southwest Airlines has distinguished itself simply by being the low-cost airline that's fun to fly – quite a feat in this day of cattle-car air travel. And who can forget the days when Greyhound invited you to travel with them and simply "leave the driving to us."

Identify one or two of your company's strongest selling points and let those become your message. To accomplish that, you might bring together an informal focus group of past customers. They can tell you why they chose your company and what was most important to them in working with you. Their "voice of the customer" opinions will give you insights that you might not have come up with internally.

It is not necessary to develop a tag line for your marketing, like the ones mentioned above. But you do need to make certain that you keep in mind your specific brand feature and carry them through in all of your marketing, advertising and public relations efforts.

3. Get all of your staff on the same page. Bringing focus to your company's message is crucial, so don't fail to take it the extra step: Make sure that all of your employees, from the top to the bottom, are in sync with that message. In contemporary lingo, they need to "talk the talk" and "walk the talk."

Let's say, for example, that what sets your company apart from the competition is your compassionate service and you designate that as your brand feature. Communicate to your staff what that means. Maybe it's that you take extra steps such as sending your drivers on airport runs for families. Or you arrange for catering after a service so families can gather at your facility. Your employees should be aware of those extra miles your company is willing to go to give unmatched service and then they need to live that message each time they interact with a family or prospective family. When asked by friends about the company where they work, they should instinctively reply that it's a place that puts customer service first. Such a response comes spontaneously only when staff is made aware – and reminded – of your primary brand feature.

4. Cultivate your sources of referrals. In the death-care industry, relationships between funeral professionals and families are developed during life-altering experiences. You interact with them as they say their good-byes and begin the process of healing. Few professional relationships are built on such intimate events. What more fitting source of referrals than the families you have compassionately assisted?

Their word-of-mouth recommendations will come naturally when they talk with relatives and friends. Go it a step further and take a proactive role in cultivating their referrals. Stay in touch with them. Think of satisfied families as your VIPs and put in place efforts to keep communicating with them. Send a card on the anniversary of the death of their loved one. Let them know of new products or services you offer. Plan lectures or other community events and ask them for names to add to your invitation list. And don't be afraid to come right out and ask them for a referral.

I'm a big fan of getting testimonial remarks from my clients and you might think about doing the same. These remarks provide credibility and can be used effectively in advertising. And what better way to cement future business than by getting someone to say positive things about your company – and that they would do business with you again.

5. Lock in your preplanning families. Preplanning families should be business you can take to the bank, yet we know that's not always the case. For any number of reasons, sometimes their initial commitment wavers. Other financial obligations occur and take priority, so that they no longer view their preplanning as valuable as they once did. Unless you continue to market to them and keep up a connection with them, you are liable to lose their important business.

How do you secure their commitment and create value? Remember the expression, "Out of sight, out of mind," and commit to being in sight and in mind. Get on their radar screen – within reason, of course. Create opportunities to be in touch. Let them know when you expand your services. Notify them when your business is in the news. Look for new products to offer, ones that set you apart from your competition and give you an excuse to be in touch. These products can open the door to additional sales, too.

Cutting through the cutter and coming up with the sale can be done affordably, practically and effectively. Implementing these five rather simple steps to increased sales can have a significant impact on your business. Give them a try. Then let me know how they work for you.