Covert holiday marketing battle plans

Funeral service (and I include cemeteries in that group) is a tough sell at any given time. I imagine that the only time that someone is glad to hear/see a commercial for a funeral provider is when they happen to be staring at a body that they were completely unprepared to see. Other than that, you can bet the minute a radio spot for a funeral home or cemetery hits the airwaves they'll mentally turn the radio off until something trips the switch and pulls them back into an active listening pose, like a song that they like.

During the holiday season, this can be especially challenging. Joe and Jane Jones will be carpet-bombed with radio/TV/print marketing campaigns begging for a few of their bucks. Their defenses will be on high-alert, and their crap detectors will be cranked up. What do you do? You certainly don't want to lay back and risk losing some at-need business because you aren't comfortable or skilled at holiday marketing. I faced this quandary several years ago, and I created a campaign based on some advice from the best marketing thinkers in the country. As Anthony Hernandez, a business and marketing expert says, "The best way to sell is by not selling at all." This is worth hearing again, "the best way to sell is by not selling at all."

Huh? How is that possible?

Well, put yourself in Joe and Jane's shoes. They're out running from a family Thanksgiving to Christmas shopping to the umpteenth holiday party (this one's at the annoying neighborhood association president's house) and they're trying to dodge the ever-present bell ringer while wondering how on earth they're going to pay the credit card bills come January and what will the boss give them as a bonus this year (probably a turkey or something stupid like that) get the idea.

Imagine in the midst of the mental chaos I just described their talk radio or easy listening gets interrupted by a flowery "we're so great because of our new chapel/casket selection and affordable prices..." You know what they're hearing? Blah, blah, blahdibbity blah. Here's some news. They really don't want to hear that during the holidays. Guess what? I'm in the funeral business and I don't want to hear it, either. "The best way to sell is by not selling at all."

What you need to do is create something that they've not heard from you or one of your competitors. If they're running their usual stuff, then you run a holiday greeting campaign. Short, sweet, simple. And honest. Use that radio station rep who bugs you all the time to find exactly the right holiday music background and you write the greeting yourself. No copywriting pro necessary for this. Write how you talk. Write the spot as if you were saying it to your best friend or your young daughter. And then voice the greeting yourself. The raw honesty of your voice and words will slice through their mental defenses and surprise them, in a good way. The station rep will help you with all of this. Don't worry about sounding like a professional voice-over person... Joe and Jane have heard and tuned them out a million times. You will get their attention with this, and they may forget what you said, but they won't forget how your genuine holiday greeting made them feel. And that might be just what they need to dial your number the next time. Now is the time to work this out for the upcoming holidays. Call that pesky radio station rep. Now.

PS-Here's a bonus for the truly savvy marketer... produce this spot yourself and check out a website called It's an online auction site where radio stations compete for your marketing dollars-you might just save a bunch of money trying this out!

Dan Heaman, The Guerrilla Director, is a licensed Funeral Director, Certified Funeral Service Practitioner and Certified Guerrilla Marketing Coach. He specializes in funeral service marketing and public relations, having worked with both family and corporate owned locations. You can contact him through his website or email him at