The Good Funeral Guide Blog

Adwords for Funeral Directors

Friday, 24 October 2014

sussex-funeral-director

 

Guest post by Mark Sharron

For the second part of this guest post series on SEO for Funeral Directors I’m going to talk about Google Adwords.

Adwords is a Google’s Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising system. Adwords went live in early 2000 and has helped tens of thousands of businesses attract new clients. The system works by allowing business owners to pay to appear in the search index for desirable keywords.

Due to the nature of Adwords this article will be a little dry but I will do my best to supply you with actionable insights into how the system works and a number of useful considerations when setting up a campaign.

Adwords Overview

*  The idea behind Adwords is the person willing to pay the most for a specific keyword will secure a higher rank. Business owners bid on keywords (see the previous article).

*  Adverts are served for each keyword loaded into the system when a web user performs a search for that keyword. Each time a web user clicks on your advert, your budget is depleted based on the amount you have bid on the keyword vs your competitors bid.

*  The amount paid per click is equal to the next highest bid. For example if you were to bid £3 per click on the keyword “funeral directors” and your competitor bids £2 for the same keyword you will pay £2.01. There are a few calculations that vary this rule such as your quality score and account history (more on this later).

*  Google displays three Adwords spots at the top of the search index for the highest bidders and eight spaces in the right hand column on their first page of search results.

The main advantages (control)

*  Gain instant search engine exposure / guaranteed search engine exposure without having to invest the time in an organic SEO campaign. Typically within hours of setting up a campaign you will see an increase in traffic to your website .

*  Budget management. Set daily or monthly budgets that suit you. You only pay for each click. Your account is charged each time a web user clicks on one of your adverts. Keyword positions are determined by how much you bid on each keyword vs how much your competitors are prepared to pay.

*  Small learning curve. The system is user friendly and easy to master.

*  Track and measure performance; see how individual keywords perform. This makes adwords a great market research tool giving you a valuable understanding of what’s important to your clients. You can then configure your website to take advantage of this data.

The main disadvantages

*  In competitive towns/cities certain keywords can be expensive to bid on. Larger companies can easily dominate a market space. Be careful not to get into bidding wars.

*  If your campaign is poorly setup you will haemorrhage money with little or no return.

*  Once your budget is exhausted your adverts disappear.

*  PPC is generally less trusted than Google’s organic search by users.

*  Campaigns need a lot of attention when first setup to ensure they are configured optimally.

Setting Up Adwords

Campaigns / AdgroupsOnce you have completed your initial keyword research, you can load the data into Adwords

It is important to segment keywords into similar groups e.g. humanist funerals, traditional funerals, local, short-tail.

This allows you to tailor advert text to specific groups of keywords making your text more relevant to what a user is searching for. It also gives you the control to direct users to specific landing pages on your site. This will increase the number of people who click on your advert and serve them will relevant information increasing the potential they will convert as a client.

Ad-text

You have three lines of text per basic advert. This doesn’t give you a lot of space to work with.

Line 1= 25 Characters
Link 2= 35 Characters
Line 3= 35 Characters
Line 4= Landing Page URL

The trick is making sure your advert stands out, the text needs to be relevant for specific search terms and the advert should direct web users to a relevant landing page. This ensures prospective clients find what they are looking for and convert. As mentioned above it will also lower your costs as your campaign matures. Have a look at how your competitors/indirect competitors have phrased their adverts and draw inspiration from there. SEMRush.com is a great competitor analysis tool and if you want to learn more about ad-copy “Cashvertising is an excellent read.

If you are fine tuning your ad text I suggest split testing. Try different adverts and see which ones get the best response.

Adwords Keyword Types

Adwords allows you to enter a variety of keyword types. These have no relation to the types of keywords discussed in my first post. These refer to how the keywords are formatted/how Adwords uses your keyword data to serve adverts. The types of keywords you can enter into Adwords are:

*  Exact match

*  Broad match

*  Broad match modified

*  Phrase match

*  Negative keywords

One of the most common mistakes business owners make when setting up an Adwords campaign is they use broad match keywords. Your campaign should be a combination of exact match and broad match modified. I will explain the differences below.

Exact match: [Brighton funeral director]

Exact match keywords are placed in square brackets. Adwords will only serve an advert when a user types the exact keyword. This gives you precision control.

Broad match: funeral director Brighton

Broad match keywords are loaded into Adwords in their natural form. Adwords will serve adverts for anything remotely related to the keyword e.g. undertakers Brighton, morticians Brighton or embalming Brighton. This means that your adverts will be served for a range of irrelevant keywords causing you to haemorrhage your budget on keywords which may not be relevant to your business and will not convert. I typically avoid using broad match keywords as it exposes my clients to the law of un-intended consequences.

Broad match modified: +funeral +directors +Brighton

Broad match modified keywords have a “+” symbol next to each word. Broad match modified keywords will serve adverts for any user search that contains each word in any order e.g. Cheap Funeral Directors in Brighton or cheap Brighton funeral directors.

Broad match modified keywords have advantages and disadvantages:

You maintain greater control than if you were to use a broad match keyword.

Your advert will be served for long-tail variants of keywords you may have missed when researching which keywords to use

Adverts will also be served for irrelevant keywords such as a competitor’s brand or general queries with no commercial value e.g. how much do Brighton funeral directors earn?

I use broad match modified keywords for discovery of new opportunities but keep a very close eye on irrelevant keywords served, adding them to my negative keyword list (more on this in a moment).

Phrase match: “funeral directors Brighton”

Phrase match keywords are wrapped in speech marks and will serve an advert if the keyword is part of a larger phrase e.g. cheap funeral directors Brighton. Unlike broad match modified a phrase match keyword will not serve an advert if the words are out of order e.g. cheap Brighton funeral directors.

I typically use phrase match keywords when building negative keyword lists.

Negative Keywords

One of the most important functions within Adwords is the ability to add a list of negative keywords. Negative keywords are individual words or phrases that prevent an advert from being served.

There is a risk when adding negative keywords you may unintentionally prevent desirable keywords from serving adverts. Always test your “money” keywords still serve adverts after adding new negative keywords to your Adwords campaign.

A good first step when setting up a campaign is to list all of your competitor’s brand names and add them to your negative keyword list. This will ensure users searching specifically for competitors do not click on your adverts/waste your budget.

When a campaign is in its infancy I suggest monitoring Google analytics every couple of days and filtering out keywords that have no commercial value / adding them to your negative keywords list. As the campaign matures and your negative keyword list grows the number of adverts served for undesirable keywords with no commercial value will diminish. Be prepared to lose “some” money at the inception of any PPC campaign until you bring your negative keyword list under control.

Quality Score

Each keyword will be given a quality score. This directly impacts the cost per click. The Adwords quality score is related to the content on the page your advert pointed at and text used in the advert. Click through rate is also a determining factor in cost per click. Over time as your campaign matures, if you have a high click through rate the cost per click (CPC) will be reduced. Spend some time to ensure the quality score for each keyword is as high as possible.

Other Important Settings

GEO LocationAdwords allows you to set the geographic region your adverts will be served in. As a regional funeral director located in Weybridge you don’t want your adverts served in Glasgow. Lock your GEO location down to the area you cover and exclude everything else or you will exhaust your budget quickly.

Display NetworkThe display network will display your advert on 3rd party websites. Again this is a huge waste of money. Make sure it’s turned off or you will exhaust your budget.

CRT data and AnalyticsMake sure your Adwords account is connected to Google Analytics. Google have a guide on how to do this here. This will allow you to track the performance of individual keywords. Including bounce rates, time users spend on your website, which pages they look at and more.

Advert position: Both Adwords and Google Analytics will show you the position adverts are displayed for each keyword giving you the ability to increase or reduce your budget as required.

Bounce rate: tells you if a user has arrived on your site and left immediately. This could mean a specific keyword has no commercial value or your website landing page does not supply an internet user with the information they are looking for. It may be worth thinking about removing keywords with a sustained high bounce rate or reworking the page users first land on to better match the advert / keyword. Alternatively it may simply mean a user is landing on your page and only looking for your phone number. Exercise a little common sense and track the number of phone calls you receive if you remove a keyword as data can sometimes be a little misleading.

PPC keywordsIf you are using broad match or broad match modified you can see exactly what users have typed into Google to serve an advert. I suggest turning commercially viable keywords into exact match variants and filtering commercially unviable keywords into your negative keyword list. This will ensure unviable keywords are not served a second time and will free up your budget to focus on keyword that will attract web users to your site that stand a chance of converting to a paying client.

Summary

Adwords is an excellent mechanism to drive web users to your website and can work wonders if setup correctly. If you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment and I will do my best to provide an informative answer within 24 hours.

Upcoming events

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Kicking

In a host of different venues in Oxford and Oxfordshire over a span of four weeks we offer you a smorgasbord of original, enjoyable and challenging experiences. Over 40 events and nearly 100 participants

http://www.kickingthebucket.co.uk/

 
 

Chelms

http://www.changingchelmsford.org/

 
 

Archa

http://www.livinganddying.co.uk/

Serving gay and black communities

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

gay flag

 

Guest post by Richard Rawlinson

Recent talk about preferences for traditional or alternative funeral services was pretty much silenced by the word ‘choice’. In other words, whether it’s a requiem mass preceded by a Victorian-lite cortege or a liturgy-free, no-dress-code send-off in a field, give the punters what they want.

This libertarian strain of relativism has again been used to challenge ownership of the word ‘progressive’. Isn’t any undertaker progressive if he/she strives to offer better service and value? Isn’t anyone progressive if he/she wants society to advance in the direction of greater peace and prosperity?

People differ on how and where to move forward but no one owns the label of progressive as people have diverse tastes, beliefs, income levels etc. In this pluralist society, choice trumps homogeneity. Sometimes, the big chains deliver it, sometimes niche undertakers have healthy volume by specialising in a given area.

There’s been much said about green pound undertakers but there are also specialists defined by sexuality and race—the pink pound and black pound sub-categories within the grey pound.

If you Google  ‘gay funeral directors’ (hat tip Mark Sharron’s recent post about search engine optimisation), you find the site of the Gay Business Association (GBA) listing its members in the funeral trade – here.

London’s Chelsea Funeral Directors is profiled as ‘independent, British, gay-owned (actually it’s not – see footnote)  and managed funeral directors and monumental masons, sensitive to personalised funeral requests’.

The entire Dignity chain is also a GBA member and states: ‘We offer sympathetic, caring, unbiased service through our nationwide network of over 550 funeral homes – 24 hours a day… We also provide full services for persons with AIDS and HIV+’.

There’s clearly a difference between a gay-managed company and a corporation making a point that all business is welcome. The pink pound might be attracted to Dignity’s GBA membership just as the red pound of union activists might be attracted to the Labour-funding Co-operative Group’s Funeralcare chain. That doesn’t make either the real deal.

A funeral director catering for reds didn’t score in my Google search but there are plenty of other specialists beyond the greens and the pinks.

  1. Carty Independent Funeral Services in London’s Brixton is managed by people from African and Caribbean backgrounds, and specialises in funerals for Rastafarians.

As with most modern companies, Chelsea and M. Carty undertakers will tailor their services to individual wishes, whether religious or non-religious, opulent or simple. Likewise, their funerals are, of course, available to gay and straight or black and white.

The fact they also promote their niche expertise as a strength is an added bonus, good for individuals within the community and, I hope, good for business.

Footnote: for Charlie Phillips’s photographs of Afro-Caribbean funerals, see here.

ED’S NOTE 1) Cheshire East Council’s Information On Using A Funeral Director notes: “older people tend to reflect upon the past socialist principles of the ‘Co-op’ funeral services, which may no longer apply.”  2) We are informed (21.06, Weds 22.10.2014) that Chelsea Funeral Directors are no longer gay-owned.   

jamaica flag

Hearse and one?

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

DSCN0076

 

Guest post by David Holmes

As the global recession took hold in 2008, families arranging funerals started cutting back on cost. First to face the chop (forgive the pun) was the lovely black limousine. And why not, they are but frippery, very non-essential, so why pay around £200 to hire one when you can easily do without? These days all families have cars don’t they, so getting to the Church or crem on time is very straightforward.

As 2008 gave way to 2009, I made the tough (traditional FD’s love their cars) decision to do away with our own lim as the majority of clients just didn’t want to hire it, opting instead for meet-at funerals at lower cost.

Believe it or not, a new Jaguar or Mercedes limousine now costs up to £135,000 to buy; the trade journal Ads implore ‘£30,000 down and just £1,500 per month in easy payments. Wow! Then there’s the uniformed driver, insurance, fuel, tax, maintenance and garaging to pay for. We spend hours cleaning the damn things too. Running a limousine is an expensive business, and frankly only the large busy cluster of branches FD’s can really make them pay - because they can pack their diary with jobs and with luck, get the same limousine out on up to 10 funerals a week. Do the maths, 10 x £200 makes the investment very worthwhile.

At the same time as our lim was cut, my telephone mystery shopping of competitors informed me that when telephone quoting for funerals, they had suddenly started offering a ‘free limousine’ – astonishing generosity eh? When challenged, they told me that if I, (potential client) didn’t want one, they couldn’t reduce the funeral cost, so I may as well use it. So much for client choice. If you thought big funeral directors were welded to their take it or leave it mindless package funerals, you’d be right. They need to get the maximum return on their investment and make the diary work.

Thankfully for many, the recession seems to be petering out. More clients are hiring limousines again. Rejoice! So, I have just bought a beautiful Jaguar lim to follow our Jaguar hearse and I think clients should definitely hire it. Not just because if I fail to keep up with the hefty payments, ours will be repossessed, but because I think our clients really benefit from having a lim. Who knows how you’ll feel on the day of a funeral? Will you really feel up to driving your own car, will you fret about timekeeping, getting lost or separated from the hearse, and will you be able to park easily on arrival? Carrying up to seven people, you also get to sit with the people you love most – there’s a sense of we’re all in this together. You can comfort one another, laugh, reassure and remember the person up front, and when it’s all over, you can be transported in temperature controlled luxury to the venue of your choice, all for £200, divided by 7 people = £28 each, at £14 each way, surely it’s the best bargain on any funeral director’s price list?

Of course with Holmes & Family funeral directors, you can abandon the whole cortege thing completely and use a smart closed van hearse at a fraction of the hearse and one price. Best of all, no-one will gawp at you traversing the High Street in those long back cars that can make you and yours look like extras in an episode of the Sopranos!

slideThree

We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.

Monday, 20 October 2014

photoMS

 

Guest post by Mark Shaw

All this talk of change has led me to look back. As I do, I have to accept I am old enough to have witnessed many changes. Not as many as some, and I hope many more still to see.

The supermarket where I would once accompany my mother for the Saturday shop has since changed ownership and corporate name no less than 6 times. But still Heinz, Kelloggs, Colgate and Hellmans get my vote.

At the age of 15, as church organist in a rural Highland village, I played for all the village funerals. It was this introduction to funerals that led me on this path. They were not glamorous affairs – how could they be with an Austin Princess hearse? They were however smart, dignified community occasions. Any less than 300 attendees would be seen as a poor attendance. I knew most of the funeral script – thats just the way funerals were. Local family businesses where funerals were conducted as required, between other services which the family business was involved in.

My first real venture into funerals was while on school work experience. In the big smoke of a nearby town. A full time, relatively large scale and somewhat more grand set up given the volume of funerals done. This was the best, most educational and interesting week of my school days.

I now realise how fortunate I was to get in to this profession. The week after I left school, I started as a trainee funeral director 80 miles away in a city to which I had rarely been.

This firm, part of a chain, was involved with the best part of 2000 funerals a year. It was run by staff and managers, following head office policy, rather than the 3rd generation of the family whose name was above the door.

I was surprised that my rural ways and enthusiasm for a job I knew little about was not welcomed more warmly. That said, 22 years down the road, I can understand how the novelty of multiple night time calls wears thin and can make you grumpy.

In my own mind however I was always destined to work for myself which I eventually did when excuses not to take the plunge ran out.

So, changes? Well there were no celebrants, humanists or family led ceremonies in these days that I can remember. Eco coffins? (I think you could still buy aerosol CFC’s.) Woodland Burial? No. Direct Cremation? Would possibly have been seen as a sign of disrespect – and the funeral directors might even have attended out of sympathy. Funeral estimates were a new thing. Having said that, If I am not mistaken, the DWP (DHSS) would have paid the full amount of a moderate funeral to eligible applicants. In any case, a family might have seen it as a matter of honour to pay the funeral account and so no need to ask for money up front. The majority of client families of course remain happy to pay a fair price for a good service.

So the dinosaur of funeral directing has seen changes even in my short time. Changes which challenge our industry / profession. Changes which have seen our role and prominence grow as some funerals become more elaborate. Other changes around the marginal edges of the bereavement sphere see some families try to Do It Themselves, whether out of budgetary constraint, or as an expression of love and devotion to loved ones. And yes, I have been loosely involved with DIY funerals done for both reasons.

Family circumstances have changed. Splits, distance, free thinking and the associated tugs on loyalty as people want to do things differently rather than in the prescribed manner. This all poses a challenge to the function of the funeral director. Not to mention obesity, traffic congestion, legislation and all the other things that have changed.

So our micro world of funerals along with the macro world of life has changed.

A few taps of a mobile phone gives us much of the information we need on any matter including death, dying and funerals. Our shopping is delivered to the door if we wish. Our society can no longer function without technology, systems and organisations.

How these changes are made manifest within our profession is inevitably going to be a matter of debate. As cars get bigger, faster, shinier and can no longer be repaired with a hammer, it follows that hearses will do likewise and be a source of pride to their owners.

Corporate tactics, accounting policies, aggressive marketing and all the associated problems of that will be applied to any potentially profitable activity. Lets accept that funerals will not be excluded.

Ultra low cost funeral companies running on a shoe string, or out of love need to prove sustainability. Lets not forget the other areas around deaths that need resources. Whether in servicing coroners’ contracts, international repatriation, high profile / state funerals all of which need grit, determination, and a sufficient return on the necessary capital.

We all work hard in our own sphere. Let’s keep it up, do our best for the clients who find us, and relish the challenge which our profession hands to us on a plate.

Poem

Saturday, 18 October 2014

This is the second poem we have have published by Paul Wooldridge. You can find the first here. Paul started writing poetry following the death of his father and as a result much of it deals with death and grief.  Paul is not a poet in the fulltime sense of the word, he is an ordinary person with a job etc who also writes poetry. So your feedback would be very welcome.

 

Failing Courage

 by Paul Wooldridge

 

My father cries like me. With eyes closed, tears

slip gently down his cheeks. Or should it be,

because I’ve shed so few in thirty years

and now I witness them so frequently,

I fear I cry like him, not he like me?

 

They build behind his eyelids, thin and raw,

before descending, leaving gleaming trails

on ageing skin, more pallid than before.

I note the signs, those caused as bodies ail,

and with them his reserves of courage fail.

 

Both anchored in the living room, his hand

in mine, he sinks back propped with pillowed head.

As limbs begin to twitch beyond command,

I watch my future weeping on a bed.

 

 

 

Guest Posts and Beyond: Search Engine Optimisation For Funeral Directors

Friday, 17 October 2014

unnamed (6)

 

Guest post by Mark Sharron

Okay Charles, challenge accepted.  This will be the first in a series of articles where I share some insights into what the readership of this site (people who work in the funeral industry, mostly) can do to increase their search engine exposure.

To give you a little background on myself I have been working on behalf of a Brighton funeral director (Sussex Funeral Services Limited) for about 18 months and I’m proud to report during my tenure their brand has enjoyed an uninterrupted strong first page presence.

As business owners, if you get SEO right, the rewards can make the difference between a healthy balance sheet or struggling to attract new clients.

This article and those that follow will give you an insight into how Google and other search engines work including how tips on how to increase your search engine exposure.  I also extend an open invitation for any readers of this site/blog to ask me anything in the comments below.

Over the next few posts, I’m going to cover a range of topics and tie each of them back to the funerary industry. These include:

  • *   Keyword research / types of keywords.
  • *   Pay per click (ppc/adwords) advertising
  • *   Your website
  • *   Content marketing / onsite seo
  • *   Google local
  • *   Google organic
  • *   Link building (including guest posts like this one)
  • *   Analytics
  • *   Social media

Keyword Research:

The foundation of any SEO campaign is keyword research.   Thorough keyword research will either make or break an SEO campaign.  When I first engage a new client, the first thing I usually get told is “I want to rank #1 in Google.”  My immediate response is “What do you want to rank #1 one for?”  The most important first step in any SEO or PPC campaign is keyword research.

A keyword is any word or phrase that a potential client may type into a search engine when looking for your site or a competitor’s offering.

The trick to keyword research is understanding your market and the kind of language prospective clients are using when they search for a funeral director.

For example:

  • *   Your brand name e.g. Sussex Funerals
  • *   Funeral director Brighton
  • *   Funeral director Hove
  • *   Funeral home Brighton
  • *   Undertaker Brighton
  • *   Funeral director
  • *   Undertaker
  • *   Funeral home
  • *   Cheap funeral director Brighton
  • *   Affordable funeral director in Brighton

This list is a very small sample of potential keywords a prospective client may use.  The idea is to create an exhaustive list of funeral focused keywords and have your website rank at the top of first page for all of them.  The greater the number of keywords your site ranks for, the more prospective clients will find your site. More clients finding your website means more potential business.   To summarise, this is known as a “long-tail keyword strategy.” A long-tail keyword strategy is not about picking one specific keyword, rather an aggregate search volume strategy that targets hundreds keywords at once.

Different Types of Keywords:

Not every keyword is equal.  Some will attract more searches and will be harder to rank for; other keywords will be less competitive and convert more clients.  In the SEO industry we give different types of keywords names.  I personally group keywords into the following categories:

  • *   Short-tail keywords
  • *   Long-tail keywords
  • *   Branded keywords
  • *   Local keywords
  • *   Keywords with commercial intent

Short Tail: 1-2 words are a known as short tail keywords e.g. “funeral director.”  These keywords attract the most searches. They are more competitive/will be harder to rank for, and users landing on your site are in research mode, therefore a high percentage of visitors arriving at a website using short tail keywords do not convert into billable business.

Long Tail: 3+ words imply commercial intent.  4+ words there is strong commercial intent.  A web user is starting to narrow down their search to a specific product or service, e.g. “affordable humanist funeral director.”  Individual long tail keywords attract fewer searches but they typically have more value.  Ranking for a lot of long tail keywords is a lot easier in organic search and less expensive in Adwords.

Local Keywords: Local keywords can be a combination of short-tail or long-tail and generally have a strong commercial intent as a user is searching for a local service provider e.g. “funeral director Brighton” or “cheap funeral director Brighton”

Branded Keywords.  This is just your brand name e.g. “Sussex Funeral Services.”  In this case my client has used a local keyword as his brand name which gives his website an advantage when web users search for Sussex Funeral Directors.

Keywords with Commercial Intent: These are usually long tail keywords where there is a clear commercial intent. e.g. “cheap funeral director”, “budget funeral director”.  Users are again searching for something specific.  They are in buying mode.  You will find your competition knows these keywords have value and they can be quite expensive to bid on.

In the next article I will explore Google Adwords and considerations / tips when setting up a PPC campaign as a funeral director.

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments section and I will respond within 24 hours.

 

 

Write a guest blog post and feel the lift

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

ROY_324967k

 

It takes all sorts to make a GFG mailbag — it’s not all lawyer’s letters from the FBCA, you know. Here’s one:

Hello Charles and Good Funeral Guide team,

I’m an avid reader of The Good Funeral Guide blog and and would be honoured to contribute by submitting an article.

I would love to read a post on ‘How to Incorporate a Limousine in a Funeral on a Budget’, and I think your other readers would too. It would definitely be a valuable inclusion because it will give your readers some tips on saving money on using a limo in a funeral.

I know you are probably too busy to get that content out immediately so how about you have my friend Mircea Stanescu write it for you? Mircea is the owner of Echo Limousine, which is a Chicago based limousine rental and service company. I assure you that the content will be of excellent quality.

Look forward to hearing from you,

Shivani

Our reply:

Dear Shivani

As an avid reader of the GFG blog you may have sometimes suspected that it is based in the UK. I can confirm that it is. This being so, I fear Mircea’s words will fall on deaf ears. I greatly regret this.  

With all best wishes 

Charles 

We get an awful lot of these emails from guest blogggers, most of them equally bonkers. Why? Because blogging wins tons of Brownie points with meritocratic search engine web crawlerthingies. It catapults you up the rankings and increases your visibility a millionfold – perhaps more. As Shivani knows very well, a mighty vehicle like the GFG has serious rocket power. Here at the Batesville-GFG Shard we have never bothered with SEO, not only because we think it unsporting but also because we don’t need to. We blog a lot and therefore sit at the right hand of the Lord Google Almighty Himself. 

From time to time we invite our readers to submit an article. Lots of you have promised to write something but have failed to come up with the goods, leaving the blog looking like the ravings of pub bore – me.  

How good it would be to widen the debate, embrace all sorts of points of view and have a blog that is representative of everyone who works in Funeralworld.  

Let off some steam. Send it in. Nom de plume allowed. It’ll be read all over the world and it’ll put your website on page one of Google. 

Come one, come all. Just do it. 

 

 

How old school got to be old hat

Monday, 13 October 2014

supermarket checkout

 

I don’t know what undertakers think about while they’re queueing for the supermarket checkout, but if they have anything in common with 84% of the rest of the population they may be reflecting on how their shopping habits have changed since the recession.

Just how many of them go on to make a connection with the changing habits of funeral shoppers is unclear.

The big four supermarkets are getting on with the job of remodelling themselves in order to adapt to altered trading conditions. We’ve heard them yelp, we’ve watched their share price tumble, but they’ve not cried Unfair! They’re buckling down to hard task of winning back custom.

The budget stores Aldi and Lidl have done well out of the downturn. Today’s grocery shoppers are avid deal-seekers.

People now buy from an average of 4 different supermarkets a week. They want value. Brand loyalty has gone out of the window.

They’re using the internet a lot more, too.

They like to top up with artisan products from small suppliers at farmers’ markets. There’s closer identification with the little guy and a rejection of Big Corp. Tesco is shunned not just because it’s too expensive but also because it’s perceived to be antisocial. Today’s shoppers want values, as well as value.

For the very poor, there are food banks to tide them over.

Trading conditions in Funeralworld are far, far worse. The cost of funerals has risen faster than that of groceries. For the very poor, the Funeral Payment is a dwindling and inadequate contribution to the price of a funeral. There is presently no volunteer-led community initiative on a par with food banks to help them.

A nation of born-again deal-seekers has stimulated the rapid growth of new startups offering budget funerals. These Aldi undertakers have been able to build volume to compensate for smaller margins by undercutting the old-school undertakers by some distance. Their competitiveness has been enhanced by the strong vocational values of many of them, some of whom work for next to nothing.

On top of that there’s been the inexorable rise of direct cremation, the grocery equivalent of the food pill. A great many of those who opt for this cheapest-of-them-all alternative are those who could easily afford a high-end funeral. Whoops, there goes a tranche of big payers.

Funeral shoppers no longer want to buy a whole funeral in one shop. They want to assemble it from several suppliers and they use the internet to find them. If they can afford a coffin from an artisan maker, that’s the one they’ll buy.

There’s been no rejection of Big Corp yet because consumer awareness has not identified Dignity, Funeral Partners and Laurel Funerals for what they are, nor have they sussed Co-operative Funeralcare for what it manifestly isn’t. Such is the growth rate of consumer vigilance, it won’t be long.

It’s not all about price. It’s also about service culture — too big a topic to be more than alluded to here, but an important factor.

Above all, though, there’s a widespread and growing rejection of the ceremonial, processional funeral in favour of simpler and therefore cheaper funerals. Bereaved people increasingly want to create ‘meaningful experiences’ rather than put on a good show.

That a nation famed for the quality of its ceremonial events should be falling out of love with ceremonial funerals is curious, something we talk about here from time to time. Whether this is an evolutionary phenomenon or down to a failure to adapt to modern needs is open to debate. The upshot is that there are lots of ‘traditional’ undertakers out there with high overheads and a dwindling customer base.

The pressure on traditional funeral homes is very great just now, varying in intensity from area to area. The best are buckling down to adapting to altered trading conditions. Some now offer a budget range, just like Waitrose. Others are lashing out with impotent fury at the unfairness of it all. The GFG has been a target of some of these recently. It won’t do. The GFG doesn’t have the clout to start trends. All it can do is hold up a pitiless mirror to what’s going on.

The undertakers  who survive will be the ones with the intelligence and humanity to meet the needs, values and budgets of their clients. The rest will go to the wall, and, sorry, you’ll only have yourselves to blame. Even in the good times we had hundreds more funeral directors than we needed.

Poem

Saturday, 11 October 2014

The Soul
by John Whitworth

The soul is like a little mouse.
He hides inside the body’s house
With anxious eyes and twitchy nose
As in and out he comes and goes,
A friendly, inoffensive ghost
Who lives on tea and buttered toast.
He is so delicate and small
Perhaps he is not there at all;
Long-headed chaps who ought to know
Assure us it cannot be so.
But sometimes, as I lie in bed,
I think I hear inside my head
His soft ethereal song whose words
Are in some language of the birds,
An air-borne poetry and prose
Whose liquid grammar no one knows.
So we go on, my soul and I,
Until, the day I have to die,
He packs his bags, puts on his hat
And leaves for ever. Just like that.

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