An email arrived here recently from a person who has been struck by the way undertakers dress their windows. ‘Dreadful’ is one of the adjectives she used, ‘depressing’ another. She’d like to set up a small business and put them right.
Whether or not undertakers’ windows are on the whole dressed badly is a matter of perception. An assortment of tombstones, the window sticker of a trade association, a vase of faded artificial flowers and a fan of pamphlets selling Golden Fleece funeral plans – is that okay or is it dreadful and depressing? In truth, you rarely see much in most undertakers’ windows to raise the spirits of yer average potential customer, nor evidence of the exercise of much imagination, aesthetic intelligence or marketing acumen.
Did I say customer? I meant client, of course. Funeral Directors are professionals. They term themselves Funeral Directors to distance themselves from the unlettered, scurrilous undertakers of yore. The modern use of the word undertaker denotes an artisan funeral director, an altogether different fish, one we can dissect another day. Artisan, of course, doesn’t mean what it used to mean, either; it’s gone (socially) upmarket like artisan toast.
What other professional operates out of a shop? I mean, I was going to say, lawyers announce their presence with nobbut a discreet brass plaque, but actually, come to think of it, a lot of them now have something of a shopfront. As do banks, and banking is a profession, right? What are estate agents?
Does it matter? You can tie yourself in knots arguing one way or the other about whether undertaking is a trade or a profession and it’s only status anxiety that causes undertakers to fret about it. Journalists don’t. (They’re trade.)
Undertakers aren’t there to flog you stuff, so you wouldn’t expect their windows to follow the retail model. Nor is there anything they can put in them to tempt people to avail themselves of their services before they absolutely need them — it’s only sad necessity that draws them over the threshold.
Nevertheless, a window is a potent marketing tool – and as they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. It’s a place where you can transmit key messages about your professionalism which will bear fruit when people find themselves bereaved.
What messages should a shop window transmit? Answer: what people want to hear, of course. Here are some.
The attribute that bereaved people rate most highly is empathy. Kindness if you prefer.
They want to know that you are a member of the human race and not one of those weird sotto voce types from planet BlackMac.
They want to know that you possess specialist skills and expertise of a high order.
They want to know that you have a vocation; that you are motivated by altruism (not greed and an ambition to sell out to FSP as fast as you can).
They want to know you are honest and open in your commercial dealings.
They want to know you have organisational skills.
They want evidence that your qualities are endorsed by someone on the side of the consumer.
You’ll tell me which ones I’ve missed.
How you get all or even some of those messages into a window display I haven’t a clue. But if I were an undertaker I’d be working on it. If you can create in people a warm regard long before they need you, you can probably halve your advertising spend.