Recently, funeral director and blogger Jeff Harbeson shared a fascinating article on his site in which he dissects the responses he received when “mystery shopping” three funeral homes for cheap cremation services.
To make a long story short, what startled Harbeson wasn’t the monetary difference in the quotes he received. (Though the given range of $895-$4,390 certainly deserves some scrutiny). It was the fact that none of the funeral homes he contacted bothered to engage him in any meaningful way beyond providing a price, package details and the firm’s website address. Even in these phone calls, each funeral home had a chance to sell Harbeson on their unique merits and strengths. However, each of them failed.
Unfortunately, these aren’t isolated incidents. Instead, they’re a symptom of a larger problem. That many funeral homes have no idea how to market themselves in this increasingly consumer-driven market. If families no longer base their final care decisions on geographic proximity or long-standing relationships with neighborhood funeral homes, how can firms differentiate themselves from their competitors in order to attract customers?
At least part of the answer to this question lies in understanding and communicating your funeral home’s competitive advantage.
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Your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
Do any of the following phrases ring a bell?
“The milk chocolate melts in your mouth, not in your hand.”
“Fresh, hot pizza delivered to your house in 30 minutes or less or it’s free.”
“1,000 songs in your pocket.”
Chances are you recognize these statements from the marketing campaigns of M&M candies, Dominos pizza, and Apple’s first-generation iPod. But what really makes them powerful isn’t their use in promotional campaigns. It’s the way they’re structured to show a clear competitive advantage over other products in their respective marketplaces.
Each of these statements can be considered a “unique selling proposition,” defined as, “[A] specific characteristic that makes one product, company or person stand out from the competition.” Knowing your funeral home’s USP is the key to making your business to stand out from others in your area and to selling your products and services effectively.
Crafting a good USP can take time. However, you can begin the process by identifying the one defining characteristic that sets your funeral home apart. Begin the process by asking yourself the following questions:
- How does my funeral home compare to my competitors in terms of price?
- What makes my facilities better than others in my area?
- How long have I been in business compared to my competitors?
- Do I have a demonstrable record of offering creative, personalized services?
- Am I more modern than my competitors in terms of the funeral technology I offer?
- Can I offer customers more caskets, urns or other products than my competitors?
- How do I go above and beyond to serve my customers?
Obviously, not all of these potential competitive advantages will apply to your funeral home. As it’s unlikely that you’ve been in business the longest, and offer the best selection, services, and prices. Instead, identify your strongest advantage and use it to form the basis of your funeral home’s USP statement.
Features versus Benefits
As you think about your USP, consider your competitive advantage in terms of how it serves your customers. To do this, keep the difference between features and benefits in mind.
- A “feature” is a defining characteristic of a product or service. For example, if your firm offers the lowest direct cremation rates in your area, that’s a feature of your service.
- A “benefit” is the impact each feature has on your customers. In our direct cremation example, the benefit of offering the lowest rates in your area is that the families you serve will be able to make final arrangements without worrying about having to come up with more money than they can afford. The resulting benefits are peace of mind during a difficult time and financial stability.
As a general rule, features don’t sell products or services — benefits do. Your customers don’t care that you’ve been in business longer than any of your competitors. Longevity itself doesn’t make one funeral home better than another. Similarly, they don’t care that you’re the biggest firm in town. Unless you can directly tie your size to concrete consumer benefits like lower cost.
When you build your USP, make sure it clearly highlights your competitive advantage. Translate the features you identified in your brainstorming session into customer-oriented benefit statements. Then, be sure your USP is present in every part of your firm’s sales and marketing process — from your print advertising materials to the way your team members answer the phones. By delivering this message through every channel, you’ll make your funeral home the obvious choice for consumers in your area.