By Peter Billingham - Digital Death Advisor
If Disney Did Funerals
“If Carlsberg did... they would probably be the best in the world!” Carlsberg's iconic beer ads are some of the most recognisable advertising taglines of the 20th century.
What if Disney started doing funerals? Would they be the most imaginative in the world? Well, maybe we have an answer.
Brad Rex previously ran Walt Disney's Epcot theme park in Orlando. Now he is the CEO of Foundation Partners Group,* which owns 50 funeral homes and nine cemeteries in 14 US states. They have just launched "Sharelife." These are multisensory experience rooms that rewrites the script for a funeral service.
Using sight, sound and even smell, "Sharelife" creates an exceptional environment to remember your loved one. Most funeral services only use one - the voice of the person from the front. Why would we expect in such a digitally visual world that to be any longer enough? "Sharelife" takes the funeral service to new and imaginative levels using audio, video and smell.
For example, say your loved one enjoyed playing golf. The experience rooms can create the aroma of a golf course, complete with the scent of newly mowed grass. There is a floor to ceiling screen covering one wall. In the room, they can create the smells and sounds of a beach, a mountain or football stadium. From the promotional video below, it appears that families will sit around tables, rather than in pews.
The "Sharelife" experience is now standard within the company’s funeral service fees. The Foundation Partners Group offer templated videos. Here families can add in their pictures and music to create an individual visual, auditory and olfactory experience.
It's More About Person Than The Ritual
This innovative idea is trailblazing the way of funerals. Today a funeral is more about remembering the person, than celebrating a ritual. It is critical that Funeral Industry recognise that it needs to adapt, to reinvent or, as in the case of Foundation Partners Group, reimagine the funeral service for times we live.
I can see the same trend happening here in the UK. Perhaps not as imaginative as in Orlando, but changing none the less.
TV's on mammoth scale
Last week I led a funeral service at a traditional crematorium in Worcester, England. Since the previous time I had been a celebrant for a service there, they had completely refurbished the room. Gone were the dark walls and hard wooden pews. Replacing them was a light, bright environment with comfortable chairs in a curve.
Hiding in the vestry was the largest television I have ever seen! This mammoth TV is ready to be wheeled out on the occasion of a photo or video presentation. Which, according to the staff there, was happening on a regular basis. Add into this mix the growth of live streaming funerals and we can see that change is coming.
The funeral industry is reinventing itself, albeit slowly and resistantly. Unless Funeral services stay relevant and meeting the needs of a visual generation, traditional Funeral Directors will see profits plunge. As in other aspects, new players will enter the market recognising an opportunity to bring new business models to market.
How Could A Funeral Business Respond?
Adding a visual presentation into a funeral service is not difficult or expensive. Many crematoria are not like the one in Worcester having a large screen TV. However, a small, powerful video projector and a screen could be set up in minutes. The investment is not significant. It could be a factor in the future when a customer chooses a funeral business. Playing a video presentation can be via a tablet, or a laptop as the music is playing on the Wesley System. Some crematoria can offer this service now. To collect, scan and build a simple, short presentation with pictures takes a little time. However, it could create added opportunities for business. As people seek to find a lower cost funeral they may be willing to buy an extra option of a video presentation? Alternatively, as Foundation Partner Group does, including this in your standard fees might differentiate you from other Funeral Businesses in the area.
"It's kind of fun to do the impossible."
These are just signs of the times that the funeral industry is in the throws of being revolutionised by digital technology and cultural change. Not everyone was a positive as Walt when he dreamed his vision for Disneyworld. Bankers, investors and a lot of people within the company strongly opposed to it. His brother Roy thought that a "fanciful, expensive amusement park would lead to financial ruin." However, as Walt said himself, "It's kind of fun to do the impossible."
It may seem fanciful to imagine the long-held traditions of funeral rituals ever changing. If you believe that, then watch out! It is going to be a roller coaster of a journey ahead!
* The Foundation Partners Website appears not to be accessible outside the USA.