Is There Any Place For Innovation In The Funeral Industry Today?

By Peter Billingham

PART 7 OF A 7 PART SERIES - 7 STEPS TO PASS ON A SUCCESSFUL DIGITAL FUNERAL BUSINESS TOMORROW

In a world of change, the learners shall inherit the earth, while the learned shall find themselves perfectly suited for the world that no longer exists.
— Eric Hoffer

The traditional role of a Funeral Director has not changed much in many, many years. People die. They always have and they always will. Families want to say goodbye to someone they have loved. A ritual of sorts takes place. Then the body is laid to rest somehow, somewhere. 

Is There Any Place For Innovation In The Funeral Industry Today?

The funeral world as we know it is rapidly changing. Attitudes around death are evolving. Conversations about death and planning a funeral have become the currency of news. Justin Bieber at 22 years old is allegedly planning his funeral to have a solar-powered headstone that plays video and a moving 3D hologram so that his music legacy will live on in a unique way.

Is this the innovation the funeral industry needs?

Hardly. However, what it points to is the power has shifted to the consumer. A Funeral Director that wants to remain profitable, relevant and in some instances keep their job, needs to place innovation firmly on the agenda.

This post continues in the short series, 7 Steps To Pass On A Successful Digital Funeral Business Tomorrow. Many funeral businesses are a second, third or even fourth generation business. Digital disruption has changed the funeral marketplace considerably. To pass on a thriving business to the next generation it now needs a "digital" mindset.

In this post, the most important step of the 7, I want to make a case for the critical nature of your funeral business to prioritise innovation. 

In the previous posts, I explained what the difference between an "analogue" and "digital" mindset. 

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STEP ONE - ALLOCATE RESOURCES.
STEP TWO - DEVELOP A "HOME BASE" WEBSITE.  
STEP THREE - DIGITISE YOUR CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE.
STEP FOUR - CREATE CUSTOMER FOCUSED PLATFORMS.
STEP FIVE - CREATE CONTENT.
STEP SIX - ENGAGE WITH CONSUMERS 

What Is Innovation? 

The term "innovation" defining it as something original and more effective and, as a consequence, new, that "breaks into" the market or society.

“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” Said, Peter Drucker. 

What Are You Doing New In Your Funeral Business?

Regardless of the industry, innovation is crucial to the continuing success of any business.
‘Innovation’ is probably the most over-used word in business these days says, Ben Ross. He writes, "This cannot be allowed to continue. It is time to reclaim innovation for what it actually means: the development of something new."

Innovation is the antidote to the curse of progress declared by any business that says -

"We Have Always Done It This Way."

As the opening quote by Hoffer explicitly warns, those who do not learn, make themselves redundant in a world that no longer needs them. The same with innovation. Those businesses who do not innovate prepare themselves adequately for the world they are no longer needed or suited.

What Does Innovation Possibly Look Like?

While this list is not exhaustive and only a representative of many progressive funeral companies, here is four examples of where innovation in the industry or by funeral firms is taking place.

Offering Legal Services To Existing Clients

Lodge Brothers Funeral Services - Lodge Brothers is 230 years old and is run by the seventh generation of the Lodge family, with branches in the south and west of London. They have added Lodge Brothers Legal Services as an alternative business structure (ABS) to the funeral firm. An ABS under The Legal Services Act 2007 allows non-lawyers to own and invest in law firms. Head of legal services, Sophie Andrews, said, We want to be a one-stop shop so that if there is anything they need, we can help them with it.” She added the firm could expand into conveyancing “further down the line”. The Co-op funeral care was the first to offer a combination of funeral and legal services, but they are first family-owned funeral directors to set up an ABS. Innovation - an additional service they can provide the clients they help.
 
The Rise Of The Artisan Funeral

In an article by Rebecca Mead in The New Yorker, she describes the services offered by Caitlin Doughty who considers herself to be a new breed of "alternative funeral service" businesses. Doughty has a series of online videos and rich social media profiles that answer such questions as “Are these my mother’s ashes?” Moreover, “What is the best way to write into my will that my children will receive no inheritance unless they have my dead body taxidermied and propped up in the corner of the living room!” What Doughty offers her families is the option to create tailored events that celebrate the life of deceased in a highly personalised and individual way.
Innovation - event planning a customised funeral that reflects the individuality of the deceased. 

Can You Bury Me Standing Up!

Carl Marlow launched Go As You Please Funerals after losing his mother. He set up the business wanting to innovate around the traditional ideas within the funeral industry. High on the agenda was to give back control of funerals to the families and friends of loved ones who have died. Fifteen years on thousands of North East families have been helped. Recently, he has set up a woodland burial site where families can be buried together, ‘standing’ around a tree – and even offers a ‘buy one, get one free’ send-off. What makes this different, apart from the position of the body, is conducting the whole service within the woodland burial ground.
Innovation - no longer having to conform to local council burial rules. 

Can You Live Stream The Funeral On Facebook Please! Oh, and do you have a paper chapel? 

An Australian funeral firm, The House want to revolutionise the funeral industry by reinventing everything about the ritual, even changing the name from funeral service to memory service. Once freed from tradition, a funeral can take countless forms. “We see the possibilities as being endless,” says Stevens. “That is the beauty of the arts, and the design and curation process. It allows us to explore difference and individuality more meaningfully.” In a recent article, she described what this could look like - "Audio-visual elements can be used during a funeral to tell the narrative of the deceased and their family. Light, sound, imagery and especially music will all play a part. Taking this curatorial approach, a funeral could look a lot like an exhibition." The House have also commissioned Australian artist Benja to develop a bespoke paper chapel that can be transported to services, setting the tone to create beautiful feelings of reflection.
Innovation - changing the location and the format of the ritual beyond recognition. 

Conclusion

Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.
— Brené Brown

To move your funeral business from an analogue to a digital business takes guts. It takes a leader who is willing to risk, to be prepared to make mistakes. It takes courage to swim against the flow. However, if you will adapt and implement these seven steps, you will be ready for the new reality that will be the funeral industry shortly. By then, for many, those who cry "we have never done it this way," it will be too late.

I hope that you have enjoyed this series of blog posts? I would love to hear from you if you are transitioning or have become a digital funeral business. Please contact me and let's start a conversation.