Community Outreach for Brand Awareness

By: Danielle Burmeister
Monday, December 4, 2023

How many funeral homes do your client families consider before calling you to care for their loved ones? Three? Four?

The answer may surprise you.

Homesteaders has asked this question in our consumer research for more than a decade, and the results are consistent: three out of four consumers consider only one funeral home when making their arrangements.

It’s a metric that helps illustrate the importance of active preneed – the more families you can reach in advance, the more likely you’re going to be the first (and only) firm they consider. It also shows the power of brand awareness, the natural result of strategic and well-timed marketing. But what does it take to build that awareness in your community?

The U.S. Small Business Administration recommends spending 7-8% of a business’s gross income on marketing. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the median cost of a funeral with a visitation and burial was $7,848 in 2021 and the median cost of a funeral with cremation was $6,971. So a firm that does 100 calls a year with the average breakdown of burial vs. cremation (36.6% burial, 57.5% cremation) at the median service amount should be spending at least $48,000 on funeral home marketing each year.

But if your firm is like most funeral providers, spending 7-8% of your income on marketing can feel steep when you’re already struggling to attract and retain staff, keep up with rising inflation, and meet the increasing demand for cremation.

Building brand awareness through community outreach can be an effective way to stretch those marketing dollars. When done well, community service can help you generate positive word of mouth in your community which is often even more effective than traditional advertising methods. But you have to be careful about what type of community outreach you’re investing in – slapping your logo on the back of a Little League shirt is a nice gesture, but it’s not going to do much to increase your brand awareness.

At the funeral home I grew up in, my dad sponsored the local high school basketball team. Rather than a monetary donation, he offered up the funeral home facilities and technology once a month so the players and coaches could review game footage and enjoy a team meal. The financial investment was small: the parents provided the food and the team always cleaned up before they left. The return was significant: by opening the funeral home to those athletes, parents, and coaches, my dad established comfortable relationships with some high-profile community members. He contributed in a tangible and memorable way rather than being one of many on a long list of small business sponsors. And, as a bonus, he recruited some of the players to wash cars and help with lawn care.

Creative sponsorships like this have a more significant and lasting impact than standard money-for-logo exchanges How Funeral Homes Can Leverage Community Outreach for Brand Awareness by DANIELLE BURMEISTER VP-Marketing & Communications Homesteaders Life Company Southern Funeral Director Magazine October 2023 23 Danielle Burmeister is VP-Marketing and Communications for Homesteaders Life Company. She leads the team responsible for all aspects of Homesteaders’ marketing and branding. Before joining Homesteaders in 2015, Burmeister served as marketing coordinator for the Iowa State Fair and associate faculty for Ashford University. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Central College and her master’s degree from Iowa State University. In addition, Burmeister is a fellow in the Life Management Institute (FLMI), has received Homesteaders’ Rising Star Award, and was nominated for Homesteaders’ Outstanding Teamwork Award. About the Author because they’re focused on building relationships. I doubt any of those players could list the logos on the back of their game-day programs. But, over a decade later, they still come up to my dad and talk about their memories at the funeral home. That is the type of community outreach that truly pays off.

I talked with a funeral home owner a few years ago who hosts a Thanksgiving Day meal for anyone in her community who can’t spend the day with their family. It’s a lot of work to bake enough turkey and pie to feed the hundreds of people who attend. But it’s a meaningful experience for them, and they’re going to remember that day when the time comes for them to choose a funeral provider.

Another funeral home we work with invites community members to exchange their weathered American flags at their funeral home for fresh ones. The staff drapes the old flags on Veterans prior to cremation. But beforehand, they gently cut out a single star from the flag and frame it for the family as a keepsake. What started as a run-of-the-mill donation program has become a huge competitive differentiator for their firm. They’re now the first funeral home families think of when a Veteran dies.

Education can also be a powerful way to leverage community outreach for brand awareness. Lunch and learns, hosted events and even senior movie nights can help you reach more people in your community while also educating them on who you are and what you offer.

You can also extend those efforts to young people in your community. Consider reaching out to your local school board to see if there are opportunities for you to serve their students. Put together talking points parents can use to speak to their kids about death and dying. Encourage teachers to have students write about their own experiences with grief. Offer to visit the class after the tour to hear feedback and address questions. And, at the very least, ensure the schools in your area know you can be a compassionate subject matter expert and source for grief resources when a staff member or student dies.

There are so many ways you can leverage community service to build brand awareness. As a funeral professional, you are uniquely equipped to demonstrate your firm’s value to your community. The greatest investment with these services is time, not money, and they offer an effective way to tell your story while also getting to know members of your community.

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