Preplanning a Funeral with a Boomer

I recently had the chance to spend the weekend reconnecting with a couple of college buddies. We hadn’t seen each other in decades, so when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped on it.

As we talked about our lives, I mentioned that I had focused my consulting business on helping funeral home owners grow their businesses. The looks on their faces told me that they thought that was the weirdest possible niche to focus on.

They both went on a rant about how they thought funerals were a waste of money and that neither wanted anything to do with the tradition. I just listened and let them unload.

When they finished venting, I asked if they preferred cremation or burial. They both said cremation, which didn’t surprise me at all.

One of my friends is an avid scuba diver. He and his wife have traveled the world, diving in the most exotic locations they could find.

I described the Eternal Reef project in Florida, where they are placing cremated remains in concrete reef balls in an effort to rebuild coral reefs and restore the marine ecosystem. He loved the idea!

Within minutes he had pulled up their website on his phone and started exploring their reefs. He said the $8,500 Mariner Eternal Reef looked perfect for his family.

Next, I spent some time explaining the importance of providing a gathering time for his family and friends after his death. He finally agreed after I told him that his body didn’t need to be in a casket, he could pick the music, and we could serve his favorite Scotch.

My other friend moved to Australia shortly after college and lived in Sydney. He said he wanted to be cremated and hadn’t considered anything else.

I told him about one of my clients in Sydney who takes groups of 75 to 100 people out on a yacht cruise around the Sydney Harbor. They spend roughly three hours cruising the harbor, having cocktails, telling stories, eating a meal together, and scattering his ashes at sunset.

Once again, he loved the idea. When I told him the cost was roughly $15k to $20k, he said having a great sendoff was well worth it.

Neither man would have ever considered what they thought of as a traditional funeral with a visitation, casket, church service, and burial. But both were open to doing something else when I presented the ideas.

Both men are in their early 60’s and are Baby Boomers. They have attended lots of funerals and knew what they didn’t want but didn’t know what else was possible.

I’ve had dozens of conversations like this over the years, primarily with Baby Boomers. Only a tiny fraction of them were interested in a traditional funeral, and the rest assumed they’d just be cremated with no services.

This leads me to think that preneed marketing will need a major overhaul if it’s going to work with Baby Boomers.

Over the years, I have had the chance to review the marketing materials used by most of the preneed companies in the funeral industry. Typically they provide direct mail pieces, print ads, surveys, and seminar materials all designed to take someone through the process of planning their funeral.

The problem is the messaging used in the materials was created for the GI and Silent generations. The same messaging will only work for a very small fraction of Baby Boomers.

Some of my clients use the preneed programs offered by companies like Precoa. When they analyze the results by age group, they find that Silent generation respondents typically will preplan a funeral. However, Boomers almost always plan a cremation with minimal services.

Warning sirens should be going off like crazy at the preneed companies because the current model is fundamentally broken. The only thing saving it from total collapse is the massive size of the boomer generation.

So how do we fix this problem?

Step #1 – Develop new Boomer-focused messaging

The current preneed marketing messaging is focused on how hard it will be for your children to make funeral plans for you. That message works for the Silent Generation but will not work for Boomers.

Realistically, you will never create a message that works for both generations. Instead, I recommend developing a message and campaign specifically for Boomers.

Step #2 – Transform the seminar

Current preplanning seminars focus on the mechanics of making your arrangements, but they skip right over why you should make arrangements in the first place. That’s a huge problem for Boomers.

Boomers need a collaborative education-focused seminar instead of one focused on filling out paperwork. It needs to take them through a process that helps them to understand that they should do something and help them understand what is possible.

Boomers do not want to plan a cookie-cutter funeral. They want to design a personalized celebration of their life.

Step #3 – Develop premium offerings

Overall, the Boomer generation is very wealthy. However, most of that wealth is concentrated in a small segment of the generation, and the typical Boomer has little saved for retirement.

In the past, most funerals cost roughly the same amount, with only a small difference based on the casket they selected. But for Boomers, you should expect a much broader range of prices. The reality is that many boomers can only afford a direct cremation, while others can afford to spend $100k on their memorial event.

That’s why you need to develop premium memorial experiences that you can offer to a boomer with money. If you do not have something to offer the family that wants to spend $100k, they will spend it with someone else.

Preneed marketing is an essential part of every funeral home business. The response rates from the Silent Generation are in decline because most of them have already made their plans. It’s time to shift the focus to the next generation, but as usual, what worked for the Silent Generation won’t work for Baby Boomers.

Until next time

John

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