Personalization: Are we just whistling past the graveyard?

Not that many years ago, coffee only came in regular and decaf, and most households had a choice between just three television channels. The world has changed tremendously. Consumers now expect everything to be readily available, delivered overnight, in any color they desire, regardless of what they are buying. Amazon and Starbucks created these expectations and now consumers desire instant gratification. If we think we can serve the needs of the 78 million Baby Boomers and their families in the same way we served their parents, then we are whistling past the graveyard.

To charge a premium price for funeral services, we also must deliver a premium experience that meets – and even exceeds – these new consumer expectations. A funeral service that people will talk about. A funeral service that comes home with the family. A service that is shared. Funeral homes that don’t deliver an unforgettable experience will have to continue to reduce their prices accordingly until they eventually close their doors.

Personalization is one critical component to creating the “wow” experience consumers expect. Not just taking in some items from the home, but creating something that becomes part of the home so they remember you…part of their family. Your goal is to wow them at the service and then win space in the living room for the next decade. If you win the living room, then your funeral home becomes part of the conversation whenever a lost loved one is talked about.

To optimally execute personalization and win a place in the home day-in and day-out, you must consider the 10 truths of personalization for funeral directors. Think about these 10 rules and how they relate to your service. To take your firm to the next level, your personalization must be:

1. Impressive

Leave an impression. Whatever you do must wow the family and the entire service. You are trying to make an impression on hundreds of people. You can’t do this with a few photos on the table or a fishing pole. Too often I have asked funeral directors about personalization only to hear them grasp at worn-out concepts all involving the family toting trinkets back and forth from the service to their home. This is your opportunity to tell a life story in such a way that everyone at the service wants to come speak with you. How did you do this? Where did you get this? Think big.

2. Lasting

If part of what you do becomes a gift to the family then shelf life is critical here and must be measured in years. Avoid trinkets or anything that will collect dust and do nothing to serve the family or your business long after the service. You must do something that stays with the family so that when the next call comes years from now, it comes to you. We all have thrown away flowers. Think long term.

3. Affordable

Whatever you choose to provide must be inexpensive so you can add it to your GPL and surprise the family at the service. If they know it’s coming, it’s not going to solve rule number one. If it costs more than $100 all-in, then it’s not affordable and becomes a burden. We have enough expenses; we need more revenue.

4. Reorder

Think flag fight at a service. When more than one family member at the service has their heart set on keeping something personal that you provided, you are automatically gifted the golden opportunity to step in and say… “That is not a problem, I can get one for each of you.” How wonderful is that? Whatever you choose to impress your families, make sure you can get more, fast and inexpensively.

5. Timely

If you can’t have it for the service, or the first viewing for that matter, it doesn’t count. You want to wow hundreds of people at once, and it must be part of your celebration of life.

6. Genuine

This is your contribution to the service. Make it real, not paper that looks like a painting or plastic that looks like wood. You want families to rave about what you do, not be accepting of it. If it can be stored on a shelf weeks prior to the service and snapped into place, it is not genuine.

7. Easy

It must be easy. As we all know how crazy things get as the service approaches, ease of ordering is essential.
Whatever you choose must be simple to order, create, build, whatever; and it must come overnight or it doesn't matter. We have but a sliver of time to prepare for the service. We can’t run around town putting something together. Time is our most precious commodity.

8. Useful

It needs to be useful so it will stay with the family. This is the tricky part. It has to be able to go home and become part of their lives and more importantly, a conversation piece with their friends. A good rule of thumb: your personalization idea should spark a response, such as “I think about your funeral home every time I use the (fill in the blank).” Funeral blankets and pillows are excellent choices as well as useful items. It is easier to put a
pillow on a couch than to hang a picture on a wall. The added benefit is that there is nothing more comforting than a soft pillow or touch of a blanket when we want to feel comforted.

9. Quality

It matters. Whatever you do, it should enhance your brand. How does it feel? How long will it last? Is it top-of-the-line? Think Mercedes not Hyundai.

10. Healing

Does it help with the bereavement process after the service? We all know how to help families for the first few days, but the home run is helping them for the first few years. Think about something that also helps with aftercare, something that helps them heal. In the old days, everyone had quilting parties after a funeral and the quilt would tell the story of someone's life. The quilts would hang on the wall, sit on the couch and come to picnics and family reunions. Gone are the days of quilting after a funeral but there are several close options that fit the bill.

It’s time to take a good, hard look at the products and services you offer. What do you do today that would have been impossible 10 years ago? How does your funeral service compare to Starbucks or Amazon? Are you creating a wow experience for your families? Does the personalization you provide serve the needs of the family? Will they come back because they want to or because you are local?

My company weaves tapestry blankets and has the benefit and insight of working across multiple industries. In addition to funeral items, we serve the home decor, photography, gift, wedding and collegiate markets. I have witnessed first-hand the implosion of the photography industry as digital cameras came online, yet I have photography customers who thrive because they changed. I know gift stores that survived the onslaught from Walmart by changing the way they serve their consumers. Acknowledging and adjusting to customers' ever-evolving expectations and needs is paramount to sustaining your business and growing your client base.

The funeral industry is fantastically stable as we have predictable volume coming from the markets we serve. Our competition is not necessarily the firm down the street, it is more often the unique, memorable service that can be created by the loved one’s family in their own backyard. We must make sure our families understand we can work along with them to create a one-of-a-kind, unforgettable experience, and that we are well able to change with the times.

Businesses that don't adapt fail every day. There are more than 78 million shopping-savvy Baby Boomer consumers, all looking to us to meet their needs. Roughly 2,600 funeral homes have closed since 2000. If your service looks like it did 10 years ago, then you are behind the times and at great risk of becoming obsolete. Being noticed is great; being memorable is what will sustain your business, and to do this you must win a place in the living room.

This message was originally published in the Winter 2022 issue of The Independent®. Click here to read the entire issue.

Karl Weisenbeck is president of Funeral Home Gifts, the premier supplier of heirloom quality woven and printed Tribute Blankets, beautiful custom cap panels, keepsake pillows, photo urns and personalization products to funeral homes throughout North America. It is a division of Pure Country Weavers, a world leader in woven wall tapestries, college stadium blankets, photo gift blankets and corporate logo blankets. Visit


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