Email Marketing

Best Practices for Funeral Home Email Marketing

As funeral directors, we are well aware of the changing trends that society has presented us. Besides noting the increase in the cremation rate, which we are very conscious of, the 2001 census by Statistics Canada revealed that over sixty percent of Canadians have access to the Internet. In the past, funeral directors haven’t been quick to change and the Internet and electronic communications, like email, are now commonplace. Although your firm may not have an online presence (a web site) or use email daily, over half of the population does. With this information, marketing by email to some degree should seem to be an obvious part of your marketing plan. Since email marketing may be foreign to most, the following outline will identify the key success factors and explain how email marketing works, what are the benefits for your firm, and recommend the best practices for achieving a successful and ethical program.

There are two methods that funeral homes can employ an email marketing program. First, on an individual call basis, email can be used by the client family to promote your funeral home’s web site. This form of viral marketing (not virus) will be explained later.

Secondly, the more common method in e-business would be the use of newsletters and other promotional mailings to a large number of recipients. For funeral homes, this could be in the form of a monthly or quarterly newsletter or a special announcement for upcoming events. This report will assume that your funeral home has an online presence and offers a newsletter that visitors can subscribe to. There are four sections listed in chronological order detailing the email marketing process.

Collecting Email Addresses

Use ethical address gathering methods

As funeral directors, we are very cautious not to offend anyone in our daily business operations and traditional marketing. The same goes for email marketing. Why would you waste time and money emailing people if they didn’t want it? Even though using stringent permission based data collection will limit the amount of addresses in your database; the result will be a “purer” collection of people who want your information. There are different tiers of gathering techniques, listed from the least ethical to the most.

Harvesting. This is gathering email addresses without the owner’s permission. It is achieved by “plucking” addresses from web sites, chat rooms, online directories, and other Internet channels.
The remaining methods relate to the user consciously entering his or her email address in a subscription tool on a web site.

Opt-out. After entering one’s address, the subscription box is already “check”. If the visitor doesn’t uncheck the box, he or she will be added to the mailing list. This method may still be deemed “sneaky.”
Unconfirmed Opt-in. This is like the previous method, but the box needs to be checked by the viewer. Basically he or she has consciously asked to subscribe. The problem with this method is that one could enter someone else’s address.

Verified Opt-in. Like the previous method, but in addition an email is automatically sent to the user stating that he or she subscribed to your newsletter. This email gives the user an opportunity to unsubscribe, but if left unanswered he or she will remain on the list.

Double Opt-in. This is like the previous method, except that the receiver must reply to the email or click on a link. At this point they are added to the list. This is the best practice as the user has re-confirmed his or her desire and this also prevents someone falsely entering someone else’s address.
Always record the date, time, and IP address for each submission. This information is just for your protection in the event of complaints from subscribers. Your hosting company or email campaign manager can provide this service for you. The result may be a smaller database, but it is as “pure” as possible. This pureness saves mailing expense and prevents receivers accusing you of Spam.

Recommendation. Use the “Double Opt-in” technique, it is the most ethical and limits the receipt of unwanted emails.

Creating Effective Newsletters and Mailers

Convey your image and identity

In the recent past funeral homes have found that client families have not been as loyal. Owners and managers are looking for new ways to build new relationships and increase customer loyalty. Any online marketing should receive the same care and thought as any other funeral home marketing. Your newsletter should resemble your web site by using the same logos and colour schemes so that visitors can instantly identify the mailer.

Include Valuable Content

With the objective of building relationships and increasing loyalty, provide useful and desired content along with your message. A funeral home newsletter could include sections on grief and bereavement, upcoming funeral home community events, staff profiles, and of course, preneed.

Be Aware of Technical Issues

Unlike print media, what-you-see is not always what-you-get over the Internet. You need to cater to three main viewing preferences: HTML (nice looking with colour and graphics), AOL (for subscribers to America Online only), and plain text (for users with older systems or slower internet access). Although making three versions is a little more work, you do not want to alienate anyone. Have them choose the format that the user desires at the time of subscribing. Don’t forget to always include an unsubscribe option in your mailer. To maintain customer loyalty and your reputation, always make it easy for the receiver to unsubscribe. Also, as stated earlier, you want to maintain a pure database.

Recommendation. Use your corporate image and brand, include useful information, and format your document into HTML, AOL, and plain text. Plus, always include a method to unsubscribe.

Using Viral Marketing

Viral marketing is defined as having someone else re-distribute your message. The most basic example is the use of an email signature, for example, “Get your Private, Free Email from MSN Hotmail at http://www.hotmail.com.” You can use the same method promoting your funeral home by adding a signature to all of your out going email. “Visit our web site at www.yourfuneralhome.com.” Viral marketing can also be applied to your email newsletter campaign. You will notice many online articles state, “Click here to email this article to a friend.” This puts your message in front of people who may never have seen it.

Recommendation. Include a “Send Article to Friend” feature. Then include the re-senders name in the format of the forwarded article, “This article was sent to you by Robin Heppell.”
As stated earlier, one form of viral marketing can be implemented for each family you serve. During the arrangement interview, ask for the email addresses from all family members with Internet access. Advise them that you will send them an email with all of the information pertaining to the deceased’s services. Ask them to forward the message to all appropriate people in their email address book. There are three main benefits:

  • you provide the family with a well worded message that they can send (as they have a lot of other things on their minds and may not be able to pen the right words)
  • emailing family and friends is a quick and efficient way to “spread the word about the death and funeral”
  • this unique viral marketing method will drive many visitors to your web site and maybe while at the web site they may order flowers or a gift basket for the family

This marketing technique can help in building relationships, strengthening loyalty, and increasing sales.
Recommendation. Script a well worded announcement stating funeral information and links to the obituary on your web site, then send the email to the client family for them to pass on to others.

Analyzing Statistics

Sir Francis Bacon stated, “Knowledge is Power.” Many forms of marketing are very hard to track. Even traditional direct mail, which is a lot more expensive in both printing and distribution, can only be tracked by the amount of replies that are received. With an email marketing campaign, you can analyze:

  • number of messages sent (delivery rate)
  • number that were opened (open rate)
  • number that went to your site (click through rate)
  • number that were forwarded (pass along rate)
  • number of purchases (purchase rate)
  • number of unsubscribers (unsubscribe rate)
  • number that bounced invalid address (bounce back rate)

You can “know” everything about the campaign. By using this data, current return on investment can be measured and future campaigns can be fine tuned to be even more efficient.

Recommendation. Learn how to analyze all email tracking statistics to enable you easily calculate ROI plus many other analysis. You will wish you had this information for all of your other marketing programs. Remember, knowledge is power.

This dialogue and the included recommendations are only guidelines to help funeral directors better understand how email marketing works and to prescribe an ethical manner to do so. In these changing and competitive times, funeral directors should consider new approaches to reach the community, build relationships, and strengthen loyalty. An ethical email marketing campaign can help to achieve that.

Note: Superseding these recommendations are any laws in your jurisdiction pertaining to the use of email marketing & solicitation.
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