Why Most Marketing Fails to Achieve Liftoff

Why most marketing fails and how you can secure more business

BY Tyler Anderson

Your wording is perfect, your design is enticing, and your message feels compelling. You’re all but guaranteed a flood of prospective customers.

Except nobody calls, few surveys are returned, and less than two of your “likes” convert.

Once again, you’re faced with the dreary task of saying goodbye to your ROI.

It’s just not working

What went wrong? Is something else to blame?

It’s no secret that the market has changed. Funeral service hovers over what Andy Grove of Intel called a strategic inflection point, a period where businesses need to completely rethink some aspect of their strategy—or face irrelevance.

You’re facing more competition than ever before. Whether because of direct disposers, the decline of religious affiliation, or the rise of DIY funerals, fewer people believe in the value of what you do. Funerals are now thought of as commodities. How can you possibly change that?

Time is of the essence

In the past 8 seconds, you’ve read one short paragraph. This happens to be the exact time it takes for a qualifying bull ride, and it’s also the length of your average customer’s attention span.

Wave upon wave of information crashes over today’s customers. It’s distracting, sure, but it also short-circuits rational choice. For most of us, we’re left with only the most primitive of responses: Does it help me, hurt me, or can I ignore it? Your messaging must be clear, concise, and focused if you hope to cut through the clutter.

For kicks, imagine this:

You’re trying to close a sale with a bull rider. At the rodeo. The gate is about to open, and you shout that your funeral home has been owned for four generations and that you provide personalized services with licensed care specialists, using first-in-class facilities.

Chances are, the rider will tune you out. Why? For the simple reason that they’re thinking about one thing, and one thing only. And it’s not funeral service.

It’s not you, it’s them

Obviously, few, if any, of the customers you serve are bull riders, but they are similarly focused or distracted. The typical metropolitan consumer contends with at least 5,000 ads per day. To make a compelling appeal for their attention, they must see a benefit.

It’s all about them.

The number of ads a typical metropolitan consumer contends with each day

You’ve already mastered the art of gauging how customers react. Face-to-face, you can clarify your message, breaking it down or reframing it so you’re on the same page. This wealth of firsthand experience is a huge asset.

But marketing doesn’t offer this same leeway. Intuition is powerful, but it’s also fallible.

“If you try to interpret a competitive threat or market upheaval by simply squeezing it into an old pattern,” complexity scientist Eric Bonabeau writes, “you’re likely to miss what makes it different—and take the wrong action. Intuition is a means not of assessing complexity but of ignoring it.”

An experienced intuition is powerful. When you combine this with data-driven research and analysis, you learn much more about what you thought you knew.

Knowing what you don’t know

Could you explain how a car battery stores electricity or how your smartphone works? Without Google, most of us suffer from what’s known as the illusion of explanatory depth. We overestimate our understanding of almost everything.

Now, consider your market. It’s true that you’ve spent years serving families in your community, but the diversity within your market might surprise you.

It’s true that you’ve spent years serving families in your community, but the diversity within your market might surprise you.

For example, it’s easy to forget that our last four presidents, for as different as they are, have one thing in common: they are all baby boomers. Yet selling anything to them would require completely different tactics.

Try imagining what it would take to capture Trump’s attention. What’s the one thing you could say? If you spent hours carefully studying videos, interviews, and any other data you could collect about his interests, habits, and preferences, your message could be vastly more effective.

The point? Intuition is always better served when it has science behind it. By conducting a precise market share analysis, you’ll see exact demographics along with your market’s untapped potential. From here you can begin segmenting your market and directing messages to customers based on previous purchasing habits.

By conducting a precise market share analysis, you’ll see exact demographics along with your market’s untapped potential.

To segment your market, try starting with M.A.S.D.A:

  • Measurable: What variables determine the characteristics and size of the market segment?

  • Accessible: Which channels will reach members of this segment, and why will they be most effective?

  • Substantial: Is the segment large enough to be worthwhile?

  • Differentiable: Are the needs of one segment easy to distinguish from the needs of another?

  • Actionable: Can your funeral home serve this segment’s needs?

Armed with the right data and metrics, you can be confident that your marketing messages will resonate. Your next step will be to test how well they work.

Always be testing

Without an effective measurement, your business will fumble for results in the dark. Testing turns on the lights. Through validated learning, your get evidence you can see, giving you clear reasons to either persevere with a strategy or change course.

To start, analyze a marketing piece that had measurable results. What elements seemed to contribute to its success? Why?

Next, follow these basic steps:

  • Raise a question. Question why a certain strategy works or how it might be improved. Precoa has tested everything for our funeral home partners, from the removal of a single sentence to revising a message’s branding. Even with proven marketing collateral, revising a minor detail makes a difference. And if it doesn’t, your test will show you why. Either way, you’ll have concrete evidence.

  • Define your variables. What measurable difference might lead to a meaningful result? After establishing an independent variable that you can measure, create a control piece and a challenger that you can begin testing. For example, Precoa used to have direct mail responses sent back to our funeral home partners, where they were gathered and shipped out-of-state. The process seemed inefficient, so we tested it—and we found out that returns were unaffected. By isolating a single element, you can learn what’s most effective.

  • Measure the results. Making sure you have a robust data collection system is key. Knowing the importance of measurement, Precoa consistently tracks every lead throughout the entire sales pipeline, especially through the many touchpoints it takes to schedule appointments. If you can similarly align your marketing plan sales strategy, you will be well-positioned for testing success. By having every lead, follow-up call, appointment, meeting, and sale gathered in one place, you can easily incorporate new data to see how your results stack up over time.

Waiting on the results

No matter which lead source you test, focus on the metrics that matter, i.e., set, hold, and close rates. When Precoa rolled out digital marketing, for instance, we promised to go beyond likes and clicks. Why? Because marketing should always be about results, i.e., sales.

Unless you’re already a marketing expert, you’ll face a lot of trial and error as you get started. Getting results will take time, as little as a week for digital channels and long as three months for direct mail. But it will be worth it.

With enough time and testing, combined with careful nurturing, your preneed leads will convert.


Marketing success really comes down to four simple steps: 1) Understand; 2) Test; 3) Learn; 4) Repeat.

Through an in-depth analysis of your market, you’ll be able to set up market segments and deliver more effective messages. Your marketing will begin to drive results.

When you combine this with rigorous testing, your messages will become even more focused and will continue to improve.

Simple isn’t always easy. It will take time to build a proactive program, but soon you will see your preneed sales grow while your at-need sales thrive.

The best part? Competitors will still be saying goodbye to their ROI.

You’ll be saying hello.

Ready for preneed to achieve liftoff?

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