How COVID-19 Has Changed Funerals, Forever


open air visitation

COVID-19 has dramatically transformed the funeral experience, and I believe that many changes will last forever. 

For generations, funerals have followed a fairly standard formula. 

Visitation + church service + graveside service

For some families, visitations are shorter, church services are skipped, and the urn is taken home.

But a large part of society has continued to follow the standard formula, and those families represented the core market for the funeral industry.

Then along comes COVID-19….

I won’t waste your time describing the “new funeral” service because you have all experienced it first hand over the past six months,

Even in states with relatively loose restrictions on funerals, my clients tell me that attendance is down by roughly 50%. Many people, especially the elderly, are unwilling to take the risk of leaving their safe bubble and participating in funeral rituals.

I’ve talked with many funeral home owners who express a sincere desire to get the pandemic behind us and get things back to “normal.” I can certainly agree with the desire to get this thing behind us!

But I do not believe that it will ever be possible to return to “normal.” The ship has sailed, the tide has turned, and society will not allow us to go back to the old funeral formula ever again.

There are two significant ways in which the pandemic will have a lasting impact on how families want to mark the passing of a loved one; more technology and the rise of non-traditional services. I’ll elaborate on both points below.

More technology

Most funerals have been a fairly low-tech event. Sure, we have video tributes and elaborate sound systems, but for the most part, technology has played a limited role in the service itself. In the past, even funeral homes offering webcasting found that most families didn’t see the need.

COVID-19 has changed that…

When the pandemic first hit, many funeral homes quickly implemented mobile webcasting solutions to broadcast graveside services. As churches opened back up, they brought the same technology to the church and started live-streaming the funeral ceremony.

I have multiple clients who have set up a zoom workstation in their visitation rooms, allowing family members to visit with others who cannot attend in person. The response has been extremely positive.

Creating a virtual funeral experience is not that hard of a problem to solve. Check out GatheringUs.com for an example of a company that is offering this service. I’ve spoken with them, and the demand for their services has gone through the roof. 

When the pandemic passes, neither a 100% in-person funeral nor a 100% online funeral will be enough. The future will be a blended funeral experience in which some family members will gather at the funeral home, and others will connect online.

How we pull this off from a technology standpoint is yet to be determined. But there are many smart tech people in this industry, so I’m confident that someone will figure it out.

Rise of non-traditional services

The second step in my nine-step Funeral Business Builder master plan is to create your Signature Solution. For most of you, a well-run traditional funeral is your Signature Solution. 

However, I believe that having a traditional funeral as your Signature Solution is no longer a viable business strategy.  A traditional funeral has served you well for generations, but COVID-19 has changed everything.

Your business strategy needs to be based on the present and the future, not the past. You have to provide what consumers want today and anticipate what they will want in the future. Building a strategy based on the past is not a good idea.

According to the CDC, 80% of COVID related deaths have been adults aged 65 and over, which means that the Silent and GI Generations are taking the pandemic’s brunt.

What generations want a traditional funeral? Silent and GI Generations.

What generation does NOT want a traditional funeral? Baby Boomers.

Right now, you are probably fairly busy taking care of Silent and GI Generation families. You’re providing traditional funerals to whatever extent your state allows.

But as the pandemic runs its course, there will be fewer Silent and GI Generation families and more the Baby Boomers. If all you have to offer is a traditional funeral, your business will decline.

I had a meeting with a client this week, and we discussed how this is playing out in his market. If the deceased is from the Silent or GI Generations, they will have a traditional funeral roughly 85% of the time.

But if the deceased is a Baby Boomer, he finds that less than one third will have a traditional service. He’s in a predominantly bible-belt community, so his number is probably higher than what most of you can expect.

The bottom line is that COVID-19 is wiping out the generals who want a traditional funeral. You may be busy today with traditional funerals but hoping that this will continue is not a good business strategy.

Recently a client sent me a picture of a visitation at his funeral home. It showed couples dancing to Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” in front of an open casket. He played the song at the family’s request, and the couples all got up and danced. Last week he called to tell me the same thing happened again with another family.

Who would dance at a funeral? Baby Boomers.

The Boomer wave is hitting, and the pandemic is just speeding up its arrival. The focus of my business is helping my clients catch the wave. You can either catch the wave or be crushed by it, but you cannot ignore it much longer.

The next step in my Funeral Business Builder master plan is called Unique Content. Has COVID-19 impacted the need for unique content on your website and in your advertising? Definitely! I’ll tell you exactly how, next week.

Until next time

John

John Callaghan

Fractional Chief Marketing Officer for Funeral Business Builders

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