Finding advertising that works

Date Published: 
July, 2005
Original Author: 
Tim Thompson
Mount Royal Commemorative Services, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Original Publication: 
ICFM Magazine, July 2005


"Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half."—attributed to John Wanamaker (1838-1922)

One of the biggest challenges we face as funeral and cemetery marketers is the ability to figure out what part of our advertising mix is working and, conversely, what part is not. Unless your advertising budget is all placed with one specific medium, this is not an easy task.

The main reason marketers have traditionally used newspapers as their main advertising vehicle is the tangibility factor. Consumers may enter your funeral home or cemetery with a copy of the ad in their hand, giving you the opportunity to see that print works. But is it cost-efficient and does it deliver more than a less tangible medium such as broadcast, i.e., television and radio?

Direct mail is traditionally the most tangible of all advertising vehicles, but without a solid offer, your response rate can hover at less than 1 percent.

So how do we best track our advertising efforts? By making specific offers in each ad that are unique to the particular medium or by incorporating different phone numbers in each medium used.

How does a funeral home or cemetery make an offer? It doesn't have to be a traditional offer such as a discount. If you are marketing preneed, consumers will not make a spontaneous decision based on seeing or hearing an ad.

A simple two-step marketing process would be a "call to action" offering a free information kit with no obligation. Because 87 percent of those who ask for literature expect to eventually purchase, the odds are in your favor.

Select the right media and track results
At Mount Royal Commemorative Services in Montreal, Quebec, we use radio as our primary medium of choice. Why radio? Because of COMQUEST research conducted on the average daily share of time spent with media. The findings are listed in the chart on this page.

With consumers spending 23 hours a week watching television, 21 hours listening to the radio and only 2.9 hours reading the newspaper, broadcast media is the obvious choice. However, advertisers are still spending 55 percent of their dollars on "eye" media and 45 percent on "ear" media.

The radio advertising that we do is tracked scientifically through the use of five different phone numbers on five different radio stations.

Consumers call in to request an information kit, which one of our preneed counselors sends. The names of the people calling in are added to our database and the counselors follow up within 10 days to make sure the kits have been received and to set up appointments. Once an appointment is made, the closing ratio is well over 50 percent.

The advantage of this approach is that we know what stations are working in terms of cost efficiency and which are not.

Radio also provides us with the ability to target a specific customer demographic such as adults 55 years and older, something more difficult to do with other media.

Some AM stations with plenty of inventory may consider working out a PI (per inquiry) arrangement that pays the station a designated amount whenever the phone rings—a win-win relationship for both parties.

The only other advertising vehicle we use is direct mail, which takes the form of newsletters. We use our newsletters to talk to new prospects as well as to stay in touch with the people in the database we have compiled over the years.

Stand out in a crowded field
Consumers today are inundated with advertising messages to the point the average North American is exposed to 3,000 of them on a daily basis.

With a satellite dish, consumers have access to upwards of 500 TV channels and over the last 15 years, the three major broadcast networks have seen their share of primetime TV viewing plunge from 70 percent to 36 percent.

Only 42 percent of readers recall noting a full-page ad in the newspaper, and it would take 18 days of reading at 18 hours a day to read a typical Sunday edition of The New York Times.

Therefore, the third component of an effective marketing campaign, following selecting the right media and tracking results, is being creative.

Because our budgets are limited, every ad we run should include a unique selling proposition, something our cemetery or funeral home offers that no one else does.

How many times have you heard or seen a cemetery or funeral ad that sounds identical to all the others? Rise above the clutter by offering added value, taking the time to educate consumers, and asking them to do something. Marketing is only effective if it delivers results.    

Next: Part 2 will talk specifically about a creative approach called educational marketing.