New Research: Why 99% of Funeral Facilities Reinforce Negative Stereotype

The Funeral Service Foundation has just released the results of its “Bleeding Edge” research project with world renowned Olson-Zaltman Associates simultaneously revealing both disturbing and encouraging insights.

Recognizing that the growth of cremation has more than doubled (leaping from 1% to more than 2% annually in the last several years) The Funeral Service Foundation commissioned the unconventional market research using the patented ZMET process to study:


The ZMET process is an unconventional approach to market research focused on uncovering the unconscious metaphors consumers use to relate with and make choices about a given service or product.  Olson Zaltman developed the process while its founders were still professors at Harvard and Penn State in the 1990’s. It has since been embraced by a veritable “who’s-who” of Global companies, universities, non-profits and governments.

The results didn’t so much tell us anything new as they revealed how we are unintentionally reinforcing negative stereotypes which may be causing the market to seek out alternatives.

The Foundation will be rolling out the results of this research at the upcoming NFDA Convention TUESDAY OCTOBER 9 AT 7:30 AM. (SEE NOTE BELOW) in a program entitled:

Breaking the Consumer Code: New Insights Into Ways Consumers Really Think About Funerals 

The program will cover the findings and attempt to identify the far-reaching implications for us and how the profession needs to begin the process of transformation over the next 5 or more years to remain relevant in this NEW NORMAL.

Attendees will learn:

  • Why 99% of funeral home facilites reinforce consumer attitudes toward death and what you can do to transform
  • Why conventional funeral home advertising not only reinforces negative stereotypes but may be driving consumers to look for alternatives
  • How consumers are projecting their feelings about death onto practitioners and how we need to reposition ourselves to change that perception
  • What is most important to “Baby Boomers” and how they want to be integrated into the planning process for their parents and themselves
  • How our profession is experiencing its own grief cycle as it grapples with the transformation of its livelihood
  • The NEXT STEPS FAMIC and The Foundation are taking to make resources available to practitioners to facilitate their adaptation

I strongly urge you to attend this pivotal event.

For your interest below is a brief interview with Gerald Zaltman, The Joseph C. Wilson Professor Emeritus, Harvard Business School, explaining how the ZMET process works in the context of a project Olson Zaltman Associates did for Coca Cola.
Special note:  this program, Breaking the Consumer Code: New Insights Into Ways Consumers Really Think About Funerals,  was originally scheduled for Sunday October 7.  It has been rescheduled due to popular interest to Tuesday October 9 at 7:30 AM  See your program guide for room number.

By |2018-01-25T20:30:44-04:00October 1st, 2012|Blog, CUSTOMERS: Getting and Keeping Them, The Creedy Commentary|14 Comments


  1. Dale Clock October 1, 2012 at 7:21 am - Reply

    I am looking forward to seeing this research. Finally some research done by somebody who doesn’t have a “dog in the hunt”. I hope this can shed some light on what the consumer really thinks.

    • Alan Creedy
      Alan Creedy October 1, 2012 at 7:46 am - Reply

      Dale, it will cause you a little angst as you really see what needs to be done but you won’t be disappointed. A word of warning. PLAN IN TERMS OF A 5 YEAR HORIZON. Otherwise it will be overwhelming. All good stuff

  2. Thomas Belford October 2, 2012 at 1:26 pm - Reply

    There are a couple of television shows that have an individual go into a business (restaurants, bars and hotels) that has a long standing history in their communities. The owners know they need help but in almost all cases they are amazed that what they are doing is not valued today as it was many years ago and their business is suffering.
    I think as I watch these programs that we as an industry are in the same boat. We have some that think that repainting is valued but I believe that the public is looking for something new and not just a cleaned up version of what we have now.
    McDonald Restaurants are probably the best example. I have seen the design go from a walk up building with yellow tile through three or four major design changes that reflect the time we live in. Today’s version is modern looking , has warm colors several eating areas, televisions and Wi-Fi. They have been meeting the experience needs of a changing public.
    I would expect this new study to let funeral service know that we are providing the same experience that was provided in the past and the public wants us to update. Not just in our offerings but also in our facilities and the way we approach the service we provide.

    • Alan Creedy
      Alan Creedy October 2, 2012 at 2:46 pm - Reply

      Tom, in the words of Professor Higgins of “My Fair Lady”: By Jove You’ve got it.

      One of the things we learned is that traditional buildings are designed inside out with public areas as interior rooms which tend to reinforce the feeling of being “tomb-like”

      • BT Hathaway October 3, 2012 at 9:10 am - Reply

        Don’t forget there’s a very important reason for “tomb-like” rooms. A deceased human being looks terrible in direct sunlight. Controlled lighting means blacked out windows and/or interior rooms.

        So you can make the mistake of interpreting a closed room as a tomb, but you can just as easily interpret it as a “theater” which has the same issues of needing to control lighting for effect, but which is used to present a story of some kind. We can choose to do the same with our spaces, and many do. Don’t change the room, change the metaphor and the rest follows.

        Which is not to say you can’t have a beautiful garden setting for an urn. That would be beautiful to, but it would be extremely difficult to hold an open casket viewing in the same space.
        Two very different needs.

        • Kenneth R. Howe October 3, 2012 at 9:50 am - Reply

          It is frustrating when you consider ….we have spent a fortune in constantly building, updating, and makeing absolutely certain that our buildings DO NOT look tomb like…and keeping the technology up to date…from tri-fold color folders to dvds..wi fi for our families use..ect……and I have a couple come in unannounced yesterday to arrange two full traditional funerals…and tell me POINT BLANK….”we do not like all this show biz bling in funerals” ..can we do it like we did grandpas 25 years ago.” It is generally proported by the experts that the funeral is now more for the attendees than the family you are serving…I just wonder what the attendees will think of this service when it takes place. The common sense approach says “balance”….but is is frustrating when we actually get ahead of the public in some areas. I would suggest we do not want to alienate those who are pushing back a bit to technology. We experience this everyday in the church world. There is still a strong negative in the mind of many about contemporary worship…. I think they would have passed out if I had told them our option of “webcasting.” We all must keep a sense of humor!!!!

          • Alan Creedy
            Alan Creedy October 3, 2012 at 10:02 am

            Ken, your allusion to churches is highly appropriate. So many churches have made the mistake in this very same transition of deciding the choice is “either / or” when god so often gives us “both / and” (not always but often). Your specific funeral home is a good example of how to balance this out. You are quickly becoming known for the “modern” funeral which is probably what prompted their comment. So, you are able to deliver a very traditional service without your “bling” and people will most likely know why.

            Lift up the hands that hang down.

        • Alan Creedy
          Alan Creedy October 3, 2012 at 10:03 am - Reply

          BT you remind me of someone very close to me, whom I love dearly. There is always a reason it won’t work.

          • BT Hathaway October 4, 2012 at 10:10 am

            Not my point Alan. There are plenty of ways to experiment and learn. And I hope the survey has some useful insights for funeral directors.

            At the same time, it is all too easy to get enamored by the credentials of a marketing “guru” and miss the fact that they don’t really know the business they find themselves talking about.

            So when it comes to buildings I think the old saying applies, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” and in the realm of funeral service, “Sometimes a room is just a room.”

            We have spaces in our funeral homes. We make them comfortable and adaptable rather than dark and gloomy (my grandfather figured that out 75 years ago). If you happen to be in a place to build a new funeral home (or create a sizable addition), you create more variety and flexibility in your spaces. From the images I see in the trade magazines, I think that has been going on for years. So my question becomes, what does the survey tell us that we don’t already know?

          • Alan Creedy
            Alan Creedy October 4, 2012 at 10:18 am

            For those who think they have all the answers probably nothing. For those who feel compelled to understand the market through the lens of a casket lid probably nothing. but for those whose minds are open to opportunities of a new normal…everything.

  3. […] Read rest of article at funeralhomeconsulting.org […]

  4. Joe Smolenski, III October 23, 2012 at 4:07 pm - Reply

    Al, if I wasn’t able to attend, is there any way for me to still learn about this?

    • Alan Creedy
      Alan Creedy October 23, 2012 at 4:09 pm - Reply

      joe, i will be giving the same exact program at the sc funeral directors association feb 6.

  5. […] is the research he conducted with the Funeral Service Foundation and Olson Zaltman titled “Why 99% of Funeral Facilities Reinforce Negative Stereotype”. His research is used today by just about every organization in our profession and has been […]

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