Could Green + Gold be the New Black?

There's been an awful lot of talk in the last several years about keeping the funeral industry out of The Red.  Business is changing due to all kinds of trends: decreasing death rate, increasing cremation rate, rising employer costs, rising cost of health care, decreasing asset to debt ratios, and more.  Every one of these topics is the subject of news articles and op-ed pieces in every publication on- or off-line from which we opt to fill our minds.  There's no shortage of opinions on the profitability (or lack thereof) in death care service or where the industry is headed next.  One thing for sure is that for those fifth and sixth generation funeral directors, operating a funeral service business today is nothing like it was five generations ago when cash and bartering were the primary means of transacting business.

Last year in this column I wrote about the Golden Circle of Motivation as presented by Simon Sinek in a TED talk.  In about ten minutes Mr. Sinek makes a compelling argument for any commercial business to re-invent our marketing message to focus on why we do what we do.  Answers like "to make money" are not valid.  A business makes money to exist, it does not exist to make money.  Mr. Sinek uses breathing as an analogy.  We breath to live, not the other way around.  Typically most employees in a business can explain what they do.  Very few can explain how they do it.  And even fewer know why.  For some firms, nobody can articulate why their firm exists.  But those who can explain why, and can explain effectively, already have their go-to-market message.
Why do we make eco-friendly caskets?

In these contemporary times of volatile markets, political challenges, and ever-rising cost of doing business, it is hard enough to keep a business in The Black.  Add to our challenges this new breed of consumer with the loyalty of Benedict Arnold and the attention span of Sponge Bob inhaling more information in a minute today than our forefathers consumed in an entire month.  Could Green and Gold be the new Black?

Nine years ago, I built my first casket.  Eight years ago I sold my first "green" casket.  About five years ago I discovered, almost by accident, that people were more interested in why I build caskets than how I build them (the what has always been obvious).  Like many businesses, I had a web site that described what I was selling.  For a short period I thought I was clever in describing how I was achieving the what but I bored every sorry chap that read my web pages.  Then about two years ago I listened to Simon Sinek's TED talk and things haven't been the same since.  Sales have more than doubled in each of the two years since I have re-focused my go-to-market messaging on why I build environmentally friendly caskets.

I share this with you and anyone interested enough to re-think their marketing message.  For those of you who are 5th or 6th generation funeral directors, I applaud you.  For those of you just entering this industry, I applaud you.  You are both likely very close to explaining "why" you have remained in, or have recently chosen, this profession.  As for the rest of us… can we quickly and effectively explain "why does my firm exist" or "why am I a funeral director" to a 10 year-old?  Keep in mind that "make money" is a cop-out answer.  Not everyone's answer is the same--and need not be.  Your answer is your own--it is your Golden Circle of Motivation.  Making your motivation transparent for your customers will have a profound impact on both their attention span and their loyalty.

So maybe you get the Gold, but where's the Green in the Black?  I illustrate with my own experience.  I don't build caskets to make money--there are a lot of other ways I could make money, and some are far easier than making caskets.  And I don't just make caskets.  I make sustainable, eco-friendly, non-toxic, locally sourced, carbon-negative caskets because I am fascinated by the challenge of building a business on Smarter Planet ideas.  I plant lots and lots of trees because I believe that nobody can argue that planting trees isn't a great
Planting trees is a good thing.
thing.  I source raw materials and manufacture with local talent so that I can create jobs in my community.  This is my passion.  Before listening to Mr. Sinek, I was shy about my passion and kept my motivations private.  I now realize that not only was there no need to hide my motivation, but instead making myself transparent has only helped to build trust in personal relationships, longer attention spans, and true loyalty from our customers.

I invite you to find the why in your motivation.  Yes, I admit Green is arguably an already over-played marketing moniker and trend.  It is no longer relevant to a consumer to tout our wares as simply Green--that's not good enough.  Go for the Gold and tell your customers why you do what you do.  If you can sprinkle a little Green into that Gold I assure you will find yourself a whole new Black.