It’s fascinating to watch different generations answer important questions about death.

Say, for instance, that you want to pre-plan Uncle Fred’s funeral.  And say he’s a big trout fisherman (he’s big, not the trout).

And now let’s say Fred wants to know if they make urns with fish painted on them because that will help him decide whether he wants to be buried our cremated.

Here’s how each generation (typically) approaches this:

The Greatest Generation – Tell Fred that the family always get’s buried and that you’ll make sure he has a nice service.  If pressured, call the funeral director who’s handled every funeral in your family and ask for his direction.

The Baby Boomer Generation – Call a few funeral homes and ask friends who’ve recently handled a cremation.  Listen to the evening news or read magazines for more details.

Generation X (and the lesser known Generation Jones) – Search online for “trout urn” or “trout cremation urn.”  Check out websites for funeral homes and cremation societies.  Forward an email to Uncle Fred with several links included.

Generation Y (and the Boomerang Generation) – Blog about the need for a trout urn.  Get feedback from friends about urns they’ve used and the different options they’ve seen online.  Check out an urnmaker’s MySpace page.  Watch YouTube videos about hows urns are made.  Buy they urn from Amazon or another site.

Many funeral directors are fortunate enough to still be dealing with the “Greatest Generation” customers.  But the recent push toward more “personalization” and cremation means we’re finally seeing Baby Boomers make the majority of the funeral decisions.

And while this has put pressure on directors to be better at navigating their customers’ habits, it also signals that the next generations are getting closer to making the decisions.

As industry experts, we’ve told funeral directors that cremation is inevitable, but that you can make up the difference with urn and memorial service sales.  (I’m including myself in this criticism, as I’ve been a big proponent of up-selling cremation services)

But when products that were once hard to get (old conversation – him: “Where do you buy an urn?” her: “From a funeral home, I guess.”) are moved into the open market of the Internet, prices drop and profits go down.

So while an older person will take whatever the funeral director offers that looks like a fisherman’s urn, a Gen-Y or Gen-X customer has already bought this urn:

urn featured on Fly Fish Magazine blog

Even better (for the customer) it cost only $189 and was shipped right to their house.  And now Uncle Fred can sleep well, knowing that his urn is safely on the mantle, waiting for the day he’ll occupy it.

Only, the funeral home is out a nice profit and the online urn seller (who was probably wearing his pajamas when his client’s credit card was processed and the order logged) helps to turn the funeral industry from a commodity-based or product-based one into a service industry.

Where are we headed?

This article was inspired by a blog post that popped up in my Google Alerts.  I got the info about the different generations from the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia.  Uncle Fred is NOT based upon a real person.