A friend and I went shopping at Wal-Mart last week, when I pointed out all the people who carry six-packs of Gatorade, soda or water on the edge of their shopping cart and marvelled at how wide that particular “meme” had spread.

He was confused and had a question and a comment.  First, he hadn’t seen the practice of putting the bottles on the cart, but he liked it.  Second, what’s a meme?

If you don’t know about the bottle placement on a shopping cart, here’s a simple diagram.

shoppingcartbottles.jpg

By wedging the six-packs over the top edges of the cart, the user frees up space for other groceries.  I’ve seen folks pushing carts where the top edges were completely covered with six-packs.  Made the cart look like a boat with too many bouys and bumpers!

But back to his question.  A meme is an idea that gets passed from human to human.  First described by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, a meme is anything (song, joke, religion, tool or process) that gets passed around the culture either by conscious transmission (“Check out this cool new song!”) or non-deliberate transmission (like wearing your collar turned up).  You can read the full Wikipedia entry for meme here.

When I was a teenager, the cool kids wore their pants folded over and rolled at the bottom.  I have no idea why, and when I see it now, I wonder about the collective mental health of my generation. 

But pegged pants were a meme, even if we didn’t know what the word meant.  Other examples?  How about beehives, The Macarena or Who Let the Dogs Out?

There are even memes in funeral service.  Direct cremation is a meme.  How many times have you heard “just bury me in a pine box” from a potential client?  That’s a meme.  Color photo memorial folders?  A meme made possible by the advent of cheaper color printing.

We can recognize memes pretty early, if we’re looking for them.  But let’s face it:  most funeral professionals haven’t even figured out that a memorial tribute video is NOT a strange request!  (one of the biggest firms I know still forces their 12+ firms share a single flat screen television and DVD player for services!)

So take advantage of your competitors’ blindness and let your community know how in tune you are with their “memes.” 

If you need a hint, here’s a partial list of new(er) funeral industry memes and some potential ones:

Memorial videos
Cremation jewelry
Online memorial tributes
After-funeral receptions
Attended cremations
Funeral home concierge services
Pet memorialization services from funeral homes
Video tombstones

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