I’ve sparked a bit of a controversy amongst a few readers with my post, Tim and Robin Discuss “Funeral Home Blogging”.  While some of my readers were busy discussing Robin Heppell’s beauty, Spencer took me to task for suggesting that funeral homes could benefit from blogs and not focusing on the need for a regular website.

Dale quickly lept to my defense and reminded Spencer that funeral homes can do good work with both a website and a blog.  He even pointed to his friend, Brian Hanner at Geib Funeral Home who has both.

So which is it?  Are blogs great for certain funeral directors or are they a waste of time?  Can a funeral home operate without any connection to the Internet?  Or will such a firm shrivel up and *poof* cease to exist?

I’ll offer my opinions here, but I caution you to take even my suggestions with a few thousand grains of salt.  Every time I hear someone offer insight in to the future of anything (but especially technology) I’m reminded of those supermarket tabloids that endlessly herald new year’s predictions from some quack astrologist, with the requisite Nostradamus clipart and tales of upcoming death and destruction.

“There will be a huge earthquake in late November that kills 100,000 people!” 
“Balinese woman will give birth to the Anti-Christ!” 
“Major U.S. investment firm will go bankrupt, company sold for pennies on the dollar to maverick cult leader!”

Seems no one has a crystal ball that clearly predicts the future.  So why do we all like to make such predictions?  Because it’s fun!

So here’s my take on technology and the funeral industry.

The Internet is HUGE.  Absolutely mammoth, with billions upon billions of websites webpages touting everything from wigs for cats to organic burial. 

And the Internet isn’t just about selling products; sites like MySpace and Facebook attract millions of visitors each month and have become, for the youngest among us, the #1 destination on the web.  Fact is, while many of us used to hang out behind the gym to catch up with our friends, kids today hang out just as much on their friends’ MySpace pages.

I can already hear the phrase “So what?” coming.  And I can agree, to a point.  Does it really matter that kids today use the Internet to keep in touch with their friends?  Don’t older generations still make telephone calls to stay in touch?

Of course they do, which means funeral homes are perfectly safe from technology changes, right?

Consider, for a moment, the way an elderly person, a middle-aged person, a 30-something person and a 20-something would get a message to a friend living in another state:

ELDERLY:  Write a letter on paper.  Stuff it in an envelope and mail it.  Might call, if it’s important, but won’t want to spend money on long distance call.

MIDDLE-AGE:  Pick up the phone.  Or fax a letter.  Or email.

30-SOMETHING:  Call on the cellphone (many 30-somethings have dropped their home phone line).  Instant message via Internet.  Send an email.

20-SOMETHING:  Text from cellphone/mp3 player/video player.  Send instant message on Internet.  Write post on MySpace blog.  Send friend request on MySpace.  Check out friend’s Facebook account.

To serve elderly or middle-age folks, you’ll just need a phone and a mailing address.  And while the more progressive ones might want to send you an email, most older folks think a computerized message is too impersonal and not appropriate for important communications like funeral arrangements.

But when 20- and 30-somethings routinely use cellphones and text messages to break off a relationship, shop for a car or propose marriage, we have to take notice.

Does this mean that funeral homes should run out and get the latest, greatest technology, just because the kids have it?

You can answer that for yourself (hint:  NO).

But it does mean that the day is quickly approaching when those 20 and 30 year olds will be deciding which funeral home to use for dad’s service or grandma’s memorial.  And they don’t pick up phone books anymore.

An article by Jennifer Bingaman, from the Indepedent Florida Alligator (University of Florida) describes the death of phonebooks for the university crowd:

Andrea Booher owns a phone book, but she never uses it.“It’s a waste of paper,” Booher said.

The 20-year-old aerospace engineering student said she usually uses the Internet when she needs to look something up.

In response to another online article, titled Please Stop Delivery the Phone Book to My House, David says:

I cannot believe advertisers actually still pay to be in it…I would think that throwing my money on the ground with my company named typed on it would be more beneficial to them!

This trend would suggest that funeral homes need at least some presence online, in an Internet Yellow Pages perhaps?, to reach the younger crowd.

But how does anyone search the Internet for a funeral home?  Do they go to a Yellow Page website?  Or do they use a search engine like Google or Microsoft Live! or Yahoo!?

In my opinion, funeral homes need to control their online advertising the same way they control their off-line advertising.  And while funeral homes often cede a lot of control about the way their yellow pages ad looks or the exact structure of an ad in a church bulletin, there’s a lot more control to be had over the look, feel and content of a website.

Of course, this still fails to answer the question:  Does a funeral home need a blog or a website?

So my answer is maybe/maybe not.

Stumped, aren’t you?

To put it more simply, it really depends upon the funeral home.

You should know that I also don’t think every funeral home needs a yellow pages ad.  And many funeral homes have billboards that don’t work for them.  Still others sponsor little league teams when they shouldn’t, while others have an email address they don’t need.

Fact is, many funeral homes can’t even figure out the basics.  Ever seen a truly hideous brochure for a funeral home?  I have.  More likely, you’ve seen a bunch that are boring. 

Brochures, newspaper ads and flyers are meant to be exciting, like Sunday brunch.  Imagine you dress up in your finest clothes, drive down to the local lakeside inn, pay $20-40 each for a scrumptious brunch and find out that the buffet line features nothing but cream-of-wheat, oatmeal and grits. 

You’d be disappointed, right?

The same thing happens when a potential client opens your brochure and sees clunky writing, dark and boring pictures of chairs in your funeral home and a history of you and your firm where they were expecting to find out what you can do for them.

How can we expect that firm, the one that can’t even figure out how to design an effective brochure, to create and maintain a moderately-successful website designed to bring in customers, not scare them away.

Here’s a disappointing experience I had lately:  Searching for contact information for area fire departments for a special project, I got frustrated clicking through page after page to find phone numbers, addresses and email addresses for the organization which had created the website.  In some cases, the contact information was buried three or four pages into the site, with specific clicks on each page required to reach the next blockade.

Funeral home websites are usually just as bad, with multiple clicks required to get to the “Contact Page”.  Even worse, many of these sites are built by high-priced web designers.

But back to the main point:  Do funeral homes REALLY need the Internet?

If they want to succeed in the future, they do.  Of course, using the Internet means figuring out HOW to use the Internet.  Otherwise, spectacular failures lie ahead.

More on this later, as our readers continue to discuss how important both blogs and websites can be in the industry today.