Thomas:

For my initial reaction, please see the post, Eternal Space: a Debacle?, on my blog.

 
I’m having trouble getting more details from folks at Eternal Space.  To be fair, my advisory role with them was limited to phone conversations by teleconference and a few in-person discussions at trade shows.
 
Still, I thought I was reasonably well-connected with them and I wish I could get one of them to call me back.  That’s not to say that I haven’t had some correspondence with my contacts.  It just means none of it has revealed more than “we closed the company.”
 
I am still a fan of the concept, as I think that the push toward online environments means that people are looking for a place to memorialize loved ones in a virtual environment. 
 
Unfortunately, concept without skillful execution is the real problem here.
 
Remember, Thomas, that I signed a non-disclosure agreement with EternalSpace, so I won’t share with you the detailed private conversations we had, but I do want to share, in a generic way, the public actions which EternalSpace took that contributed to their current situation.
 
1.  They spent big $$$ to launch a product that didn’t exist yet.  The worst way to introduce yourself to this industry is to tell everyone how great your product is and then not have an actual product to show them.  If our company attended the NFDA show and told everyone how great our covers were and then told them we hadn’t actually finished making any of them yet, I’d return with zero sales and a dimished reputation.  ES would have been better served by plastering huge “Coming Soon” signs on a half-constructed NFDA booth.  As it is, they showed a snazzy video of their concept in a 20×40 booth with expensive white carpeting.  When convinced funeral directors said “let me start selling Eternal Space!” the ES guys had to tell them that the launch wasn’t going to be for several months.
 
2.  They created ads that didn’t reflect their unique selling point.  Don’t get me started on how much full-page ads cost (yes, I know you publish for a living, so I’ll tread lightly), but how effective are dollars spent on generic ads?  The last ad I saw showed an old man in a beekeepers outfit with a quote saying something like “I want my kids to know how interesting their grandfather was.”  Take off the ES logo at the lower right and it could be the ad for any number of other funeral industry companies.  Batesville’s logo might sugggest the ad sells customizable caskets, Messenger’s might signal the release of a new register book theme.  Respectance.com’s logo would look at home also.
 
3.  They overestimated the interest of the industry.  They thought they were “revolutionary.”  Truth is, funeral directors appreciated the pretty booth presentation, but couldn’t figure out how to make good money from the product.  They expected the industry to embrace their offering and built a business plan to bolster this misconception.  Had they realized they were selling a niche product, at best, they would have been better prepared, mentally and financially, for the difficulties they faced.
 
4.  They didn’t respect their audience.  This one’s the reason that everyone who works a trade show for me always dresses conservatively, like a funeral director.  Selling to an audience means first understanding the audience and trying to fit in with them.  A funeral director spends every day in a suit and showing respect to them means sharing that experience.  In my workshop, I wear tennis shoes or sandals (if I wear shoes – if I’m sewing I wear socks so I have more foot pedal control).  But on a trade show floor I want my customers to imagine our product, a removal cot cover, being used by a professional, which means I need to be dressed as one.  The Euro look that my friends at EternalSpace tried to use at the 2008 NFDA show – long, scraggly hair, stubble, shirt unbuttoned halfway – may have looked ready for a swanky nightclub, but didn’t fit in at a decidedly conservative venue like a funeral trade show.
 
5.   They quit too soon.  If they were truly committed to this idea and felt they were onto something, they needed to give their product more than a year to gain acceptance.  Our best sales (at trade shows) always come the second year, as funeral directors who enjoyed seeing the “new product” the first year become purchasers of the new product the second year.  In effect, many directors want to see if the company has legs and can last.  No one wants to buy a car from a company that won’t be around next year and no one wants to sell their families a product that won’t be around for a while.  Even worse, they claimed to offer Eternal memorial space; then they shuttered their site.  Ironic much?
 
Sincerely,
TIM
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