picard-facepalmI really wish marketing was a science instead of an art.  It’s great to think that when you mix together the right formula of strategic messaging, targeted creative execution and thoughtful media planning all financed by an adequate budget, out pops the perfect sales results you desire.  Ah, if this were only the case.  It’s not.  In fact, there’s not a marketing exec alive who can look you in the eye and tell you that every campaign he or she created was a winner.  Some efforts, if the truth be known, were complete and utter disasters.  It happens.

They happen more frequently in the funeral business than in many other industries because of the greater challenge of speaking to an audience who doesn’t want to hear about death.  Moreover, the majority of funeral businesses are run by people whose own backgrounds lay in providing compassionate care, not writing strategic marketing plans.

Marketing failures generally happen for two reasons.  The first and most common reason is the combination of lack of experience, unfocused effort and minimum expenditure leading to insufficient marketing results.  The ol’ rocket just didn’t have the stuff to get off the launch pad in the first place.  The truth is that this accounts for most marketing duds.  Usually then the owner looks at the marketing manager and says, “See, I told you advertising doesn’t work!”

However, the second reason for marketing failure is the kind I actually support, where the right effort was made, the proper budget was spent, the creative was fresh and the media seemed properly chosen, but still, THUD!  Another egg was laid.  Why do I support this kind of failure?  Because it wasn’t from lack of energy or forethought.  Sometimes, $%#@* just happens.  Sometimes, in an effort to think outside the box and venture out on a limb, the limb snaps. (But if nothing is ventured, nothing is gained.)

Of course, there are a hundred other factors that can negatively influence results outside the marketer’s control.

Remember, some very bright, highly experienced professionals came up with the Ford Edsel and New Coke.  But Ford Motor Company and Coca Cola have done pretty well before and since.  And think about how many new products McDonald’s introduces that don’t last even a year?

In the world of direct response (infomercials, junk mail, etc.), failures happen all the time.  But experienced direct response marketers willingly accept this fact, knowing that everything is all about testing.  They just keep tweaking the copy, fiddling with the offer, adjusting the media until the results start to show positive results.  And then they tweak and fiddle some more until the sales needle climbs or dips with each new change.  Those ab flexer and indoor grill commercials that sell by the millions are the result of many successive failures on top of which have been layered ongoing testing, ongoing fixing, and a willingness to keep playing the game.

Do not shrink away from the possibility of failure in your marketing.  My wife, a very accomplished high school teacher, has on her desk a sign that says “The greatest risk in education is not taking one.”  I’d say the same so perfectly applies to the world of marketing.


Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedIn. See agency work via this link.


expensive-adIt happened again:  A client of ours was speaking with one of their customers and mentioned that our agency was doing the marketing for them.  The response was, “Oh, yeah, I hear they’re good but they’re expensive!”

Our client doesn’t think so, given that their marketing has resulted in more business than they’ve ever had.  But one more time, someone has used the “E-Word” without any substantiation.

So, with no intention of sounding self-serving, let’s tackle this head-on, shall we?  What does “Expensive” mean?  And what exactly is their point of reference, in other words, expensive compared to what?

(By the way, “good but expensive” has been a line that has cropped up at every – and I mean every – advertising and marketing firm I’ve ever worked at, not just my own.)

Here are some reference points that are often cited as measures of what is and isn’t expensive:

  • Having one’s TV commercials created by the local cable station isn’t expensive. Aside from the fact that they really aren’t imaginative, not well-produced and don’t get the attention of anybody but the people on your own staff.
  • Having the newspaper or magazine’s sale department create the ad isn’t expensive. Although it’s unlikely that the ad will get anyone talking about it or take the desired action that justifies the media expense – coupon ads excepted.
  • Creating one’s own ads is inexpensive. But home-made looks home-made, and even if those in the company don’t see the difference, the audience certainly does.
  • Pulling “stock” ads out of a catalog isn’t expensive. On the other hand, it absolutely guarantees that the ad isn’t really building your unique brand since hundreds of others have also plugged their logo into the box at the lower right hand corner.
  • Running a social media-only campaign isn’t expensive. But driving up your “Likes” actually does cost time and money, and hoping a post will go “viral” is a hit-or-miss proposition, which is like deciding you’re going to play for the NBA: only a very very few out of all the contenders actually go all the way. Most end up with no results to show for it.

So what are you paying “more” for with a professional marketing agency?  If the agency’s worth its salt, there’s a lot of sweat-building strategic homework up front, such as determining who is the best audience to target, comparing what’s going on competitively in the marketplace, making sure that the message actually has motivating power, thinking about visual and verbal cues that impact emotionally as well as rationally, strategizing the best call-to-action, and deciding how the results can be measured. There’s nothing “off the shelf” about this critical process.  And then, there’s the creative component that assures the greatest stopping-power in both words and images.  Especially in funeral marketing, creatively breaking through to a strongly disinterested and jaded audience is paramount. (Ads that the audience expects are an instant turn-off.)  Admittedly, this kind of higher-end creative and strategic brainpower costs more because good agencies pay more to attract good talent to work for them.  But the results more than compensate for the added expense.

I’ve long said, marketing is a self-fulfilling prophecy:  If you believe in its power, you’ll invest your time, your resources and your money to make it work and you’ll be right.  And if you don’t believe in it, you’ll hold back, go the “inexpensive” route, and you’ll be right as well.

I have a sign on my wall that says:

If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.

It’s more true than words can say.  So what’s expensive?

Are funerals expensive?  Yes, but families benefit in untold ways from a healing memorial experience that lasts lifetimes.

Are cars expensive?  Yes, at least the ones that don’t break down before their first oil change, provide genuine safety and make you feel good to be behind the wheel. (And let’s be honest, are you really driving the cheapest car on the lot?)

Is health care expensive?  Yeah, you bet.  But trying to avoid its cost will certainly cost you much more in the long run – and maybe the short run too.

Is entrusting your business’ marketing to professionals expensive? Well, in retrospect, no…not really when you look at the alternative prospect of a sinking sales curve.

Believe me, this is NOT a pitch for LA ads.  This is a plea to re-think what “expensive” means with respect to your marketing.  Far too many in the funeral profession, whether providers or suppliers, are taking the inexpensive path and, boy, it shows.

In my book, “good but expensive” will always beat “so-so but it’s cheap” every day of the week.  I hope it’s the same in your book as well.


Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedIn. See agency work via this link.

Paint by NumbersOh, the world of numbers. To those involved in Marketing, it goes with the territory. We look at the marketplace and how many prospective customers there might be. We slice and dice demographic information and analyze demographic trends. We do quantitative market research. We fixate on how many likes, follows, shares, retweets, etc. have occurred. And we’re not finished yet as new and more “effective” metrics are constantly being developed. While tracking marketing numbers isn’t like keeping up with the stats of, say, baseball, for many marketers, numbers are almost everything. And for some, they are everything.

Now, I’m pretty good at math. So, numbers don’t give me cold sweats, but truth be told, when it comes to marketing, I’m not a Big Data guy at all. I’m not one to get all caught up in the numbers game. The reason being that while I’m an “account guy,” I understand what really good creative, execution and integration will do toward driving sales compared to run-of-the-mill stuff. On more than one occasion, our agency has spoken with prospective clients who tell us how their marketing metrics are sucking wind. Our response is: “Let’s look at the creative you’re running and what it’s saying.” When it’s shown to us, there’s often little doubt what is creating the angst.

For my liking, far too many marketers rely too heavily on numbers to drive the marketing decisions.  A former boss of mine who came from a LARGE national agency once pointed out that marketing is not a paint-by-numbers game where if you follow the color assignments and stay within the lines, the end result would be a beautiful painting…Viola! Instant success…without expending much thought, energy or creativity. And, that’s what I fear is what is happening to marketing. Especially in funeral marketing.

You can see when this takes place. Look at a TV commercial or radio spot or tradeshow booth or go online. There seems to be more and more marketers who are buying into templates, guides and stock creative. It’s as if the marketplace is just a large paint canvas fractured into tiny parts, which, if you paint each activity with the right color and stay within the lines, you’ll have a winning marketing program. Not so! What I believe happens more times than not is that you don’t end up with a masterpiece but rather a painting of dogs sitting around the table playing poker…you know the one.

For a marketing program to be clever, contemporary, and inviting enough to gain your audience’s attention, it requires meaningful thought, understanding, listening and… creativity. Uniqueness! Interestingness! Unfortunately, creativity and emotion are often scrubbed clean (and out of the picture) much to the happiness of many marketers who rely merely on data.

Yet some brands manage to break-away from the status quo and attain results.  These brands — and those people who oversee them — combine experience and talent with a commitment to being fearless.

Unfortunately, even then, other brands try to find equal results by copying them. Remember “Got Milk”? Soon after, we saw “Got Plumber” and “Got Rice” and “Got …whatever” In the case of our agency, we developed a marketing program for a client that used a weeping angel statue to demonstrate how one would feel using the wrong type of business software. Hardly a few months after, a direct competitor used strikingly similar imagery and messaging. Really?!? I guess imitating was their template to seeing better results rather than trying to come up with something original themselves. They (the competitor) were trying to paint-by-numbers into a template not of their own making.

So what are the takeaways from all of this?

  • Having metrics drive all your marketing decisions, void of smart, clever, on-point messaging that resonates with your audience, is a road with a dead-end. Which is probably not what you want.
  • Templates and “how to” guides do not lend themselves to creativity.
  • If you are responsible for marketing, it is your job to think differently. Painting by the numbers and staying within the lines won’t yield profits.
  • BONUS: “The truth isn’t the truth until people believe you, and they can’t believe you if they don’t know what you’re saying, and they can’t know what you’re saying if they don’t listen to you, and they won’t listen to you if you’re not interesting, and you won’t be interesting until you say and do things imaginatively, originally, freshly.” – Bill Bernbach

In the end, while numbers and data help marketers define the market and opportunities that present themselves, as well as quantify the buyer’s journey, remember that lasting relationships and brand loyalty are the result of original thinking.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com/funeral.  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

PassionIn all my years working with businesses, regardless their industry or profession, one thing has proven true time and time again: the most successful companies are the ones with a leader whose passion drives the enterprise.

Passion is both fire and fuel to a business. It is what sets it apart from the competition.  It is what provides a positive and forceful sense of direction.  To be passionate is to know your own purpose and use your business as a means of realizing it.  If you’re passionate, you can articulate that passion to others and inspire them to be conspirators in your purpose.

Having worked with countless clients, inside the funeral profession and out, it’s pretty easy to know which ones are driven by a mission to do something amazing and which are only motivated by income. In fact, one can always tell when a company is driven by passion; it has that “something” no other competitor has.  Think of Apple, driven by the late Steve Jobs and his passion to innovate and democratize technology.  While there are plenty of other computer companies out there, it was Jobs’ passion that truly separates Apple from the

Passion is equal parts Mission, Vision and Determination.  It’s the desire to want to make a difference in the world – or at least your corner of the world.

So what’s your passion?  Is it the thing that drives your business and separates it from all others in your field?  Can it be easily and clearly articulated to your staff?  And do they subscribe to it?  Is it the kind of passion that turns your customers into raving fans?  Is it contagious?

As we move through the hump-days of 2016, as you think about what you want your business to look like by the end of the year, take time to reflect on what drives and inspires you. Find the passion that’s inside and give thought to how you can more forcefully bring it into your world.  Commit to yourself and your team that this will be the year your business actualizes your passion.


Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedIn. See agency work via this link.

Dimenished ReturnsThis last March, I delivered a presentation at the ICCFA Convention about certain “Inconvenient Truths” having to do with marketing and advertising in the funeral business.  (Thanks to Al Gore who coined the term.) Inconvenient Truth #3 really nails it for many businesses, especially those run by entrepreneurs, especially those in funeral service:  More companies save themselves into bankruptcy than spend themselves there.

We all know that money is a finite resource.  And every dollar we part with takes food out of our families’ mouths or it puts our business at risk of going under…except that it isn’t true!

Indeed, entrepreneurs built their businesses from scratch by sheer force of will and ingenuity (in lieu of a hefty bankroll).  But building a business and sustaining it are two entirely different things.  Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Ben & Jerry and Elon Musk all learned that there’s a point at which a business has to move from survival mode to long-term growth.  Without making that crucial transition, the company jeopardizes its future.

And yet, better than 80% of independently-owned funeral-based businesses still run in survival mode. I suppose that’s the nature of a cottage industry.  Not that every corner funeral home should try to become the next SCI, nor every supplier aim to become the next Batesville.  But neither should they be content to just squeak by in virtual anonymity.

When it comes to marketing, the hard truth is that money fuels the growth machine, and the willingness – and optimism – to see marketing as a capital investment drives it.  Without one’s belief in the power of marketing, and the commitment to fund for its success, the business owner is actually betting against his or her own growth.

Whatever size business you run, when it comes to marketing, there is a point of diminishing returns below which or above which the money spent goes wasted.  Oddly enough, your own gut will tell you where the bottom-most point of diminishing returns is: it’s the amount of spending that makes you most comfortable!  Very rarely will you find the upper point, but it’s usually at the level where your name is on everybody’s lips, and even then, you need to protect your turf from others who would invade your castle.

Here’s a tale of two actual companies within the funeral profession.  The first one operates just at or below the point of diminishing returns and the other has found the sweet spot.

Company A, a three-location funeral home, started out wanting to own their market and invested enough money to build a reasonable television and billboard campaign.  They began to gain market traction within a year of sustained visibility (verified by consumer research).  But the moment the market faltered, for only a few months as happens with any business, they cut back on their media.  Then they cut back again and ran less than half the schedule of year-one while trying to find less expensive marketing venues and doing most of their creative in-house.  That’s when they fell below the point of diminishing returns; and now, they’re trapped in the endless cycle of underspending and then not getting the results they want.  Sadly, their sales reflect that Inconvenient Truth.

Company B, a funeral home-cemetery combo, has been around for a while, but barely visible in their market.  The owners decided, once and for all, to go for it.  They loaded their annual budget with what would seem to most like an ungodly amount of money, but that wouldn’t put them out of business if it all failed.  They invested in great creative work and enough media and other marketing efforts to be sure that every one of their prospective families knew who they are.  Once the program launched, it didn’t take long to see business pick up.  People respond to unexpected creative solutions coupled with lots of exposure. The trajectory is exactly where they want it and the owners are committed to their growth.

As I’ve said many times before, marketing is a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you believe in it, you’ll commit the time, people and resources accordingly and it will work – and if you don’t believe in it, you’ll never throw all that’s needed into the cauldron to make the magic happen. Either way, you’ll be right.

My message is that your company is a living, breathing entity that constantly has to be fed with new business or it will never thrive.  Just doing barely enough marketing-wise is operating at the point of diminishing returns and eventually diminished returns is exactly what you’ll get.

Learn from the great entrepreneurs who understand the meaning of thinking large.  You don’t need to turn your business into an Apple, a Microsoft or a Batesville.  But wouldn’t it be grand for all concerned to know that sustained growth is your company’s legacy?


Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedIn. See agency work via this link.






Voice ChairOver the years, there’s one TV show that I make a point of watching and it’s “The Voice.”  It has nothing to do with me fashioning myself as a singer. In fact, I’m not a good singer at all. When our family goes to our annual vacation spot and the karaoke machine comes out and I do my couple of songs, people just wince at how bad I am.

Anyway, as I was watching the final show of the season, out of the blue it occurred to me that there are a few things that as marketers we could all learn and begin to apply to our individual marketing activities.

The coaches’ (think: prospective customers’) chairs face away from the singers for a number of reasons, but the main one being that they’re listening for something that’s new, different and that genuinely moves them.  They’ve been around long enough to have heard nearly everything before. They’re looking to hear something so fresh and unexpected that they’re willing to push their button (think: buy the product) and commit to the singer.

Alternatively, the singers (think: the products) don’t get to reveal themselves and only have their voice, their song and their performance (think: the message) to get the coaches to say to themselves “I like what I’m hearing!”  The very best singers have a confidence that grabs the audience by the lapels and says, “I’m not worried about trying to please everybody. I’m different, I’m ME, and I’m perfectly comfortable with that.”

Those contestants who ultimately do get chosen to move past the blind auditions have that “it” factor that separates them from the unchosen. They don’t sing like the other contestants. No siree… they have their own exclusive sound. It’s distinctive…captivating… sometimes even magical.

So what lessons are to be learned from The Voice that could help you better connect with your audience?

First, when you make the pitch to your audience (think: judges), remember, they’re like judges on the show who’ve heard it all before. Your pitch has to make people sit up and take notice.  Your pitch has to show that you’re not at all like all the other competitors.  With respect to the funeral business, consumers feel they already know everything there is to know about funeral homes and cemeteries, so what makes YOU different?  Why should they listen to you when it’s about a subject they’d just as soon avoid altogether?

Second, just like the contestants, you’re not looking at your judges when you’re presenting your marketing message.  So capturing their attention is just as important what your message says. Meaning your marketing has to be visually and verbally compelling, expertly presented in a way that’s equal to – or better than – the marketing you know they already like.  Being presented like a rehashed yellow pages ad, or something that came from a clip-art book or stock library just isn’t going to cut it.

Lastly, you have to be engaging enough to make your judges want to do more than just say OK, but to actively take your brand under their wing. That’s where the impact of Social Media comes in and the value of creating content that’s sharable.  (Mere posting of Facebook obits and stock messages of inspiration aren’t the solution.)  It also means you have to provide your services in a way that makes your customers want to tell others about you (Yelp, Angie’s List, Google reviews, etc.).  It’s only when your message gets passed from your own network into and through your audience’s network that you’ve actually mastered the power of Social Media. Otherwise, it’s just another form of “push” advertising, not “pull.”

Know that getting someone to initially like your “voice” is only the beginning. Reward your fans by providing them with new offerings (products, services, information) that they don’t see or hear from your competitors. Remember, it takes more time, effort and financial resources to go out and find new fans than it does to nurture and build upon the ones you have. So, to turn each new relationship into a lasting one by continuously reminding them why they turned their chair and cast their vote for your brand in the first place.

While I never know who will win each season’s competition, I do know that the singers who have strategically given thought to the songs that sing and how they should perform those songs will likely be the last ones standing. They understand that in order for people to buy into who they are and what they can become, they need to connect with the coaches and audience in ways more powerful and moving than those they’re competing against. WOWing them is a must.

At the end of the day, what you tell prospective customers has to fascinate and captivate them, has to keep them engaged and want to know more about you. That’s what leads to increased sales and revenue.  As advertising legend, Bill Bernbach, said: “The truth isn’t the truth until people believe you, and they can’t believe you if they don’t know what you’re saying, and they can’t know what you’re saying if they don’t listen to you, and they won’t listen to you if you’re not interesting, and you won’t be interesting until you say and do things imaginatively, originally, freshly.”

Bernbach could have been speaking to the contestants of The Voice, but he’s certainly speaking to you.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

1984 CommercialAbout mid-way in my career as an advertising agency creative director, I had the privilege of hearing one of my gurus talk about the power of creativity.  He said nobody has yet figured out how to make advertising less expensive, but brilliant execution at least makes it effective.  Since that time, the ad world has undergone huge changes, most recently with the Internet, social media and DVR/On Demand TV.  But what he said back in the mid-80s applies no less forcefully today. In fact, in 2016, it is more true than ever!

Consider that the number of commercial messages the average person is exposed to now is more than triple what it was in the 80s, meaning in the neighborhood of 5,000 messages or more! That’s per day!  So the chance of any one ad or message breaking through the clutter is extraordinarily low…unless…

Unless the audience has an immediate and pressing interest, or unless the marketing budget allows for endless and repeated exposure, or – and here’s the big secret – unless the message is fresh, clever, surprising and relevant enough to get attention despite the overall noise level. 

Keep in mind, funeral advertising, for the most part, already has two strikes against it to start with. Not only do most people ignore funeral ads, they avoid them like an approaching proctologist.  Key words like “Caring,” “Tradition,” “Memories,” “Loved One,” even “Celebrating a Life,” while meaning something warm and wonderful to you, trumpet death and loss to the average consumer.

So what’s a funeral director to do?

Starting with the basics, for any advertising message to work effectively, it has to be:

  • Surprising
  • Clear
  • Believable
  • Honest
  • Compelling

Take away any one of these factors and the ad will fall flat on its face. But let’s deal with the first component – surprising.  The only way to win is by daring to be different, giving your marketing an edge that is unavoidable because it surprises, intrigues and compels.  In other words, in order for you to advertise your funeral home effectively and be certain that your message isn’t landing on deaf ears, your ads can’t afford to look like what people expect from a funeral home.

In previous blog posts, I’ve discussed some of these other bullets and specifics that can lead you to a successful campaign. But for the moment, suffice it to say, if you can create advertising that stands out each time it runs, you don’t have to run it as much in order for it to have impact. That’s a direct bottom-line dollar value for having fresh creative.

As a point of reference, the most memorable and highly acclaimed commercial of the last three decades was the “1984” spot introducing Apple’s Macintosh.  That’s the one featuring an athletic, hammer-wielding young woman chased by the thought police as she attempts to destroy the “Big Brother” monitor being viewed by hundreds of mindless drones. She slings her hammer at the screen, which blasts through the throng as the announcer says that Macintosh is why the year “1984 won’t be like ‘1984’.”

Sure, it ran during the Super Bowl and Apple spent a million dollars to air it…but it ran only once!  Once!!!  That’s all it took.  And decades later, people still talk about it.  That’s creative leverage at its best.

Think about some crazy video that a friend emailed to you that was funny or outrageous enough for you to pass along to your friends.  You probably remember it still, even though you saw it just once.

I’m not at all suggesting that you need to be outrageous merely for outrageous’ sake. But it’s human nature to remember things that are bold and unexpected.  Yet, ironically, the industry that needs this kind of outside-the-box thinking most – yours – is the industry slowest to step out and be a player, creatively speaking.  Just having a website, even a Facebook account, isn’t enough.  It’s all in the messaging and the skillful, exciting, compelling way that it’s crafted.

That’s why I’d rather spend $5,000 on great creative for a $10,000 media plan, than a forgettable $1,000 ad supporting a $25,000 buy.  Bank on impact, not exposure.

In fact, quite a number of funeral homes and cemeteries that have run really great, fresh, surprising advertising have doubly benefitted by getting attention from the media. It makes a great story and people pay attention.  That’s how you turn one dollar’s worth of ad exposure into five.

So the parting observation today is the one you need to make.  If your website, your brochures and your ads make you feel really comfortable, you should take that as a warning: they represent the kind of marketing that doesn’t rock anyone’s boat and doesn’t have the power to rise above the noise level.  In which case, it’s your dollars and not your creativity that’s doing all the heavy lifting.

Does that really make sense?


Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedIn. See agency work via this link.

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