Nixon Silent Majority SpeechLet me take you back to November 3, 1969.  President Richard Nixon, in a speech to the nation concluded by saying, “And so tonight—to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans—I ask for your support.”  To Nixon, the silent majority were those Middle Americans who supported the Vietnam War but were being overshadowed in the media by the more vocal minority.  Well, that’s who he thought they were anyway.

Now let me take you to Saturday, April 16, 2016 in New Orleans, where I had the honor of speaking to attendees at the ICCFA Convention on the subject of marketing.  As I got to the topic of the Marketing Plan, I asked for a show of hands of all those who had a written marketing plan for their business.  In a room of nearly 80 professionals, seven hands went up. Seven!!!  Meaning, the ninety-plus percent in the room were truly the silent majority, the ones whose businesses must certainly be both silent and invisible to their market for lack of any coherent, planned marketing efforts.

Was I surprised? Well, more disappointed than surprised.  After working in funeral marketing for over twenty years, I know how few funeral homes, cemeteries and suppliers see marketing as anything more than an inconvenient expense.  It’s why so many funeral providers pull their advertising out of a catalog, because it’s easier than actually crafting and implementing a strategic program, even if the stock ad ideas stimulate…well…nobody. “At least our name is out there,” one could argue.

The point I was hoping to make last Saturday, and certainly I want to make now is this:  The Marketing Plan is your roadmap, your pathway to success and it’s the tipping point between the ones who go out and win the business and those who only wish for it.

Having a marketing plan doesn’t require an MBA or even a BA!  It requires having a very clear image of what you want to achieve within the next 12 and 24 months.  And then it requires laying out the specific steps you believe it will to take to actually get there.

You can do this, you really can!

Start by writing the following questions down on a sheet of paper and begin to work your way through them.  If you give it an honest effort over a week’s time, voilà, you’ll have an effective and actionable Marketing Plan that will propel you ahead of your competition – who are also likely to be card-carrying members of the silent majority. The questions are:

  • Where are we now?
  • Where do we need to be?
  • How do we intend to get there?
  • What $$$, people and resources do we need to get there?
  • How will we know if we’re succeeding?
  • What’s our unique point of difference?
  • Who are our best customer prospects?
  • What touchpoints (ads, web, mail, events etc.) can best and most cost-effectively connect with them?
  • What’s our STORY (brand message)
  • And how does that affect THEIR story – how does your audience picture themselves in a better place when doing business with you vs. the competition?

Once you’ve addressed these, the rest of your time is merely working through the details (we call them “tactics”) needed to execute your plan.

It’s no different than deciding which roads you’ll want to take to get from your home to your vacation cottage, what’s the fastest and easiest way to get there, which car to take, where you’ll stop for food and fuel along the way, and what to pack. If you don’t plan, you may not get there.  If you don’t know where you want to end up in the first place, you’ll absolutely, positively not get there.

Make a promise to yourself and your business that you’re going to hand over your silent majority card and join the vocal and visible few who aim for the top.  Be silent no more.


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.


I have long said that the reason to be fresh and surprising in advertising is not for its own sake, but because creativity is an excellent delivery vehicle for a marketing message.  It is human nature to pay attention to something that is new or novel rather than something that is expected.  (That said, there had better be a compelling marketing message embedded in that creativity or no matter what, it won’t succeed.)

Cemetery Ad for the Archdiocese of Los AngelesBut there are several costs to creativity.  The first is that it will almost certainly get push-back from others within the organization who say “that’s not the way things are done around here.”  Let’s face it, any time someone steps out on a limb, there are plenty of others holding fast to the trunk because it’s safer.

The other, far less understood cost of creativity is TIME.  Trying to force a good idea from out of thin air is a difficult task.  The process of idea-making is still studied and debated to this very day.  But it is generally agreed upon that much of the creative process takes place in the subconscious.  In problem-solving, one first defaults to all the rational and expected solutions.  Then, after  the work of processing and playing around with many possible angles, one often has to walk away from the problem long enough for the inner mind to do its thing – maybe a few days or even weeks.  To the world, it looks like no work is being done, but in the mind of the idea-maker, the process doesn’t sleep.

Working on a new campaign for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, we were tasked with developing a completely new ad for its cemeteries, something that would reawaken an audience and let them see the cemeteries in a new light.  I struggled for a solid week on  ad ideas, a few which had promise.  Then, still before the deadline, my wife and I took a vacation to Italy.  While in Rome, visiting the Vatican, we beheld Michelangelo’s magnificent Pieta sculpture, among other treasures.

Once back in LA and returning to my project, almost without thinking, the Pieta revealed itself to me as the solution. I thought “who better understands the loss of a loved one” than the Church? It became the ad that the Cardinal himself praised and was used by the Archdiocese for years.   But it wouldn’t have happened had I only been given a week’s deadline, had  I not been able to walk away from the project long enough for the subconscious  mind to open up and allow fresh input.

Albert Einstein put it very well when he said “… if you are patient, there may come that moment when, while eating an apple, the solution presents itself politely and says, ‘Here I am!’”

The moral of the story: Don’t ask for or expect truly creative ideas to happen in a hurry.  Allow the process time to fertilize and gestate.   Respect and be willing to invest in the most necessary cost of creativity so it can pay off to everyone’s benefit.


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.

By Rolf Gutknecht

Thumbs-Up-Thumbs-DownA few weeks back, I had a phone conversation with a new business prospect and during our talk he kept saying “we’re just better than our competition.” After saying this about the 3rd or 4th time, I asked him what he meant. He then rattled off these next 4 points like he was just waiting for me to ask: better service, better features, better product, and the infamous…better price. Then I asked him the question that took the wind out of our discussion: OK, but how is what your business offers meaningfully different from the competition? After stammering for a bit and then saying the same thing 2 or 3 times (but saying nothing in the process) he let me know that he forgot about a meeting he had in just a few minutes and with that we hung up.

So, while this business owner couldn’t answer the question, I’m guessing you could. So, how is your company meaningfully different from competitors? Are you sure? According to the Harvard Business School, 99% of executives think their business is different from its competitors. Unfortunately, most customers can’t tell the difference between your business’ offerings and those of similar businesses because they often won’t take the time to understand the subtle differences that make one company’s products or services better. In the process you’ve spent considerable money and resources on educating them on why your organization is “better” when all they want to know is what is it you have to offer that the others don’t and how does it benefit them.

Instead of trying to be better, build a strategy around how your company is different, even distinctive, from the pack. Being different makes you irreplaceable to your customers, and being irreplaceable leads to greater loyalty. And yet, many businesses are afraid to be different because that means taking a risk and walking a different path. Making matters more difficult is the fact that when businesses ask for customer feedback, customers can tell you how they want you to improve, but they can’t tell you how to be different.

You see “Better is not better; Different is better” and here’s why. Aside from being difficult to prove, being the best is largely subjective. Would you say a pair of Nike shoes is better than Adidas? Perhaps to you but the other person may not think so. Second, being different gets you noticed, and in our ever-crowded marketplace, being noticed is the all-important first step for standing out from the competition. What’s more, being different creates marketing advantages that “being better” just cannot compete with.

With business ever-changing, it’s critical that growth-oriented companies think differently not only in terms of the products that are developed for the various customer segments but also how they go about marketing those in ways that captivate the attention of the customer.  People want interesting products and services and they want them marketed in interesting ways.  You see, it’s not about being better or the best.  It’s about finding a way to take who you are, what you make or what you offer and create a relationship with prospects and current customers that they find instantly fascinating.

Think of it like this. Imagine that on the other side of the door from where you are is where relationships happen, loyalty happens, sales happen, and profits happen.  That is the side of the door where your prospective customers are.  But get through the door, you have to knock.  And if you can knock in a compelling, persuasive and interesting way and introduce yourselves, and if you provide people with messaging and content that is instantly captivating, then they will open the door and you get to go through to the side where all the good stuff lives.  Ask yourself why it is that you remember certain brands or specific marketing messages from various companies …maybe even your competitors.  It’s not because they look or sound like every other company. Not a chance. You remember them because they had a strong brand and distinctive message. Captivating one’s attention is the shortcut to persuasion and selling more. And in a competitive environment, the most fascinating option ALWAYS wins. Always.

So here are three ways that your company can start setting themselves apart from competitors:

  1. Adopt the idea of marching to your own drummer. Don’t be afraid to do something that people within your organization, and even a few of your customers, may not initially like. Experience teaches that it’s OK to have some detractors. In fact, having a few critics is essential. The undeniable reality is that if you’re not eliciting a negative response from someone somewhere, then you’re probably not that fascinating to anyone. No one remembers lukewarm!
  2. Have an idea for how you will be different. Any idea can be a good one, even the crazy-sounding ones. Unfortunately, most ideas that are deemed crazy are often dismissed. If you want to be different, you need to embrace a culture where any idea can be tried. More on this at http://laadsmarketingblog.com/2014/03/17/heres-to-the-crazy-ones/
  3. Don’t over-listen to customers. I think we would all agree that asking customers for feedback is always valuable. But you can’t let your customers drive every aspect of what you do. Take your own lead.

I’ll leave you with two questions to ask yourself to help start the process of being seen as different:  What can we offer that’s REALLY different from what our competitors are doing? What are we doing just like our competitors that we can change for our customer’s benefit. Then set up your product or service in a way that delivers on those needs in a way that your competitors don’t or won’t.

That can make all the difference.


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.

Eyewitness Funeral HomeThere’s one thing all funeral service providers on this planet have in common: they’re run and operated by human beings.  And human beings are… well, human…prone to making mistakes no matter what safeguards are put in place.  As a private pilot, I know this all too well: despite the careful training, endless regulations and the most modern technology, sometimes a plane doesn’t make it to its intended destination.  The same goes for the funeral biz.  Even with the most stringent safeguards and best practices, once in a while, something goes wrong.  Then the media gets hold of it and all hell breaks loose.

Sadly, one needn’t look too hard to find some story about a body being cremated that was intended for burial, a grave marker being misplaced, a funeral director accused of some criminal action.  As long as human beings run the business, bad stuff can – and occasionally does – happen.

It would be short-sighted to say this will NEVER happen to us.  After all, that’s why you carry insurance, right?  On the other hand, insurance doesn’t protect you from the press when an unfortunate story makes its way onto the ten-o’clock news.  More than that, the media loves a good funeral story!  The more gruesome or frightening they can spin it, the better.

So what do you do when the receptionist buzzes to say that Eyewitness News is holding for you on line two?  The answer is to be very glad that you had that contingency already in place months or even years in advance.  It’s called a Crisis Communication Plan.

A Crisis Communication Plan is a carefully thought-out blueprint, individualized to your company, that deals with handling the media when $%&! happens.

For example, it is extremely common that when the media comes knocking, they’ll happily talk to anyone they can, from the secretary to the maintenance guys, hoping for the perfect inflammatory sound bite.  One of the first components of a Crisis Communications Plan is to decide who – and who alone – will be the company spokesperson.  Should it be the company president?  The corporate attorney?  The PR manager?  How much should be discussed in front of a microphone immediately, before all the facts are in?  What kind of media training should that person have well in advance of need?  How will no comment or a flat-out denial be interpreted by the readers?  And what should your other staff do when the microphone is thrust in front of their faces?

Also, what is the chain-of-command with regard to fixing the problem both before and after it’s made public?  What is your company’s social media policy when the news is bad?  How will the company’s media responses relate to the corporate brand messaging?

How will your response change if it’s a criminal action versus simple human error?  Who else should be in your call-now list if the situation goes from embarrassing to critical? How will the number of families affected by the news change how you respond?  Enumerate and detail each of the steps each staff member must take when a problem goes public.  Then make sure you review it with your staff at least once a year, even “table-topping” possible scenarios.

There’s a lot that can happen that can make a bad situation worse – or better if it’s planned for.  But you already know that from selling pre-need planning to families.  Having a Crisis Communications Plan is your own corporate pre-need package.  A little web browsing will help you find some templates as a starting point. Professional help is also available.

Unlike death, bad publicity isn’t inevitable.  But without the proper planning in advance to deal with it should it occur, then the chaos, heartburn and loss of business from communications mismanagement may well be.

Plan to plan now.


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.

Mick_OldWatching Jackson Browne and the remaining Eagles performing during the Grammy Awards this past week really got me thinking.  Man, these guy are OLD.  Well, NO, not really.  They’re not much older than I am, and in my head, I’m far from old.

In fact, as I think about some of my musical idols, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Tina Turner, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and others…these rockers are still going strong…and they’re in their 70s!  And just behind them are Bonnie Raitt, Alice Cooper, Steven Tyler and a bunch of other icons who are deep into their 60s but a very long way from the retirement home.

So what does “old” mean in 2016?  A generation ago, anyone 65 or older was handed a gold retirement watch, their first social security check and a free ticket to the Pearly Gates valid anytime.  But today, you see people in their 60s, 70s and some even in their 80’s living life while hardly skipping a beat. Just last year, I met a guy who had celebrated his 80th birthday by skydiving 81 times on that one day!  And today at 82, he still skydives together with his wife.

This aging (but not old) population is as untraditional a market as any previous generation of old folks.  They live longer, stay healthier, enjoy life more fully, and still rebel in their way as they did growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s, the era of James Dean, Elvis, the Beatles, and the Stones. They may have been smoking pot before you were born, and they’re still doing it! Don’t sell them short.  Don’t think they’ll make the same kind of funeral plans their parents did.  Don’t think you can talk to them the same way that may have worked for the last 50 years.

Most of these so-called old-timers carry smart phones and they know how to use them; they’re on Facebook; some even have Twitter accounts. But unlike Generations X, Y and Millennials, these Boomers and Pre-Boomers are still consuming the forms of media they grew up with: radio, TV, newspapers and magazines. So don’t abandon what works for them, even if it seems so old-school to you. Regardless the medium, you have to speak to them in ways that can capture people’s attention. Stay fresh and relevant, interesting and even iconoclastic, because that’s who these people are. In other words, be non-funereal.

These are the people driving the cremation market. And even among those who choose burials, they still seek celebrations, not funerals. They want music, pictures, multi-media and storytelling at the farewell party. And they may not invite the minister or rabbi.

So as a funeral services provider looking to survive and hopefully grow, you have to ask yourself if you’re driving in the same lane these people are. If your ads look as though they came from a stock art clipping book, or if your commercials feel too comfortable and familiar, and if you’re still offering the same menu of products and services that worked great 20 years ago, I can only recommend looking at current photos of McCartney, Dylan, Jagger and their peers and think about what these “old folks” would be attracted to. If it’s not to you, it’ll certainly be to somebody else.


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.




First, a cork-popping congratulations to the Broncos, and condolences to all the Panthers fans. Now comes the Monday-morning quarterbacking and all the after-game analyses, almost as much fun as following this year’s election season!

But personally, I think the big winner in the game was Kia Motors, whose “Walken Closet” commercial was one of the truly great moments in Super Bowl advertising.  Feel free to click here to watch the spot and then come right back for the play-by-play.


Welcome back!

For a commercial – or any advertising, for that matter – to be effective, it has to accomplish several critical feats: It has to break through and attract attention, it has to be clear in its fundamental selling message, the message has to be compelling, and it has to be memorable when you walk away from it.

I’ve argued for years that most Super Bowl commercials only accomplish the first and last requirements. You watch and enjoy them, you may laugh at their gags and you talk about them after the game.  But on the selling-side, most hardly make it past the scrimmage line.  They don’t leave you wanting to know more about the product or even “get” the product’s unique selling proposition (USP), the thing that makes the product unique among its competitors.  That surely can’t be said of the Kia spot.

First off, who can’t be drawn into Christopher Walken’s creepily intense performance no matter what he does? And the gag about the “Walken closet” is hilarious. But when Walken metaphorically compares most mid-sized sedans to uninspired beige socks and the Optima to the “world’s most exciting pair of socks,” in a way only he can deliver, he absolutely nails the Optima’s unique selling proposition: a car with “pizzazzzzz” in a world of otherwise boring mid-sized competitors. If you’re thinking about buying a mid-size after watching this commercial, you’re compelled to at least check out the Optima. (After all, who wants to be boring and beige?)

This lesson shouldn’t be lost on funeral service advertisers, who are already on an uphill battle considering their subject matter. Are your ads beige or do they have pizzazz, capturing the audience’s attention amid the clutter? Do your ads and other marketing speak to why your business alone serves their interest in a way others’ don’t? Is your content interesting enough that it deserves a second viewing? You don’t need to spend millions of dollars to have a celebrity speaking for you. You just need to not settle for marketing that’s mediocre and expected.

In a world of “beige” mid-size sedans, there’s the Kia Optima. In your competitive world where there’s so much sameness, where do you stand? C’mon, punch it!


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.







Going to HeavenIn another couple of months, the next major Funeral association trade show, the ICCFA Convention, will take place.  And like the NFDA Convention, the exhibit hall will showcase all that’s new and not-so-new, from caskets to chemicals, memorial products both physical and digital, and practically every kind of support service one might need or imagine.

Truth be told, we always feel a bit underwhelmed with the amount of sameness, or at least expectedness on the floor.  Even when do we see new and noteworthy products, the manner in which they’re presented is often lackluster, and many times, it’s not at all clear what is being offered…or why.

OK, to be fair, I developed my chops walking the floor of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the largest, gaudiest, showiest, loudest and most competitive trade show there is.  But that’s all the more reason those exhibitors have to be at their very best.  The fact is, the lessons learned from CES can be carried over to exhibitors at funeral conventions, or even the smallest funeral home wishing to have a presence at the local county fair.  In fact, as I write this, we’re helping a mortuary-cemetery combo develop a new booth for an upcoming community Spring Festival.  Wherever and whenever your firm is out in front of a public gathering, that’s an opportunity to make a great impression.

Here are several considerations as you think about your exhibit booth.

Have a single-minded message.  All too often, exhibitors want to sell everything they have and tell attendees every story they can possibly gather up.  In truth, most booths end up looking like either 3-dimensional catalogs or a garage sale.  In either case, they ignore the fact that attendees are often overwhelmed with noise, colors, crowds and a plethora of products.  Better to simplify message and presentation.  The less you say, but the stronger you say it, the better the chance that you’ll be noticed and remembered.

Sell it in advance.  In most cases, attendees aren’t there to see your booth specifically. So you’re just one among hundreds of exhibitors.  That is, unless you let attendees know in advance that you’ll be there and have something of value they’d be missing if they don’t stop by.  If you’re lucky enough to have an attendee’s list, send out several teaser emails a week or so in advance.  Or send out post-cards.  Or advertise the fact that you’ll be there.  Make sure you are clear and single-minded in the reason WHY anyone should stop by.  If you have an offer or promotion at your booth, make sure to present this early as an incentive.

Make your booth about your customer, not about you.  Just as in your advertising, the customer is only interested in one thing: “What’s in it for me?”  So theme your booth with that in mind.  Being merely a presentation of “what we have” misses the point entirely.  Consider a few large signs that telegraph your value proposition – from the customer’s point of view.  Again, clarity and simplicity are critical.

Keep your promotions relevant.  If you’re giving away a prize, try to make that prize as connected to what you do or sell as much as possible.  Remember, it’s not just about trying to draw a crowd to your booth, but bringing over qualified shoppers.  Having your booth swamped with people who would never use your services takes away the opportunity to talk to the prospects you really do want to meet.  Staff time is a valuable commodity you can’t afford to waste.  In that same vein, why would you have a candy jar when you know as well as anybody that you’ll only end up giving away lots of candy without creating leads or generating real interest?

Take names and ask questions later.  If you do offer a promotion or give-away, make sure that your entry form does a good job of pre-qualifying the leads so you don’t waste time later in your follow-up calls. Make sure that you put on your entry form big letters requesting that the person write their information clearly.  Also, there are a number of online contest services and apps you might want to look at that can make information-gathering easy, which can also help you with building your Facebook likes and grow your email blast program.  It’s good form, however, to offer an opt-out check-box so that attendees don’t feel you’ll hound them with spam once the contest is over. (Don’t worry, most people don’t check that box.)

And have a post-show plan.  Like golf, tennis and smart sales practice, everything is in the follow-through. The biggest failure of exhibitors is what they don’t do after the show.   They don’t have a program to follow up with their leads.  They don’t send thank-you’s to their attendees.  They don’t publicize their booth attendance or prize-winners or post photos and videos to Facebook.  Well in advance of the event, you should already have a plan that includes how you’ll manage the leads and keep the glow alive long after the show.

I often quote Woody Allen who observed that 80% of success is just showing up.  For many businesses, funeral homes especially, a trade show or community event such as a street festival or county fair is the only opportunity to be seen and actually engage with the public.  Don’t blow it before you’ve even begun: Plan ahead, think strategically and Dare to be Different as you grow your business presence.


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.




Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 25 other followers

%d bloggers like this: