Dan O’Leary

The branding of death

Branding, Design, Society

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Sadly, most of us have had some kind of contact with a funeral service (also known as funeral directors in the UK). Whether you’re there to deal with the funeral arrangements after the death of a loved-one or you’re there as part of the cortége on the big day, you’ve experienced that chapel-like, flower-filled, cliché-ridden space that we’ve all come to expect. As I’ve recently been thinking about potential new business opportunities, it occurred to me that the funeral home cliché is in a self-perpetuating cycle. Why is the funeral industry treated differently? In terms of designing the consumer experience, why is it 30 years behind the rest of the retail landscape?

Let’s make it easier and suspend the notion that it’s a taboo subject; it really is a retail industry, though probably more comparable to the wedding industry. Despite that one being just as full of clichés, at least there is an attempt to lure the style or design-conscious consumer by a small number of venues, photographers and suppliers. It’s a notoriously closed industry, impossible to get into and fiercely protected by long-established, family-owned firms (or larger companies who’ve swallowed them up). In a retail sector where there is so little choice and competition, the impetus isn’t there for such an evolution. Consumers won’t drive change; because they expect exactly what they see when they walk through the door of the funeral director’s office, no one wants to try.

It seems like the perfect time for someone to offer a real alternative from the ground-up (pun intended). A branded experience, with every moment in the consumer journey fully considered, including the architecture and interior design. No white doves; contemporary interiors; a redesigned range of caskets. When the inevitable happens, we all fall into the old clichés not because “it’s what they would’ve wanted”, but because “there isn’t any alternative to the dull Victorian-style funerals on offer”. On top of that, funerals are an expensive business. It’s amazing that in this retail age, people will pay that much money for such little choice. It’ll take a funeral director with real vision to make the leap and truly rethink the experience with some best practice retail thinking. Not everything has to change for the sake of change, but death is depressing enough as it is. People don’t know what they want until you show it to them; if you really want to give people a ‘dignified departure’, at least make sure it looks good.



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