Podcast jFuneral Season 4 Episode 167 Lead Generators for Japanese Funerals

 If you do any marketing, you’ve probably heard of these phrases, “lead something”.

  1. Lead Magnet
  2. Lead Generation
  3. Lead Nurturing
  4. Lead Conversion 

Hi,  my name is Yuusuke Wada. I’m your host of jFuneral.com.
I’m your local expert in Japanese funeral business and the only podcaster specializing in the Japanese funeral business.  You can find me on Soundcloud, Spotify, Google Podcast and on Amazon Music.

Today, I wish to talk about reverse engineering of marketing Japanese funeral business lead situations

They all seem the same but not quite.
I don’t intend to explain this here in my podcast but I wish to explain how the funeral homes in Japan need to understand to get the “lead” and how it works in Japan.

On Tuesday, October 17th, I was one of the guest speakers in the Age Tech group.
They were here in Japan and I was able to meet the core members.
Aging community is the upstream of any funeral business and all funeral homes need to watch closely for how and where  people are dying.

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Lead magnet for the undertakers in Japan is dominated by internet brokers.
No matter what funeral homes do with their SEO, there’s no chance of beating the system and going against these brokers that dump millions of yen into Google ads.
Resistance is futile.
It’s no use offering free webinars and tutorials of funerals except posting flyers in mailboxes so that employees have something to do while not in service. 

Give funeral home staff something to do.

Lead generation is the result of the magnet where funeral homes in Japan can create customers.  But how?

No matter what, if you don’t work from the end result you wish to achieve, which is the conversion, you won’t get to the point of generation. You need to work backward in any strategy. 

So, for the funeral homes in Japan, I’m going to talk from the end point, the conversion.

In Japan, or basically any funeral homes’ conversion doesn’t work overnight.
You might get prospective customers but they are just prospects until someone dies.
Yes, someone bites the dust and calls you for your service.
That’s the conversion.
This might come from getting a call from the internet brokers or direct call for your service by seeing one of your flyers.

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How do we get a direct call, by-passing these contracted brokers that rips you off of about 30% of the total fee?  Yes, about 30% is the price you have to pay for using these brokers like Chiisana Ososhii, Yoriso, and such.

It is extortion but Is it worth the extra price?

Probably yes, even your funeral home has been in the market for over 100 years.
But in this case, you need to slim down and make your business really profitable by scrutinizing each cost, including the overhead cost of maintenance fee and such.
The reason for this is that people search for you on Google and the first thing that comes up is the “sponsor” listing of these brokers’ data.

Nothing beats paid sponsor ads in Google.

Even if it’s the second time customers, when they search, the first result shows up on their screen is the paid sponsored ad on Google results and people don’t understand that.
There’s no internet literacy for most people.
This is why, you either contract these brokers at a large cost, just like using Amazon as your store, even though they charge quite a sum.

In the usual market, these conversions are about 1 to 3 percent.
But for the funeral directors contracting these brokers, the percentage goes much higher, and sometimes over 30%.

Why such a number?

There is an evaluation ranking system used by these brokers.
It comes from customer satisfaction and they are required to rate your service online.
Higher the satisfaction, your business shows up on top.

There are exceptions that when a newly contracted funeral home in your vicinity establishes, they get a priority for a while but after a certain period of time, call center people at the brokerage call you at the end.  The call center personnels are also evaluated by the customer that reflects on their wages.

When the customer searches, they call the number shown on the brokerage system and the customers  discuss with the call center first and set the price. Most customers are unaware that the number they have called is not your funeral home but a dispatch call center of the brokerage.
But still, if your reputation is high in the brokerage rank system, your conversion rate goes up.

From the lead conversion, there is the nurturing era.

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What do funeral homes do to nurture their lead generated customers that became a conversion factor?

Once you have caught the attention of generating the customer, you have to grow it and keep a good contact so they don’t go away.
You have to understand that for the customers, funerals are once in a lifetime events and they might not come to you even though you have caught their attention with your beautiful funeral home or exciting flyers.

In this case, most Japanese funerals are monotonous and same across the country whether religious or non-religious ceremonies are being held.

What funeral homes need to do is to make the monotonous funerals a real mourning place and a place for customer hospitality.
What IS customer hospitality?

Before explaining customer hospitality that’s appealing to the customers, I need to explain the rituals in any Japanese funerals.

When someone deceases, whether hospital or home or in elderly home, unless there’s a question of homicide and the police get involved, after having the death certificate written by the doctor pronouncing death, you call up the undertaker.

At this point, the family will probably look up on their smartphones of an undertaker to bring the loved one back home or to the morgue for storage.  Usually, due to the housing issues in Japan, the deceased is brought to the funeral home.

The family looking up the telephone number of a funeral home will search Google and often, they do not realize that the first response in Google is the paid brokerage answer.
Let’s say, “Boston Kenmore Square funeral home” and if there are no Google ads regarding the funeral home in this vicinity, the nearest one will show up.

Google rule, the ads come first then the ranks.

In Japan, since there is a brokerage system for funerals, the Google sponsored ad shows up at the top shown on the screen.

Then comes the ranked funeral homes in the vicinity.
These are funeral homes in Naka-Ku (area) in Yokohama.

Customers will probably click the first displayed on google result unaware of the ad, and check where the closest one is near you or near your home.

Even if you search for the funeral home’s name, the brokerage system shows up before your business.  Google seems to display the higher paid ad even if you place an ad on Google.

This is the case of my wife’s company.
The brokerage system shows up first since they have more evaluations and maybe they have a higher evaluation than your business.

Isn’t that sweet?

Therefore, due to this Google system, customers are unaware of calling the brokers and not the funeral home.  Many believe they are talking to the funeral homes directly and there are times that customers are puzzled.

After calling, either getting connected to the brokers or the funeral home, the contracted undertaker will dispatch a hearse to bring the deceased to a specified place.
From there, the meeting between the client and the funeral director will begin.

Funerals now are small compared to 5 years ago, pre-COVID days.
Some might not even have a wake or viewing but a one day ceremony or maybe not even that and go directly to the crematorium.
If it’s a Japanese Buddhist or Shinto ceremony, either a monk or priest will come and chant sutra or Norito prayers.
If it’s a Christian ceremony, funerals are mostly held at the church, whether Catholic or Protestant.
A priest and friends and  members of the  church will come and we all sing hymns. 

If no-religion, we simply play music to mourn and sit in silence.

In order for the funeral homes to “nurture” the business, funeral directors will have to show hospitality for all.

With all this in mind, what is “nurturing” and this “hospitality”?

Japanese funerals are not that diversely operated.
It’s simple but the family has many chores to do before the ceremony to greet people and think of after death government paperwork. 

This is the situation of nurturing the client.

In order for the Japanese funeral homes to nurture, they would have to know how big the family and how large the size of the funeral is going to be, which means that the ceremony would be a family only or would they allow friends to join as well.

In order to effectively construct lead nurturing in the Japanese funerals, funeral directors would have to structure a pre-need situation at the time of death.  It’s ironic that the person is dead but needs to determine the pre-need circumstance, which any explanation takes time and time is something we don’t have.

Therefore, in order to construct this lead nurturing, funeral directors would need to understand immediately what the customer is looking for and build upon that need.

Every customer has a different need since they all have different backgrounds and family structure, including relative situations.
Customers might be wondering about prices, the size of the hall, the rituals, how to deal with monks and priests, government paperwork, noisy relatives, or combination of any or all and many others.

One nurturing solution could be not having a ceremony but only some moments of giving the family to say goodbye in front of the coffin. 

Therefore, nurturing is the most important aspect of the funeral business in Japan. This is where you get the next conversion through good evaluation.
Funeral directors would have to write up a scenario and instantly acquire what are the needs for each customer and decide on the approach.

This becomes the lead generation of explaining that your funeral home is different from others, even with common traditional rituals.
As for lead generation, some funeral homes post flyers, call up homes (no robocalls in Japan – we all hate robocalls), and ads in the newspaper but fewer people are buying newspapers compared to 5 years ago, where it dropped down 22%.

What’s important in the Japanese funeral industry is to approach the nurtured leads for the next business.  This is achieved not only from the evaluation of the funeral home but can be from word of mouth of people attending the funeral ceremony whether at the funeral home or at the church or anywhere.
Ordinary funeral homes are very locally tied up and people attending the funerals are usually your neighbors. This is why nurturing is the crux of the next business and not just the lead generation. 

BTW, no one wants to subscribe to an email magazine from a funeral home, unless it’s very entertaining and has nothing to do with the funerals such as what’s on sale in local marché where many can benefit.  

Importance of this act is that you are constantly in connection with your customers once a lead generation has been made.

Thank you very much.