How Product Managers Market Death

Death needs to be marketed also
Death needs to be marketed also

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I’m hopeful that most of us don’t spend a lot of time each day thinking about death. For most of us this is not a pleasant subject and so we try to avoid thinking about it as much as possible. That is unless you happen to be a product manager who is involved in the business of death. We need to realize that when someone passes on, that is just the start of a lengthy process that deals with how their remains should be handled until they reach their final resting spot. It turns out that the business of death is currently undergoing a great deal of change.

Change Comes To The World Of Death

Back in the old days, death used to be a fairly cut and dried process. When someone died, you’d call the undertaker, they’d take away the body, fix it up for the viewing, place it in a casket, and then wheel the casket to the graveyard for a final burial. This sequence of steps cost money that the deceased family was generally willing to pay and everyone was happy. Then things started to change.

What has happened in the past few years is that more and more of us are electing to be cremated instead of being buried. This changes the product development definition of death. When we make this decision, all of sudden there is no longer a need to purchase caskets, burial plots and all of the rituals that are generally associated with the dead. The problem that death product managers have is that they built their industry around selling caskets.

The good news for death product managers is that their market is not going away. As baby boomers get older, the number of deaths in the U.S. is forecasted to increase from about 2.7M to 3.6M in 2036. However, the problem that these product managers are facing is that this increase in deaths does not necessarily mean that there will be a surge in casket sales. Back in 1980, less than 10% of the people who died got cremated. However, these days this number has increased to roughly 50%. The expectations are that this figure will keep increasing and will top 70% by 2030.

The New Way Of Dealing With The Dead

What do they say? As one door shuts, another opens? As the market for caskets goes away because of the rise in cremations this has required the product managers who deal with death to become creative. They have decided that a funeral now should really be all about remembering the person who has passed – even if the body is not there.

No longer do product managers like to call it a funeral service. Instead, they now refer to the ceremony where the dead person is remembered as being a gathering. Funeral parlors are undergoing a transformation. Gone are the casket-viewing rooms because they are considered to be too depressing. Now they are starting to have multisensory experience rooms where audio and video equipment can be used to create an atmosphere that will remind visitors of places that the deceased like to go to. How would that look on your product manager resume? The price for this is included in the funeral service fees and ranges from US$4,000 – US$8,000.

Since a cremation can be done fairly cheaply, product managers have to find ways to sell more things to the families of the deceased. A standard cremation costs roughly $700. Product managers are asking family members what they would like to happen to the ashes after the cremation. A standard cremation returns the ashes in a cardboard container. If the family wants to be more respectful, then they can pay for a nice urn and this will run them between $400 – $500.

What All Of This Means For You

Death is never a pleasant topic to talk about for most of us. However, we do need to realize that the process of caring for, dealing with, and ultimately disposing of a dead person’s body is a business and this business has its own set of product managers. Just like the rest of us, these product managers have a product manager job description that tells them that they have to deal with the changes that are sweeping though their industry.

The business of death is undergoing a major transformation because people who are dying have started to choose to be cremated instead of being buried in a casket. This is a big deal for death product managers because their industry was built on selling caskets. Since this business is going away, death product managers have had to diversify. They have started selling funeral packages where gatherings are staged and fancy audio and video equipment can be used to create environments that remind the people in attendance of the person who has passed on. Additionally, product managers see an opportunity to sell urns to families who want to honor the memory of their relative by keeping the ashes in their house.

The business of death will always be with us. The product managers who work in this market need to understand that their market is changing and so they need to change with it. The dead will always have to be dealt with, it’s just how we choose to honor them that the death product managers need to figure out and then go do some marketing.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that there is anything that the death product managers can sell that would happen after the cremation is done?

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