Hat tip to Gary Kayye for writing about this recently …
What if a service at a funeral home wasn’t a dark, deeply uncomfortable experience most people just wanted to get through? What if it was more of a celebration – that used technology to tell the story of a loved one’s life?
That’s the premise behind a really interesting approach to the funerals business by Foundation Partners Group, a company based out of Orlando, Florida that isn’t shy about saying it wants to reinvent a very tired, staid old industry through technology.
A typical funeral service – at least the ones I’ve been to – involves a dark, oak and carpet chapel, and the the orchestration is all about being sad in something that feels like a church.
Foundation Partners – which has some 40 locations across the United States – goes completely in the opposite direction with what it calls ShareLife – using edge-blended projections, music and even scent marketing technology to create multi-sense themes that celebrate the lives of the departed.
That means the service for Grandpa, who golfed his butt off from the day he retired, would likely involve a feature wall showing Pebble Beach (or even his home course), the sounds of birds and the smell of freshly mown grass. And the family would bring in his clubs and park them by the casket or urn.
The company offers a variety of themes, from ocean scenes and saltwater smells, to military and Harley-Davidson motifs. They started out making the “experiences” an up-sell, but just about every client wanted it, so the technology cost has since been spread out and absorbed into the general fee structure for having a service/celebration at one of the company’s locations.
For the families who come in wanting something traditional, with none of the thematic AV bits, the company’s VP IT Dave Ugan says they can run a simple projection like a cross or Star of David, or nothing at all, if that’s what the family insists.
It’s a really interesting take on bringing technology into a business that has seen little evident change through the decades. “Technology in this industry is way behind,” says Ugan, “and the perception of the industry is poor.”
If you’ve had a loved one pass on and had to get involved in funeral planning, you’ll know the choreography of going in and being presented with all the service options, and sensing the bill just getting higher and higher.
Ugan says his company has only been around six years, and four years ago, a new management team was brought in – a lot of the team coming from outside the industry, with execs recruited from the hotels and attractions industry. Because the company is based in the theme park epicentre of Orlando, finding people who understood the maniacal pursuit of great guest experiences was easy. The CEO, for example, is ex-Disney and Hilton Vacations.
The existing Foundation Partner locations are retrofits that added the new tech, so judging by pictures online there is a bit of a clash of old and new with projection walls mixing in with oak pews and what looks like granny’s favorite wallpaper.
The company is re-thinking the whole idea of funeral homes and planning to build multi-purpose event centers that could, led by technology, host a memorial service in the afternoon and a wedding that evening, and a local Kiwanis meeting the next day. They wouldn’t look funeral homes, as that might go over well with brides.
The wedding industry, as I have told numerous unfocused software startups who needed SOME kind of focus, is one that is incredibly primed to be using more technology like digital signage. There are substantial costs to memorial gatherings, but people lose their minds and throw out budgets when it comes to weddings. Think photo booths. Social media walls. Interactive galleries.
ALL of the startup guys thought I was nuts (but I’m not). At least about that.
Funerals and memorials are far more budget restrained, but families all have visuals they’d love to see, share and get from a celebration of someone’s life.
Foundation Partners is also talking, says Ugan, about things like liquor licenses at the event centers. Which again makes a pile of sense, and probably reflects what a lot of people would like to see happen, as opposed to serving tea or just chasing people out after the speeches and hymns all end.
Ugan says he’s using short-throw and ultra short-throw projectors for the wall projections, and using Mac Minis for play-out and iPad Minis as control systems. He’s also using interactive screens for the funeral planning sessions with families, changing the dynamic from an office to a soft seating area where the family can sit around and answer core questions and use interactive sliders to tinker with the options and budget numbers. “You can just hear the sigh of relief from families,” says Ugan, as they are able to tune the event to their needs and budget, instead of choose options laid out in binders by a funeral home staffer.
I think applying technology is clever as hell, and is a glimpse of another industry being somewhat disrupted, or at least re-thought. Maybe this doesn’t seem like digital signage, or visual communications, but it is.
Ugan says they get a lot of calls from other companies in the industry, and they are looking at making some intellectual property claims for ShareLife. The company expects competitors will come up withe their own takes on ShareLife, but Ugan says doing this well is no small undertaking, and requires a lot of technical understanding and equipment to do it well.
To underline that point, he sent me an image of the server rack needed to drive these experiences.
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for some 14 years. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He’s based near Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast.