Published in the February 2022 Issue of Memento Mori 

By Rolf Gutknecht 

This has happened more times than we care to remember… maybe even at a company that you once worked at. I am talking about a company or brand that was once a familiar part of the funeral profession landscape (nationally or in your own market) that is now no longer around. Disappeared. Gone and forgotten. Like they never existed. 

Over the past five to 10 years or so, “going out of business” has become such a growth business. This got me thinking about a question I’ve posed time and again to the marketing leadership of companies during this “New Normal.” 

The question is simple and insightful—and it is worth taking seriously as you evaluate your approach to strategy, competition, and innovation:  

If your company went out of business tomorrow, would anybody really miss you and why?  

Let that swim around in your brain for a bit. 

If that question does not concern you… it should. What is being done to make your brand and firm important enough and invaluable to your customers that they feel they could not live without, or want to live without you?  

For example, if you are a funeral home or cemetery operation, it has been noted on more than one occasion recently that upwards of 3,000 to 5,000 locations will be changing ownership over the next three to five years, which would seem to indicate that there will be much disruption going on.  

If you are a funeral home, cemetery, manufacturer, or service provider, you’re going to see some changes take place that will affect the state of your current business. Here are five ways to help make your company or brand so meaningful that your customers would not only notice if you went out of business, but they would miss you. 

Stand Out from the Crowd 

You must provide a product or service so different that it cannot be provided nearly as well by any of your main competitors. Mercedes would certainly be one, even Ritz-Carlton and Southwest Airlines. But really, how many products or services fall into this group? Do your customers see you as a “must have” or as a “you’ll do”? How many viable options are there to what you offer? What can you do that others can’t … or won’t? Do they trust you to follow through on what you are telling them? Are you just a vendor or a trusted partner? What makes you so special—really? 

Maintain Your Passion 

Meaningful brands are created by people with a vision and a passion and destroyed by “caretakers.” Perhaps the founder of a company identified a niche or angle that was unique and pursued it with passion. But once the brand is relinquished into the hands of “caretakers” more focused on the financials and doing it like it has always been done, it can be slowly destroyed.  

Your marketing should make people see your firm as saying something interesting and fascinating so that you are not a “nice to have” but rather a “must have.” What did former President Ronald Reagan once say about this…oh yeah: “Status quo is Latin for the ‘mess we’re in.’” Amen. 

Kill the Complacency 

Make sure the company continues to innovate and not stand still when the brand realizes some success. When something works, either because it was thought through or, more times than not, by other factors, the “don’t fix it if it’s not broken” philosophy kicks in. The growth of the brand or company stalls instead of constantly trying to evolve, improve, and adapt to the changing world.  

One cannot win a race by standing still when it comes to marketing your firm. Vanilla (or mediocre) marketing is a big contributor to—or perhaps the result of—standing still. Don’t go with vanilla when there is a world of Cherry Garcia, Chocolate Peanut Butter Split, Chubby Hubby, etc., at your disposal.  

Here is a marketing truth: People want to buy interesting products and services and they want them marketed to them in interesting ways. The bottom line is that void of innovation or a change in mindset to move forward clearly makes your organization “part of the herd.” Not exactly a great place to be as the profession becomes more competitive.  

Inspire Loyalty 

Your company must forge a uniquely emotional connection with your customers that other companies cannot copy. Apple is an obvious passion brand in the performance-obsessed technology world. Netflix is a brand in the fussy media market that does not just have viewers but devoted followers.  

In the funeral profession, with a number of choices, how many companies and brands do you know have achieved the status that inspires “loyalty beyond reason?” Can your company be an Apple, Starbucks, or Netflix to your customers? If your answer is “we can be a brand like that”… good for you! 

Know Your Competition 

Look at the marketplace and understand who you are competing against. Many companies and brands define their business too narrowly just like stagecoach owners did. They focused on offering the best stagecoach service, the cheapest stagecoach service, or the fastest stagecoach service. Eventually, other forms of getting people from “A” to “B” came along, like when the jet plane destroyed the lucrative transatlantic ocean liner business.  

You need to define what business you are in and who the competition really is. Food for thought: If Google is the one ranking your business against your peers, then it makes sense to understand who Google thinks you are similar to, right? Type in your own URL (or that of your competitors) in the search bar and see what comes up. You may be surprised. 

Very few companies meet any of these criteria—which may be why so many companies feel like they are on the verge of going out of business if business doesn’t pick up in the next half year to a year. So, the next time someone at work urges you to think small and settle, or something akin to “But that’s the way we’ve always done it,” ask that person why he or she believes that playing it safe is playing it smart. 

 That’s what they thought at Saturn, E.F. Hutton, and House and Garden magazine—and look how it worked out for them! For, as they found, their customers could live without them. 

Are You a Dinosaur? 

At the end of the day, if your customers can live without you, eventually they will. If you do business the way everybody else does business, and that means not marketing yourself so people see your specialness compared to others, you will never do much better. 

If your answer is “no” or “not sure” to the question of whether anyone would notice if your company or brand went out of business, you need to focus on how to ensure it doesn’t happen.  

What are you doing as it relates to your various business and marketing activities so that people understand how you are a more meaningful choice over others and would prefer doing business with you over all others?  


Rolf Gutknecht is president and CEO of LA ads, a full-service marketing firm specializing in helping cemeteries, funeral homes, manufacturers, and service providers create compelling messaging and implement marketing programs to grow their business. Rolf can be reached at or 800-991-0625 ext. 2. Check out the LA ads website by visiting