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$23B/year Traditional Industry Is Ready to Embrace the Future

More and more trade associations are discovering the value of bringing their leadership teams to Silicon Valley. The members not only get to meet face to face and talk shop, but they also receive invaluable insight about customer focus and people management from leading innovative workplaces like Amazon and Google.

Often time, trade associations contact us because they want to create an unforgettable experience for their members that combines cultural thought leadership and meetings specific to the future of their industry. This combination of interests has led MKJ Marketing to work with us to create an unforgettable two-day program for their long-time client, Preferred Funeral Directors International, as an add-on to their annual leadership summit.

The group was particularly interested in learning ways to refresh their industry because demand for funeral home services has been slowly declining over the last several decades. Coming to Silicon Valley and learning about opportunities created by emerging technologies was a way for the top business leaders of the funeral industry to find “out-of-the-box” ideas to re-invigorate the business.

Thought leaders from Amazon, Stanford, HP, Visa, Oculus (Facebook’s Virtual Reality Company), Beam, and the Institute for the Future provided association members with valuable insight about:

● Reframing business planning to consider the customer journey
● Using online payments to reduce friction in the pipeline
● Using virtual presence to bring families closer together
● Redesigning real estate to be brighter and more welcoming

Here are some key takeaways from the program:

1) Silicon Valley companies keep innovating by thinking about “Jobs to be Done”

The term, “jobs to be done”, is increasing in its popularity here in Silicon Valley. It essentially means that companies must focus intensely on understanding what jobs their customers have to do (getting food, parting with loved ones, finding a place to celebrate) and create solutions that allow them to do it as seamlessly as possible. Amazon has recently shown this in their development of Amazon Go. By using video cameras and on-shelf sensors in grocery stores, Amazon sees the products you put in your bag so that you can skip the checkout line entirely! Talk about efficiency in the job of getting food. Just pick up what you want, walk out of the store, and get billed for what you carry away. Waiting in line and using a credit card to pay isn’t directly associated with getting food, so Amazon helped customers by eliminating it entirely.

2) Virtual presence can make event participation a reality for those in remote locations

One of the jobs to be done at a funeral home is to provide a space for family members and close friends to gather, support each other, and share memories of the departed. Often, people cannot participate in the funeral ceremony because of the challenging realities of travel cost and time. One of the technologies the association of funeral directors learned about was Beam, by Suitable Technologies. Imagine an iPad attached to the top of a 5’5” pole. The bottom of the pole is attached to a wheeled base. Any person who has been granted permission can call into the screen. They can then move around and interact with the crowd as though they were there. Using technology like this is helpful not only for funeral homes, but also for other event managers, and managers of any real estate property who would like to do a “walk through” without actually being there.

3) Real estate can be a burden rather than an asset in the digital economy

There are thousands of funeral homes all around the country. Because of the shift to cremation and at home (or even at bar!) celebrations of passed loved ones, these funeral homes are seeing historically low utilization rates. They have tried to rent out their spaces for birthday parties and other events, but as you can imagine, there are few people interested in having a birthday party at a funeral home. After seeing the beautiful open and bright offices in Silicon Valley, the group reconsidered the need to have real estate for funeral services at all. Sure, they need to have one facility for cremation or to prepare a body, but it can be shared among all funeral service providers. The actual ceremony can take place at a person’s home, a community center, or even a bar.

4) Everyone is first and foremost in the service industry

You might think that Google is a search company, Facebook a social media platform, and Amazon a logistics giant. On the one hand, you would be correct. On the other, if you go deeper, you will find that all of these giants are structured like a service company. The amount of data they have about customer usage is staggering. They are constantly testing to see which service modifications they can make to increase customer satisfaction and engagement. As we learned at the Stanford, teams have to continually research how customers live their lives to continuously release updates that help them do what they want as efficiently as possible. In Google’s case, this means autocompleting searches to an almost scary accuracy. For Amazon, this is creating checkout free shopping. All these companies are constantly serving better experiences.

5) The future potential offered by Virtual Reality is mind boggling

The Professional Funeral Directors International Association received a special treat in visiting the Facebook campus to learn directly from the Oculus team how Virtual Reality can be used for professional purposes. And in this case, Oculus was very happy to learn about how the funeral directors thought about using VR. Some of the funeral homes and cemeteries are already using 360 photos and videos to allow customers a better look around the property before booking space. Perhaps the most interesting conversation from the trip revolved around the potential of a future wherein after you die your digital consciousness remains. Whenever you use the Internet or cloud-based products, your profile of is updated. So, essentially an archive of what you think about and how you talk is saved. After you are dead in Virtual Reality, your friends and family can still “access your files” and have a conversation with a virtual avatar that talks and thinks like you. Mind blowing!

The mission of the Silicon Valley Innovation Center when creating any of our programs is to motivate clients to begin the process of transforming their businesses. This is why trade associations are so fond of our work. We help them deliver highly-tailored and thought-provoking programs for their members. It is a win-win-win arrangement. The trade association looks good because they deliver an unforgettable experience to their clients. The members win by having focused time on learning about the future of their industry and how to become part of it. And yes, we win because very often the trade associations or member companies will reach out to us for continued learning to evolve their businesses.

If you are part of a trade association and would like your group to consider including a custom Silicon Valley immersion program for an annual meeting, we would be happy to get to know the needs of your members and start brainstorming with you. 1-650-274-0214