Because artificial intelligence has a broad range of practical applications – from automation and data analysis to customer service and gaming – the topic often triggers different responses in different people.
AI continues to advance and evolve, driving innovation in numerous applications and impacting our daily lives in various ways, so at his keynote session on the final day of the NFDA International Convention & Expo, Dennis Yu, CEO of BlitzMetrics, attempted to demystify AI and discuss its role in the future of funeral service. Yu enlisted the assistance of three funeral directors to show how AI can help funeral homes expand their marketing capabilities and drive their business.
“What if we took funeral home owners from small to large and demonstrated what we could practically do with AI, so that you could walk away with the action guide of the work being done by these young adults,” Yu queried attendees.
Yu asked his funeral director panel what people were saying about AI. “Well, I know there are the avatars, and that can be a little frightening to people,” said Prout.” There has been a lot of talk about recreating a deceased loved one and interacting with them. And one of the questions the industry would face is – is that really helping someone or are they prolonging their grief?”
Yu shared the number-one tip that silicon-valley had about the people who are winning in AI.
“It’s that they are human,” Yu said. “They start from the humanity. It’s not technology and engineering, it’s whoever is the most human.”
To make that point, he demonstrated some AI functions. In one clip, it was Yu’s face wishing someone a happy birthday – but nobody believed it was really him. “It’s my face, the lips are moving, but the AI is not ready,” he said. “What you really need to do to succeed with AI is start with things that are real now. Do you really want to have an AI-generated avatar representing you in your community? [That technology] is not ready. Some people are afraid of video, and we’re going to talk about how to overcome that,” Yu continued. “When you share your stories and put them out there, you show the humanity. People have this preconception of what funeral homes are, and we’re going to change that by using social media and digital AI to increase our humanity.”
Yu described this as generative AI, which is about taking what you have, the seed of something real, and being able to modify it in different ways. The mechanism of how AI can practically work in funeral service is a four-stage model Yu called the “content factory”:
- Produce: Zoom calls, podcasts, social media posts, speaking, iCloud photos, design style guide
- Process: Description, social snippets, content library
- Publish: YouTube, Facebook, company website, social channels
- Promote: Thank-you machine, dollar-a-day ads.
“You’re producing content; this is the reality,” stated Yu. “When you have all this stuff, now you have the raw ingredients. The raw ingredients can then be processed, and this is where AI tools come in. AI tools being used by young adults in a smart process will overturn most people in the world of marketing who think they’re professionals in digital marketing,” Yu continued. “When the videos get processed, then they can be published to your Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram, LinkedIn – all these places,” he added. “And that’s how you dominate in digital marketing. You send that signal to Google so that you can rank on whatever keywords you want. The work is being done by those networks. That’s the future of marketing. It’s not about social media and influencers and singing and dancing – it’s about getting your stories out there.”
As for the last part – promoting – it’s investing a dollar a day on Facebook or YouTube. “Every single social channel has got AI built into it,” he said. Yu next presented videos by three funeral director panelists to illustrate his point. The video produced at Mickens’ funeral home describes how to present a life celebration for a loved one. As for the tech crew and equipment, Mickens’ son, Skylar, filmed his mother using an iPhone.
“Capture moments – short little cellphone videos – and post them on the ultimate AI tool – Google,” said Yu. “AI is not this futuristic robot; it is right here, it is practical. You are using it every day when you Google something. That’s the AI. It’s not the scary thing.”
Yu reminded attendees that it makes a difference with consumers when a third party is recommending a business rather than the business talking about itself.
“We take these videos and create articles,” Yu said. “It’s also a big thing to be able to promote articles and different things because the articles are a little bit more in-depth. Articles send more signals to Google for these different things to be picked up and ranked.”
One Funeral Director pointed out that the videos taken with her dad in front of the sustainable options in the funeral home’s showroom were shot on one of their busiest days. “We had people coming in, walk-ins, funerals, we had construction going on,” she shared. “And I said to my dad, let’s just do one video, we have to get them something, and we just got on a roll and in 15 minutes, we had maybe 10 videos to send.”
One-minute videos are the optimal length. “I think you can definitely get the message across in a one-minute video,” said Prout. “You’re going to lose people [if it’s too long]. But it definitely grabs people’s attention.”
AI is coming. It’s also helping to make our businesses a lot more efficient and effective. Another benefit of producing these videos is the outtakes and how the staff was getting nervous that they were flubbing their words. “But the team kind of came together during the video sessions,” one Funeral Director said. “We were laughing and joking, we did do a quick coffee break, came back and everyone’s taking pictures, and it was just really neat to see the team come together, and then they were encouraging the speaker. It could be a really neat team project for your staff to come together on something that’s ultimately helping your firm.”