At Legacy.com, we’re given the privilege of working with professionals from across the funeral industry. From florists to funeral directors, our partners help us gain insight into how bereavement and funeral traditions are evolving. One of the biggest changes we’ve seen in 2015 is a shift toward personalization in obituaries.
In the last century, obituaries have changed stylistically depending on the technologies and attitudes of the day. Today, more families and obituary writers are opting for a nontraditional approach that paints a fuller portrait of a loved one’s unique legacy. Some include humor and fond references to personality quirks (when a New York man named Lou Hacker died in April 2015, for example, his obituary stated that he’d left behind “a lot of stuff his wife and daughter have no idea what to do with.”). Alternatively, a family that has lost someone to addiction may use the obituary as a type of public service announcement – a way of urging others to get help for loved ones before it’s too late.
Thanks to new technologies, the way we access obituaries is also changing. The growth of Facebook and other social platforms has led more people to make the shift from desktop to mobile. There is an expectation of sharing pictures, sending messages and interacting in other ways from wherever one happens to be. It should come as no surprise that the trend toward instant sharing has influenced the way people share news of a death. Rather than placing dozens of phone calls at what is likely a difficult time, the bereaved may share an online obituary that honors the deceased’s life while providing detailed information about the funeral services.
Beyond making a difficult time a bit easier for the bereaved, online and mobile-optimized obituaries offer families the ability to expand their circle of reach. In an increasingly global world, connections often extend far beyond the hometown. Sophisticated search engines and Web-optimized obituaries allow larger circles of family, friends and acquaintances to learn of a death, offer condolences and attend funeral services.
Honoring the life story of the deceased and providing information about services remain the most essential functions of the obituary, but there’s potential for much more. We have discovered that users are increasingly interested in obituaries that better convey the life journey. By assessing user behavior trends in Google Analytics and conducting ethnographies, we found that users are particularly interested in media-rich and connected obituaries that illustrate an individual’s life story and impact by incorporating video, photos, and drawing in additional information about their lives from across the Web.
As more innovative obituary products are developed, the funeral director’s role as a facilitator and guide for a grieving family becomes more paramount. Funeral directors play a key role in making their families aware of their new options as well as helping them to create the most meaningful tribute for the deceased. The bereaved may deeply appreciate the opportunities they have to honor a loved one in a unique way. Looking forward, we’ll continue to take our cue from dedicated funeral professionals and the families they serve as we develop new tools for sharing life stories.
Steve Parrott has more than 20 years of experience providing strategic leadership and vision for Internet companies and online properties. During his time at Legacy, he served as President and CEO.