FAMIC Data On Consumer Preferences

Why do people choose cremation? If you have to make funeral arrangements, you might wonder what the differences are between various options, and also what most other people are thinking when they select one over the other. If you are in the funeral business, you’re probably also interested in these questions.

They don’t have simple answers, because they lead to many other questions—which I allude to in describing the scope of this project. I may well expend another 100,000 words digging into the differences between all the funeral choices.

As to questions such as what consumers think and whether they are happy with their choices, we need to pull together disparate research because there are no comprehensive consumer opinion data studies, unfortunately.

About every five years since 1989, the funeral industry has hired a public opinion research firm to survey consumer attitudes. In the 1990s the research partner was Wirthlin Worldwide, but since Wirthlin was purchased by Harris Interactive about 15 years ago the latter (I believe) has been the survey partner ever since. While this would seem to be a great opportunity to understand their customers, as we saw with the 1986 study (and, maybe, the 1996 study), sometimes the industry seems averse to certain research topics.

As in 1986, funeral organizations have joined in an umbrella organization, this one called the Funeral and Memorial Information Council (FAMIC). They published the first study in 1990 and subsequent ones in 1995, 2000, 2004,1 2010,2 and 2015.3

Quite a lot of the FAMIC report material is now available open source around the Internet, especially from the past three surveys (see the footnotes for links).

As we will see in the next post and likely more in the future, some of the FAMIC data is very good for answering parts of the questions I am interested in, but there seems to be a bias toward finding areas where funeral businesses are still doing well, rather then how consumer preferences are changing and why. The FAMIC studies used to ask a number of questions about what the respondent did, such as participating in ceremonies, and how it worked out for them. Respondents used to be asked about what sorts of social gatherings were held, for instance, and what they did with cremated remains. Changes over time from one survey to the next were also charted. In recent years, the emphasis seems to have narrowed to appraising funeral providers and their programs, and listing purchases and the likelihood of certain future purchases, with limited information from past survey results.

An illustrative example from the most recent study harks back to the 1986 project, where the researchers from Notre Dame had listed four important questions to address in the survey…but then left out the two which arguably were most important.

In 2015, the FAMIC survey asked about both “Reasons for Choosing Cremation” and “Reasons for Not Choosing Cremation,” but the published report only provides chronological comparison data for the latter. In the footnotes to the main question of why they chose cremation, however, the report notes how the question was posed in 2010…but then does not provide the 2010 answer tallies. There are innocent reasons for accidentally clarifying data not included in a report, but it makes one wonder if the change over time for choosing cremation revealed something that got edited out so late in the process that the footnotes could not be checked over.4

Also, when you think about it, the data FAMIC elected to publish in detail skirts the important question. The customer’s “dislike of cremation over time” may help funeral homes fine-tune a negative promotional message, but the answers are of dubious reliability. At very least, one would think FAMIC’s members would be better off with equally deep knowledge of what customers want as of what they don’t want, since the wants are what determine the purchases. If a customer buys a bag of apples, the grocer could get as much actionable intelligence from finding all out about the apple choice, as from knowing why they have not been buying oranges.

But on the whole, FAMIC has presented critical information on certain trends, such as the survey figures in the earlier post about religion trends and cremation. I am sure we will find much useful information in the FAMIC data for future topics, beginning with the very next post here.

  1. Wirthlin Worldwide, “Study of American Attitudes Toward Ritualization and Memorialization January 2005” (Funeral and Memorialization Information Council, February 2005), http://sifuneralservices.com/industry_trends.aspx

  2. Harris Interactive, “Interview Schedule: 2010 Study of American Attitudes Toward Ritualization and Memorialization” (Funeral and Memorialization Information Council, August 2010), http://sites.sitemajic.com/-1529/FAMIC_Study-InterviewSchedule.pdf

  3. FAMIC, “Study of American Attitudes Toward Ritualization and Memorialization: Executive Summary 2015” (Funeral and Memorialization Information Council, September 2015), http://www.ctfda.org/docs/PR-FAMIC170818.pdf

  4. ibid., 27–28