All the comforts of home

To some ethnic communities in Canada, the compass direction of a burial place is as important as the grave itself.

To some ethnic communities in Canada, the compass direction of a burial place is as important as the grave itself.

Mount Pleasant Group of Cemeteries (MPGC), founded in 1826, has always welcomed clients from all faiths and cultures, but only in recent years did it begin to actively market its services to the ethnic communities of the Greater Toronto Area.

Foreign-born residents now make up more than 50% of the GTA, so it only made sense for MPGC, as the city’s largest non-denominational cemetery group and owner of 10 cemeteries, to launch a campaign to directly target some of the culturally diverse groups.

The challenge

‘We wanted to fulfill the needs of our consumers,’ says David Stones, VP of marketing and communications at MPGC. ‘As the ethnic mix changed and became more complex within the GTA, we realized we had to develop a specific marketing program aimed at multicultural groups.’

Toronto’s Balmoral Marketing & Advertising was hired four years ago to spearhead the campaign. The agency immediately saw the cemetery needed an integrated approach to target the different groups, and build up their trust.

‘You have to remember that many of these groups came to Canada from countries where there is political or economic instability,’ explains Balmoral president Sharifa Khan. ‘People have to be comfortable with any company they do business with in Canada because there are too many fly-by-night businesses back home.’

The strategy

The first step was a series of focus groups with each of the key communities, to look at the elements of importance to each group.

As the biggest ethnic group in the GTA, the Chinese community was identified as the top target. Italian and Greek communities were also to be heavily targeted, and Balmoral would market to Vietnamese and Portuguese communities on a smaller scale.

‘We were able to use the research to find out about their cultural and purchasing behaviour, and we developed our advertising around that knowledge,’ says Khan.

For instance, ‘Pre-planning is very important to the Chinese community so we brought the idea of pre-planning for death into our advertisements. In other words we are encouraging people not to leave the burden of organizing a burial to the younger generations.’

The focus groups gave Balmoral an insight into the kind of imagery, icons and idioms that would appeal to each group, and this formed the basis of the ad campaigns.

‘We knew that we had to appeal to each group separately and talk to them in their own language,’ says Khan. ‘The focus groups taught us that ethnic communities are avid readers of their own community newspapers and viewers of their own TV channels.’

The execution

Balmoral came up with a series of ads to appear in community newspapers and brochures aimed at each of the target groups. The ads communicated to both Mandarin and Cantonese speakers in Canada’s three Chinese newspapers (Sing Tao, Ming Pao and the World Journal ).

‘The slogans were designed to be specific to each group,’ says Khan. ‘Headlines which appeal to one community may mean nothing to another.’

She continues: ‘Death is a very sensitive topic so we aimed to demystify the subject through our advertising, and to educate people about the importance of pre-planning.’

Mainstream ads designed to reach out to smaller sections of the target communities were also featured in the Toronto Star, the Toronto Sun and other publications, including Reader’s Digest and various seniors’ directories.

MPGC learned from the focus groups that a lot of immigrants like the idea of being buried with other members of their own community, and this sparked the idea of sectioning off the cemeteries to provide separate areas for each group.

The cemetery group also began to offer individual services such as bringing in a Feng Shui master for Chinese clients. Sectors of the Italian community are interested in entombment within a mausoleum, so crypts and mausoleums were built to cater for this need.

‘We learned that the Chinese like to have burial plots that are south-facing because of Feng Shui,’ Khan says, ‘while the Greeks like to be east-facing.’

MPGC offers individually designed memorial monuments or features such as trees, hills, water and pagodas to suit each individual requirement. Emblems and etchings are available to reflect the religious and cultural beliefs of the different communities.

Stones explains: ‘For Chinese people we will do everything we can to build in a hill and to ensure that the graves face south which is very important for them.’

Since the launch of the campaign, Mount Pleasant has hired a number of multi-lingual and multicultural co-ordinators to speak to clients in their own language. Pre-planning co-ordinators are available to visit potential clients at home or to answer questions by telephone.

‘A lot of the callers are in the 50+ age group. They don’t always speak English well, so it makes them a lot more comfortable to have co-ordinators speaking their own language,’ says Khan.

In addition to advertising on TV and radio channels targeting each ethnic group, MPGC uses sales promotions and direct marketing activities. It also advertises its services via the Internet at

The results

The cemetery group has increased its business with the ethnic market by 80% since the marketing strategy was developed four years ago. Around 20% to 25% of the group’s total business now comes from its target communities.

Stones says that MPGC, as a non-profit organization, plans to continue tweaking and developing its services to match the changing needs of its clientele.

Following the phenomenal success of this campaign, the group is now working on plans to target other ethnic communities, such as Indian, Korean and Vietnamese sectors of the GTA.