Breathing Life Into A Cemetery
Why Forest Home is much more than a resting place—and how we told that story
One of the most fun things about working in creative marketing is that it can take you to unexpected places. Most people think of car commercials, beer commercials, and insurance commercials. That’s what all creative is, right? Nah. In fact, the best moments are the odd, peculiar ones. “Your client does what?” That’s what put us at Forest Home Cemetery on a cold winter day in 2022.
That’s right, a cemetery. But as we were finding out in real-time, it was no ordinary cemetery, and it was about to become our job to tell that story. This is Forest Home Cemetery, a historic landmark in Milwaukee. It’s hundreds of acres of gorgeous natural beauty and architecture, and is home to some of Milwaukee’s most recognizable names. Pabst. Schlitz. Juneau. The heavy hitters of Milwaukee history. But on this day, we were walking around getting a tour of the grounds, learning about the story behind the place.
For too long they had been seen as just a big and old cemetery … they needed to tell their whole story.
The client had found us through our website, and they were asking us to help them with a new brand, messaging, and a whole new website. For too long they had been seen as just a big and old cemetery … they needed to tell their whole story. As we passed countless headstones, it was a reminder that the whole story is important. If you just know someone by their job or where they live, that’s not the whole picture of who they are. As we learned about all the ins and outs of this place and saw its beauty, we knew we had an opportunity.
We talked through what we really needed to communicate, and it came down to three things: it’s an active cemetery, it’s a certified arboretum, and it’s a historic landmark. One of the tricky things in marketing, though, is that if you give people too many things to remember, they won’t remember any of it. You have to make it simple, and tie all the pieces together in a way where it all fits.
Beyond the messaging, we had to create a design that exudes the personality of Forest Home, and a website where people can experience all parts of it in an easy-to-follow way.
When we first met with the client, they wanted us to distill down those three identities. Their initial suggestion was something like “Bury. Record. Remember.” They looked at it as what they offer—almost a summary of their day-to-day jobs. We wanted to expand it though, letting the words not just be active, but to spark a picture of what Forest Home was … give a glimpse into the experience of being there. We kept the format and arrived at:
History. Nature. Life.
We like to call that type of approach the “Wings. Beer. Sports.” tagline, made famous by Buffalo Wild Wings but also used in many other places. Now, this is not a cookie-cutter tagline by any means. The rule of three has been around for ages, and it’s an effective tool to be memorable and communicate clearly. Once you go beyond three, it can get muddy. And if you use lots of words, people can get lost.
At Buffalo Wild Wings, you get each of those three things, but together they’re more than the sum of their parts. The wings, beer, and sports signify a good time with friends or coworkers at B-Dubs. It all comes together to tell the whole story in a succinct way.
The rule of three has been around for ages, and it’s an effective tool to be memorable and communicate clearly.
In the same way, “History. Nature. Life.” sparks a visual of the whole experience. History showcases the stories from generations past. The famous names. The Civil War veterans. The Shakespeare in the Park events. Forest Home tells the story of the City of Milwaukee that very few places can.
“Nature” is next, adding color and texture to the brand. Not only is it a beautiful place to lay your loved ones to rest, but it’s a spot where you can walk your dog or go exploring with your family. As an arboretum, it’s a jewel of natural beauty tucked within the city of Milwaukee.
And finally, we chose the word “Life,” in the same way that people often call funerals a “celebration of life.” We wanted to be clear that Forest Home is a vibrant and positive place, even in the midst of grief and loss. They’re compassionate, thoughtful, professional people who can provide the resources you need with grace and gentleness.
Going back to our initial meeting with the staff, there was genuine excitement in the air—you could sense the importance and significance of Forest Home and what a potential rebrand could and needed to be. From there, the goal became to create a new logo and brand system that honored the history, while embracing change, as the cemetery has done over the last 100 years and more.
The cemetery is home to a noticeable repetition of an arch-like shape in the monuments, inside the chapel, and within other small detailed architectural elements around the grounds. The initial hand lettering from an older, possibly the original, logo was still on display through weathered signage around the cemetery and can even be found on a small bottle of honey, produced by a bee hive on the grounds. An old sales room on the second level of the main office structure was littered with old sales collateral, negative slides, beta tapes, and other historic documents that you could spend a lifetime going through. Through all of this and countless ideations, we developed three concepts. We settled on a multi-dimensional logo inspired by the repetition of arched shape within the historical architecture, hand lettering, and natural elements that exist within the cemetery environment.
The brand book introduces the system in its entirety and provides both direction and inspiration, while leaving room for interpretation to allow for future growth and exploration. We expanded the idea of shapes and architecture by establishing an arch-like motif for image placement to invite the audience into the window.
The previous colors felt a bit dark, and our goal was to bring new life to the brand. We added a touch of vibrance and saturation to the primary green, which feels historic by nature and anchors the secondary palette. Together, the colors create a warm and inviting environment.
The chosen typography uses Libre Franklin, a modern spin on a classic typeface. It is balanced by Commissioner, a contemporary sans-serif that adds diversity through a range of sizes and weights.
Messaging and creative are only part of the equation. The platform is just as important. The new website was the vehicle for it to all come together. And we believe it did.
On the new website, we’re given the opportunity to share the multifaceted identity of Forest Home Cemetery & Arboretum, while also getting the user to the information and resources they need easily. The navigation points to each of the key pillars of History, Nature, and Life, and the section headers communicate a tone of compassion and care.
We also saw an opportunity to introduce the new brand and attract new visitors by updating existing billboards that surround the cemetery. Through a messaging exercise, we created a series of eye-catching and fun headlines that can be extended to other platforms like social media and radio spots.
As the brand rollout continues, the staff at Forest Home are equipped to enter a new chapter and continue to build on the new brand. And most importantly, the EPIC team continues to support our friends at Forest Home. In fact, some of our team members also ran in the Dia De Los Muertos 5k, which had over 400 participants!
We came for the branding, but might stay for an eternity …