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Admin October 7, 2015 3 min read

3 tips to personalize benefits communication

What in the world do barbeque and benefits have in common? More than you might think. Read on to find out—plus gain some key tips for personalizing benefits communication—in my September 2015 column for Workforce magazine, reprinted below.

As some of you know, I’m a lifelong Washington, D.C.-area resident.

I’ve seen lots of fads come and go in the district, but one that I hope and pray stays forever is Truckeroo, a monthly food-truck festival in a newly revitalized area of Washington near Nationals Park. Every month, as many as two dozen food truck vendors fill the area with yummy eats for hungry foodies to browse, eat and drink—all day. 

The trucks offer everything from lobster rolls to Lebanese staples; each time I go to Truckeroo, I tell myself I’m going to try something different. You know what, though? I almost always get a giant sandwich from the BBQ Bus, top it off with a treat from Captain Cookie & The Milk Man and call it a day. Why? Because when faced with overwhelming options, I pick the one I know, I like, and will fill me up for a price I’m willing to pay. 

Here’s the thing: In most situations, people are no different—they go with what they know. When it comes to benefits, it’s even more true: According to the Aflac “WorkForces Report,” 89% of U.S. workers choose the same benefits year after year because they don’t understand the options available. 

The same report also reveals that 54% of workers prefer not to have more control over health insurance options because they see making such decisions as too daunting. Then there’s this data dagger from Carnegie Mellon University: Only 14% of Americans can accurately define the terms deductible, copay, coinsurance and out-of-pocket maximum. 

Trying to navigate the complexities of high-deductible medical plans, dozens of 401(k) options and in- and out-of-network out-of-pocket maximums—which are far more confusing and far less delicious than the options offered at my beloved Truckeroo—lead already overwhelmed people to choose what’s familiar and ignore everything that’s not. In other words, your PPO is the BBQ Bus!

We as benefits professionals have to break the barbecue cycle because employees’ lack of benefits understanding is costly—54% of workers waste up to $750 because of benefits mistakes made during open enrollment, Aflac finds—and they’re looking to employers for help. According to the 13th annual MetLife “Employee Benefits Trends Study,” 55% of respondents said their company’s benefits communication doesn’t help them understand how they would pay for specific services or educate them on their benefits options; 49% are specifically experiencing financial stress and are looking to their employer for help using their benefits to achieve financial security.

To give employees the benefits guidance they want and need, benefits communication can help pros reach people with the right messages at the right time. While it may seem counterintuitive to fight vanilla thinking with rainbow-sprinkles communication, the U.S. workforce is now more diverse than any time in our history.

Personalizing communication is a highly effective way to reach such distinct employee types.

Benefit pros’ secret weapon is that we have data that marketers would kill for—incredible information about employees’ benefit plan enrollment and participation, health and retirement account balances, income levels, family makeup, health status and on and on. You can leverage employee data thoughtfully and strategically in ways that make sense for your population, goals and budget. In time for benefits enrollment this fall, here are three ways to personalize benefits communication:

  1. Pseudo personalization: That’s the simple extra step of adding an employee’s name to a piece that features the same content for all. As in, “Kelley, going to Truckeroo? Give XYZ truck a try!”
  2. Versioning: Create multiple versions of a piece or multiple versions of a campaign based on how your data show employees falling into larger segments, such as saving in the health savings account vs. not, saving up to the annual limit vs. not and spending their entire balance each month vs. letting it grow over time.  
  3. Personas, or “someone like me” employee types: Give each persona a name, job department, family status and other characteristics that will resonate with large chunks of your employee population. Then, offer benefit messages that appeal or apply to each.

If you’ll promise to give these strategies a try, I promise to try something new the next time I’m at Truckeroo.

Learn more about how to target and segment your workforce to create personalized communication in our Master Class session, Data drives decisions: Segmenting and targeting benefits communication