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Admin May 20, 2015 4 min read

6 Ways to Apply Science and Smarts to Your Benefits Communication Strategy

Daniel Pink is the best-selling author of several books around business, work and behavior. At the 2015 SXSW Interactive Conference, he shared successful real-world examples of his tactics applying psychology to create results. Whatever the problem at hand, sometimes all it takes is a change of perspective to open your mind to inventing a radical solution. Try these approaches to breathe new life into your benefits communication strategy.

Frame messages around ‘loss aversion’

Positivity is the hallmark of traditional benefits communications, right? The smiling stock photo family hiking in nature under a cloudless sky, paired with taglines like, “Think of your future” or “Grow your health.” We’ve seen that dozens of times.

On the flip side, Pink explained that fear has a very real place in motivating behavior change. For example, he found that the most effective way to get passengers to remember flight safety instructions was when the flight attendant said, “Listening to my instructions increases your chances of not dying today.” Did ears perk up? You bet.

The trick, though, is to use it the right way. For benefits communication, we wouldn’t want to use fear in our messages. We would, however, tap into a similar concept: loss aversion.

Loss aversion means we’d rather not “lose” something we already have than gain something new. In other words, "You’re losing $5,000 in 401(k) matching contributions!" is more effective than, "Would you like an extra $5,000 in your 401(k)?"

Great ways to apply this tip are with a "10 often-missed benefits" web page or infographic, or by structuring wellness incentives as: “Here’s $500. If you don’t do these three activities, we’ll take it back.”

Loss aversion is an excellent motivator in situations that require (or inspire) immediate action—like responding to health threats or the fear of missing an important deadline.

Use questions, not statements

Benefits communications are full of statements, and that’s a problem. Why? Because a statement requires no interaction or thought on the recipient’s end. A question, however, opens up internal dialogue that puts the onus on the person to come up with reasons for doing something or choosing not to.

So, when the facts are clearly on your side (e.g. “An HSA is triple-taxed advantaged”), you can use questions to persuade someone to come to the conclusion that’s best for them. For example: “Would you like paying for health care to be tax-free?” opens up a dialogue for persuading someone to enroll in a plan with and HSA.

One-on-one meetings and focus groups provide the ideal forum to gently guide employees to the actions that are in their best interest.

Stoke competition between peers

The idea of social norms in behavioral economics isn’t anything new. Use it to your advantage! Social proof is still one of the strongest motivators out there—we all want to fit in with what everyone else is doing.

You can take it to the next level by getting super specific with your enrollment messages—elevate your message from “40% of our company participates in the stock purchase plan” to “35% of employees in your department participate in the stock purchase plan—do you?”

Try rhymes

Alright, so this one’s fun. Apparently rhyming language increases our “processing fluency”—that’s a fancy way of saying it helps information go down good. So, try some rhymes in your lines. (Okay, I’ll stop now).

Turns out Dr. Seuss was onto something, after all.

This technique is most powerful when applied to headlines, so focus your rhyming efforts on creating really powerful and catchy headlines for posters, postcards and emails.

Create targeted and personalized messages

The Benz team are big fans of segmented communications. Pink relayed a story of a food drive experiment, where college students were asked how likely they were to donate food. They were then given either a general request to donate or one that was personalized with their name.

When the request was personalized, the students were much more likely to donate. The specific communication also removed a few barriers to act, which also increased results. Personalizing communication is quite simple and makes a big difference. Take the time to add one extra data field to your emails and print pieces so that people can receive a communication with their name on it, or that’s specific to their health plan.

Demonstrate empathy

Empathy is among the most powerful of emotions. The best way to create empathy in your communications is to put a face on your cause or message to decrease the abstract nature of it. It’s easier to connect to a person than an idea.

The example Pink gave was incredibly inventive—citizens in a town were trying to decrease the amount of non-handicapped people parking in handicapped spots. Their idea: Post signs featuring photos of disabled residents with the words “Think of me, keep it free.” (There’s that rhyming again).

Guess what? No one parked in the spots.

How can you infuse your communications with empathy? Try employee testimonials. If someone has a story to share about how a biometric screening saved their life, or how their health plan went above and beyond to help them out in a tough time, spread the word. Putting a face on the plans makes them more real to your employees.

The next time you’re trying to increase plan participation or are struggling with a unique benefits problem, try using these strategies to broaden your perspective and inspire your thinking. Then, when you’re ready to take action, download our white paper to fit any or all of these strategies within our proven three steps to creating results with benefit communication.