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Jennifer Benz June 1, 2016 3 min read

Use Employee Personas to Power Up Your Communications Strategy

When it comes to developing a benefits communications strategy that will engage your employees, creating messages that resonate with your audience is key. And it can also be quite the challenge, especially in today’s world, when an average workforce typically includes employees who span three generations and are the products of different cultural backgrounds, education levels, and lots of other differentiators.

One way successful companies tackle this issue is through the use of what’s called personas.

What is a persona?

Think of a persona as the embodiment of key characteristics that inform the message you create for a defined population of employees. Use personas to determine the correct approach for engaging employees, based on what they do, their preferences, the challenges they face, and other relevant information. Personas are an essential component of a communications strategy, because communications need to be delivered in ways people can understand, and through media channels (e.g., postcards, videos, emails) that work for them.

Here’s how the UX folks who created Xtensio (a marketing tool that helps companies summarize what they’re all about) explain user personas to their clients:

“User Personas represent real, living, and breathing people who will engage with your product. While individuals featured on Personas are technically hypothetical, the information on the document should not be hypothetical. All sections must be completed based on fact, hard data, and research.”

When we create messages for a client, we typically develop three to five personas that represent the categories into which employees naturally line up. These buckets become more apparent when we look at some basic information we collect about employees, including their titles and key details about their roles, their demographics (gender, age, salary, location, education, and family), their goals and challenges, their values and fears—even the potential call to action or unique message you’ve tailored for them.

Where do we get all this information? We draw from a variety of sources, including: website analytics, HR records, team members who interact with employees, employee surveys and interviews, and even social media. You can, too. Learn more about creating personas here.

Up close and personal

Recently, we kicked off a project for a new client with a unique employee population. Apart from the C-suite and office staff, the majority of this client’s employees are home health care workers who are dispatched by field offices throughout the nation. These field employees spend most of their working hours providing skilled health care and other support services to people in their homes.

We learned all this and more when we flew out to meet our client and do our typical half-day kickoff meeting. As always, we covered the essentials: their benefits strategy, goals and objectives, what’s worked well and not-so-well for them in the past, how they’d measure the success of a new employee communications campaign. But we also had an opportunity to go into the field and speak with the employees who coordinate the homecare workers. It was an amazing experience that opened our eyes to so much!

We heard firsthand how this major slice of our client’s workforce structures their days; we learned about these employees’ health and financial challenges; and we listened to how they juggle the priorities in their lives. For us, these conversations were the perfect reminder of why—when we’re developing benefits communications—it’s so important not to think about “the average employee” in a workforce but, instead, about individual workers and their unique challenges.

Only by empathizing with the unique circumstances of each individual can we begin to develop communications that will resonate with that person. Since our clients typically have thousands of employees, we can’t get to know each and every one. But we can begin to know them by creating “personas” and assigning those personas characteristics that align with those of our clients’ employees. Then, based on the characteristics of the personas, we customize messages with personalized, relevant calls to action that support our clients’ goals and objectives.

Once you begin to think about employees as individuals who have lives and conversations outside their jobs, you’ll be able to frame your messages in ways that will resonate with them. And get them to participate in the call to action. Because, ultimately, that’s what it’s all about.

Need help building out your personas? Contact us.

Jennifer Benz

Jennifer Benz, SVP Communications Leader, has been on the leading edge of employee benefits for more than 20 years and is an influential voice in the employee benefits industry.