When it comes time for organizations to communicate about their benefits programs, many struggle with how to engage employees so that they’ll take action. But you don’t have to. The secret sauce? Marketing.
Marketing and benefits? Aren’t they incompatible? Not at all. When crafting benefits communications, we recommend employing marketing techniques to engage employees the same way consumer marketers do. It is a big part of our 10 Keys program. Our 10 Keys to Unlocking Successful Benefits Communication is a proven strategy to assess the effectiveness of an organization’s current benefits communications and to prioritize investing in new, innovative methods.
By using 5 modern marketing techniques, you can promote your benefits programs, engage your people, and deliver outcomes typically unachievable with traditional communications.
Marketing your benefits begins with a strategy that increases your employees’ awareness of the benefits that are offered and builds your reputation as an organization that offers competitive, comprehensive benefits.
When we partner with organizations, we start with understanding their goals and defining their objectives, which means being in tune with their people and what motivates them to act (I’ll talk more about that later.) Recently we worked with a company who wanted employees to feel seen, valued, and empowered. They wanted employees to be excited about their benefits, know how to use them, and feel good about working at the company because of their benefits. They envisioned their people talking up their benefits with their network, but they acknowledged that they weren’t there yet. The first step to propel them in the right direction was to follow our marketing techniques to change the way employees perceived their benefits.
So which marketing techniques did we use, and how did we use them? Thought you’d never ask.
If your company is like most, you must engage an incredibly diverse population in the complicated world of benefits. Diverse in terms of age, gender, work location, role, ethnicity, earnings, family situations, and motivations. You also have access to an enormous amount of data about the people who work for you: their personal information, salaries, where they live, and family status, as well as information about the benefits they participate in.
That’s the essence of targeting and segmenting communications—using the data you have to make your communications more relevant to specific populations of employees. Communications are most effective when the messages are focused, so they nudge employees to take the next step, make better decisions, or use your plans and tools better, in a way that’s relevant to them.
For example, if your organization is more than 50% male under the age of 30 who are low-income earners, you would use different messaging, imagery, and channels (more mobile or digital solutions) than you would for a population that’s balanced by gender but who are mostly age 50 and older.
If you don’t know what employees want, you won’t know how to market your benefits in a way that’s relevant to them and motivates them to act. One way to get to know your people’s needs is to conduct virtual employee focus groups. Online focus groups allow organizations to reach more employees than traditional focus groups, with space to accommodate up to 1,000 employees per session.
The insights gleaned from focus groups can inform your benefits communications strategy by telling you which benefits are preferred and why certain benefits are underutilized. This information is gold, because it allows you to promote those benefits during your enrollment communications campaign. The focus groups can also let you know whether your plan designs and programs meet the needs of your population. By listening to employees, hearing what they say, you can fine-tune your strategy and overall approach, so you’re more effective at engaging your employees and at increasing awareness and appreciation for the benefits you offer.
One of the must-do marketing tactics, despite what time of year you’re communicating, incorporates new tools to reach people where they are. For a lot of the organizations we work with, we build public-facing websites that anyone (employees, partners, dependents) can easily use, without access barriers.
We recommend launching a public-facing website right before the annual enrollment period begins, which is timely, because it’s when employees are thinking about and choosing their benefits for the upcoming year. If you communicate to employees when they need to act, you will significantly increase your success.
Last year, an email marketing company we partnered with experienced high success with engaging their employees with their website. It served as the single source for all benefits information. It was accessible to all decision makers and was promoted through an email series. The site provided a platform for ongoing communications and was available anytime, anywhere—from a computer, a tablet, or a mobile phone. If that weren’t enough, it also saved the company money by not having to print their communications year after year.
Just as a company brand influences how the public perceives that company, your benefits brand influences how employees evaluate and interact with your programs. The external brand is used to sell the company, products, and services; the benefits brand needs to sell employees on the company and help them navigate the programs you offer.
One tactic that works well is to align your benefits brand with your company’s external brand. When the brands complement each other, it resonates more with employees and allows you to tap into the creativity of your internal marketing team, so the external and internal brands are in sync.
Why do you need a distinct benefits identity? Because it helps with recognition and messaging, motivates employees to pay attention, and uncovers the personal value of your company’s benefits program.
It’s vital to regularly measure the effectiveness of your communications, so you know you’re on the right track. You have many measurement and data sources to choose from, including open rates on emails, participation rates in programs, survey results, web traffic, and more. What’s important is that you access and use the data!
Of course, as goals change or as you learn new things, you’ll need to adjust your strategy to accommodate those changes.
Engaging employees during annual enrollment or anytime throughout the year is not a one-and-done activity. Broadening the focus of a public-facing benefits site, listening to what your employees have to say, being inclusive, leveraging newly implemented tools, launching a benefits brand, and communicating more often are just some of the ways your strategy can continue to evolve.
Celerie White, VP Senior Consultant, has more than 20 years of experience in strategic HR communications, with expertise in delivering full-scale strategic communications programs.