Employee Benefits Branding Best Practices

Your 7-Step Guide to Branding Employee Benefits

Candidates control the job market right now. Your benefits can be a powerful tool to recruit and retain the talent you need. But how do you get employees - both current and prospective - to see how your benefits differentiate you from the competition? How do you get them to "buy in" to your program?

The same way companies like Apple and Starbucks get customers to buy in to theirs: good branding.

Branding helps these companies convey their value by creating and nurturing a distinct reputation based on that value. Applied to your world, branding can help you give your benefits program a distinct reputation as something that employees can rely on to address their health and financial needs - driving satisfaction, loyalty and, ultimately, retention.

So as you plan for open enrollment, consider these best practices for branding your benefits:

1. Audit your benefits experience.

Your brand is what people say it is.

To determine your benefits brand, first understand employees' current perception of it. What comes to their minds when they think about the company's benefits? What’s good? What’s bad? Does this match how you see it yourself? Why or why not?

Here's how to gather this information. A simple email survey is a great place to start, and you'll be surprised what you can learn from online job board comments. But since branding is an abstract concept, you can gain much more meaning from a live discussion. Consider holding a few lunchtime focus groups, where you ask open-ended questions that encourage employees to talk to each other about the role the company's benefits play in their lives. You'll get a real sense of what's important to them, and how they feel the entire benefits experience - from the offering to communication to enrollment - aligns with that. 

2. Create a clear mission statement.

The best brands convey their values. When we think of these brands, we cannot separate them from the experience they seek to provide their customers - an idea that is formalized and communicated through a mission statement.

In branding your benefits, a strong mission statement can help you clarify precisely what you're trying to accomplish for your employees (and what you're not), and align your efforts around that goal. With a mission statement, you give your benefits program a distinct identity and purpose. It's something that employees can recognize in every aspect of the benefits experience. And it's something to which you can hold yourself accountable.

Your benefits mission statement should be clear and concise, but also unique to your organization. Strive to make it a natural extension of your broader company values. For instance, if excellent customer service is one of your company's areas of focus, craft your benefits mission statement to highlight how your benefits seek to anticipate and meet employees' needs.  

3. Get buy-in from the top.

Any major internal initiative requires the support of senior leadership. But when it comes to branding your benefits, executive endorsement has to go beyond lip service. You need evangelists in the C-suite.

Authenticity is everything in branding. For your benefits brand to be authentic, it has to be demonstrated by everyone in the organization. And that starts at the top. Employees need to see your leaders speak and act in alignment with your benefits mission statement before they do the same.

A well-branded benefits program can be the difference between keeping or losing your best talent. Make that clear to your executives, and they'll champion your brand.

4. Communicate consistently and creatively.

Consistency is a key ingredient of a successful brand, because it leads to recognition. The more consistent the brand message, the more easily recognizable your brand becomes over time - and the more likely employees are to engage with the brand.

Use consistent elements in your communications to develop familiarity. This is where you can get really creative. Based on your mission statement and any existing corporate brand guidelines, come up with a unique theme - including voice and tone (there's a difference), language, style, color, images, etc. - that you can apply to your various benefits communication materials. Whether it's an email, newsletter, break room poster or video, it should have a consistent look, feel and message that reinforces your brand.

5. Play to your audience.

We're loyal to brands that "get" us - brands that not only offer products that fit our unique needs and lifestyle, but also speak directly to us in our own language. We want to be treated as the individuals we are, and the companies that continue to get our business are the ones that add a personal touch to our experience.

This idea extends to your benefits brand - certainly in terms of the plans you offer, but also how you communicate and present those plans to employees. New technology makes it easy for you to personalize the benefits experience through targeted communication campaigns and consumer-centric enrollment tools that guide employees to decisions that make the most sense for their unique situation.

Playing to your audience can not only create a more positive benefits brand experience, but also increase the likelihood that employees make smart benefits and health care choices.

6. Live your brand.

Communicating your brand is more than themed emails and posters. Brands must be lived, or they don't really exist. 

As a benefits professional, make sure you're a walking, talking billboard for your benefits brand. That's not to say you have to work your mission statement into every conversation, but your words and actions should be a clear reflection of the mission statement. You want the brand to be as visible and tangible to employees as possible.

One of the best ways to live your brand is through special events and activities. Things like health fairs, exercise classes and wellness seminars provide opportunities to engage employees in person and reinforce the value and purpose of your benefits program. Just make sure you use your branding theme at every event!

7. Keep it fresh. 

Brands that don't move forward get stale.

You don't have to completely reinvent yourself every year, but keep a finger on the pulse of your workforce, as well as on industry trends, to make sure you're focused on the issues that matter.

Branding isn’t a task you tackle and complete. Re-evaluate your messaging and revitalize it as your benefits strategy evolves. Continue to conduct audits of your benefits experience, and remember that your goal isn't just to come up with clever slogans and pretty posters. Ultimately, it's all about helping your people understand and maximize the value of your benefits offering. If you do that, you'll be on your way to creating a strong benefits brand candidates and employees recognize.

Ready to engage employees on the value of benefits? Learn how you can close the communication gap and amplify your message with our latest guide, Communication Strategies for a Successful Open Enrollment.