Benefits Communication: Finding the Channels, Frequencies & Messages that Work

Benefits Communication: Finding the Channels, Frequencies & Messages that Work

When you think about your company and, more specifically, your role as an HR and benefits leader, your employees are at the core of what you do. So, building a strong relationship between them and the company is vital for business success. Employee benefits are undeniably integral to building that relationship — it's not only how you show appreciation for what each individual does for the company, but it's how you keep the business running.

And what are strong relationships built on? Trust, loyalty and communication.

How are we doing today, you ask? Unfortunately, all signs point to not so great:

  • Nearly eight in ten employees are in the wrong benefit plan for them.¹
  • Roughly three out of four believe their plan options are not personally relevant.²
  • And only 20 percent of employees feel their employer communicates benefits effectively.³

This is a potential recipe for disaster in terms of employee satisfaction and productivity. In order for your benefits program to inspire loyalty and generate ROI, your employees need to understand and appreciate the value it provides. So, how do you do this?

Marketers live and breathe for building communication strategies that connect an audience personally to a product or service. And since benefit professionals can no longer be just benefit professionals, it’s time to take some cues from marketing and consider the components to a thoughtful communication strategy and the tactics and materials behind communicating your benefits package to your workforce.

In previous posts, we discussed the seven-step formula, straight out of the marketing playbook, that you can apply to your open enrollment communications plan with an in-depth look at setting the foundation. Now that you’ve done your background work, it’s time to focus on the next step of determining your strategy, tactics and materials, which is quite possibly the most intensive, but well worth it.  

How will you do what you say you are going to do?

Strategy is the how. How are you going to reach your objectives through a solid communications plan? Think of this as your broad communications plan or overall aim to reach your objectives.

You will have already built out several objectives, and while an overall communications strategy may align with those objectives, there is the possibility that you have to create a separate strategy for each objective.  

Here's an example of what that might look like: 

Objective 1: To increase enrollment in HDHPs by 20% and increase participation in HSAs by 10% by December 31.

Strategy: Use digital channels to highlight consumer-directed health insurance options to employees where this is a best fit plan. 

Objective 2: To increase employee adoption of voluntary income protection benefits (i.e. accident, critical illness, and/or hospital indemnity) by 30% by the end of the open enrollment period. 

Strategy: Use a multimedia approach to educate employees about the availability and value of voluntary benefits. 

What will you do?

Tactics are the what. What will you do to support your strategy? Think of this as the communication channels or methods you’ll use to support your strategy.  

The good news is that you’ve got lots of options.

Here are some typical channels to consider:

  • Video
  • Posters and flyers
  • Web pages
  • Social media
  • SMS text messages
  • Email
  • Benefit fairs and other events

By using a variety of channels to communicate with your employees, you can engage them in the way they want to be engaged. This is a good time to pull out your foundational components of your seven-step plan and dive into what's most likely to work for your various audiences. Think about which channel would connect best with each audience. For instance, if you have a lot of millennials or workforce newcomers – gen Z, consider that digital channels like video, text messages and social might be more effective at resonating with these groups. On the other hand, if you’re also trying to communicate with baby boomers, they may appreciate face-to-face communication like benefit fairs. Or you may have remote employees where a web page, video or email designed with them in mind clearly gets the message across, meets them where they are and shows that you care – ultimately driving more meaningful engagement.

Writing Messages that Resonate

Benefits have always been difficult for employees to understand, and in part, employers haven’t helped make this easier for employees. Nearly 90 percent of benefit professionals say they do not tailor their benefit communications for specific groups of employees.

So, it’s time to stop what us marketers term as the “spray and pray” — spray your audience with all of the communication and pray that something sticks.

Taking into consideration your audiences and the channels you want to use to communicate with them, now is the time to dive into writing copy that resonates. Marketers use two top writing techniques when considering their approach to a piece of content, which are:

WIIFM

This stands for “What’s In It For Me”, and it’s a pretty simple, straightforward approach to writing. Basically, it’s a reminder to shift your focus to your audience(s) and consider what’s most important to them.

For anyone who works close to a particular subject, especially employee benefits, it can be hard to pull back and objectively consider the value proposition for someone that doesn’t have as deep of an understanding. But in order to get employees’ buy-in and help them see the true value of their benefits, you have to consider what’s in it for them in order to communicate in a way that gets their attention.

An example of WIIFM in practice goes like this: you ultimately want them to complete open enrollment so you may have used that exact phrase, “Complete Open Enrollment,” on an email. But is that really going to drive them to take action? Think about what is in it for them and what will get their attention. So, in this case, using a subject line like “Save Money by Evaluating Your Current Benefits” is more compelling.

AIDA

While WIIFM is more of a shift in focus on how you approach writing, the next technique – AIDA – is more of a step-by-step formula to follow as you write a message.

The formula starts by grabbing their Attention.

This is followed by, sparking their Interest.

Then, you build their Desire.

All to drive the final component, invoking Action.

The action you want them to take could be anything from getting employees to completing enrollment to shifting into benefit plans that better fit their lifestyle. But ultimately, you want to drive action. 

Putting It All Together

Now, it’s time to take a step back and look at your entire plan up to this point. You’ve put in a lot of hard work, but what’s great about taking this integrated approach is that no one piece has to do all of the work. You’ve got a coordinated strategy for benefits communication that delivers the knowledge your employees need to make smart benefit decisions and persuades them to take the action that you want them to take.

Articulating the value of benefits in a way that employees understand starts with a little prep work. Then, you move into the hard work of creating messages that make an impact and determining the best channels to deliver those messages.

Luckily, you have guidance to make it easier! Find all the resources you need (templates, tools, and best practices) to put your employee benefits communication strategy together in the Open Enrollment Success Kit!

 

1 Johnson EJ, Hassin R, Baker T, Bajger AT, Treuer G (2013) Can Consumers Make Affordable Care Affordable? The Value of Choice Architecture.

2 CEB, 2016 Global Labor Market Survey

3 Aflac Workforces Report