How to Write the Perfect Open Enrollment Email

How to Create the Perfect Open Enrollment Email

Open enrollment season is fast approaching, and there's a lot of information to communicate to employees.

Being a seasoned benefits professional, you probably have a multi-channel communication plan ready to go – posters, mailers, videos, webcasts, and maybe even a health and benefits fair. But you know that the foundation of employee communication is email.

Email is the cheapest, most efficient method of communication at your disposal. It can reach more people, in less time, at a lower cost than just about anything. But that certainly doesn't mean it's easy, as I'm sure you're well aware. 

When communicating about benefits via email, you've got a couple of things going against you. First and foremost, benefits are a complicated topic that can be difficult to explain clearly to the average employee. Secondly, your employees, like you, face a daily barrage of emails – their inboxes overflowing with messages from their coworkers, e-commerce sites, banks and about a million other sources. There's a lot of noise, and attention spans are increasingly short.

But with a little marketing know-how, courtesy of your friends at Benefitfocus, you can create emails that will cut through the noise and get your message heard – and understood – by employees.

Here's how we recommend putting together your next open enrollment email:

1. Grab attention with your subject line.

The subject line is arguably the most important component to any email. In fact, over a third of email recipients decide whether or not to open an email based solely on the subject line.So take the time to put some serious thought into yours.

Here are some tips for crafting a subject line to stand out in a crowded inbox:

Create a sense of urgency, novelty or exclusivity.

You, new and now are three of the most powerful words in the English language. Use them!

When your employees scan their email inboxes, the first things that jump out at them are the things that look the most relevant and interesting. Speaking directly to your employees with you establishes relevancy and a sense that the message is just for them, while words like new and now incite immediate curiosity and compel them to take a closer look.

Be straightforward.

People want to have a good idea of what they're getting when they click on an email, or else they might not click on it. Generic-sounding subject lines rarely spark a reader’s interest. Be specific about the content or topic of your message.

That's not to say you can't leave some intrigue at play. You want your employees to wonder about the details. Just make it clear what's waiting for them inside the email.

Count your characters.

Subject line length has long been a matter of contention in the marketing community. Some experts and researchers say a subject line should never be longer than 35 characters, while others claim 61-70 characters as the optimal range. But as long as you follow the first two subject line tips, feel free to play around with length.

(Of course, you'll still want to be as succinct as possible, avoiding useless or complex words that don't add value to your subject line. As Mark Twain once said, Don't use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do.)

One thing that's become increasingly important to consider for subject line length is mobile-friendliness. Over half of emails today are opened on a mobile device.And on the typical smartphone screen, you can only see the first 25 characters or so of an email's subject line. But if you can't keep your subject line that short, you should at least make sure your most compelling, key words come towards the beginning, so you know they'll be seen on a mobile device.

Here's an example of an attention-grabbing subject line:

Your new way to save on health care

2. Pique interest with your introduction.

Once you've gotten employees to open your email, you need to give them a reason to actually read it. That's why it's important to have a strong opening paragraph.

(Before going any further, think back to your elementary school days when you learned that a paragraph had to be three to five sentences – and then forget it! A paragraph can be however many or however few sentences you need to organize your thoughts. And when it comes to email writing, the fewer the better. More on that later).

The purpose of your opening paragraph is simply to get your employees to read what's next. It's a set-up to the real meat of your email. So you want it to be something that will pique employees' interest and make them want to read more.

One effective way to begin emails is to ask a thought-provoking question. There are a couple of approaches you can take to this. You can ask your employees a question they can't answer, but want to, and set yourself up to answer the question in your middle paragraph(s). Or you can ask them a question where the answer is obvious, but would lead them to want more information, which you would then provide in your middle paragraph(s).

Here's an example of each approach to an interest-piquing introduction:

Open-ended question: Are you paying too much for your health care?

Obvious answer question: How would you like $200 more in your paycheck each month?

3. Build desire with your middle section.

Now it's time to provide some answers and supporting information to convince your employees to take action.

The important thing to focus on here is readability. Remember, you're working with short attention spans, so the quicker and easier it is to consume the information in this section, the better.

At all costs, avoid big blocks of text. They're the quickest way to make employees click out of your email. Instead, you want to include a healthy amount of white space. Marketers sometimes call this negative space – basically, space with no text.

To create white space, break up your supporting paragraphs so that they only take up one or two lines at a time. This makes your email infinitely more approachable. Employees can consume the information in little bite-size chunks, instead of drinking from the fire hose.

Bulleted lists are a great way to create white space and make it easier for employees to read your emails. Just keep the bullets short and heavy on key words, and they can be a great way to catch employees’ attention and pull them in to read the full message.

You don't have to provide all of the details in your email – just enough to touch on employees' interests and move them towards your conclusion. Save the nitty-gritty for content you can put on your benefits site

Here's an example of a desire-building middle section:

Our new high-deductible plan could be a more cost-effective medical insurance option for you this year. The plan features:

  • Lower monthly premium
  • 100% coverage after deductible is met
  • $500 contribution to new health savings account

(And if you’re really serious about making your email more approachable, you can even just replace your middle paragraphs with a video that employees can click within the email and watch.)

4. Drive action with your conclusion.

Your employees have the information. Now you just need to tell them what to do with it.

Wrap up your email with a call to action that answers the Now what? for employees and gives them an easy way to take that action.

When creating your call to action, be sure to:

  • Keep it clear and concise. Distill the action down to its essentials.
  • Encourage an immediate response. Just like with your subject line, a sense of urgency will drive action.
  • Just ask for one thing. Multiple calls to action can muddle your message and confuse employees.
  • Use a hyperlink. Navigate your employees directly from the call to action to your benefits site, where they can complete the action.
  • Make it stand out. The call to action needs to be visible enough that it’s the first or second thing employees notice. Using a clickable button instead of just a text link can increase engagement by nearly 30 percent.3

Here's an example of an action-driving conclusion:

Learn more about your cost-saving potential at our benefits site.

Take me there! (clickable, hyperlinked button)

Communicate like a marketing pro.

Get more tips, tricks and best practices for creating highly effective benefits content in our free open enrollment communications toolkit!



1. Convince & Convert: 15 Email Statistics That Are Shaping the Future<

2. Litmus: 2017 State of Email Report

3. Campaign Monitor: Why you should be using buttons in your email marketing campaigns