Employers invest a significant amount of time, resources and money to design competitive benefit packages. Depending on company size, that investment could be in the millions. Yet, although the investment in the package itself is high, how much investment is spent towards marketing its value?
This was a question posed to Jessica Ward, benefits manager at DSW, Inc., and guest speaker at our recent One Place conference. The answer? Generally, employers direct little to no resources towards it. This may not seem that surprising to most, but the tide is starting to turn when it comes to the concept of marketing (or branding) your benefits.
Employers are all feeling the talent pinch.
In another session at One Place, a crowd of HR leaders was asked by show of hands if they felt their company was in an industry facing talent competition. Nearly everyone raised a hand. When asked to specify their industries, answers ran the gamut from retail to health care to manufacturing.
Like it or not, recruiting and retaining your top talent is heavily influenced by your employer brand. In fact, 75 percent of job-seekers consider a company’s employer brand - and, by extension, your benefits brand - before even applying to a job.
It’s time to stop and think about what your benefits brand really means. It’s not just the logo over the door when an employee or prospect comes to your building or interacts with your website. Your benefits brand experience is based on how employees think, feel and what they ultimately believe about you as an employer.
So, where do you begin in your mission to differentiate your benefits brand?
Put on your marketing cap.
It all begins with market research. Professional marketers do this all the time to understand what their target audience thinks, feels and believes about a product. This provides them the insights needed to lay the foundation for their marketing campaigns. In a similar way, HR leaders can do their own version of market research to identify how employees feel about their benefits.
Your research could consist of informal questionnaires, employee surveys or pulling data from your benefits enrollment system to give you a better idea of your audience and what’s important to each employee. You could even use research like the Benefitfocus State of Employee Benefits report to understand how your benefit offerings and participation rates compare to your peers and industry talent competitors.
Now that you’ve got your market research, here are the next steps towards benefits branding:
1. Identify your goals.
The success of your program depends on setting clear, measurable goals. We suggest starting with the end state in mind. What do you ultimately want your benefits program to look like? What do you ultimately want for your employees? Once you determine that, you can build goals that are measurable and make true headway towards connecting the employee/benefits experience.
2. Align with your corporate brand.
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Your benefits brand should be an extension of your employer brand, so leverage the values, themes, styles, colors, etc., already present in your employer brand to provide one unified employee experience.
3. Design a plan that speaks to your employees.
Personalization and choice are important to today’s consumer (i.e., your employees). Consumers are getting these things in their personal lives (think online retail, banking, etc.), so they’re also coming to expect the same elements in their professional lives - and that includes benefits.
HR technology expert Steve Boese spoke about this idea at One Place. He used the analogy of Stitch Fix, a popular online personal style service, which sends its members a box of hand-selected clothing based on their style profile. Each box is completely unique to the person receiving it, and the longer they use the service, the more it hones in on their preferences.
Now, let’s consider this in terms of health care benefits. How much personalization and choice do health care consumers currently have? Employers have made gains in offering more choice in benefits. In fact, 56 percent of large employers on the Benefitfocus Platform now offer at least one HDHP in addition to traditional health plans. But there’s still a lot of opportunity to create a more personalized experience that fits the needs of each employee.
4. Communicate in a variety of ways.
The bottom line is that, without a successful communication strategy, employees won’t understand or get the full value of their benefits - and therefore won’t be connected to your benefits brand. With the number of benefit types being offered to employees continuing to increase, coupled with the growing diversity in the workforce, the old way of communicating benefits is simply not sufficient.
Engaging employees during open enrollment is, of course, vital, but only communicating during a two-week period won’t turn employees into benefits brand advocates. Think big picture by engaging employees year-round and using various media – video, text, email, benefits portal, etc. When you reinforce the value and purpose of your benefits program, you'll reinforce the connection to how employees think and feel about your benefits program - and, in turn, your company.
5. Brand your benefits platform.
The best brands make it easy for consumers to find exactly what they need, when they need it. If your benefits technology includes an employee communication portal, make sure that it embodies your brand, while also providing a single place for employees to learn about their benefits. Letting it go underutilized or without a defined, branded experience is doing a disservice to your employees and your benefits brand.
HR leaders are being asked more and more to take on the role of marketers. But if building and maintaining a well designed benefits site seems beyond your capacity, your benefits technology provider should be able to help you out. Be sure to ask about any content and design services that can create a benefits communication portal that brings your benefits brand to life.
So, the true question isn’t whether you’re investing in marketing your benefits, but whether you can afford not to.
Ready to supercharge your benefits brand? Check out the 2017 Buyer’s Guide to Effective Benefits Management Technology for a comprehensive breakdown of engagement and technology must-haves.