4 HR Tips From A CMO

By Lauren Metsig, Chief Marketing Officer

Employee benefits play an important role in our lives. But let’s be honest, they have a bad reputation for being incredibly complicated (and boring). When people hear they need to make a policy change, review new options or choose a new plan altogether, eyes immediately begin to glaze over.

As a marketer, I desperately wanted to change that. I knew there had to be a way to strip away the complexity and humanize the benefits process in a way that helps people understand it. After all, most consumer brands have mastered the art of connecting with consumers in ways that are entertaining and emotionally engaging. For ages, marketers have found ways to make the most snooze-fest topics, somewhat interesting. Because, that’s our job as marketing professionals—to get into the minds and hearts of our audiences and find a way to speak to their pain points. There’s no reason why we can’t do this for employee health and benefits.

Over the past few years, I’ve worked with many HR leaders in producing employee communication campaigns (that actually work!) on all types of benefits-related subjects—from FSAs to general open enrollment. Below are four tips I’d recommend to HR professionals interested in thinking more like a marketer when it comes to engaging their employees (with benefits communication and tech).

WARNING: About one minute into the below, you will probably start thinking "who has time for this, Lauren?  Who has the staff or the resources for this?  Lauren, you're off your rocker."  And that's where your vendors and creativity come in to play.  First, always ask your vendors to help (because they should be willing to help you).  Second, just start with adopting one "tip" and try to integrate it into your next communication plan--and then, build from there.   

1 Focus on the experience.
The first step any marketer takes before tackling a new campaign is to consider the best way for your audience to digest the information you want them to see. Of course, as an HR professional you likely already use tactics like posting information in high-traffic areas, like break rooms or near time clocks. However, since no one really looks at those 8.5 x11 posters on the bulletin board, you’re probably not getting the results you want—that’s when a multi-channel approach becomes really important. 

This means thinking about how your people prefer to consume information. If your organization is “email happy” and sends way too many emails for everything, then you probably don’t want to use email as your only source of communication. One of the quickest ways to get information to your people is through their phones. After all, if you look around, you’ll see it’s not just millennials who have their eyes glued to their smartphones – it’s everyone. In fact, a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center, reported that 77 percent of Americans now own a smartphone, with adoption quickly rising amongst people in lower-income households and adults over the age of 50. By using a simple text messaging service, like EZ text, you can quickly send a message to your people to remind them of benefit meetings, open enrollment and even wellness tips. You can also include a link to a form or open enrollment website to further the engagement. 

The experience of consuming information and education goes way beyond communication channels—it also includes your HR technology, like your benefits enrollment experience. If your enrollment is online, you should be asking questions like—Is it intuitive?  Does it provide your people with easy-to-understand decision support tools? And if your employees are still enrolling on paper, then I would highly recommend you switch to something online—for your sanity and the sake of your employees’ experience.

2 Data, data, data.
HR professionals have access to a wealth of employee information. (If your company is self-funded, your vendor can provide you with even more information, so don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.) Dig into that data to segment your audience and craft a communication plan that speaks directly to them. You can use this data to fuel personalization of your campaigns, messages and technology.

For example, if find you have a significant employee population that is married, chances are they may be making their benefits decisions with the help of their spouse at home. Consider creating a communications strategy that also engages their spouse through direct mail (…and no, snail mail is not dead. You just need to use it strategically). Try sending them a postcard at home with open enrollment information or reminders to use their benefit accounts—then you're not relying on your employee to share all the communications to their spouse.  

If you find yourself thinking, “Well, I don’t have a data analyst to help.” Don’t worry—ask your vendors to help. Often, your benefit vendors will help you segment your population at no cost. If that doesn’t work, then ask your employee population what they want using a service like, SurveyMonkey. It’s a really simple tool to figure out how your employees like to communicate, what they like about their benefits experience, and what they don’t.

3 Get personal.
Use the information you discovered in your data to your advantage when communicating and personalizing the enrollment experience to make it more dynamic, rather than repeating the same messaging to each employee. One option is to make the path through online enrollment dynamic, shaped around your employees’ demographic and health needs. If you have a segment of employees that typically opt for High Deductible Health Plans, consider presenting them with benefit accounts (HSA/FSA) information earlier in the enrollment process, such as near the voluntary offerings. Also, try personalizing decision support and just-in-time education in a way that makes sense to the enrollee during the election process—if you make multiple tools available, each person can choose a path that works best for them. (Once again, ask you benefits administration vendor or broker for this!)

This kind of personalization during enrollment and beyond will help build an engaged audience from the onset of the benefits year. Not only will your people be satisfied and happy during enrollment, but you will receive less questions and headaches throughout the year.

4 Make it human.
Again, as an HR professional, you know your employees better than anyone at your company. You speak with them daily, so you already have a leg up that most marketers would envy. Ask them about their pain points. Watch their body language. Find out what makes them tick. Then, use that information to craft your messaging, and you’ll likely see your engagement increase trifold.

We’re all human (hopefully). If information is too technical, boring or dense, we tune out. Interactions are more meaningful when they’re engaging. People assume health and benefits will be boring, and when you’re starting with that expectation, it’s even more important to design marketing campaigns that are personalized, engaging and relevant.

Join me on April 19th at HBLC where I’ll be joined by Laura Chambers, Director of Office of Employee Benefits at University of Texas System to present, “Thinking Like a Consumer Marketer at the University of Texas.”