Pensions have changed for the better, but ‘brand pensions' still has a long way to go. The best organisations will have a plan and be looking to the future, deploying social and digital media tools, being more creative and treating employees and members like valued customers. A tick-box exercise whereby employers and pension providers just give information and hope it gets people saving for their life after work isn't going to work.
Behavioural economics tells us that making decisions for the future are put behind decisions that effect today. Pushing pension communications centre stage is, therefore, a challenge, particularly when so much other activity is craving our attention and clogging up our inbox. A distinctive brand that draws on branding rules could be the difference between being front of mind and being forgotten about.
A brand is more than just a logo in the top corner of a website. It is a set of emotions that we feel for a product, service or organisation. It is the essence of the company, the fabric, spirit, and the DNA of what an organisation thinks, feels, does and says. With a powerful brand as your foundation, you can build powerful a communications programme.
Branding is the practice of putting your beliefs and values in the mind of your customer. In the context of pension communications, embedding the importance of saving and planning for the future is no small task. By understanding and applying the laws of branding, communications are more likely to resonate and effect the behavioural change needed to get more people saving for their future.
For example, what brand attributes could we apply to Apple? Possibly innovation, design, technology, beauty, and simplicity. Those attributes have been embedded over many years of consistent and efficient branding.
Branding is important to communication because it:
There is no right or wrong answer; ultimately choosing how to brand pension communications will depend on scheme and company specific perspectives.
Results revealed that there are no set rules when it comes to pension branding. Many schemes are using corporate branding, while others have developed a particular ‘look and feel' for pensions and specific campaigns. Many cited budget constraints were the primary barrier to being more creative with communications – despite there being a desire to be able to do more.
When it comes to your pension scheme, there could be a choice of ‘brands' to communicate your message. It's likely you will have to choose between your corporate brand, creating or using a pension brand or using a pension provider brand.
The corporate brand is the one that surrounds you, from your business card to the intranet and the sign behind reception. Considerable care has gone into the creation and management of your brand; what the logo means, how the brand should be applied and the tone of voice to name a few. As a result, many companies will use the corporate brand internally.
The brand already exists, so some of the hard work is done.
It's seen every day, and so the perception of business-as-usual may translate to indifference.
As uniqueness is often a contributing factor to engagement, there may be a desire for something new that is memorable and has an impact. For example, some might want to create a ‘brand’ which is deliberately ‘off-brand’ and different. (‘Brand' may not be the ideal term here as it indirectly infers a conflict with the corporate brand. If this is a potential issue, it can be positioned as a long-term internal campaign). The elements of the pension brand will usually have some visual relation to either the corporate or employer brand, but they will combine to create a unique visual language that will reflect your specific messaging and communications approach. You may need to look to an external creative agency if considering establishing a separate pension brand.
If effective, it will create some energy around pensions.
Additional resources and time will be required.
Some pension providers offer their own communications support. The kudos their brand might bring may be preferable to either of the other options above. Consequently, all attributes of that brand will be passed on to your communications, both good and bad, so it is important that the brand is already perceived favourably within your organisation. You could also consider asking the provider to rebrand some or all of their communications.
A supplier’s brand can add respect and expertise.
Piggy-backing on another brand may be restrictive and bring negative baggage.
Is there the necessary budget to commission an external agency? Can this approach be justified?
What are the potential outputs? Is it just one or is it part of a campaign?
Which is most likely to have the desired response?
The volume of other internal communications
How many people are supporting the project?
Is the lead time sufficient to introduce a third party, including potentially additional time for internal approval?
The expectation of a ‘customer experience’ an employee and a consumer has never been narrower. We as individuals expect more from our employers and pension providers. Smartphones and other technology have brought these worlds together, and we are not prepared to accept that our money in the form of a pension is left behind. Great design is at our fingertips and apps are making our lives easier. We will not forgive communications in our work environment that are less fulfilling and harder to understand than those we experience in the ‘outside' world.
The benchmark for pension communications has never been higher. To change behaviours, we must divert attention to catch the imagination. Pushing content that merely apes what has been done before without considering our consumer mindset is unlikely to be successful. Pension communications need to work harder. It is a challenger brand - starting from a position behind the market leader of other, potentially more inspiring internal communications and products requiring a proportion of our hard-earned cash.
Seven characteristics of a challenger brand:
Defining a unique position for pensions which no one else owns.
Daring to be different requires bravery.
Entertaining employees is almost always a positive thing.
Understanding employees behaviours by recognising both the opportunities and obstacles.
Encouraging conversations and offering a place for debate.
Being fully transparent and inclusive so that everyone is welcome.
Promoting personal freedom and empowering employees.
There are many interpretations of creativity. Psychologist and author Edward de Bono explains creativity ‘involves breaking out of established patterns to look at things differently'. It is not a process owned exclusively by artists, writers or designers. We are all able to break the status quo.
For inspiration, we can look beyond pensions and financial services. We tend to behave differently when making financial decisions, but it can be helpful to consider why we respond the way we do to marketing. Was it the message? Is the image particularly striking? Is it just me or are others also attracted to it?