Having a well-designed pension scheme means nothing if employees do not take it up and save for life after work. For Defined Contribution (DC) plans good communication is essential. Strong messaging is vital, but it is equally important to have a good communications plan. Disclosure regulations set out minimum requirements for the information with which plans must provide members. But merely meeting these demands is not the way to help people take ownership of their future financial circumstances. The best organisations will have a strategy and be looking to the future, aiming for more than disclosure, deploying interactive tools and actively campaigning to employees.
The number of communication channels available to organisations has increased dramatically over the last 20 years - from video conferencing to apps and mobile technology. One thing to remember is that the latest innovation might be new and shiny, but it will not be the only way to communicate.
In pensions, our challenge is to decide how best to use all the different channels to maximise engagement. To do this, it’s worth taking a step back and looking at the big picture. In the past, we have had a tendency to focus on the formal communications, but we also need to think about campaign-led communications, and we must not forget the informal and unofficial networks and interactions that employees or members come into contact with on a daily basis. The following is not an exhaustive list, so you might wish to find out more about what influences your customers.
Each of the above channels is also either a ‘push’ or ‘pull’. What push refers to is being actively sent to the receiver, pull means the receiver has to seek out the information.
The communication is sent (hard or soft copy) to the customer
The customer seeks out the information from a central source (website/system)
Choosing the right channel for the right message is not an exact science, and there are no hard and fast guarantees that any channel will be more efficient than any other, except face-to-face communications. Face-face, whether it is one to one or one to many, is considered, the strongest form of communication which it is why it is recommended for important change projects, and of course, financial decisions. However, one important rule of marketing which supports the requirement to have mix of media is the ‘Rule of Seven’. The Rule of Seven requires that a customer needs to have received the message at least seven times before it is understood and actioned. The message can be delivered some ways through a number of channels (posters, emails, animations or even face to face), but it needs to be recognisable (of its brand and for clarity).
The following chart sets out our view of engagement effectiveness across many typical communication channels.
When deciding on communications channels, we should take into account the other factors that influence our customers, such as their skills and learning preferences. Learning preferences determine how people like to absorb information. We find Kolb’s learning styles simple to apply.
This chart summarises the learning preference alongside example communications channels. Ultimately we all gain insight from all communication channels available to us. What this chart does reveal, however, is a possible predominance of ‘thinker’ or ‘read’ communications across pensions. There are of course many great examples of communications covering all preferences – this needs to become routine practice for all of us.
For skills, we look to Berlo's communication model which sets out the factors which influence the sender’s ability to communicate a message and the customer’s ability to understand the message.
From our survey we learned that a number of pension schemes are trying new and innovative engagement techniques.
Gamifying works because it combines the motivating fun aspects of games with creativity, behavioural science and communication best practice. Research has identified eight core drivers of engagement are essential to successful gamification:
Source: Yu-kai Chou
Storytelling has always been the primary form of knowledge transfer. Stories are engaging and become very persuasive when one can directly relate to them. The brain comes alive to imagery and transports the reader to the events through the visual character(s). The physical traits of the characters are important as they also have to serve the campaign narrative and represent the brand to give the story clarity and a ring of truth.
The characters are valid because they evoke emotions that mirror the receiver's thoughts and feelings. The psychologist Carl Gustav Jung identified a set of universal character archetypes that reside within our collective unconscious. Those patterns represent fundamental human topics and evoke deep emotions. Jung defined twelve primary types that symbolise basic human motivations. Each type has its own set of values, meanings and personality traits.
Apps are now mainstream, so it's worth thinking about how an app might support pensions engagement. To make the most of an App, and to make it useful and compelling. Here are our top tips:
The communications plan needs to spell out how resources will be allocated, including staff time, budgets, computers, software, equipment, databases, in-house and contract services. Your communication plan’s purpose is to identify detailed timings, resources required and responsibilities once you had decided on the communication messages, channels and objectives.
The following chart sets out the overall approach.