Don’t Just Tell It, Sell It! Marketing Employee Benefits

The following is a transcript of an interview by World at Work TV with Paul Barton on internal communications best practices and how to connect with employees when communicating employee benefits.

Paul Barton Communications Benefits Workshop
Welcome to WorldatWorkTV. I’m Alison Avalos, and I’m joined today by Paul Barton, author of Maximizing Internal Communication Strategies to Turn Heads When Hearts Engage Employees and Get Results.

Q: So Paul, first talk about why it’s important for benefits communicators to use a marketing approach.

A: Well it turns out that if we’re communicating to inform-that is, to impart information-we’re really not communicating. Communication is really about changing attitudes, changing beliefs, changing perceptions. It’s about inspiring employees. And we can do that best with a marketing approach because marketing helps shape perceptions.

Q: You talk about winning hearts, not just winning minds. Talk a little bit about that and why it’s important.

A: Logic helps us to think, but it’s our emotions that cause us to get up out of the chair and take action. And we’re asking employees to take action, to sign up for plans, to increase their contributions, to pay more attention. So it turns out that an approach that deals with emotion works better.

Q: You talk about communication without an ‘s’ and communications with an ‘s’. What’s the distinction there?

A: When we talk about communications with an ’s’, our focus is really on all the individual pieces that we’re sending out – how many e-mails you send out, how many posts to the internet. When we talk about communication without the ’s’, our focus is more about getting through to people as opposed to just sending things out. It causes us to focus more on outcomes rather than on outputs.

Q: So do benefits communicators have more success in trying to change these behaviors of employees when they focus on communication versus that package of communications, or is it a dual effort?

A: Well you want to start with a strategy and then the tactics will follow. So the more important your strategies are, the better your tactics will be.

Paul Barton Communications Employee Benefits MarketingQ: So how about some of the technology used in the benefits communications space?

A: Well the world is portable now, and so we need to be portable too. And it also turns out that unlike other forms of information, you don’t really care about benefits until you need them, and then you really care about them. So you need to be able to access that information at the doctor’s office while you’re sitting there through an app on the phone.

Q: So the million dollar question: What does perfect communication look like?

A: Well it turns there are really three things that you want to hit to be perfect. If you hit one you’re doing good, if you hit two you’re doing great, and if you hit all three you’re perfect. So the first thing you want to do is touch the heart – emotional. The second thing you want to do is to be novel – something that’s new. And the third thing is to be memorable, with memorable and great content.

Q: So Paul, you mentioned the need to make an emotional connection when you’re communicating. Give us some examples.

A: Well I think a 401(k) plan is a good example. Just the name itself is from an IRS tax code, and that doesn’t really explain much to people. It often sounds something far away and — stocks and Wall Street — it doesn’t sound like a personal connection. And we get caught up in plan design, and it’s easy to talk about compounding interest and so forth. And those are all good things to talk about — to inform people — but to really drive them to action we need to hit to the emotional side. So for one thing we can rename them and call them things like “savings plans” that speak more to the person rather than these abstract numbers, and we can really talk about-instead of just the numbers-we can go a step further and talk about how it provides safety and security for you, the employee, and your family for the future, and then you’re starting to speak to the heart. And when you speak to the heart, people will listen with their hearts.

Q: So Paul, what are the risks if an organization doesn’t follow those recipes for success in terms of these three key ingredients with being emotional and making that emotional connection, being novel, and being memorable?

A: Your communication won’t be as effective as they otherwise could. In this day and age we’re just bombarded with information. Before we even get to work we must see a million messages. So you run the risk of just being tuned out.

Alison: Thanks, Paul. From World at Work TV, I’m Alison Avalos.


Other Resources

You can read more about internal communication best practices and communicating employee benefits in Maximizing Internal Communication.

1 Comment

Judith Jones

about 6 years ago

Good points, Paul! I really loved your comment about having benefits information accessible via phone. You're absolutely right: It's when you're in the doctor's office that you're going to want to find out info about your coverage. Thanks!

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