How important is a benefits brand in order to increase awareness and take-up?

benefits brand

Need to know:

  • Personalised content can highly engage employees with benefits communication.
  • Different organisations will find different forms of communication effective.
  • Branding consistency across all communications creates trust and familiarity.

Benefits packages are evolving in line with what employees want and expect from their employers, and so reward and benefits professionals face the challenge of how they can successfully communicate with employees in order to keep them engaged with their rewards. It’s no longer just about pensions and private medical insurance (PMI): employees expect a lot more from their benefits package and a branded scheme can help them connect on a personal level.

Thomson’s Online Benefits’ Global Employee Benefits Watch 2017/18 whitepaper, published in November 2017, reported a shift in benefits approaches from reward to experience. The research found that although traditional benefits were still key, tailoring a plan to include global wellbeing and experience programmes was far more effective. The research also found that benefits that help employees stay physically and financially healthy, offer them advice, help them manage their children or improve their career development, are those that employees are likely to interact with on a regular basis, creating both higher engagement, uptake and greater return on investment for the employer.

The report also found that one-third (33%) of employer respondents state that their global benefits strategy is very much aligned to their people strategy.

Choosing the right form of communication for maximum engagement can be a minefield; catering to employees with different needs, new technologies and a competitive job market has made getting the information across in the right way all the more important.

Nick Throp, director at Like Minds says: “I think the industry is generally getting much better at understanding the importance of brand and in the last couple of years the benefit industry has become a lot more brand sensitive, which is a good thing.”

What is a benefits brand?
An effective benefits brand will differentiate an employer’s benefit communications from other internal correspondence, and create a strong brand identity that reflects the culture and the mission of the organisation.

Streamlined branding across all communication creates a strong message and consistency on branded benefits merchandise, emails, posters and other forms of communication.

A starting point for developing an effective benefits brand is an understanding of what the employee value proposition is for that particular organisation, says Throp. “That’s what makes it unique and a big deal to that the [organisation], whether it’s a benefits brand, a corporate brand, or a consumer brand.

“At its heart, it’s got to have some core brand values. From an employee value perspective it needs to be based on key values for the organisation in terms of its culture and how it does things. If [the] starting point is that, it will inevitably develop into something that is distinctive and personal to that particular organisation.”

A benefits brand should align with an organisation’s corporate identity: if it has a very strong corporate brand, then the branding of the benefits strategy needs to reflect this. Vicky Edwards, communications manager at Thomsons Online Benefits, says: “I think tying it in with the corporate brand is the way forward. With a benefits brand, and equally with the language [employers] use, making sure that [they’re] actually being relevant and talking to everyone within the [organisation], and making the benefit brand a natural part of the [organisation’s] culture is a good start.”

A tailored benefits brand
Employees want more than just a basic salary and a bonus, they want flexibility in the way they receive their benefits, and, depending on where they are in their life and what stage of their career, they want different things. The key is to reach every demographic and offer them what they need, packaged in a way that will appeal to them as an individual.

Effective benefits brands are the ones that are developed with input from HR teams that actually know their people and their culture very well, says Edwards. “We have had some examples where the organisations have made decisions around what they think their employees want but actually that’s not what their people think at all. You can have unsuccessful take-up just by an organisation not knowing their employees that well. Getting feedback, doing regular communications and understanding what people react well to, is essential. The more [an employer] knows about [it’s] people, culture, and [organisation], the more successful [it’s] benefits brand will be.”

Jerry Edmonson, strategic communications and engagement proposition leader for Aon Employee Benefits, feels establishing a pilot group and bringing employees on the inside is a great way of tailoring a benefits brand to employees’ individual needs. “It is super crucial to get the feedback from employees. Not only are [employers] able to build that feedback directly into the brand [they] are creating but [they] are able to use that validation [from employees] in the context that they have formed and shaped the brand, which is an important message in itself as [the employer is] saying their opinion is important and their input is valuable.”

The use of effective communication
With dispersed and diverse workforces, there is no longer a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to effectively communicating and promoting benefits. With offices in multiple locations and employees on the road, the information has to be easily accessible to everyone across the organisation, no matter where they are located. But the way in which this information is conveyed doesn’t have to be the same, and an effective communication strategy should always be in relation to the objectives the organisation has and how it reinforces the overall employee value proposition.

Employers can brand everything consistently but use different channels of communication, for example, animation and videos are the most effective form for some employees, yet text message campaigns and home mailers are more beneficial for those who aren’t in offices, says Edwards. “Using a variety of diverse channels will get [the] message across. The branding can be consistent across all of those, but the more channels and more ways of reaching people, the better.”

For increased benefits awareness and take-up, appealing to employees on a personal level with communications that pique their interest is integral; most people are bombarded with information on a daily basis, be it at work or in their personal lives, and so emails or mail-outs can easily be glossed over and forgotten. Emma Starbrook, director at Willis Tower Watson, says: “Making sure [employers] are appealing to people on that personal level, recognising who they are as an individual, is one way of being able to create that level of interest.”

Motivating and engaging employees
Thomson’s Online Benefits’ report found that 85% of organisations that align their business and people strategies to a benefits programme had a far greater success in engagement with their benefits.

A strong strategic approach to creating a benefits communication plan can influence employee’s motivation. “Giving people that confidence in the [organisation] makes them feel good about where they work. It creates familiarity and loyalty to [an employer], with effort and energy having been put in to creating something,” says Edwards. “Giving it that polished look and feel, and message around the benefits, gives employees confidence that they’re working somewhere that looks after them and is interested in them, which then equals higher engagement in the [organisation] and motivation in their role.”

The importance of getting it right
Of great importance to the effectiveness of a strong benefits brand is to build recognition and familiarity with it. An employer needs to take into account its employee value proposition and people strategy in order to design, deliver and communicate a benefits brand that enhances and supports both, and will have maximum impact and increase take-up.

If employers want to take a consumer-grade approach, it’s all about the brand, and content needs to focus on the right level of motivation, says Starbrook. “If the brand doesn’t reflect the organisation effectively, it’s just content and words on a page. Employers have to be able to bring [the benefits] alive, and bring it to life for people, so […] it’s helping an individual understand how it can make a difference in their life.

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“It’s beyond a package of benefits that [employees] can select and choose, it’s about the ways in which it can improve [their] own life and [their] own lifestyle, or in terms of [their] own challenges around income or available revenue, so it’s a way of being able to help with the cost efficiencies that people are trying to make day to day.”

The more an organisation tailors its benefits brand and communications to its employees’ individual needs, the greater the engagement and the higher the take-up will be.