How to use visual elements as part of a benefits communication strategy


Need to know:

  • Visual elements can help grab employees’ attention and simplify complex messages.
  • Visuals should have a clear function that fits within an employer’s wider communications strategy.
  • These elements and the way in which they are delivered should be relevant to the employees they are targeted at.

In a world where information is constantly competing for our attention, how can employers ensure their benefits communications cut through the noise? And what role can visual elements, such as live-action video, animation, infographics and branding, play in this?

Phil Ainsley, managing director, employee services at Equiniti, says: “We’re all bombarded with so much information that actually trying to get people’s attention is getting more and more difficult so if an [organisation] can either create something that people identify with and will want to look at or get a bit of a viral buzz going, it is going to get the message across much better than it would do otherwise.”

Visuals can help draw employees into a subject and simplify complex messages. To avoid diluting the message and risk employees switching off, these should focus on the key points that the employer wants to get across to staff, and be accompanied by further sources of information to enable employees to delve into greater levels of detail as required. Chris Andrew, account director at Caburn Hope, says: “A lot of effective communication is done by understanding the subject matter and being able to pull out the key things that [employees] need to know, and then layering that information accordingly.”

Visuals can be an engaging way of delivering messages clearly and succinctly, for example, icons that represent a form to be filled in or a website to visit can demonstrate the action that an employee should take, says Karen Bolan, head of engagement at AHC. Live-action videos and animation can also provide a fast and accessible way for time-poor employees to absorb information. These should be an appropriate length for the audience and the subject matter; bite-sized videos will be more likely to hold an individual’s attention throughout.

Part of the whole

As with all pieces of communication, visual elements should not be seen in isolation. Ed Smithson, head of engagement and client technology at Conduent HR Services, says: “It’s as much about the overall strategy that the [organisation] is deploying and the roll-out of the various elements of that strategy; it’s key that those visual elements are thought about, and correctly and appropriately placed within that strategy.”

This not only involves defining the function that each visual element should serve, whether that be supporting other elements of the communication strategy, creating an emotional connection, or highlighting need-to-know information, but also ensuring that the visuals align with the culture and aims of the organisation. “There’s no off-the-shelf solution, every [organisation] is different and every brand is different,” says Andrew. “When it comes to visual elements, these should be appropriate for the [organisation] in question.”

The visual elements included in a communications strategy and the way in which they are delivered should be grounded in their relevance to the target employee demographic. A thorough understanding of the workforce, including the devices through which employees access information, and even the type of browsers they are likely to use, can help organisations develop effective communication materials. Analysis of management information, employee focus groups and surveys can enable employers to build this knowledge and tailor their strategies accordingly, says Jade Jordan-James, creative director at Equiniti.

As the move towards mobile devices continues at pace, creating visual elements that are appropriate for viewing through these is key, particularly for remote and mobile workers.

Delivering choice

Providing a range of print and online visual media, as well as non-visual content, can allow employees to engage with benefits communications in the manner that best suits them. “Having multiple media in the delivery of [a wider communications strategy] gives people their preference of how they receive and take in information,” says Bolan.

Videos that are shown to staff in group sessions, for example, could then be posted on the intranet so that employees can re-watch them as and when needed, while accompanying these with printed material and making the transcript available allows individuals who prefer to consume written content to access the information in their favoured format, she explains.

Technology, such as augmented reality, can also offer employees an exciting route through which to navigate information. Equiniti’s EQ Strata, for example, is an augmented reality app that uses triggers such as an image on a poster, an employer’s logo, or an object to launch visual animations and calls to action, with multiple layers of content such as video, web and social media links. “All the elements [are] there and then it’s up to the user which way they want to go around that journey,” explains Jordan-James.

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Visuals can inject a certain element of fun into a communications strategy, which can not only capture an employee’s attention but also increase their understanding of benefits and their engagement with them.

As Andrew says: “Communicating pensions and changes to terms and conditions relating to a particular policy, for example, might seem on the face of it to be relatively dry subjects but actually there’s a lot [organisations] can do with a bit of creativity and marketing thinking to really bring those things to life.”