Employee Benefits Communication Supplement 2006: Branding boosts benefits buzz

Creating strong, internally marketed benefits brands seems to give perks better visibility and increased recognition among staff, it may also help to instill a specific set of values, says Nick Golding

Case study: Elan

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A common misconception often held by employers is that just purchasing the finest benefits around will create well-motivated and highly- productive employees. In fact, getting the most value from benefits requires a two-pronged attack.

After selecting the most suitable perks, employers must also work to market and sell these benefits to their workforce. It is the second part of this process that tends to be the trickier of the two, perhaps helping to explain why benefits communication seems to get less attention from employers.

Chris Bruce, director of marketing and technology at Thompson Online Benefits, explains: "One of the biggest issues where benefits are concerned is that they are not communicated effectively enough to staff. "If you asked a group of employees to list all the benefits available to them, the chances are they couldn’t do it, or at least would be very vague about it." However, some organisations believe they have found the solution to this problem by creating brands around their benefits which are used in communicating their scheme to staff. Evidence suggests that organisations which bind the perks offered together with a brand name and corporate values have made the process of selling the benefits to staff much simpler and more successful.

Using such branding, employers can present benefits in a more digestible fashion, making them easier to understand. "Unfortunately, pensions and employee benefits are just not perceived as interesting by many members of staff, so you need to create an interesting message. "An employer brand around the benefits will make the package become more identifiable," explains Bruce.

One company proving this theory is engineering consultancy firm Cundall which tied its benefits together under one name, Play with Pay, last year. This action was taken after an employee survey found staff were unaware of what benefits they were entitled to. To encourage staff to engage with the benefits package, staff at Cundell were tasked with coming up with a name for the scheme. Michelle Wood, HR and training manager at the consultancy, says: "Many employees did not know about the flexible benefits package we offered, so we decided to communicate the benefits as one package with a distinguishable name. "From that point, any form of contact made [with staff] about benefits came with the title and logo [designed for] Play with Pay."

In the months leading up to its launch, Cundall produced pens and paper branded with the Play with Pay logo to help employees become used to the name. "It is very much like a marketing campaign for a new product. By getting it identifiable by all employees, when the package finally came out staff knew what it was," explains Cundall’s Wood.

This need for effective marketing was also evident when IT recruitment company Elan launched its benefits package, Central Perks. Inspired by the coffee shop in US comedy series Friends, the name aimed to create a brand which was identifiable to the company’s workforce. "Elan created internal excitement around the launch of the new Central Perks brand with posters of a beaten-up sofa and the Central Perks sign, with the message ‘opening soon’," says Bruce from provider Thompson Online Benefits. "It got a predominately young workforce thinking about the brand and talking about what it was actually going to be. "When you are marketing to your employees, you need to engage them both initially and on an ongoing basis," he adds.

What’s more, employers that create such a brand for their benefits package can also expect it to impact on their recruitment process too, as they can use the brand to promote the benefits on offer at the recruitment stage. "Now with Play with Pay we actually give prospective employees a test log-in to the company intranet so that they can take a look at the benefits available before deciding whether they want the job," says Wood.

However, before managers rush to the boardroom to decide on a name for their benefits scheme, it must be noted that branding a benefits package can be a more complicated process than it first seems. In fact, employers should know that for branding to be effective by encouraging employees to take up the benefits a company offers, management will have to do much more than just think up a catchy name.

Care must be taken to ensure the brand complies with intellectual property law and reflects the organisation’s values. Tim Roberts, managing director at internal communications company Talking People, says: "To my mind, the principle value comes when the benefits are tied back to the original values and corporate values of the company." So, employers wishing to venture down the branding route must be prepared to assess and in some cases re-discover the organisation’s culture and values.

To do this, certain questions must be raised. "You must ask yourself whether the branding ties in with the overall aims of the organisation and whether it reflects other programmes that are currently running. This is not about throwing money at the problem it is about values being joined up," says Roberts. Without this link to the external objectives of the organisation, internal branding can cause confusion for those members of staff using the benefits.

"It is wrong when employers come out with separate brands for everything because it can cause confusion for employees. Some employers have produced brands which are simply self-invented and this is a deficiency and will cause confusion," he adds. Adopting such a system does not necessarily lead to a major benefits overhaul. "Some companies do not have to necessarily change the benefits around, they simply need to bring them to life," says Bruce.

Simon Knox, professor of brand marketing at Cranfield School of Management, agrees: "Branding goes much deeper than just giving something a name. A brand is about creating perceptions and the content of the brand needs to be central to the company’s values." Once this mix is successfully achieved, an internal brand is in the process of being created. "If you are clear about how you want the organisation to develop its values and culture, then you are moving towards an internal brand," Knox explains.

Creating a branded benefits package that is effective in driving take up of perks is not without a lot of hard work EBBranding tipsl Consult Market research is important. It may be worth consulting with staff on the type of branding that appeals to them. Different age groups may respond to different strategies.

Case study: Elan

IT recruitment company Elan decided to brand its benefits package Central Perks, taking inspiration from the name of the coffee shop in hit US comedy series Friends. The move came after a benefits survey revealed that many of the benefits employees were requesting were already part of the existing package, suggesting they weren’t aware of what was available to them.

Ade Atekoja, compensation and benefits manager, explains: "We wanted more of our employees to know about our benefits, so we looked at branding as a method of communication. We needed to reach staff all over Europe." The name was chosen as it was felt to represent a young, vibrant workforce, while the coffee shop theme tied in to Elan’s relaxed working environment.

"We looked at the culture of the company and the geographical pressures and also wanted a name that employees could relate to. "We decided that Friends is known worldwide, and the coffee shop represents the package – come inside, relax and enjoy the benefits," says Atekoja.

Branding tips

Consult Market research is important. It may be worth consulting with staff on the type of branding that appeals to them. Different age groups may respond to different strategies.

Culture Creating a brand will require an overall look at an organisation’s values and how they are conveyed internally and externally. The benefits brand will need to link into these values.

Marketable The brand must be a concept that can be sold and marketed to staff and have a recognisable logo and/or name that appeals to the workforce. Care must be taken to ensure that it complies with intellectual property law.

Launch The launch of newly-branded benefits should be an occasion that catches the attention of employees. Poster campaigns, leaflets and email alerts are channels employers can use to ensure that employees are aware of the launch.