Targeted communication requires thorough understanding of target group

In a world flooded by media messages, how can employers cut through the noise to engage employees in their pension and benefits plans?

This is an ongoing challenge for human resources professionals and communicators. Part of the solution lies in developing communications that are relevant and visually interesting. But perhaps most importantly, these communications should answer the question: “What’s in it for me?” That’s why the industry is seeing more emphasis on targeting plan member communications by age, life stage and other demographics.

However, it’s also important for employers to consider how to target employees — and it’s pretty easy to get it wrong.

Read: Data, personas and generational focus keys to successful benefits, pension communication

In a recent Club Vita webinar, “Longevity or mortality: a question of communication,” Rachel Lloyd, director of U.K.-based market research company Message House, discussed how age-related positioning affects people’s perceptions and reactions. For example, a travel agency tested two marketing messages with a range of different age groups. One message included an age-specific reference — “for budget-minded travellers between ages 18 and 39,” while the other message was exactly the same, but without the age-specific reference.

Both messages were viewed as appealing and relevant by the target age group. However, the message without the age reference was more appealing to the group the agency was trying to reach — plus, it appealed to those outside of the target group. By directly referring to a specific age group, the company would have been limiting the potential sales opportunities.

So what can we learn from this experiment? The first lesson is, explicitly targeting a message by age or stage could actually reduce its appeal to the target audience.

Read: Why you should hire a behavioural scientist

The second is, when targeting by age or stage, it’s important for people to be aware of the assumptions they bring to the table, like associating golf with seniors or adventurous travel with millennials. In the travel agency example, those older than age 39 were also interested in adventurous travel, so why unintentionally exclude them?

The language we use matters, too. Just as a 70-year-old may not want to be referred to as an “old-timer,” a 20-year-old might not want to be called a “young person.”

None of this means that employers should throw targeted communications out the window — the more relevant the message, the more likely employees will pay attention to it. However, for the targeting to be effective, employers need a thorough understanding of their target group.

Since personal relevance is key, targeting plan member communications at the individual level can be even more effective. This level of personalization helps create engaging communications that resonate with employees, with the added benefit of conveying to them how important they are, since their employer has invested the time to know and understand them.

It’s no longer just about “what’s in it for me” as a 30-year-old (or an 80-year-old), but “what’s in it for me” as me. And that’s a message that will be positively received.