Communicate Like a Marketer to Create the Open Enrollment of Your Dreams, Part One

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Part One: It starts with a plan

By Nancy Sansom, Chief Marketing Officer, PlanSource

This article first appeared on

Communicating about open enrollment is essential to keeping employees informed about their benefits choices and driving participation. Most companies agree that it is important for employees to understand their benefits choices, but an alarmingly small number of employees actually do.

A recent survey by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans found that only 19 percent of employees have a high level of understanding about their benefits packages, and nearly 49 percent do not understand their benefits materials.

So how can you make sure the message is getting through? And how do you find the time to plan, execute and follow up on a company-wide communications campaign with everything else on your plate?

One answer is to treat open enrollment communications like a full-scale marketing campaign. In this four-part series, you’ll learn how to use best practices and proven marketing techniques to get the word out and boost engagement in open enrollment.

We’ll cover four main topics based on this communications timeline, which divides the activities into their primary goals: planning, informing, energizing and follow up.


It starts with a plan
As Don Draper once said: “Our worst fears lie in anticipation.” A good plan can belay those fears and give you confidence that your open enrollment is going to run smoothly. Part one of our series looks at how to lay the groundwork and prepare for a successful open enrollment.


Starting one month (or more) before open enrollment, you should get your communications plan together. To best accomplish this, you will want to determine which types of communication make the most sense for your employees, the amount of resources you have and the duration of communications.

A logical place to start is by getting to know the demographics of your employee population. An employee’s age, education level, seniority, family circumstances and other factors can make a big difference on how and what you should communicate to them. For example, new employees need more info than experienced employees. Millennials will read your texts but don’t count on email catching them. You can get even more detailed by looking at the communication preferences of executives, office staff and workers in the field.

One great way to find out employees’ communications preferences is to simply ask. Depending on the size of your company, you could conduct a brief survey online, do focus groups or even take a quick walk around the office and ask a selection of employees.

Details matter
Once you know who you are communicating to and their preferences, it is time to start getting into the details. You’ll want to communicate in multiple ways to reach different subsets of your population, so map out who gets what and when.

There are a lot of other things to consider as well. Do you want to hold benefits meetings? Are you going to use print materials or rely on electronic communications? How will remote employees find out about their benefits?

To make sure nothing falls through the cracks, build a timeline for what you are going to communicate before, during and after open enrollment.

It’s a good idea to include multiple touch points and integrate different media. You can even start drafting emails that you know you will need to send and draft text messages if you plan on using a text messaging service. Some examples of email and text message templates can be found here.

Here are some of the other tasks to get done in the weeks leading up to open enrollment:

  • Choose a theme for the year so employees can easily recognize your open enrollment materials.
  • Select communication methods that best suit your employee population.
  • Schedule benefits meetings for opportunities to meet face-to-face and answer questions.
  • Order printed materials – most people are visual learners, so posters and flyers can help get your message through.
  • Order text messaging service – if you have a younger or largely remote population, texts are a great way to communicate.
  • Select benefits to feature in communications and explain commonly misunderstood terms.
  • Develop a benefits guide detailing what is new and highlighting important benefits offerings.

Armed with a well-thought out plan, you are on the way to open enrollment success. Check out part two in our series: Inform & Create Awareness, which covers how you can put your plan into action in the weeks and days leading up to open enrollment.


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