Using marketing communications to make open enrollment a success

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Part 2: Inform and create awareness

By Nancy Sansom, Chief Marketing Officer, PlanSource

This article first appeared on

In part one of our open enrollment communications series, we examined the importance of having a thorough plan and how treating employee communications like a full-scale marketing campaign can lead to a successful open enrollment.

In this article, we’ll look at the next step: informing employees about the details of open enrollment and creating awareness around the benefits options that will be available to them.

Break through the chatter
Everyone in your organization is busy doing his or her job, and as shocking as it may sound, open enrollment is not top of mind for the vast majority of employees. So your first objective is to break through all the noise and get your message heard.

A few ways you can do this: choose a memorable theme for your communications; use multiple communication methods; and keep your messaging clear, concise and consistent.

Timing is also important. Keep communications close enough to open enrollment so that there is a sense of urgency, but still give employees time to prepare and process information. With this in mind, we recommend starting your communications campaign about two weeks before open enrollment. Start by communicating the most important facts, including the dates of open enrollment and benefit meetings, and what type of enrollment they can expect (passive or active).

During this period, you should hold benefits meetings if you choose to do so, prominently display any posters or other printed materials, and send links to benefits materials and educational resources.

As you get closer to open enrollment, your communications should be more detailed, with messaging on the specifics in your benefits offerings, and login instructions.

And you will definitely want to send a message to all employees the day before open enrollment announcing that the fun is about to begin and reminding them of how to get started.

Use a theme
An effective way to make your communications stand out is to use a memorable theme. You can integrate the theme in all your communications much like marketers use a theme in their ad campaigns (think the Allstate Mayhem Man or Geico Caveman). The theme can be based on your company’s culture, style and values, or can draw from pop culture or societal issues.

There is no reason open enrollment communications have to be boring, so have fun with this! We have seen companies use successful themes that have centered around movie posters, rock bands, presidential elections and peer testimonials. A few examples can be found here.

One thing to keep in mind is to avoid making your theme too complex. Or as our favorite marketer, Don Draper, put it: “Make it simple, but significant.”

Use multiple communication methods
A cornerstone for any successful marketing campaign is using several different communication methods. The same holds true for your open enrollment communications campaign, so do not put all your eggs in one basket.

Email is a great way to reach employees, and is probably your first choice for getting the word out about open enrollment, as it should be. You can include important dates, links to your online benefits enrollment site, educational materials and many other resources.

It would be the ideal way to communicate … if people actually read their emails. However, all the advantages of email (ease of use, ability to reach a mass audience, ability to be forwarded, etc.) are also its downfall.

Because it is so easy to use, people are bombarded with email. The average office worker receives 121 emails per day, so unfortunately, your emails may go unread. In addition, your emails may not get to a household’s benefits decision maker if it is not the employee.

So, long story short, do not rely on email as your only communication method! And when you do use email follow these best practices:

  • Use a catchy subject line
  • Keep the body text brief with short paragraphs and links to get more info
  • Focus on the most important details, such as OE dates and login credentials
  • Use bulleted lists if you include lots of information
  • Include a clear call to action with deadlines to create a sense of urgency

Aside from email, you have a lot a choices in your communications arsenal. No matter what you may have heard, print is not dead. Posters, postcards, flyers, brochures and other handouts are extremely effective tools.

Many people are visual learners, so a poster in your breakroom will help your message sink in. And a postcard sent to your employees’ home address will have a good chance of being seen by a spouse or other family members who may have a big say in benefits matters.

Do remember to keep your message simple, however, and only include the most important information on print materials, such as open enrollment dates and a web address for your online benefits enrollment platform. And don’t forget good old face-to-face meetings. Benefits fairs or one-on-one meetings with employees may take time, but they are a sure way to make sure employees’ questions are answered and they get the information they need.

Back in the digital realm, text messaging is a remarkably effective way to reach a younger audience, remote workers or employees without consistent access to a computer.

Also, make sure to utilize any virtual communication hubs your employees frequent. If Slack or Chatter are popular, for example, be sure to post something there.

Video is another great way to communicate. You can pack a lot of information in a short video and people are usually more likely to watch a video than read a long email. By linking to videos, you will be able to keep email short, increasing the chances they will be read.

Regardless of the communication method be used, one rule is supreme: be clear and consistent
Benefits are confusing enough on their own, so your messaging should not send mixed signals. Proof your texts thoroughly and if you are in doubt about the clarity of your communications, have someone who is not familiar with benefits read them through before you send them out and give feedback.

Check out part three of our series: Energize! Drive Employees to Action, which guides you through the meat of your open enrollment communications.



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