Are Poor 401(k) Word Choices Harming

Your Employees? 

Key Communication Concepts To Help Your Retirement Plan and Workforce

Question: Were there any differences noticed across age groups when it comes to 401(k) jargon? 

 

Steve Jenks: The answer is yes. Older employees understand more jargon than younger employees. This suggests that employees learn the terms as they participate in the plan. In other words, it’s important to educate as well as inform.

With Guest:
Stephen Jenks, Senior Vice President, 
Chief Marketing Officer
Empower Retirement
 

Steve Jenks is Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for Empower Retirement.

Steve has 28 years of marketing, product and business leadership experience. He joined Empower and Great-West in 2014. Previously, Steve served as Head of Defined Contribution Product and Marketing for Putnam Investments, where he helped shape and execute growth strategies for the organization’s defined contribution, investment-only and rollover businesses. Steve began his investment industry career in 1990 with Fifth Third Bank. From there, he held leadership roles in marketing, product, finance and relationship management for Fidelity Investments from 1992 to 2009. Steve also co-founded Acceleration Retirement, a marketing analytics and outsourcing firm, and Stable Two Financial, a registered investment advisory company. He served as CEO of both companies.

Steve holds a bachelor’s degree with distinction in business analysis from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. He is a registered representative of GWFS Equities, Inc. and maintains FINRA Series 6, 26 and 63 securities registrations. Steve is currently on the boards of the American Red Cross, Mile High Chapter; Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado; and Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (CASA) Colorado.

Recap, Highlights, and Thoughts

Wars have been started over words, and retirement outcomes for employees can also be impacted by words.  My guest today, Steve Jenks, a Senior Vice President and the Chief Marketing Officer at Empower shares his over 20 years of experience on how word choice can make a big difference to someone’s ability to retire.  Key words you find commonly in retirement plan communications like match, assets, participants, deferral percentage don’t have the meaning or impact you think it should have with your employees.  We also hit on the differences in impact of illustrations vs. words, the importance of keeping calls to action simple, how automatic plan features have changed communications, measuring results, social media strategies and much more.  Also, he had a surprising conclusion on how employees like to receive information about their retirement plans and their desire for in person meetings, don’t miss that.  

Here is a link to the white papers we discussed during the episode.  

Boosting the Effectiveness of Retirement Plan Communications

Empower Retirement Research Page

If you have any other ideas to improve the podcast please share them with me via email, feedback@401kfridays.com. 

Thanks for listening!​​

Sincerely Your Host, 

Rick Unser

NEW: Episode Transcript

Rick Unser:    00:00    Well, Steve, welcome to the podcast. I am really looking forward to hear what you have to say about 401k word choice and the impact on participant communication, education outcomes, et cetera. So thanks for being here.

 

Steve Jenks:    00:14    No, absolutely Rick. Really look forward to the conversation. I think the years have ended up on me, but 20 plus years in this space right now and I've got a lot of passion around it and I think communicating effectively is one of the most powerful things we can do for folks in this industry. So I look forward to our conversation.

 

Rick Unser:    00:29    Let's just kick it off with, I mean when we first started talking about this, the instant thought that came to my mind was a guy named Frank Luntz who had done a lot of work in the political arena around how word choice in the way that people were framing things had a big impact on voters. I think his big claim to fame was kind of reframing the estate tax to the death tax. And I don't know. So when we first started talking about this, that was one thing that I had in my mind. I know we're not, probably not talking about the exact same thing, but are you guys kind of doing a similar thing where the word that you're using could have a really big difference to how a 401k participant or employee will react or decisions they might make?

 

Steve Jenks:    01:16    Absolutely, absolutely. Words matter. They matter so much. You know, wars have been fought over words. Business deals have fallen apart over words. So they are so important in our, in our society. And I am very familiar with Frank's work. In fact, I've, I've met with him and I think he's, he's come up with some fascinating findings I think in general for rent. You know, what frank has looked at is a lot of kind of the, what is the emotional reaction people to have two different words and kind of different combinations of words, the feelings those words create and how they connect with the words. And we certainly looked at some of that. Some stuff we were just recently testing and we were looking at some various things. And what was fascinating was that the word straightforward test out much better than the word. Simple and to me again, that's kind of a little bit down the lines of what frank was finding, where you know, people have different emotional reactions to two words.

 

Steve Jenks:    02:10    I think the piece that we're looking at in addition to the emotional connection of words is simply the comprehension side. If you look at what we're trying to do with the retirement industry, we're trying to help you know, all people and by it's nature, it's financial services and there's some technicalities in the, in the retirement plan business. And so I think in addition to those emotional connections, what we want to look at is, you know, very simply are we, are we using language in our materials that our audience is going to understand and they're going to be at an act on.

 

Rick Unser:    02:47    Makes Sense. And I don't know, as I think back over the years when we first started this whole 401k thing as an industry and when we first started trying to and communicate with participants about these defined contribution retirement plans, I don't think people who aren't maybe thinking as much about word choice and emotional connection. So what have you seen or what are some of the big evolutions that you've seen in the way that we've communicated with or tried to communicate with employees over the years?

 

Steve Jenks:    03:18    Yeah, it's been a dramatic change. I think back to when I first got into this, and again it's, it's 20 plus years ago really even tracing back to you know, fairly early in the days of the, in the 401k, one of the themes I saw with a lot of the early communications is it was super focused on investments. That was almost the headline of a lot of education materials and a really challenging space because we talked about earlier Rick, I mean we're trying to deal with everybody and a lot of everybody on investors and so trying to take non investors and, and turn them into investors is a pretty tricky task. I think as we understood more about what drives results in the end, you know we've done a lot of work on what drives replacement income and the biggest drivers of replacement income are, can you get somebody in the plan early enough and then their level of savings, you know, the investing side where it really falls at least third on the list and one of my little pet sayings is you can invest your way out of a savings problem.

 

Rick Unser:    04:20    That's one of mine too. I love that one.

 

Steve Jenks:    04:22    Well, I've diced around, I'll give you credit. Maybe I have, maybe I heard you say first.

 

Rick Unser:    04:25    I can't claim authorship of that one. I, that's just what I've heard over the years. But it's a, it's a big theme of mine with plan sponsors because I, just to digress a slightly here, I do think so many people these days lay fiduciaries, providers, consultants, whatever it might be, we spend so much time talking about fees and investments and things like that. And I think sometimes the, the concept of, Hey, if you're not in the plan, if you're not saving enough, all of those other things are going to be rounding errors in terms of what someone's end result is going to be in retirement.

 

Steve Jenks:    05:02    Yep, absolutely. Absolutely. And so I think, I think with the rotation to then focusing more on getting folks in the plan, focusing on if we can get them to the right types of savings levels, really allowed us to change the types of messaging and techniques we use. And then the, the other thing I would say is I think we've looked very hard outside of financial services. I guess I'm allowed to say this and some financial services life or, but I don't, I don't think financial services tends to be on the cutting edge of communicating anything. I know particularly with the group I've put together here in power, I mean I've, I've very consciously tried to go out and hire designers, writers, et Cetera, who come from outside of financial services, who are used to business, to consumer marketing. And there they're used to trying to drive action with the idea that we have plenty of retirement lifers who can do the technical piece. But in the end, the game here is really, if we can connect with folks, if we can drive action, that's what we are going to help people. And again, that's going to be by adopting and looking at a lot of techniques and a lot of communication techniques that one can borrow from retail marketing or online sales versus the traditional type of financial services communication.

 

Rick Unser:    06:18    So for a employer, a plan sponsor that has a lot of stuff going on in their day to day life. And I know sometimes it's hard to get them to focus on the 401k in general, just with other competing things that they need to be doing to keep their business growing. And moving in the right direction. What's the rationale to have them maybe take a minute and think about the words that they're using, whether it's in their own communications or whether it's in communications, they're working with their service partners to develop. Why is it important for them to, to think about that from time to time?

Steve Jenks:    06:55    Yeah. Great. Great Question Rick. I know I'll just do a quick aside here because I probably spent the first 18-20 years of my career in the financial services industry, mostly focusing on retirement, but you know that that was my full time job, right? Was, was focusing on retirement plans and then I started a couple businesses of my own along the way. And so I forget the exact numbers, but you know, say we had 2025 employees. It was really eye opening for me and it's definitely stuck with me that when it, when it was my own business and I was trying to figure out how I'm going to make payroll and I was trying to figure out how I was going to get those, those next couple sales and all those types of things that keep the thing growing and going and where I was going to find my funding, you know, all of a sudden the 401k plan was not quite the priority that I thought it was for everybody else.

 

Steve Jenks:    07:39    You know, when I was on the inside. So I've always tried to be very thoughtful and think about how this benefit fits in the world of the employer, but it does really matter in terms of being able to make the retirement plans do what they're supposed to do and the reason why the employers offer them. You know, one of the examples that that sticks with me, Rick, and I guess I probably shouldn't admit this since I'm in the industry, but you know, my first job out of college was at a bank and I still to this day vividly remember sitting in the basement of that bank and having the representative kind of go through the benefits and including the four one pay plan. And I'll confess, I just, I didn't get it right. I didn't get it from the word she was using. I didn't get it from whatever materials they put in front of us.

 

Steve Jenks:    08:22    And so for the first two years of my employment, until I kind of worked my way into the the area and started to understand it better, I didn't, I didn't participate in the plan. If I look back at that now as somebody who's in their 50s, that was probably a $50,000 mistake for me. If I look at what I could have saved and the compounding of that many years. And so employers who I think want to do the right thing, oh to their employees to put the best product out there so that they can, you know, deliver the types of results and the types of replacement income and have the, you know, have the benefit programs that compare favorably with their competitors to really take a look at language.

 

Rick Unser:    08:57    Well, I, I appreciate the confession and I think that's a great example of how words are important. So maybe that's a great pivot too. I know you guys have done a lot of work and a lot of research on some specific words. Are there a couple that are top of mind that you think are important for employers or their service partners to understand that while they might roll off our tongues as people that are familiar in, in, in this benefit or in this program on a daily or weekly basis, but when said to an employee who maybe is totally unfamiliar or casually familiar with this whole 401k thing, they might not have the same residence or significance.

 

Steve Jenks:    09:43    Right? I think the second half year question Rick is, I think there's a very illuminating way to put it. I mean even outside of financial services, I mean the, the use of jargon is the easiest thing to fall into. Cause we all, we all speak our own languages but you know, we're, you know, I'm on the phone, are you from Denver, Colorado Setting, you know, 90 minutes to two hours away from world-class eating. And you know, it's in my natural lexicon to talk about, you know, Bluebird days and corduroy and you know, powder dumps and all those types of things. But if I put myself back when I was in Indiana 30 years ago, none of those words would've meant anything to me. If somebody said Blue Bird Day, I would've had absolutely no idea what they're talking about. And that Max threw exactly into the words that we use in the retirement plan industry.

 

Steve Jenks:    10:29    And I think insightful part of your question was it makes sense to us but might not make sense to our audience. And so a lot of the work we've been doing is, it was kind of based on the idea of we just lifted down, we looked at samples across the industry and we just lifted out very commonly used words and through a couple of qualitative rums and a couple of quantitative runs took a look at not only what people comprehended didn't comprehend, we also looked at how many differ between different age groups, you know, particularly how the millennials responded to words versus folks who are farther along in their career. And I guess the words I would use as the results are, you know, the results are sobering because if we think about some of the very commonly used terms, Rick, I mean we use the term match all the time, right? But if you're not in the industry matches a dating service, right? Or matches matches up, you know, I'm going to go watch the tennis match on TV or something like that. Analytic competition or you know, another one is rollover is a very commonly used word. But again, if you're not in the industry, you know, rollover is what I'm trying to teach my dog to do at home. You have to think about it in those types of terms.

 

Rick Unser:    11:40    And let me come back to the match thing for a second because I mean the reality is some employers spend millions of dollars a year on matching. So if they're spending millions of dollars a year and that concept does not resonating based on your research, is there a better way that they can describe what they're doing in the plan or how they've designed their retirement benefit to better resonate with employees or better attract talent or communicate maybe how they're playing as structured that would help them either convert on more opportunities with recruits or retain employees longer, et cetera.

 

Steve Jenks:    12:23    Yeah, fabulous. And in terms of, yeah, I have an, employers are making big investments here and like anything in business, you want to see an ROI on that investment. We find that really some, sometimes some very small tweaks in language can help. So match was one of the things we very specifically looked at and, and I think you know, the language we use to test it was, you know, this is the amount your employer puts it into your workplace retirement account based on some or all of the amount you save. So kind of that explanation. And then we tested a bunch of different possible different terms for that, you know, employer match and company match and match by itself and longer things like you know, funds your employer contributes to match some or all of your contributions. So more explanatory types of things. And what we found tested out the best was, was employer match.

 

Steve Jenks:    13:09    So you know, that's kind of an example, Rick, of a small tweak where using the two words versus one can matter. But employer match clearly out tested company match, which clearly out tested employer contribution to your retirement. The one that tested the worst out of the group was, was matched by itself. So, so we could see patterns. But I would say as a general rule of thumb, and I would say this with most terms, is that, you know, the first time you used the term almost in every piece of material, it's, it's awfully good idea to include some type of explanation, right? Never, never make the assumption that the, that the term is understood. And then again, sometimes with some very small tweaks of combining some words together, we can, we can dramatically increase the, increase the clarity and comprehension.

 

Rick Unser:    13:56    And when you say test it out, I think I know what you're saying when you are talking about that, but what specifically are you guys doing in this sort of testing or research process to get that input?

 

Steve Jenks:    14:07    Yeah, we’re huge believers. I mean huge believers in in using the market to really help define what, what works. Because I think you know, and, and ida inside the walls or inside the conference room may sound great, but in the end we have to, you know, we have to remember that we all do this for a living and many of us has done this for a long period of time. And so we take a variety of approaches. You know, a lot of this language research was very specifically done. We did both some qualitative and quantitative type work, but we're out there working with what I would term kind of large consumer panel. So not necessarily our customers even, but these are the individuals that participate in retirement plans and we've got these running all the time where we will test different types of language.

 

Steve Jenks:    14:54    We will test different types of imagery, different combinations of language, different calls to action. And what we're looking for is kind of at the point of design of a communication to, you know, leverage the feedback that we get. And that example I used earlier in the conversation, the, the use of the word straight forward and fed of the use of simple would be a great example of that. We were testing kind of a variety of things in a marketing piece on [inaudible] straightforward emerged as the best piece of language. And then what we'd like to do is, is have a similar process then on the back end. So I've got a data science team that reports into me and these guys and gals are all super, super smart folks and we just do a lot of quantitative analysis of campaign results so we can kind of get a feel for what's working, what's not and we'll use a lot of, I guess the easiest way to phrase it, it's kind of a champion challenge or type of approaches.

 

Steve Jenks:    15:50    So, you know, maybe we're trying to do, I campaign on a, on a beneficiary and we'll take very similar groups, but one, one group will get the beneficiary campaign with MJ and a second one will get the campaign with image B. And I will get a very specific result in terms of, you know, more people look at, you know, which one did more people look at, which one did more people take action on. And so then that, that one becomes the champion and then the next time we run one of these campaigns, we bring in a new challenger. And so doing that over years, what that allows us to do is, is really kind of build out, you know, encyclopedia of kind of of best practices and what we know works. And so, you know, that combined with the consumer panels just allows us to start each new piece of material with more sophistication than the, the one, the previous piece of material that we would have developed.

 

Rick Unser:    16:39    And as you think about some of the other stuff that you've, you've gone through and tested with the groups you know, outside of match and straight forward, I know you mentioned rollover. Are there some other common terms or you know, phrases that we use, you know, whether it's employers or service partners that don't resonate as well as maybe we think they do with plan participants.

 

Steve Jenks:    17:02    You know, one of my favorites, and it's an example, I'll use a lab with a planned sponsors or even my own group is, you know, if you're a retirement lifer the word participant is what we're used to using. But participant doesn't test out with, well with millennials that it's just not a word they've been exposed to. They don't necessarily know what it, what it means. And so we'll often recommend that if we're trying to speak to a millennial audience will want to use the term employee instead of the, instead of the term protective. And, you know, I think in general what we found was there are, and it gets better as people are in the workforce. For a longer period of time because they've been exposed to the language for a longer period of time. But you know, some of the words that generally can work though again I will always suggest that you know, explanations are you know, can be very valuable but you know, contribution and role.

 

Steve Jenks:    17:57    Some of those, you know, some of those largely worked. You know when you get into things like social security optimization, actually asset allocation was one of the awards that Tessa, you know, combination of words that tests out very poorly. You know, those are ones you have to be, be very, very careful with. And again, a lot of times a small tweak will help. I mean we use the employer match example earlier in the conversation, you know, another one is to, you know, instead of using assets, you just say retirement savings and investments. Because again, that that's going to speak to people more in terms of what it actually is. Whereas assets tend to be a little bit of a, you have an inside insight words. So all combination, it's a little bit of a Rubik's cube and we try and get smarter every day.

 

Rick Unser:    18:40    So on that note in, in terms of small tweaks I know that out in the the market, George Frasier's done some good work on savings rates, for example. And instead of communicating to people in, hey, you should be saving a percentage of your pay, and what about saving 5% of your pay towards your retirement plan? That might not resonate as well as I think some work he's done to say, well, let, let's maybe talk about it in terms of cents. So instead of thinking about it as 5%, maybe it's, hey, why don't you say 5 cents on every dollar that you're earning towards your retirement? And I think he found that, that, and I think that was kind of corroborated by some other groups that that had a big impact on people's attitudes or comprehension and willingness maybe to start saving in their retirement plan. First off, I don't know if you've seen that study, but second off, are there, are there any other things like that that you're aware of that, you know, that might help people sort of re-pivot some things just with the, the words and the concepts that are being used to, to communicate?

 

Steve Jenks:    19:47    Yeah, I am. Yeah, I've met George and familiar with his work and I think he's, I think he's definitely on to something and I, I believe the results and we've used a similar approach certainly as we've done illustration and examples. And it makes perfect intuitive sense to me as, as I look at kind of what steps to test it out well over the years, because again, when you express something in a percentage, you're re you're relying on somebody to kind of, you know, come apply apply a math concept that they are, may Ma, may or may not do on a day to day basis. Whereas if you just, you know, if you just express something in a dollars and cents, that's what that's what people do every day. So it makes perfect sense to me that that would do better. I think one example I pull out for you, Rick, is we've looked at how we do illustrations and found a big difference in lift.

 

Steve Jenks:    20:35    So if I do an illustration and I use a fairly small financial amount or balance or whatever I'm, I'm trying to show, I'll usually do much better than if I show a larger balance or financial amount. I mean I know that's true because I've seen dramatic results with it, but I suspect the reason why is that for the majority of the audience they can, you know, they can relate better to the the financial amount that feels more like them. So you know, using using $50,000 is your example is usually a mistake would be kind of how I bring that to life. For your using $100,000 as your example is usually a mistake and that you're better off doing 5,000 or 10,000 or something like that. Whatever your audience is. Because again, I just think people can relate to that because it's what they're dealing with on a day to day basis.

 

Rick Unser:    21:23    No, no. Well said. And then I think that, I don't know, just in my own experience, I think sometimes too, when the numbers are too high, I think a lot of people just tune out because it's like, oh, that doesn't apply to me. Or Oh, this must be for a another group that makes more money than I do.

 

Steve Jenks:    21:39    Exactly. Exactly. And I think that's one of the areas that we have to be super, super careful with with retirement plans, retirement plan, education, and frankly financial services in in general. Because if we, you know, if we create this perception that this is not for everybody or it's not for me, you know, it's not practice because that's, you know, that's the folks who usually need the most help and can benefit the most from these retirement plans.

 

Rick Unser:    22:04    There's been a lot of focus, I feel like on costs and expenses. And I know one term that we use a lot on the industry side from a jargon perspective is basis points. I don't know if you guys have done anything around that. But in terms of expressing or explaining cost to employees, did you guys do any work or get any input on what terms or concepts would help people understand expense cause it, cause I can't imagine basis points with test out. Well to the extent that you tested that

 

Steve Jenks:    22:43    Rick, we never tested it because we knew the answer before we started. So a no basis points aren't gonna do well. And I think actually it goes back to the George Frazier example that you pulled into the conversation earlier. I mean I think you're, you're going to do your best and, and what we would try and do with our examples is just express it in simple financial terms. So you know, 10 cents of every dollar, you know, whatever the, the thing we're trying to portray would be. But I think yeah, you have to translate it into the actual thing versus use the, you know, basis points is the catch term port.

 

Rick Unser:    23:14    Another thing you brought up earlier, you were talking about illustrations, which I guess got me thinking about maybe pictures. So, hey, that's maybe another example of how words can mean different things, but is there a similar correlation or similar thought process here that as important as words might be, are images that employers or providers are using when communicating with employees or participants? Are those equally as important?

 

Steve Jenks:    23:42    Rick, we find that design really matters and design can take lot of different forms and anywhere from written visas to what you're doing digitally to what you're doing with emails and probably tests that just as rigorously, both on the front end of campaigns and back end of campaigns as we do language. And I think that, you know, higher level, some of our findings have been that one has to be very thoughtful with the use of negative space or white space. In other words, not overcrowding materials. Because if you make something feel visually intimidating, just by the amount of stuff that's on a page or a screen, you're gonna lose a chunk of your audience. We will inevitably find that an illustration or example will always outperform words. So if I do a AB test or a champion challenger task and on piece is identical to [inaudible] except for piece A, I'm using words to describe my item and then piece B, I'm using an illustration or an example piece B will will win 10 out of 10 times.

 

Steve Jenks:    24:45    So illustrations, examples are very powerful. In other thing, we look at a lot, and we've probably borrowed this from the online marketers, is looking very specifically at kind of a calls to action. And what's the complexity of the calls to action? Because I think one thing we certainly learn from, particularly the online retail marketers is, you know, the easier you make it to buy something, more people will buy it, right? So we try and look at, if we're asking somebody to add a beneficiary to their retirement plan, how can I make that as easy as possible? So number one is typically just ask them to do one thing, right? If I ask somebody to do three things, I'm going to struggle more. So ask them to do just one thing and then just make it as easy as possible. The ETA, you know, just a deep link right into the spot where they can just click two buttons and do it or, or something like that. So that's, that's another thing we try and do with design is think about what's the result we're trying to drive with this communication and make it as easy as possible for people to take that action.

 

Rick Unser:    25:44    No, that, that makes sense. And I guess one thing that I think employers have thought about or started asking a little bit more questions about recently is how do they know if some of the stuff that they're putting out there is working, whether it's mailers, whether it's online, whether it's emails. Is there a good way to to track or tell or determine whether you're doing the right stuff or you're getting the right results from your education and communication efforts?

 

Steve Jenks:    26:21    Rick, I think, I think smart employers are focusing more and more on this area as they as they should because they're, they're making an investment and you know, any smart business person is looking for or looking for a return on that investment. One of the things that we do with the empower communications I talked about earlier, how I, you know, I've got the state of science group that, you know, we use a to look at our campaign effectiveness internally, but the same group produces a, you know, at the end of each campaign we would run for a larger employer, will, we'll produce a report on that, on that campaign. And what we really like to do is to use a control group type of approach, which is the, you know, which is the smartest way to do it. And that could be, okay you've got 10,000 employees in a, in a company, maybe we stagger the mailing and or the email or whatever we're doing.

 

Steve Jenks:    27:14    And you know, 9,000 of them get it on week one and the remaining thousand get on week two or three or something like that. And what we're doing there is creating a control group. And so we can actually see the lift from the campaign itself because what inevitably happens in the retirement plans, I'll try to think of a good example here. I'll just use beneficiaries again. Example, you know, there's a certain number of people who are going to add a beneficiary each month. But what I really want to understand is who did it because specifically of my campaign that we just ran for this employer. And so that's where we kind of like to use the control group approach because we'll get to everybody. But by using this approach, I, you know, we can look the employer in the eye and say, here's the exact lift, you know, we got for you on the basis of, of running this campaign.

 

Steve Jenks:    28:01    And then the other thing we'll, we'll like to share with employers in the report is then just, you know, give them a look into how the result might have varied by demographics or for some employers, you know, different sites or you know, can matter, matter a lot. And so that, you know, that allows us to hone in a little bit the next time we do a campaign. So again, I'll, I'll take my example. You know, we do this beneficiary campaign for this, you know, 10,000 employee company and you know, they see they see a good overall lift in the, in the resolves. But when we look underneath it, we see the, the Denver facility didn't do as well and maybe we struggled with millennials and so the next time we do the campaign, you know, we can either target those groups or take a slightly different approach. So I think, you know, I think a smart employer asked, it's pretty specific resolve after, after each campaign and can use that to just continue to increase the efficiency, particularly vis-a-vis their employee audience because all all employee groups can be, can be different, behave differently.

 

Rick Unser:    28:59    One thing I know a lot of employers kind of wrestle with is what's the best way to engage our employees? And I guess just to put a finer point on that, is it mailings? Is it email, is it other strategies or concepts? But I feel like people can kind of talk themselves in a circle where it's like, okay, well they get a lot of mail at home. So, I don't know if that's the best thing, but they also get a lot of email and, and then there's kind of get into this. Well shoot, we're, we're right back to where we started. And do you have any, any sense or any data that points to where the best responses come from or, or the way that employees, participants prefer to engaged about retirement plan stuff?

 

Steve Jenks:    29:44    Absolutely. And this is where we, we spent a fair amount of time both on kind of upfront research and then also looking at campaign results. Because, you know, I thought, I thought you phrase that very well, Rick, you can have an endless circular conversation on this topic. And I think I've participated in a few of them, you know, so we just decide, you know, initially let's just, let's go out to the people and ask the, you know, the people receiving the communications, how they, you know, how they want to get their information regarding the retirement plan. And we saw a clear winner, a clear winner, and it was personal like now. And that's, you know, that's why you test this type of stuff. Because, honestly, I've done this a long time and that's not what I would've guessed going into it. But you know, we found that personal email was the preferred method, most preferred method by a margin doing when it was followed by websites and putting things in with statements, letters was kind of the next bond.

 

Steve Jenks:    30:31    And then work email in person meetings with the group after that. And I would say that, you know, there's an endless debate in this industry in terms of, you know, electronic or digital versus print. And I, and I would say on the campaign side, we will almost universally say there's always a few exceptions along the way, but we will almost universally see that email will outperform print two to one in terms of delivering campaign results. And you know, I've sat down with plan sponsors and kind of had the conversation as, you know, as everybody saturated with email and can we break through by using Brandt? And yeah, it's a very reasonable question, but I can only point to the fact that we measure a whole lot of campaigns every year and, and we're just, we're continually seeing that the, you know, the digital will out to the outdo the print.

 

Rick Unser:    31:19    Yeah. And I guess one thing that, what I was looking at some of those numbers as well that you guys put together, the, that caught me by surprise was that text was, I don't know if I'm using the right words here, but, but seemed it was way down on the list and I don't know if ineffective would be the right word, but it was certainly a lot lower than maybe I would've thought in terms of getting responses or getting people to take action.

 

Steve Jenks:    31:45    Well, text is interesting and I'm not, you know, I'm not sure the conclusion I drew up on that other than I think maybe not as applicable at this point I guess is probably what I'd, I'd highlight for you, Rick. I mean the tricky part about text is it's, you know, just on the basis of rules, it's an opt in. So I can send an email to a planned population. Right. And I, you know, I don't have to ask them to send out that email as long as it has to do with the retirement plan. But I can't text a plan. Text has to be done on a opt in one by one basis. And so this may be one of those where it tests low at this point because it's just, people haven't experienced it yet because we, you know, we'll use text a lot in terms of keeping people apprised of something.

 

Steve Jenks:    32:34    So for example, if somebody takes out a loan, you know, we, we can, we know VR measurement, they, you know, they want to know what all times kind of where the status of that loan is. And so we'll have them opt in to a tech stream and we'll text out kind of series of updates on the loan. But you know, it's not used as broadly and in education at this point because of the opt in issue. But you know, we're definitely testing some stuff right now and, and I, you know, maybe one of those things there, the rules are always going to impact the results a little bit. But you know, maybe one of those things where if we looked at this three years from now when it's a more common education vehicle, I suspect we'd see a different result because generally texts should perform similarly to, if not better than email, I would think.

 

Rick Unser:    33:13    Yeah. And I guess that's a good perspective because that's in my mind, that's kind of what I thought I would, I would've figured that was up up the list a little farther. I guess another inevitable question that comes to mind is with as much time as people seem to spend these days on social media, sort of new media, whether that be, you know, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, I'm sure there's others you can add to the list. Are you seeing that grow in popularity? Are you seeing plan sponsors use some of those mediums or some of those tools to try to communicate with their employees as m power? Doing anything specific on those sort of new media type platforms to try to engage or help retirement plan participants?

 

Steve Jenks:    34:03    Absolutely, absolutely. And, and I, you know, I believe we believe that there's a lot of lift there still to come in the future. You know, you've got to go where the folks are. What was the Willie Sutton line? You robbed the banks cause the money's there. And if you look at where people are spending their time, where they're taking in their information, there's a, you know, social media is very dominant right now. And I think how you do things on social media matters too. I mean one of our observations would be we're using a whole lot more video than we would have a few years ago. And that's really based on the fact that, I guess the right way to phrase this would be people are voting with their thumbs, right? They're voting with what they look at online and social media and it tends to be video. And so anytime we build a campaign, it will have a social media and video component of that said campaign.

 

Steve Jenks:    34:48    So if we're gonna I've been using beneficiaries throughout our conversation, rex, I'll go back to that one. But if we're, you know, if we're going to do a beneficiary campaign, it'll, you know, it'll, we'll try and cover all the channels and we'll have the usual print pieces. We'll have the usual email type things and website banners and posters and you know, all the stuff that we've been doing for years. But we'll also build as much as we can around a short video. And then secondly, we'll always have a social component of that and we'll use the, the social and a couple of different ways. And I think the, you know, we tend to find for communicating directly with employees, Facebook and Instagram are probably the, the winners at this point that we have gotten some interesting results on snapchat, but we'll do it two different ways. One could be in general, just kind of pushing out educational messages, but then specifically, you know, some, you know, we will partner with some employers and, and leverage their social media presence to kind of get these different types of campaigns messages out there. And, and I think that's just gonna grow and grow and grow.

 

Rick Unser:    35:46    Yeah. And maybe just to put a finer point on that and I think you started going where my, where my next question was. When you think about some of those bigger social media platforms, is the work you're doing there mostly high level kind of searchable general content for employees, participants? Or is it more developed at a plan level or specific to a specific employers plan? I'm curious on that and in terms of as you're seeing employers or as you guys are using social media, how much of that is his general versus plan specific?

 

Steve Jenks:    36:27    Yeah, Eric, my answer that I is kind of, yes. I mean it's, it's both and I don't, I don't know necessarily that I could wait it for you. I mean I think you want, one of our core beliefs would be an empower is that social is just a natural channel. Like, you know, all the ones that we've used for years, you don't print for an email, et cetera, et cetera. So again, we don't, we do not build a campaign without a social component. I think you know how that social might resonate or be involved with a specific employer. It depends just a lot on their profile of the employer or, yeah, it probably comes down to, and I think about it Rick, I mean if, if the employer is used to using that channel to speak to their employees or that's a channel they use around benefits, then you know, typically we can do some pretty interesting things with them on the social side. That's a portion of the company universe. And then there's, you know, some employers who, you know, do nothing, you know, do nothing on social with their employees and you know, that's another meaningful portion of the universe. But I think it's as you would expect or you know, it's definitely an upward trend line.

 

Rick Unser:    37:22    One of the thing that I be curious to get your opinion on as you're thinking about all of this communication and education and you know, making that more efficient and, and, and helping improve engagement outcomes. A big way that employers, I think if communicated over the years is through meetings, whether those be group meetings in the proverbial cafeteria, whether those be, you know, somebody hanging around to answer one off questions. As you think about maybe some of the, that that traditional kind of boots on the ground, face to face type interaction, how are you seeing employers consume that today and are you seeing a big demand for that or based on some of the work that you guys are doing, whether it be the social media stuff you just talked about or some of the, the word choices, et Cetera, et cetera. Are you seeing more demand for that and that sort of eclipsing the want or need for these face to face onsite type of meetings and education support etc.?

 

Steve Jenks:    38:35    Yeah, it's a great question Rick. And I think employee meetings and you know, sitting down one-on-one with somebody, I think it's powerful and we'll always have a place. I think a lot of the impact or effectiveness depends on nature of the employer or the nature of their employees, the their benefit programs. So I think, you know, same as anything in this, in this business, there's, you know, there's nothing that's magic, but we do believe and see that meetings can work, but they're not, you know, again, one of the earlier questions you asked me, I mean, you know, meeting was almost the only vehicle 20 years ago and now I think we have a lot more options. Not only some of the things we've been talking about on on social and we never really got into it yet, but there's a ton of things we can do with personalized communications now where we're just sending one-on-one messages to specific individuals within a retirement plan.

 

Steve Jenks:    39:30    Also, there's more techniques to deliver the meeting and one doesn't necessarily now always have to be in the same room, which helps us increase our, increase our reach. The other thing I would say about meeting materials, and we spent a lot of time on this over the recently is a lot of meeting materials were pretty tough and you know, may not have, you know, followed some of the principles of communications that you and I have been been talking about during our conversation, but we really been taking a hard look at adult learning theory. What are the ways that people grasp information? So how do we kind of deliver the meeting content in ways that we know work from an adult learning perspective? And then when you'd asked me the question about design earlier Req, I mentioned kind of how do you make it easy for somebody to take action?

 

Steve Jenks:    40:16    You know, we've definitely looked at that in terms of that a meeting concept. If it's a simplistic example of enrollment meaning right, let's make it easy and let's show, let's show the folks in the room during the meeting how they can, you know, how they can go onto their mobile device and enroll in the plan in a minute versus you know, trying to ask them to do it after the, after the meeting's over.

 

Rick Unser:     40:54   That's a great segue there for me cause one of the things I definitely wanted to get you to, to chime in on is design specifically plan design and with the increased popularity of automatic enrollment, automatic increases, investment defaults, that whole auto suite of things that we've talked about a lot on the podcast and I think people have probably heard about ad nauseam. I guess what impact are you seeing that have on a plan sponsors desire to communicate and maybe how do you see those two working together where those auto features can get people to a certain state very quickly and very easily. Where do you see communication and education sort of dovetailing in with some of that, some of those tools?

Steve Jenks:    41:27    Yeah. Great. Great question. And I'll probably start out by echoing one. I suspect it, Rick, that you've heard from your other gas. I mean we've, we've done a lot of research looking at what drives replacement income, which is in the end what we're trying to do here. And without question, auto features are a probably the most powerful thing, you know, in terms of both getting folks in in the plan. Particularly auto escalation can be very powerful because if we know if we can get people in that eight, nine, 10% kind of savings rate that there are going to be on track to likely replace 100% of their income. And then as you spoke to kind of the auto investment, so you know, any anti conversation, even as the participant education guy, any conversation we start would start out at with it and a plan sponsor, it'd be, you know, the auto features are feasible for that company.

 

Steve Jenks:    42:19    It's, it's a wise move. And then I think if you look at an employee who offers the auto features, I think it, it changes the nature of your communication certainly, but I don't think it eliminates communication. So obviously we're not going to be, you know, pounding away on enrollment campaigns. But you know, we definitely want to take a look at, you know, depending on how they might've set up the auto escalation or if they have it or not, you know, that that savings rate thing is so powerful because as you know, I guess you and I share the principle of you know, camp invest your way out of savings problems. So we wanna we want to make sure that we've got that savings rate at the, at the right level. Also, there's just some of the practical administrative stuff around beneficiaries and things like that.

 

Steve Jenks:    43:03    And then I always just encourage employers, you know, think about some level of communication just because they should get credit for the benefit that they're providing. Right. The employer is, you know, undergoing both a hard and a soft costs to offer a retirement program. And even if we're not doing the traditional, get somebody to participate in the retirement plan, I think some level of flow of communications around the program to reinforce it and maybe show successes that people are having. You know, I think that's an important part of the benefits program because employers should get credit for the benefits they're providing.

 

Rick Unser:    43:36    Let me maybe just flip this around real fast too. We've been talking a lot about communication geared towards participants and how that can be confusing and maybe word choice can make a big difference. On the same vein, I think a lot of times the way the industry communicates with plan sponsors can be very jargony and very confusing for people that maybe aren't in this on a day to day basis or are parachuting into this world from time to time. Any thoughts on words or, or ways that service partners to plan sponsors can communicate better or words to maybe avoid that will cause confusion or maybe not get people to the spots that are gonna help them make decisions to move their participants farther down the path towards retirement, their plans farther down the path to being more, you know, modernized or a optimized for, you know, the, the, the current environment and world around retirement savings.

 

Steve Jenks:    44:43    Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think our, our point of view would be a lot of the same lessons we've just talked through from communicating with individuals applies when you're doing business to business communications about retirement. I mean we've both been doing this a long time and, and you just look at the, you know, you look at the array of employers out there and you think about the folks who are sitting across the table from us. What do they, what do they do on a day to day basis? And couple of examples I'd use as you know, one on the, the small and midsize companies of which I was a small mid company at one point. And typically the individual responsible for the retirement plan and a small and midsize company, that's just a small portion of what they do. And so to expect that that individual is going to be as conversant in our languages.

 

Steve Jenks:    45:28    One of us who's been doing this for a long time as is not realistic. And then even I see it with, you know, I'll go out and do committee meetings with large employers or large governments and often the dynamic you'll have there and that committee meeting is you might have a a person or a couple of people where the benefits and the retirement program is, you know, that's what they do. And so they are, they are going to be conversant in language, but you may have six other people sitting around the table where their exposure is typically the committee meeting. And again, we, I think we have to be thoughtful that the language we do want to use on a day to day basis is not necessarily going to resonate with those folks. And so yeah, we, we make real effort regardless of whether or not we're communicating to the employer or the employee to try and apply some of these language lessons and communication techniques that we've been talking about during this, this conversation wreck because it's, it's kind of the same payoff that we've thought about in that, you know, I would hate for a committee not to make a decision around something that could improve their retirement program because you used a term that they didn't, they didn't understand.

 

Steve Jenks:    46:33    So I think the work mirrors each other.

 

Rick Unser:    46:35    No, I, I appreciate that. Steve, you shared a ton of great info today. Let me just give you an opportunity here to, to kind of tie things up. Is there anything we missed or that we didn't talk about that you would've liked to or that maybe we should have that would be helpful to planned sponsors or their service partners as they're thinking about all this or the other option here is what are just a couple of thoughts maybe to, to tie a lot of what we, what we had talked about together and kind of send people off.

 

Steve Jenks:    47:04    Well, Rick, I think your questions have been very thoughtful and I think we've covered, we've covered a wide range of different concepts and information anywhere from words to design and all the different audiences that are in the retirement plan industry. So No, I think you did a great job of kind of framing out the conversation. It's pretty simple in the, and probably two biggest principles I always try and tie back to one is, you know, you know, start with the audience in mind. And I don't care what communication it is, and this can certainly apply without the retirement industry itself, but it's just you gotta you gotta start with your target market and end, I guess they use the marketing term, but really, you know, really thinking about the language. I might, my team would laugh at me cause I say this all the time, but I'll say with my mother, the nurse understand what we're saying here.

 

Steve Jenks:    47:46    And then, so just really start with the end in mind in terms of the audience, in terms of the communication. And then secondly, measurement is power. One of the biggest changes I've seen in marketing over the years is back in the day, everything was very opinion driven. You might like red, I might like blue and we'll do a red because you're the client. But now if you set things up the right way, we can test red versus blue and that we can know, we can know what the right answer is. And so I think taking advantage of modern marketing measurement is very powerful. Be It if you're an advisor or retirement plan provider or an employee, or looking at the results of campaigns.

 

Rick Unser:    48:29    Excellent. I appreciate all the input today and certainly as we tackle this topic in the future, would we'd love to have you back in and see what you're working on. So thanks for being here.

 

Steve Jenks:    48:39    Yeah, absolutely. Rick, I really enjoyed the, really enjoyed the conversation. Hopefully get a chance to do it again.

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