By Gretchen Hayden

Gretchen Hayden is a writer creating insightful content across the healthcare revenue cycle. She produces content for Zelis and previously for Sapphire Digital, a leading member navigation and shopping platform. With a deep interest in healthcare finance, Gretchen helps Zelis clients stay current on trends in the healthcare payments market, with an engaging and provocative perspective.

Use simple advertising techniques to engage employees with benefits programs


From standard tv ads to social media sponsored posts, marketing strategies that play to human psychology persist because they are successful. Consumer behavior has long been influenced by marketing tactics meant to guide a decision or keep a brand top of mind. Advertisers discovered the strength of behavioral science and persuasive campaigns that appeal to emotions are what we have come to expect as consumers. Because of this familiarity, it makes sense to apply ad techniques to arenas that are not marketing-focused but decidedly people-focused (user experience, internal company communications to name a few).

Advances in artificial intelligence and predictive technologies clearly drive consumer behaviors in digital realms. However, a degree in user experience or digital marketing isn’t needed to implement very basic strategies that can have powerful effects in spaces that deal with people, like—for the purpose of this article—human resources and benefits administration.

For most every employer, strategies used by marketers can be leveraged to better engage employees in their benefits programs.

A 2019 Forrester study addressed the idea of moving behavioral science beyond marketing. “This presents an altruistic opportunity for companies to apply behavioral principles … to positively nudge customers toward making better life decisions that benefit their customers and ultimately their employees and the company.”

Let’s consider simple advertising techniques that can enhance communications and increase employee engagement with their benefits programs.

1. Remind Regularly

Repetition works–this is the most basic level of behavioral science. The old marketing adage “The Rule of 7” says that consumers need to see an ad seven times before they make a purchase. Newer research indicates that the number is closer to 20 times. With employee benefits programs, companies can’t simply “set it and forget it.” Regular reminders via email, messaging systems, and direct mail help employees remember what is available to them. Seek out programs that supply engagement strategies for employees, preferably based on user-generated data and personal preferences.

2. Friendly Framing

Light, disarming language doesn’t have to be reserved for the company walkathon. Guide employees toward a certain decision (like signing up for informational sessions or taking mental health breaks) by presenting information in a friendly manner with positive connotations. Think: catchy taglines. If you haven’t engaged your company’s marketing department for an internal campaign, try it. They are professional wordsmiths who know your audience well.

3. Default Decisions

Default settings for new programs or devices is a familiar term: it’s a predetermined choice made for the user. Defaults also refers to automatic marketing actions—like adding customers to certain email lists unless they opt-out. Applying defaults to employee programs can be an effective way to keep up on communications. Rather than expect that an employee will read, learn, and use every benefit they choose, automatically enroll them in planned trainings, for example. Add users to a scheduled series of emails or videos about the programs you offer. If possible, auto-enroll employees in programs that don’t require them to initiate action.

4. Artful Anchoring

When a reference point (“anchor”) is created for decision making, it makes choices easier for employees. For example, show an illustration of out-of-pocket healthcare savings generated by a health plan add-on. Convey the potential growth of a minimal HSA (Health Savings Accounts) contribution with a graph. Give employees a framework for what a program looks like in action, and they are more likely to use it.

5. Loathing Loss

Loss aversion is another familiar way of nudging consumers to act. Phrases like “Don’t miss out…” or “You could be saving hundreds of dollars per month…” are common. This technique probably works best for time-sensitive benefits actions, like open enrollment periods.

6. True Testimonials

Testimonials and endorsements from both employees and leadership are effective in producing interest in programs, particularly those that require extra steps (like downloading an app or using it consistently). Poll your employees for feedback about benefits programs and share their reviews. When peers or trusted leaders reveal their experiences, it provides a point of connection and trust with the program.

7. Social Scenarios

Peer participation in a program can encourage others to join in. Share participation rates for a certain program or action to encourage involvement. For example, at Zelis, employees must complete various quarterly compliance training. Employees are persuaded by regular updates on how the company is doing in terms of completing this task: “75% of the company completed the training in the first week!” By providing a glance at the progress and by using subtle peer-pressure, Zelis can quickly complete the requirement.

Implement these simple marketing strategies consistently to better engage employees with their benefits programs.

Learn more.

Read more about successful employee engagement with benefits programs in the SmartShopper(R) Performance and Savings Report.

SmartShopper does the legwork to make care decisions clear and simple, guiding members to make high-value, informed choices saving time and money in the process.