Case Studies


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The Enrollment Challenge

Retirement readiness decisions are a daunting task for most employees. According to a 2012 Participant Engagement Study conducted by Lincoln Financial:

  • 41 percent of employees are only somewhat engaged or fully disengaged from any retirement plan
  •  7 percent of employees only are fully engaged and interact with their retirement plan on a regular basis.

Plan communication and education can provide people with the financial knowledge needed to better understand their employee benefits and make better enrollment decisions to achieve better outcomes.

Communication Is Key

The U.S. Employee Benefits Security Administration’s ERISA Advisory Council published a key report in 2010 on how plan communication practices and design options impact participation and contribution rates. They researched strategies for tailoring communications to different subgroups of employees through direct communication, and their effectiveness in influencing participants of diverse demographic market segments, including segments categorized by income level, household status, generation, gender, and ethnicity.

The report then provided recommendations of best practices for enrollment that are statistically proven to be effective, including education to plan sponsors on specific proven techniques and communication practices. In evaluating what communication methods are most effective in encouraging participants to save for retirement, the following considerations were made:

  • Cost: an effort was made to balance the need for comprehensive plan communications against cost.
  • Delivery: A variety of methods were explored including the use of current and emerging social media.
  • Plan Design: The study reviewed how plan designs relate to increasing participant enrollment and savings. In particular, the Council studied the use of automatic features. Automatic enrollment plans automatically choose the employees’ contribution percentage and enroll the participant in an investment vehicle. This raises participation rates to close to 90 percent. However employees enrolled at low contribution rates of 3% or less tend not to deeply consider or increase their contributions.

bestpractices

9 Recommendations and Best Practices

The Council found that effective plan communication and education can provide people with the financial knowledge needed to understand their employee benefits, make better financial decisions, and achieve better outcomes.

Given that the most successful plan communications make use of many channels from print to external websites, online tools, social media, and creative marketing, the Council highlighted best practices that balance personalized, targeted content to help employees evaluate benefit offerings with cost efficiency. They highlighted specific techniques and communication practices that have been statistically proven to be effective in increasing the involvement of employees in saving for retirement. The following are 9 recommendations:

  1. Communications tailored to particular segments drive results
  2. One-on-one or small group meetings increase participation
  3. Immediate “on the spot” communication is most effective
  4. Short, simple and focused communication drives participant response
  5. Multiple “touches” with various creative formats increase participation
  6. Increased technology use is effective and cost efficient
  7. Behavioral economics and “social norming” can increase participant involvement and savings
  8. Incentives given by sponsors and “gamification” help trigger participant involvement
  9. Responsive marketing principles may assist plan sponsors in improving communications

Here is a brief synopsis of these 9 practical recommendations and some best practices:

1. Communications Tailored to Particular Segments 

tailored-skill-development-imageThe Council found that communications that target participants based on their interests, background, and/or economic status were more successful than the “one size fits all” approach.

Understanding the culture and background of the workforce being targeted is key. For instance, since Hispanics will soon constitute one-third of the US population, Council member Donna MacFarland of Lincoln Financial Group stated that in her experience education materials typically are translated from English to Spanish, whereas she recommended that sponsors design the material using the reverse approach, developing  materials first in Spanish to address specific cultural needs and language differences.

Human Resource professionals also have found that allowing employees to map out an action plan rooted in realistic scenarios is an extremely effective tool. Some plan sponsors have successfully used a “three-pronged” approach to reach out to their participants by combining simple income replacement projections, behavioral finance strategies and a personalized message. For example, JP Morgan developed 36 different personas based on three age groups (younger than age 30, age 30-50 and older than 50). The firm also targeted participants based upon their regional median income (e.g., Kansas’ median income is $30,000 while in New York City it is $70,000). The basis for this approach was to enable these groups to compare themselves against their peers and take the appropriate action toward saving for retirement.

By narrowly tailoring their target audience on behalf of the plan sponsors that retained them, JP Morgan subsequently monitored whether employees opened their email communications and took action toward saving for retirement. If the individual took action, that person was considered “active,” while someone who opened the email but did not take action was considered “interested.” Based upon the action taken by the individual, the participant received specifically targeted information. This technique resulted in three to four times the response rate of participants who were not targeted.

However, some witnesses advised that there is a general concern regarding the use of targeted communications because complex data collection may provide gender or ethnic identification. Thus, there is concern over whether specific segments identified based upon race or gender could raise discrimination or deferential treatment issues. The Council heard testimony from Donna MacFarland of Lincoln Financial and Thomas Ryan of Fidelity that the use of particularly sensitive demographic information causes concern among plan sponsors. There are also practical concerns about housing information technology. Nevertheless, the overwhelming opinion received during testimony was that targeted communications work.

Branding helps targeting through the use of communications that include a unique positive image that is the group can relate to.

Here are some best practices of participant-centric communication methods:

  • Best Practice 1 – The Power of Example: Trustees of the Elevator Constructors 401(k) Plan used materials featuring the story of three employees who made different savings decisions during their careers. The narrative of the three employees was used throughout one-on-one sessions with printed materials to demonstrate how a 401(k) contribution would benefit participants in a variety of circumstances including temporary layoffs, hardships and early retirement. As a result, plan participation rates increased from 26.56 percent to 29.82 percent in 2011. The plan also experienced an 85 percent increase in plan activity from meeting attendees.
  • Best Practice 2 – Employer/Employee-Centric Content: M.A. Mortenson Company, an international construction firm, employed construction-related themes in its financial education to engage participants and foster pride in the company. Financial education was made mandatory and workshops were divided by career stage, age, and gender. The plan sponsor focused on participants’ preferences by surveying them after the workshop and making recommendations based on their feedback to yield desired results.
  • Best Practice 3 – Bilingual: Consolidated Citrus Limited Partners wanted to 1) increase attendance at plan educational meetings, 2) increase plan participation, 3) increase deferral rates and 4 encourage participants to maximize their match. Ninety percent of the workers spoke only Spanish, and the majority of their day was spent in the orange groves. An in-language campaign was initiated. The company’s Spanish speaking leaders met with small groups in the orange groves. Straightforward collateral in both Spanish and English Collateral were available on site, including announcement posters. By bringing the meetings to the employees, 95 percent of the targeted group attended the meetings. Plan participation increased from 40 percent to 75 percent and deferrals expanded from 4 percent to 8 percent.
  • Best Practice 4 – Branding: The Animation Guild 401(k) Plan was implemented for artists working at Southern California animation studios. The sponsors worked with the Guild’s representatives to obtain insights and develop a branded communication urging participants to remember to enroll. The response rate increased over eight percent from the previous year, with 135 new enrollees. Another employer cited in the research increased participation by 30 percent by keeping the message fun, simple and “cool” to target younger workers.
  • Best Practice 5 – Multicultural: The Four Seasons 401(k) Plan needed to convey an important plan change to an employer profit sharing employer matching contribution. The sponsor obtained feedback from bilingual meeting presenters in designing the campaign, and provided materials tailored to Hispanics and presentations also were created in Spanish designed to be culturally and linguistically accurate. As a result, the average deferral rate of the targeted group rose from 2.9 percent to 5 percent, and significantly increased beneficiary designations.

2. One-on-One or Small Group Meetings 

OneonOneAfter a study by Lincoln Financial found that 66% of participants prefer one-on-one guidance, Lincoln made it a component of its financial education model. They found that the need for individualized information is particularly acute for groups with low participation rates, including women and minorities.  Various studies have shown good enrollment and contribution results when employees request in-person group workshops facilitated by financial experts.

  • Best Practice for One-on-One Meetings:In 2012, MassMutual representatives spoke with 150,000 employees in face-to-face meetings. Forty-six percent of these individuals took action to improve their retirement readiness and, in one-on-one meetings, 75 percent of employees took action.
  • Best Practice for Small Group Meetings: Costs and timing may prevent plan sponsors from providing one-on-one meetings, but small group meetings and audience segmentation have also been successful. The FINRA funded Nurses Investor Education Project had small group meetings for well-educated nurses interested in taking action toward their retirement. They found that generally, the nurses’ lack of basic knowledge, or their perception that they did not know enough to attend these sessions, prevented them from attending their plan sponsor’s meetings. As a result of using small group meetings as a forum, the nurses perceptions changed and attendance at their employer’s retirement plan sessions improved.

3. Immediate “on the spot” Communication 

onthespotThe ability for participants to take action at the time they are thinking about retirement savings is more effective in increasing enrollment. For example, having computers in the room at the time employees are learning about the plan would allow them to sign up and take immediate action.

  • Best Practice: A US Army mandatory financial management course found that providing the enrollment forms for the Thrift Savings Plan during the financial management course resulted in a sizeable increase in participation, with soldiers signing up for the Plan before leaving the classroom.

4. Short, Simple, Focused Communication 

focusedBehavioral studies show that the most effective communications use simple, straightforward language specific to a participant’s personal situation.

  • Best Practice: Time constraints mean that any impediments to action should be identified and mitigated. For example, on a website, any extra step, such as the need to retrieve a PIN, may prevent employees from taking action. Solutions include sending the PIN directly to their email account or a mobile number, or mailing a postcard with the website’s uniform resource locator (URL).

5. Multiple Touches With Various Creative Formats 

profileConsistent, continuous and on-going meaningful communication can be achieved by repeatedly sending out simplified mailings. Social media can help alleviate the cost of additional touch points, and yet, few companies use social media channels for retirement information.

  • Best Practice: The Council’s Professor Madrian cites a company in which the third mailing of a simplified reply form requiring the checking of a box to enroll doubled enrollment from 22 percent to 45 percent of non-participating employees.

6. Cost Effective Technology 

advancement-of-technologyEvery demographic group is now using the Internet as a preferred source of information, via home computer or mobile devices. In addition, electronic media provides the ability to track responses, which is unavailable when the communication is sent through printed materials and regular mail. Another cost effective technological advance is Dynamic Page Publishing,  reviewed at the conclusion of this article.

A Deloitte study in 2012 that found:

  • 93 percent of Americans place Internet access as the most valued household subscription;
  • 54 percent of Americans own smartphones, and the rate is increasing 29 percent annually.
  • One of three Americans over age 50 has downloaded an application to a smartphone, and 28 percent access their bank accounts via smartphone.

Engaging Millennials: Electronic media is the most effective method of communication to engage younger generations in retirement planning, including Generation X (born between 1965 and 1979).  In order to combat inertia caused by competing financial priorities, such as student loan debt, it is important for this group to be engaged through “YouTube” videos, Facebook forums, Twitter, email and mobile delivery, including providing “one click” transactions and incorporating elements of “gamification.”   Millennials also demand simple, personalized, and action-oriented communications, and prefer human contact for complex tasks.

  • Best Practice – Email: Thomas Ryan of Fidelity Investments testified to the Council that Fidelity makes all channels of communication accessible, and finds that email communications have generated higher response rates than direct mail.
  • Best Practices for Engaging Millennials – Fidelity: Fidelity has studied the preferences of Generation Y, or “Millennials”  for using electronic communication, and found that this group tends to rely heavily on the Internet to interact with representatives from Fidelity, although they appear to be the least engaged when it comes to the frequency of contact. Millennials serviced by Fidelity have the lowest 401(k) participation rate, at 58 percent, compared to 67 percent for all other populations. Design changes made to simplify online interaction with Millennials resulted in a 40 percent increase in web utilization by this group.
  • Best Practices for Engaging Millennials – Putnam: Lori Lucas of Callan Associates discussed Putnam’s roll out of a plan primarily for Millennials that encouraged participants to bring their tablets to an nteractive meeting to log on to the benefits website. As a result, 40 percent of attendees increased their deferrals within 90 days after attending the meeting.
  • Best Practices for Engaging Millennials – MassMutual:: Offering enrollment and savings increases using iPod Touch devices in group meetings resulted in action rates of 85 – 90 percent among those attending. The use of targeted and tested mail and email campaigns resulted in $150 million in new deposits over three years and a 3.9 percent increase in action rates.

7. Behavioral Economics and “Social Norming” 

choiceThe way certain information is presented can have a resounding impact, including the way choices are presented to the participant, a method referred to as “anchoring”

Presenting options in a different order or with a higher default percentage has increased deferral rates. While communications traditionally list contribution percentages in ascending order from one to five percent, studies have shown that reversing this order so that the first option shown is five percent markedly increases enrollment in the five percent option. This method is referred to as “placement.”

 “Social Norming” reflects the fact that people tend to benchmark themselves against their peers. Statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that participants tacitly compete against peers in similar socioeconomic conditions.

8. Incentives and “Gamification” 

carrotThe use of games (gamification) is an effective tool in reaching  individuals who may not be easily engaged in retirement decisions (“non-savers”). Gamification can be used to reward people if they engage in the correct behaviors. Plan sponsors may also use incentives to provide rewards to participants with who exceed a certain benchmark contribution amount. Other techniques include raffles.

  • Best Practice 1: The NFL’s “Play 60” campaign  incorporates the use of the NFL brand to incentivize children to play a game for at least 60 minutes a day.
  • Best Practice 2: A rug manufacturer in northern Georgia had a series of meetings for people working multiple shifts, giving away lottery tickets to encourage attendance, and experienced standing room only for the meetings.

9. Six Marketing Principles Improve Communications

Communications that are uninspiring and difficult to undmarketing-300x200erstand leave employees confused, bored and unmotivated. The communicator’s “curse of knowledge” is a bias in which the communicator’s knowledgeability makes it difficult to demonstrate it from the perspective of lesser-informed people. The Council highlighted six principles of communication that plan sponsors should consider when drafting documents or presenting to their participants that will inspire action:

1. Show Empathy

empathyTo  determine the relevance of a message to an audience, it is necessary to engage them and ask questions that the content of the presentation or the communication should then be tailored to answer. For example, an energy company developed a program to help consumers understand and lower their energy bills, using this computerized question:

Can I help you with your bill?

  1. Yes, help me understand my bill.
  2. Help me save money.
  3. Both of the Above.
  4. I’m Here for Something Else.

By showing empathy to what the consumer cared about and giving information and tips to help them feel more in control, these questions presented helped raise consumer satisfaction.

2. Use Metaphors and Analogies

analogCommunications also reference a metaphor or visual picture to help the recipient relate to the message. For example, when Ridley Scott presented the screenplay for Alien to his producers he used the popular movie Jaws as a reference, and the metaphor “it’s like Jaws in space,” to frame a concept that the producers easily understood

3. Use Storytelling

icon-storytellingPeople tend to forget facts that are presented but usually remember a story. Stories are easy to absorb when people are overwhelmed with information. They also eliminate extraneous facts to capture the recipient’s interest and relate to him on an emotional level.

4. Use a Conversational Voice

conversationalUsing overly technical information, compliance or legal jargon can loose an audience. For example, it is difficult to convey the benefit of voluntary life insurance individual and spouse buy-up options in which election of coverage for a spouse can equal up to half an individual’s buy-up,  depending on the desired level of coverage. An effective way of communicating this is as follows:

“The company is going to buy life insurance for you. If you want, you can buy extra life insurance. Whatever extra life insurance you buy for yourself, you can also buy up to half that amount for your spouse. Now, depending on how much additional insurance you’d like, one or both of you may need to answer some questions about your health to see if you qualify for it.”

5. Surprise the Recipient

boxing-glove-surpriseUnexpected methods of engaging the recipient get the individual’s attention when a subject is ordinarily challenging and abstract. The use of humor, as shown below, can be considered an example.

6. Use Humor

humorUsing a little humor in the message will keep the audience engaged and make the message easier for audiences to relate to.

 

Plan Design Considerationsicon-design

Automatic Enrollment

A study by Brigitte Madrian and Dennis Shea shows that automatic enrollment increases average participation rates from 65 percent to 85 percent. It is particularly helpful for low-income workers with annual wages under $20,000, where participation increased from 27 percent to 82 percent. Average participation for employees under age 30 doubled from 41 percent to 82 percent, and the best improvements have been among the segments that had the lowest participation rates.  This was corroborated in as presented in the testimony of Lori Lucas.

Mandatory Contributions and Automatic Escalation

Defaults that are too low can  impact workers who would otherwise have contributed more. Since studies have shown higher default contribution rates have not increased opt-out rates, employers should consider recommending higher default contribution rates.

One solution is a stretch match (increasing the maximum amount of pay that can be matched and decreasing the percent matched, to keep the employer’s costs flat.

Another way to increase savings is automatic escalation in which sponsors automatically increase a worker’s contribution rate by one to two percent  of salary at each pay anniversary until a cap, such as 12 percent of pay.

Best Practice – TIAA-CREF: David Richardson of TIAA-CREF found that 403(b) plans typically have much higher contribution rates, ranging from 10 percent to 15 percent of pay compared to 5 percent to 7percent for all 401(k) plans, due to mandatory contributions from both employers and employees as a requirement of employment.  The 403(b) plans TIAA-CREF administers experience much higher annuitization rates — 40 percent compared to 4 percent for all 401(k) plans.

 Conclusions and Implications

red pencilThe Council found that continuous, simplified, personalized communication using multiple channels, connected with humor and empathy, are effective ways to communicate with plan participants to encourage participant engagement.

Benefit Program Marketers seeking to increase employee plan participation need to be more flexible, customizable and responsive than ever to introduce, present, promote and clarify the particular offerings and choices the employer has agreed to sponsor. Dynamic Publishing platforms are becoming a key tool in executing this strategy DPP is a way of designing publications in which layout templates are created which can contain different content in different publications. In cases where the same content is being used in multiple layouts, the same layout is being used for several different sets of content, or both, dynamic page publishing can offer significant advantages of efficiency over a traditional system of page-by-page design. Future articles will explore Dynamic Publishing in greater depth.

Related Blog Article:

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Is There a Ready Market for Your Business?

small businesses for sale

According to The Complete Guide To Business Brokerage By Tom West, the number of small to mid-sized, privately owned businesses for sale in the United States is estimated to be approximately 1 million – or 20% of them at any given time. But only a small number of them get sold:

  • 1 in 5 small businesses sell
  • 1 in 4 small to mid size businesses sell
  • 1 in 3.5 mid-size companies sell
  • 1 in 3 large companies sell

Shut Happens

There may be no ready buyers for your business, and you may lose your most hard earned asset. Consider this example.


out of businessExample:
 You and your partner  are 50/50 partners.  Your partner dies, and his wife or child inherits his share of the business.

  • Do you have the right or the obligation to buy them out? 
  • If so, for how much and on what terms?  
  • Can you strike out on your own, or are you stuck with the baggage of the old one? 

What if you die instead of your partner?

  • Will your partner pay your family a fair price for your share of the business?
  • Will he just walk away and start up a new business on his own?

The 3 Problems of Business Continuation


1. No buyers offering a fair price
 – There may not be a ready market for your business in even the best of economic times, and unforseen events like death or sickness can force a fire sale. You may work hard all your life to build a business, but have nothing to leave your family.

owner's son2. Forced Partnership with a spouse or child – If you don’t have the cash to buy out your partner’s interest,  you may find yourself in business with a spouse or child who may actually be a drag on the profits and viability of your business.

3. Can you leave a family legacy? – If you die before your partner, what assurance do you have that your surviving partner will pay your family a fair price for your share of the business?

Robert W. Wood, who writes about taxes and litigation issues for Forbes, sums up why a  buy-sell agreement is so important for anyone who owns any kind of business:

Without it, a closely held or family business faces a world of financial and tax problems on an owner’s death, incapacitation, divorce, bankruptcy, sale or retirement…A buy-sell agreement can ward off infighting by family members, co-owners and spouses, keep the business afloat so its goodwill and customer base remain intact, and avoid liquidity problems that often arise on these major events.

Creating a Market for Your Business

Business-succession specialists and financial planners often recommend an insured buy-sell agreement to ensure that your family can receive a fair value for the business you worked so hard to build, and allow you to buy out your partner’s share and continue the business as a going concern. It does two things:

  1. It creates an immediate market for your business (your partner or a successor employee.)
  2. It  can create immediate funds for a fairly valued buyout through insurance.

The 5 Guarantees of A Properly Structured Agreement

buysell.png

A properly-structured agreement will guarantee the following:

  1. guaranteed purchaser
  2. guaranteed sale
  3. guaranteed price
  4. guaranteed time
  5. guaranteed funding

1. Guaranteed Purchaser

Who will buy?

  • the surviving partners must buy

2. Guaranteed Sale

Who will sell?

  • the estate of the deceased partner must sell

3. Guaranteed Price

What is the price?

  • have a formula or outside valuation

4. Guaranteed Time

When to transact?

  • automatically at time of
    • disability
    • retirement
    • death

5. Guaranteed Funding

How to pay?

Implementing A Simple and Cost Effective Solution

Cross Purchase vs. Redemption:  One type of agreement is a cross-purchase:  If you or your partner/successor dies, becomes disabled, goes bankrupt, etc., the other can buy his share.  With a redemption style agreement, the business itself would make the purchase so the owners don’t individually go out of pocket.

With either type of buy-sell, there’s lots of flexibility.  The price might be fixed, determined by appraisal or formula.  The price might be paid in cash or installments over time.  There can be different terms for different events, one price and terms for retirement, one for disability, one for death.

Insurance:  Insurance features prominently in many buy-sell agreements.  You don’t have to use insurance, but it can ensure there’s cash available when the time comes.  For example, whether you or your partner/successor dies first, a life insurance policy on each of you can fund the buyout so your business stays afloat and the spouse/heirs are bought out as agreed.  A buy-sell agreement is funded with life insurance on the participating owners’ lives can guarantee that there will be money when the buy–sell event is triggered. Using insurance to fund the buy/sell agreement has these advantages

  • funds are available when needed
  • least expensive solution
  • new owner does not incur debt when buying the business

Reciprocal Planning:  While you may find it difficult to face these issues and to make some of the decisions, any buy-sell agreement is better than none.  The best thing about buy-sell agreements are that they are reciprocal.  No one knows for sure if you or your partner will be the first to go by death, disability, retirement, or for other reasons, and this reciprocal nature makes negotiating and agreeing on these issues easier to do.

How to Get Started

You’ll need a business or tax lawyer experienced in buy-sell agreements to draft it.  However, these agreements can be surprisingly simple and cost effective. Whatever you pay for it and the insurance premiums on an insured arrangement will be small in comparison to what it can save you. 

One of the best starting points is a financial planner or insurance specialist. They may have prototype documents to recommend to your attorney, but, more important, they may have invaluable experience and can give you guidance in thinking out the key decisions before you meet with an attorney to get it done, which will save you time and money.

Additional Resources:

 

losing_contact

NewLink Consulting, Toronto found: 29% of U.S. life policyholders lost contact with the agent/financial planner who had sold them the policy, and 41% if the policy was purchased from an agent/broker.

Guest blogger Mark Weishaar

An orphan can be defined as “One who lacks support, supervision or care”.
How many do you have in your CRM database? How many customers have simply become dormant and shuffled into an inactive or unassigned category?

In a recent conversation with my client from a major life insurance carrier, I was appalled to learn that her company had well over 100,000 orphaned policyholders. In insurance-speak, these are folks who originally purchased a policy from an agent, but were never re-assigned after that agent left the company.

Many industries have a similar category in their database. Inactive bank accounts, infrequent flyers, one-time visitors… the list goes on. It gets me thinking: how many organizations could use a shot in the bottom-line? This category represents a huge untapped asset:

  1. Orphans are never contacted. You have forgotten about them, and they have forgotten about you. How likely are they to ever upgrade or buy another product or service from you? 
  2. If your competition is effectively marketing – and you know they are – how many competing offers can your orphans resist? Retention rates suffer when customers are ignored. 

The ROI of Marketing to Orphaned Policyholders

Let’s put some dollars and sense behind a simple illustration exercise: 

With the potential for this scope of increased revenue, it makes no sense to me that so many insurance companies do not devote any attention to their orphaned policyholders. Political turf issues over account re-assignment? Possibly. “Don’t rock the boat” and “Let sleeping clients lie” mentality? Maybe. Inertia? Most likely. 

Case Study: A short while back, I worked with a major hotel chain to develop a multi-pronged marketing campaign. Our objective was to revitalize their “dormant” clients: those who had not booked a room within the previous 24 months. Of the many successful initiatives we launched, the highlight was going back to the dormant customers.

After modeling their data against the frequent guests and re-soliciting a predictive-modeled group with an offer, we generated an ROI of 1,090%!

Unheard of? Yes. But true. And I could predict similar successes in your own organization.

So take a look at your entire customer file. Find those pockets of orphaned customers who have been ignored for whatever reason. Develop a strategy to solicit them with a product offering using a predictive model-driven approach. The incremental revenue generation and low acquisition costs are likely to amaze you, and will demonstrate once again the truism that:

Your Best Customer is Your Current Customer.

Mark Weishaar is a veteran financial services direct marketer and senior executive delivering broad range of leadership responsibility, experience and accomplishment across brand strategy, marketing, loyalty programs, customer data analytics, distribution, CRM, and social media on a worldwide basis.  He has directed the sales & marketing of a wide variety of financial services products and programs and held senior level roles in start-ups and  Fortune 100 companies in direct marketing environments, and  traditional agent/advisor companies. He has a unique ability to analyze and develop actionable marketing and sales programs with measurable ROI improvements.
Want to chat with Mark? Reply to him here or leave a comment on the blog.
happiness

Outstanding FB Page

Proving that Marketing isn’t about creating messages, but embodying them, Sivana (meaning Oasis of Enlightenment) is based in the yoga beach culture of Encinitas Ca., rooted in Eastern spirituality, and providing support for yoga and higher living. Their products include such goods as Yoga Clothing, Active Wear, Yoga Equipment and Accessories, Bags, Incense, Statues, and Malas.  They have an amazing Facebook page.

Most Hated Advertising Slogan:

smuckers slogan

Best Selling Jam!

jamSmucker now owns the No. 1 brands in coffee, jams and jellies, peanut butter, and cooking oil.

According to Fortune, the secret of Smucker’s success is keeping it in the family.  Contributing editor Marc Gunther fills in the blanks: here’s a synopsis of Marc’s article:

Since Ohio farmer James Monroe Smucker began selling apple butter from the back of a horse-drawn wagon in In 1897, the company has had five chief executives, all named Smucker.

Sales have skyrocketed from $632 million in fiscal year 2000 to $4.6 billion in 2010, as the company acquired iconic brands Jif, Crisco, and Folger’s and profits grew from $36 million to $494 million. Shareholders have received a total return of 309% over the past 10 years, compared with -15% for the S&P 500.

Their secret ingredient? Al Yeagley, a vice president who has been with Smucker for 36 years says:

“The real secret is the family. They treat people the way you want to be treated. It’s the old golden rule.

In fact, Smucker ranked No. 1 on Fortune’s list of Best Companies to Work For in 2004.

Brand Integrity

According to Richard Smucker:

We’re really all about managing and marketing brands.

Smucker’s family-friendly values are its brand, its philosophy and its practice. Smucker won’t buy TV commercials on shows with violent or prurient content. It sponsors the birthday greetings for centenarians on NBC’s Today show. And, moreover, Smucker spends more than industry rivals on advertising and promotion. Its slogans are as iconic as its brands:

  • “With a name like Smucker’s, it has to be good”
  • “The best part of wakin’ up is Folger’s in your cup”

Ascending the Brand Pyramid

Smucker wasn’t always as brand-centric. It originally focused on buying jam and jelly companies in Brazil, Britain, and Australia and producing fruit for products like Dannon yogurt and Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts.

The company undertook a sweeping strategy review in the mid-1990s, involving top executives, middle managers and factory workers, and shifted its focus to brands. Smucker understood that “real money in supermarkets is made in the middle of the store, where processed foods and well-known brands reign supreme.” Richard Smucker summarizes Smucker’s brand-focused strategy:

To own and market No. 1 brands, sold in the center of the store, in North America

This drove the company to numerous acquisitions including:

  • Jif
  • Crisco
  • International Multifoods (including Pillsbury and Hungry Jack)
  • Folger’s

Businesses that were inconsistent with the company’s core were sold, including its ingredient businesses, overseas operations, and weaker brands. For instance, on the theory that Smucker can have an impact on what Americans eat for breakfast and lunch (PB&J), but not at dinner, it kept Hungry Jack pancakes and syrups , but sold off dried potatoes. Coffee has become the company’s biggest segment.

And now you know why with a name like Smucker’s, it has to be good.

 

 

 

 

 

Conveying The Unique Value Proposition

Brands convey the identity of a company or organization and create a visual/brand personality. The logos pictured above are among the most recognized brand symbols in the world today. Still, over time, as times and people change,  brands need to be updated. Here are the stories of how the logos were updated over time.

Apple

brand appleThe Rainbow Apple: Apple is one of the most successful biggest consumer electronics brand, best known for products like Macintosh, iPod and iphone. When Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne set up Apple in 1976 to sell their hand-built computer Apple I, HP declined to carry the line.  Success takes time, and when it didn’t prove easy, Wayne liquidated his share in the company for $800.

Success came with the launch of Apple II in 1977, a product that owed much of its success to colored graphics. Apple established its USP (Unique Selling Proposition) from the with great and simple design. But the first logo, designed by Jobs and Wayne, was a complicated picture of Isaac Newton sitting under a tree bearing the lengthy and heady inscription: “Newton … A Mind Forever Voyaging Through Strange Seas of Thought … Alone.”  Steve Jobs then hired Rob Janoff to simplify the logo, and the ‘Rainbow Apple’ personified the UVP so well that it remained in use until 1998.

One of the rumors about the origin of the Rainbow Apple logo was that it was a tribute to Newton that also reflected Apple’s colored graphics. Another explanation is that the bitten apple pays homage to the Mathematician Alan Turing, regarded as the father of computers, who committed suicide by eating an apple he had laced with cyanide, while the rainbow colors of the logo were a reference to the rainbow flag, reflecting Turing’s homosexuality.

Janoff has said that he  designed the logo to “prevent the apple from looking like a cherry tomato,” and was reflecting the “byte/bite” pun, as Apple’s slogan at the time was: “Byte into an Apple.”)

Monochromatic Apple: When Apple launched the new iMac in 1998, they changed their logo to a monochromatic apple logo, reflecting changing times and the simplicity of the iMac. Today the logo has been updated from a flat 2-dimensional symbol to a 3-dimensional gradient chrome silver design, which appears to bring the sense of technological evolution to the fore.

Mercedes-Benz

brand mercedesThe Mercedes-Benz was formed by the merger of two car companies – DMG (Daimler-Motored-Gesellschaft, founded by Gottlieb Daimler) and Benz & Cie, founded by Karl Benz after the World War I.

In 1902, the logo for Mercedes was simply the company’s name. However, it adopted the iconic 3-pointed star in 1909. The origin of the star was taken from a postcard by Diamler, where he had scribbled a 3 pointed star to represent ‘making vehicles in land water and sky’. With the merger of the two companies in 1926, a new symbol for Mercedes-Benz merged the logos of both companies into one,  combining the Mercedes 3-pointed star with the Benz laurel wreath. Over the years, the symbol has been improved vastly in design and simplicity, and, like Apple’s, is now a 3-dimensional monochromatic metallic silver. It reflects the tasteful luxury of a top tier car that stands on its own merit without need for embellishment.

Ford

brand fordHenry Ford founded two companies before settling on Ford, and neither venture went well. He founded his third company in 1902, called Ford & Malcomson, Ltd. When he was unable to pay the bills for parts in his third company, some investors agreed to put money in the company. It was renamed as Ford Motor Co., and the name was reflected in the first logo of 1903. The 1909 logo, which has a similar font as today’s logo, was borrowed from Childe Harold Wills, who had made this font for his business card.

In 1912, the Ford logo was given a makeover and the famous blue oval was introduced in the logo. The company experimented with different shapes, including the ellipse, circle, and even a diamond like-shape in 1957, and the 1976 logo, very similar to their current logo, was the last major change in the symbol.

In recent years, American car companies have experienced a rebirth after becoming rather old fashioned and stodgy in comparison to Japanese imports. The logo seems to reflect this transition. In 2003, the company released its new  “Centennial Blue Oval”. The current design is also shares  common design elements with the current Apple and Mercedes logos: it is simple, bold, 3-dimensional and monochromatic, with a metallic sheen.

BMW

brand bmwThe famous white and blue symbol of BMW stems from the company’s origins as airplane engine manufacturers. Many aircraft were painted in regional colors and those of the Bavarian Luftwaffe were the Bayern white and blue. It is said that the pilot’s view through the propeller was one of white and blue

Through the years the image become stylized into solid quarters of blue and white. Since the end of the 1970s BMW has worked to create a standardized international image in terms of statement and presentation so that whenever people encounter the company’s symbols they can easily recognize it. Like the other logos shown above, the BMW logo has recently taken on a 3-dimensional metallic sheen.

Conclusions

Each of the above company and logos reflects a unique, recognizable identity, but share some remarkably common attributes – their histories and their ability to evolve with consumers. They all represent advanced technologies and somehow stand for more than themselves: Apple and Ford are identified with American innovation, as Mercedes and BMW are with exacting German standards. All have made transitions, reinventing themselves to fit the needs and desires of the consumer, and, in doing so, stand out as 3-dimensional brands in a flat field. When all of this can be captured in a single image, something remarkable is happening, marketing at its most effective best.

image

Saving to Keep Up With the Joneses

In the Wall Street Journal, Carolyn T. Geer highlights recent surveys of investors by entities including T. Rowe Price and ING.

The Question: Does the knowledge that your friends and neighbors are saving more than you cause you to boost your savings?

The Answer: It works, but the effectiveness varies very much with the approach.

The “Lake Wobegon Effect”

People have a natural desire to avoid being average and ordinary. This phenomenon is known as the “Lake Wobegon Effect,” named after a fictional town created by writer and radio host Garrison Keillor, where:

All the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.

The question is for financial consumers is: Will consumers be more inclined to maximize their 401(k) contributions or increase their insurance coverage amounts if provided peer comparisons?

What the Studies Show

Matt Fellowes, founder and chief executive of HelloWallet, which works with employers to provide financial guidance to their employees via the Web and mobile devices, confirms that peer comparison is one way that economists and others are attempting to modify financial behavior. He believes that cluing investors in on their peers’ financial decisions can influence the decisions they make about their own money, if you show them convincingly that what they’re doing doesn’t meet the norm, but “it doesn’t work for everyone. It’s not a silver bullet.”

According to an ING study of U.S. consumers:

  • More than half of respondents say they would be motivated to save more for retirement if their sagings didn’t measure up to those of their peers.
  • Yet one-third say they would not be motivated to save morel.

Why the mixed results? Apparently, the approach can be quite effective if done right, but the wrong approach can also be demotivating. Stanford University economist John Beshears and colleagues say that when some employees are told of their co-workers’ higher savings rates, they are actually less driven to save. But the companies that have studied the effect also say that the approach can be fine-tuned to avoid demotivation, which I will explain below.

Marketing Applications

Web-Based Tools: ING has created a free, Web-based tool that lets investors measure themselves against others on a range of saving, spending and personal-finance matters called INGCompareMe.com. Deb Dupont, director of the ING Retirement Research Institute, conducted a test market of the concept with employees of several of its retirement-plan customers, that yielded the following results, which were promising enough to launch the tool:
  • 21% increased their contributions or joined a plan.
  • HelloWallet members showed similar results, according to Matt Fellowes.

The Right Approach: Two Important Variables

The right approach needs to take into consideration two important variables:
1. Don’t Demotivate: Fellowes explains that you must be careful not to use “shock and awe” tactics that demotivate consumers:

We’ve tried: ‘You are $5 million behind on your retirement savings! What is your problem?’ But emotionally what happens is people shut down and move on.

2. Don’t Set The Bar Too Low: One problem with peer comparisons that reference  average workers is that it can set the bar too low.

To strike the perfect balance, “HelloWallet has reframed the issue for consumers as follows:

You are making $5,000 a month now. In retirement, you’re only going to be making $2,000 a month, based on your current savings rate. On average your peers will be making $4,000, but the very best savers among them will be making $7,000.

This highlights what the best, most financially healthy people in a peer group are doing and provides a more realistic target, while piggybacking on the natural desire to avoid being ordinary.

Assisting Complex Financial Product Decisions

Having applied this approach in product comparisons, I have found that the approach can be a valuable aid in helping consumers make complex financial products. In particular, I find that when presenting consumers with their choices, it is even more helpful to include not only a comparison to average consumers but a “best practice” comparison. For example, employers considering an employee benefit program can be shown what kinds of benefit plans their most successful competitors are adopting. Individual consumers considering a plan of insurance can be shown what kinds of options successful peers have chosen.

Choice Architecture: Marketers and sales professionals can improve the effectiveness of their approaches by making use of an effect known in behavioral economics as “choice architecture.”

Marketers and sales professional should be aware of certain behavioral tendencies that tend to impede decision making involving complex insurance and other financial products.  Consumers are reluctant to make a switch to a different insurance carrier or among different plans when the choices are complex – something known as status quo bias. Inertia, or the tendency not to change, is especially significant when choices are complex.

Other studies show that by reframing the choices for the consumer, you can help guide decision making for consumers facing complex decisions in selecting better plan options.

Implications For Financial Marketers

The implications for companies in crowded markets such as insurance and investment products and services are great. It can mean steering consumer toward decisions that will ultimately save them and the company money and improve consumer outcomes.

Companies like Progressive Insurance, for instance, use comparison shopping tools to differentiate themselves in a crowded field as a more consumer-oriented and trustworthy choice. Their “name your own price” message conveys that the consumer can save time comparison shopping through the use of their online tools. Their perky spokesman, Flo, and her price gun personify consumer values such as friendly, good spirited personal service and a personal touch. This is all intended to break down consumer resistance to switching companies, and has generated incredible recognition.

The response to these advertisements demonstrates that the message can generate strong brand associations with core consumer values that can be illustrated in sensory terms.  But an important question remains – how to turn brand recognition and leads into conversions?

In other words, once the consumer reaches out to their local agency or makes an online query, how can the sales professional better parlay this into a consistent consumer experience that results in conversions to more profitable product lines and cross selling opportunities/share of wallet.

This is where choice architecture can be vital. In providing comparisons with other carriers, the sales professional has invaluable opportunities to more effectively clue in consumers on their peers’ financial decisions and influence their buying decisions.

Related Articles:

For more information about how behavioral economics can help guide consumers’ buying decisions, with research results from Sibson Consulting, reference my related articles below.

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