Demographics


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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.

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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.

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The Flip-Side of Cultural Diversity?

A study conducted by Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam finds less civic activity in diverse communities.

The study is the largest ever on civic engagement in America, based on detailed interviews of nearly 30,000 people across America. Putnam surveyed residents in 41 US communities, sorting residents were into the four principal categories used by the US Census: black, white, Hispanic, and Asian. They were asked how much they trusted their neighbors and those of each racial category, and questioned their civic attitudes and practices, including their views on local government, their involvement in community projects, and their friendships.

The Findings: Lower “Social Capital”

The study found that the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings. The study found that virtually all measures of civic health are lower in more diverse settings.

Putnam has studied the problem of declining civic activity for quite some time, finding that the US has experienced a pronounced decline in “social capital”  – which refers to the social networks — friendships, religious congregations, neighborhood associations and so on.  He states that when social capital is high, communities are better places to live, neighborhoods are safer, people are healthier, and more citizens vote.

Putnam writes that those in more diverse communities tend to:

distrust their neighbors, regardless of the color of their skin, to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more but have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television…People living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ‘hunker down’ — that is, to pull in like a turtle.” 

These findings challenged the two dominant schools of thought on ethnic and racial diversity, the “contact” theory and the “conflict” theory. Under the contact theory, more time spent with those of other backgrounds leads to greater understanding and harmony between groups. Under the conflict theory, that proximity produces tension and discord. But Putnam’s findings reject both theories: In more diverse communities, there were neither great bonds formed across group lines nor heightened ethnic tensions, but a general civic malaise, with levels of trust lower even among members of the same group.

The “Diversity Paradox”

In a nation that is inexorably becoming increasingly diverse, how are we to interpret these findings?  

First, it is important to note that there are also some very positive recent findings about diversity, While ethnic diversity may, in the short run prove a liability for social connectedness, other research suggests it can be a big asset when it comes to driving productivity and innovation. In high-skill workplace settings. Scott Page, a University of Michigan political scientist and  author of “The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies”  finds that the different ways of thinking among people from different cultures can be a distinct advantage:

Because they see the world and think about the world differently than you, that’s challenging. But by hanging out with people different than you, you’re likely to get more insights. Diverse teams tend to be more productive.”

Page calls this the “diversity paradox.” He thinks the contrasting positive and negative effects of diversity can coexist in communities, but we must be wary of civic engagement falling off too far.

Putnam’s Take

When he published a detailed analysis in the journal Scandinavian Political Studies, Putnam argued that the negative effects of diversity can be remedied, and that history suggests that ethnic diversity may eventually fade as a sharp line of social demarcation.

In the final section of his paper, Putnam discusses how social identity can change over time, stating that experience shows that social divisions can eventually give way to “more encompassing identities” that create a “new, more capacious sense of ‘we.”

He also points out that increasing diversity in America is not only inevitable, but ultimately valuable and enriching. To help reduce divisions that hinder civic engagement, he suggests programs such as expanding support for English-language instruction and investing in community centers and other places to foster meaningful interaction. Putnam states: 

I think over the long run, as we get to know one another, and as we begin to see things that we have in common with people who don’t look like us, this allergy to diversity tends to diminish and to go away. So this is not something that I think as an argument against immigration. On the contrary, actually, I think in the long run we’ll all be better. But I don’t think that progressives and integrationists like me do our cause any service by hiding from ourselves the fact that it’s not easy.

Putting It Into Perspective

I believe it is important to remember that social diversity is a rather recent phenomenon, and the American consciousness is still evolving as is plainly demonstrated by the obvious dog whistle racism of the anti-Obama crowd.

What is also important to note is that Putnam does not extrapolate some universal principle that heterogeneous societies have any less potential for social cohesion than homogeneous ones -only that it takes time for people to look past their differences, and the American experience demonstrates that over time society can change.

For example, one of the remarkable aspects of the study is that it focuses on diverse communities. In fact, 50 odd years ago diverse neighborhoods were unheard of. I recall the changes in my old neighborhood, Bedford Stuyversant, Brooklyn. There was “white flight”following the construction of the subway line between Harlem and Bedford in 1936, as African Americans left overcrowded Harlem for more available housing in Bedford–Stuyvesant. But today, my daughter lives right near my old home in Clinton Hill, which is now a diverse neighborhood.

So it would not be fair to overgeneralize based on a study of diversity given such a short time frame.

Our Polarized Society

I believe that it would also be mistaken to lay off the problems of American polarization on attitudes about race on the part of the members of society themselves. To put this in perspective, bear in mind that even as America’s oligarchical structures have tightened over the  past few decades, society as a whole has nonetheless managed to trend toward a more diverse perspective.

This has occurred despite increased political polarization. When there is a demonstrative and concerted effort by the wealthiest class – including the media and politicians it controls- to manipulate people’s thought processes such that they devolve into a divisive, polarized mental framework, we should avoid the temptation to simply cite racial attitudes. While this is a contributing factor, alienation has much deeper roots, and It takes a great deal in such a divisive environment to take the bull by the horns and overcome the mental conditioning that is damaging the cohesiveness of American society,

I observe that change is inspired by trauma and shock. And given the increasing disparity in wealth distribution, mistrust of our leaders, expanding unemployment and the decline of the American middle class, we have a very interesting opportunity as a society today to evolve – together.

The key is to see past our differences, and Putnam agrees with me here. The only thing holding us back is that we submit to the mechanisms of control.

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What I Know About Work Now That I Am In My 50s

Senior Columnist on Life/Work/Family for The Huffington Post addresses the concerns of my generation – the Baby Boomers.

As anyone who’s watched Forest Gump can see, we’ve had a tumultuous ride. It’s been all about change. Today we’re struggling to deal with the lessons of getting by in an increasingly unstable economic environment, the shattering of past paradigms, (as those in the so-called “Red States” continue to cling to old, dying myths) and dealing with age, mortality and loss. 

So where’s the silver lining? And what are the lessons that the up and coming generations can learn from our example, our wisdom and our mistakes? Here are a few shining gems from Linda’s excellent article,  

What I Know About Work Now That I Am In My 50s. A note -all the words and links below are from her article. She writes:

 “I’ve spent the decades since trying to live the balanced message that I want my children to hear. I’m not quite there yet, but over the years I have gotten closer, and learned more than a little — not just about the meaning of life, but also of work.

It is okay to live for your work. “No one on her deathbed ever said, ‘I should have spent more time at the office,’ ” the saying goes. But I’d wager that many have looked back on their lives and been damn proud of what they accomplished at work. Isn’t the goal to find something you are so passionate about (and so talented at) that you want to be doing it all the time?

You probably won’t feel that way every day, or even every year. A working life is not linear. We used to think it was, back in the days when you put in 40 years at the same job and got a gold watch when you retired. But the workplace has changed — job security is more about months than decades now — and that has freed workers to change, too.

Embrace that. Ping pong around, zig and zag — not only from one job to the next, but from one state of mind to another. Go full throttle straight out of school. Take a more scenic side road during the years while you raise children. Roar back again when those kids are grown. Or, maybe, the other way around. It doesn’t make you an inconsistent worker, but rather a better human being.

6. Stop feeling guilty about the gel time. The best place to find inspiration, perspective, enthusiasm or direction in your job is outside of it. “I would very soon become threadbare if I were only lurching from one film set to another without any nourishment,” Daniel Day-Lewis said recently of why he insisted on waiting a year, and just living his life, before playing Lincoln. For those of us who don’t have a year? Take a walk, read a book, play with your kids. When I get stuck in my writing, I take a shower.

Sheryl Sandberg is right. Too many women “leave before they leave,” moving emotionally away from work when they start to have families, failing to “raise their hands” for promotions and big projects.

Anne-Marie Slaughter is right, too. Women can raise their hands day and night, but there are logistical barriers in the current outdated workplace, that are far higher than any “ambition gap.” The reason women are “leaning out,” rather than “leaning in,” is largely because they are overwhelmed by the impossibility of “doing it all.”

I know more than an eager 20-something. I am wiser. I have made more mistakes, hence learned more lessons. I know that what seems like a crisis, or a debacle, or a triumph, will probably look far less dramatic by tomorrow, and it’s better to take the long view of life rather than riding the roller coaster day to day.

They know more than I. Every day they teach me something about technology, or pop culture, or optimism, or how things need not be done the way they’ve always been done. Mostly they have taught me about balance. Everything I just wrote I learned by trying to articulate it for the now-21-year-old who once scribbled on a pad at breakfast. His generation deserves a better mix of what Freud called the “cornerstones of our humanness,” love and work. Mine can’t build that for him, but we can take hard-won knowledge and point the way.”

Hirono

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Sources:

Infographic by SocialWayne.com

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American Conservatives Have More To Grapple With

An extensive survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life based on interviews with more than 35,000 Americans age 18 and older, details the shifts in the U.S. religious landscape.

Overall, the demographic changes mean that America is becoming a minority Protestant nation with more religiously unaffiliated than ever before, more atheists/agnostics, and a growing number of non Christians, including American-born Buddhists.

Non Christians are thriving socially and financially, with nearly half of Hindus in the U.S., one-third of Jews and a quarter of Buddhists having obtained post-graduate education, compared with only about 10% of the adult population overall. Hindus and Jews are much more likely than other groups to report high income levels.

Key Findings: Protestants Becoming The Minority

  •  Barely 51% of Americans now report that they are members of Protestant denominations.
  • More than one-quarter  (28%) of American adults have left the faith in which they were raised in favor of another religion or no religion at all.
  • 16.1% are unaffiliated with any faith today  – more than double the number who say they were not affiliated as children.
  • 1 in 4 Americans ages 18-29 say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion.
  • Catholicism has experienced the greatest net losses. While nearly 31% were raised in the Catholic faith,  fewer than 24% now describe themselves as Catholic.

A Growing and Diverse Unaffiliated Group

The 16.1% who are unaffiliated with any particular religion exhibit remarkable internal diversity:

  • 25% are atheist or agnostic (1.6% and 2.4% of the adult population overall, respectively).
  • The remainder (12.1% of the adult population overall) describe their religion as “nothing in particular.”

The latter group is evenly divided between:

  • “Secular unaffiliated” who say that religion is not important in their lives (6.3% of the adult population), and
  • “Religious unaffiliated,” who say that religion is either somewhat important or very important in their lives (5.8% of the overall adult population).

Non Christians Thriving

Even smaller religions in the U.S. reflect considerable internal diversity:

  • Most Jews (1.7% of the overall adult population) identify with one of three major groups: Reform, Conservative or Orthodox Judaism.
  • More than half of Buddhists (0.7% of the overall adult population) belong to one of three major groups within Buddhism: Zen, Theravada or Tibetan Buddhism.
  • Muslims (0.6% of the overall adult population) divide primarily into two major groups: Sunni and Shia.

The non Christians are thriving socially and financially:

  • Nearly half of Hindus in the U.S., one-third of Jews and a quarter of Buddhists have obtained post-graduate education, compared with only about 10% of the adult population overall.
  • In sharp contrast to Islam and Hinduism, Buddhism in the U.S. is primarily made up of native-born adherents, whites and converts. Only one-in-three American Buddhists describe their race as Asian, while nearly three-in-four Buddhists say they are converts to Buddhism.
  • Hindus and Jews are much more likely than other groups to report high income levels.

Other Survey Highlights

Other highlights in the report include these:

  • Men are significantly more likely than women to claim no religious affiliation. Nearly 20% say they have no formal religious affiliation, vs. 13% of women.
  • Black Americans are the most likely to report a formal religious affiliation.
  • Non affiliated are relatively young:
    • 31% are under age 30 vs. 20% of the overall adult population.
    • 71% are under age 50 vs. 59% of the overall adult population.

More and more, the changing demographic landscape demonstrates that this is not your grandfather’s conservative, WASPish America, and looks much less like the current Republican Party.  Americans are more fluid in their affiliations, and becoming more intellectually empowered.

Marketers had better get over traditional approaches to the market and get their fingers on the pulse of the nation.

Marketing Models That No Longer Work

 of Newmediamarketing.com provides a list of 10 Marketing Principles That Aren’t True Anymore. His core observation is that mass marketing models no longer optimally address the new attitudes and behaviors of the socially connected consumer.  For instance, while TV drives awareness, it is increasingly the Internet that drives conversion.
Of the 10 marketing principles that Rich finds increasingly irrelevant, I will highlight those that I consider to be the top 3.  It is important to consider these consideration points in the context of your own product and marketing environment because principles that work best for one type of product marketing environment may not work as well in others.

3 Marketing Principles To Rethink

1. Mass Segmentation Models – The old mass segmentation models are giving way to micro-segmentation.  Here’s why:  because people have more in common with those they follow on social media than their demographic peers, and because everything happens in real time online. Consequently:

…it’s more a relevant message to a relevant audience at a relevant time.

Customer segmentation is the practice of dividing customers into groups relevant to a particular line of business in order to decide how to relate to customers in each segment. The goal is to maximize the value of each customer to the business.

Micro-segmentation groups small numbers of customers into more precise segments, based on factors, including behavioral predictions in order to direct specific marketing actions to each micro-segment. The goal is to maximize the effectiveness of every contact with each customer.

The Process: For example, customers of an online gaming company might be segmented into Lifestyle Stage Groups, such as: 1) fun; 2) new; 3) active; 3) star; 4) churn; and 5) reengaged. Deeper dives into each Lifestyle Stage Group can be made by segmenting these customers into Segmentation Layers, using cluster analysis on sets of attributes that share a common context, including behavioral and demographic. By associating each customer with a string of different clusters, customers are then grouped together as micro-segments.

Intended Results: Micro-segments, which typically contain very few customers each, allows for highly personalized predictive analysis and marketing action optimization.   Tracking and analyzing how different marketing actions affect the spending behavior of different micro-segments makes it possible to predict the effectiveness levels of different marketing actions on different segments. As a result, marketers can better determine which marketing approaches will have greater impact on each group of customers. Further, since the micro-segments are dynamic, and there is movement through the Lifestyle Stages, dynamism of the customer path can be factored into the analysis. As explained by micro-segmentation company, Micromove:

Most companies  view segmentation as a method of clustering similar customers together at a given point in time, but they completely disregard the path or route that each customer has taken to reach his or her present segment. By analyzing customers based on their movement among segments over time, [micro-segmentation] achieves far more accurate segmentation than any other known method.

Focus on Customer Lifetime Value in segmentation allows for better targeted marketing based on more precise predictive customer behavior models.

2. The Purchase Funnel (Reach and Frequency)

For products where the purchase process is more complex, building awareness through reach and frequency is only a first step. In line with the Consumer Decision Journey as defined by McKinsey, to improve conversion, you need to rethink the “purchase funnel” in favor of a more complex consumer decision model.

My article, The Customer Decision Journey: Research Overturns the Marketing Funnel shows that the old consideration funnel has given way to a decision loop (“the consumer decision journey”) that takes place in a less linear and more complicated purchase environment where there are numerous touch points and key buying factors resulting from the explosion of product choices and digital channels, coupled with the emergence of an increasingly discerning, well-informed consumer. 

consumer decision journey

McKinsey’s David Court has a presentation showing what this means for marketers. He explains:

You have a trigger of some sort, where people start across the decision journey — they are now going to move towards purchase. The first stage is initial consideration. In many industries, people actually start in their initial consideration of a brand with a relatively narrow list, we believe because of the busy lives and bombardment of media — it’s just very difficult to get through all this clutter in this consumers initial consideration set. However, once the consumer decides they are going to buy a product, they move into a stage that we call active evaluation. It is here that the number of brands they are considering increases. Which is exactly the opposite of the premise of the funnel, going from broad to narrow. This is the stage when the consumer is intent on purchasing and they are actively researching the product.

3. Acquisition Only

Your business model will naturally continue to depend on new customer acquisition goals, but not exclusively. Marketing models based on new customer acquisition alone that do not also have strategies for retention and engagement break down over time, and the reason that pyramid schemes ultimately collapse is that there are a limited number of new customers to be sold.

Brand loyalty is important because brand enthusiasts will reengage and repurchase, and influence others to whom (s)he is socially connected to purchase and engage. So it’s vitally important today to keep the customers you have happy by delivering on all brand touch points, and creating a social context for them to become brand ambassadors.

Apple is the oft-cited example of a company whose brand loyalty-oriented model has been extremely successful. While not the PC market share leader, Apple has leapfrogged other PC makers in profitability because their customers are willing to pay more for a better brand experience. 

Lessons For Marketers In The Age of Socially Driven Conversion

Strategy: Traditional messaging is geared toward trying to get into the consumer’s initial consideration stet. However, rather than continue to push ads and promotions out to broad groups of consumers, marketers need to be sure that their marketing activities are aligned against how their consumers research and buy products.

Consider the likely results if the customer reaches out during the active evaluation stage but is not provided the facts and testimonials that (s)he is looking for to make the purchase decision. The budget spent on gaining recognition and getting into a customer’s initial considerations set will not only fail to result in conversion, but will effectively deliver the client to a competitor who delivers on the customer’s pre-purchase expectations.

In essence, this means that the customer has moved past a brand’s promise to a brand’s value in the consideration phase.  So marketers have to bridge the gap between consideration and conversion sooner by developing ways for people to talk about your product, and making word of mouth work in the age of socially driven conversion.

Social engagement doesn’t mean that, as Rich Meyer puts it, consumers necessarily “want to have a relationship with their salad dressing or butter…You also need to think more about your brand as media than just providing sales information online.”

In other words, since the joy of the purchase itself is often more than that derived from the product itself, what value are you delivering in the customer’s purchase experience? You need to emotionally connect to your customers and give them an emotional reason to select your brand.  The choices consumers make are not rational ones.

Tactics: Tactics include being represented on independent internet sites where people go and research and buy products. If you don’t have enough presence on those types of consumer driven approaches, when the consumer is reaching out during active evaluation, you’re not there for them to find.

Rich Meyer summarizes the customer-centric approach in the age of socially-driven conversion extremely well:

I believe the greatest strength any marketer can have is his, or her, ability to understand the dynamics of their brand/product from a consumers POV.  This means understanding what are the key drivers to conversion and where and when consumers want to interact with the brand.  I love Oreo cookies but I don’t want to friend them on Facebook.   Organizations that prepare for change and implement new marketing thinking will be ready to leverage new business and customers.

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