The missing 'why' in trustee communication

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

The topic of communications usually starts with the idea of narrative (cavemen fireside stories) and of taking in knowledge through Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic (look, hear and feel).

All very interesting but I worry – do we get the really big issues that drive successful communication with our members?

Let that sink in as you contemplate what the last communication exercise to your members looked like… GB Shaw’s quote that: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion it has taken place,” is right on the money. If you don’t know why you are undertaking a communications exercise or what outcome you want it to achieve, its chance of success is limited. Satisfied that another communication box has been ticked, it’s a pat on the back and move on to the next exercise. But does that really meet your fiduciary duty? So, before you send out that next piece of ‘comms’, stop and think WHY first. By this I mean take a moment to really consider what the primary purpose of the communication is, for you as trustee and/or member. Our thinking at BW is to break this down into three different levels – shamelessly purloined from Benjamin Franklin – they are to Tell, Teach or Involve.

"We are children of a technological age. Printing is no longer the only way of reproducing books. Reading them, however, has not changed"
Lawrence Clark Powell

Tell is more closely aligned to the regulatory approach systemic in pensions. I need to convey something because I have to/it’s required by law. The consequence of the tell is, on the whole, inconsequential as the member doesn’t need to act upon it. The communication was read/watched/understood – whatever the delivery method was – but if it went in the bin the mere act of distribution met the need and ticked the box. Only the most base of comms should therefore be a ‘tell’.

Teach is a little further along the scale where I am looking to educate you around a decision – like the option to pay more in, for instance.

Lastly, I need you to be Involved - to make a choice or understand the consequence of not making one i.e. how you will access your pension given new found freedoms. The level of response required and what success looks like focuses the mind because as we go across the spectrum there will be additional cost. So getting the ‘Why’ and budget agreed with the employer to deliver it right from the get-go is important. The ‘What’ is derived from identifying the Why. ‘What’ establishes content, sets the tone, the look, the feel and indeed the depth of your communication. The ‘How’ is the method of delivery – hard, soft, digital, social, posters, one-to-one or any combo in-between. The last point is important and trustees are now becoming more mindful of their audience where historically communication was often a one dimensional catch all. Something that is not pertinent is spam, simple as, and the next time you reach out with something that they need to engage with it’s likely to be binned before opening.

Accessible and relevant

You must make it accessible first and foremost, simply dumping the content of a booklet online is not the answer. Secondly, ensure it is age, gender and affluent relevant, although doing this only increases the opportunity of success and sadly, does not guarantee it. Simply put, pensions are dull. Not only that, a pension is a long-term play in a short-term world. It is an ethereal concept that is certainly not based on trust (no pun intended) in a reality, indebted, consumer world where we buy tangibles and brands. Pensions bluntly don’t stand a chance… well not unless you join them.

BW created DrumRoll to achieve just that because while you are an institution your member is retail and you need to look to engage at that level to have any real success. Do not underestimate the power of trustees in the importance of establishing your pension ‘brand’. A survey I undertook identified that two-thirds of employees saw trustees (you) as a heightened level of security. Security equates to confidence and trust – a trusted brand has huge appeal to consumers. Don’t labour messaging, think slogans and image within the brand – ‘a pension is a present to your future self’ or use peer nudges and things like the ‘Power of One’ to steadily increase contributions rather than a single jump that is sadly unaffordable for most. Finally, don’t use clichéd visuals like two darlings strolling on a Caribbean beach to epitomise retirement – we’re unable to afford it doing the day job. What they do want from 45 years toil is security. Help them to achieve that by governing their pension for them and every now and then communicate something encouraging and engaging with them, so they’ll feel motivated to do their bit in the equation.