Ever feel like you’re inundated with emails, texts, tweets, snaps, blog posts, and other content? I start most days giving my DELETE key a workout so I can get other things done.

But here’s the problem: Our messages to retirement plan participants are part of that flood. How do we get participants’ attention to help them get on track toward retirement and then stay there amid all the noise?

Through a great deal of experimentation, we’ve developed a three-pronged approach to driving positive participant actions:

  • Create an individualized experience for each participant.
  • Provide a clear recommendation for increasing retirement readiness.
  • Use proven communication techniques.

Putting this approach into action has increased the effectiveness of our email messaging—in terms of participants taking action—by 400% from 2014 to 2015. And, we continue to use scientific experimentation to refine and improve our messaging in order to prove what works.

Finding the right message

Every message Vanguard sends to participants is part of a continuous test-measure-refine cycle, both an experiment and a result. A common experiment compares two versions of the same message. We send version A to one group of participants and version B to another.

For each version, we measure several success metrics, such as open rate, click-through rate, and taking the suggested action. We then compare those results with a control group that received no message to confirm that each approach is more effective than doing nothing.

All this information feeds into a data engine that tracks the results of each experiment and identifies trends around what works and what doesn’t to inform the next set of messages. This helps us deliver the right message to the right participant at the right time.

Creating personalized retirement journeys

The data we’ve collected from our experiments helps us create a unique experience for each participant. With investments in technology, we can now deliver a series of personalized messages to each participant, driven by his or her individual actions.

For example, consider a new employee named Lucia. She’s just starting her career and doesn’t get automatically enrolled.

We’ll start her with an enrollment message. It features a personalized estimate of her retirement balance if she joins the plan immediately, based on her age, salary, and suggested savings rate. Lucia signs up.

If she enrolls but her savings rate doesn’t capture the full match, we’ll follow up in a few months with a message about increasing her savings. Again, the email shows how much money Lucia personally stands to gain by retirement if she saves more.

If Lucia takes action, we move on to her next best action, such as naming beneficiaries. If Lucia doesn’t save more, we’ll stay on that topic and try a different communication technique. Lucia’s actions will determine what messages she receives.

No other participant’s experience will duplicate Lucia’s. If Justin gets automatically enrolled, he may get the message about the company match first. If Sam is closer to retirement, she may hear about catch up contributions first.

Every message will focus on a single action, state the personalized benefit the recipient could realize, and provide clear instructions on how to take action. Every participant takes a unique journey toward retirement, and our communications can guide the way.

Exploring new ideas

As we continue improving our messaging, we’re looking at new ways to deliver those messages. Upcoming enhancements to our website will sync participants’ homepages to their messaging campaigns. So, if Lucia just received an email about the company match, she’ll see a call-to-action nudge promoting the match when she logs on.

And to improve timing, we’re looking into ways to expand our data collection. Maybe we can combine participants’ addresses with weather reports to find out if some people are more likely to engage on a sunny day. Or if participants are comfortable letting Vanguard’s mobile app access their locations, we could find places where they’re more likely to pay attention. For example, I sometimes check out my Vanguard account while waiting to pick up my son from soccer practice.

It’s all about finding a few minutes in each participant’s day to fit in a positive step toward retirement readiness. We’re confident that providing individualized experiences with clear recommendations using proven methods will be effective no matter what form participant communications take in the future.



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