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Road signs and speed cameras - Member Emotions and Pension Communications

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In this article form AHC, Francis Goss discusses the theory that emotions directly lead to behaviour, and how pension communication can learn from it. 

Earlier this year I attended a course along with about thirty other people. We all had one thing in common - we had been caught! The course was actually very informative, covering topics such as knowing the speed limit, stopping distances and the impact of stress on our driving styles.

The most thought-provoking part of the morning was a group exercise where we discussed the scenario of a road traffic accident, in which the driver of one of the cars is charged with dangerous driving. We discussed the effect of the accident and the court case from the perspective of the people involved - the driver and the driver’s family. It certainly got us thinking…
Some elements of the course were factual, such as the communication of information. Other aspects required us to use our imagination.

During the group exercise, words such as “regret”, “fear”, “sadness” and “anger” featured heavily. These are all emotions.
The theory that emotions directly lead to behaviour has been asserted in various forms by many psychologists (see Baumeister, Vohs, DeWall, & Zhang for example). 

A few years ago, I worked on the implementation of employee recognition and incentive schemes. One question that I would often be asked is “what’s more effective, cash or non-cash rewards (such as time off, spa days, track driving days etc)?” Research has consistently demonstrated that non-cash rewards have more impact on changing behaviour than cash. Why? Because experiences engage more with our emotions. Being offered a “luxury spa day with your partner” connects with our emotions far more than “£99 in your bank account at the end of the month.”

So, what does this have to do with pension communications? Well, there are facts that we must communicate with members, such as fund balance, employer contribution rates, fund performance etc. These facts are important and informative, but they don’t engage with members’ emotions. They don’t drive behaviour. 

If we want members to really think about their life after work, to plan and take steps to improve their retirement, and to make sacrifices today that will improve their tomorrow, we need to communicate in a way that connects with their emotions.
For example, by positioning retirement as “your longest holiday ever; what do you want to do with it?” we help people to imagine their life after work. The human imagination is powerful, and the more we can help members to imagine their retirement, the more likely they are to plan for it. Fear of missing out is also a strong emotion, so illustrating the cumulative impact of not taking advantage of the company match can really encourage people to take positive action “Could you be missing out on free money?”
So, next time you are reviewing your approach to member communications, ask if it passes the “speed camera test”. Speed cameras engage because they present us with the consequences of our actions, and if we are truly going to engage with our members, we need to communicate facts, as roads signs do, while connecting with their feelings too.

Francis Goss, Chief Commercial Officer at AHC