Good Communications Guide


Chapter 6

Communication Channels And Planning

If you don’t give people information, they’ll make up something to fill the void.
Carla O’Dell
Knowledge Management Guru and Learning and Culture Expert



Having a well-designed pension scheme means nothing if employees do not take it up and save for life after work. For Defined Contribution (DC) plans good communication is essential. Strong messaging is vital, but it is equally important to have a good communications plan. Disclosure regulations set out minimum requirements for the information with which plans must provide members. But merely meeting these demands is not the way to help people take ownership of their future financial circumstances. The best organisations will have a strategy and be looking to the future, aiming for more than disclosure, deploying interactive tools and actively campaigning to employees.

Sir Steve Webb
Partner at Lane Clark and Peacock, Former Minister for Pensions


Communication Channels

The number of communication channels available to organisations has increased dramatically over the last 20 years - from video conferencing to apps and mobile technology. One thing to remember is that the latest innovation might be new and shiny, but it will not be the only way to communicate.

In pensions, our challenge is to decide how best to use all the different channels to maximise engagement. To do this, it’s worth taking a step back and looking at the big picture. In the past, we have had a tendency to focus on the formal communications, but we also need to think about campaign-led communications, and we must not forget the informal and unofficial networks and interactions that employees or members come into contact with on a daily basis. The following is not an exhaustive list, so you might wish to find out more about what influences your customers.


  • Report and Accounts
  • Scheme booklet
  • Statement of Investment principles


  • Benefit statement
  • Targeted messaging - based on context
  • One-to-one with expert


  • Website
  • Factsheets and topic-driven communications
  • Campaigns
  • Emails


  • One to one sessions
  • IFA conversations
  • Expert-led presentations (HR/Pensions/Provider)
  • Internal 'Town hall' meetings


  • Group meetings and discussions with non-experts
  • Manager discussions
  • Peer group opinions
  • Social gatherings at work


  • Chats with friends/family
  • News and Media coverage
  • Google searches
  • Internal grapevine Emails
Definition: ‘Mechanical’ refers to channels which are pre-written. The receiver interprets the meaning for themselves. ‘Physical’ refers to face-to-face channels where the receiver can see the sender.


Each of the above channels is also either a ‘push’ or ‘pull’. What push refers to is being actively sent to the receiver, pull means the receiver has to seek out the information.

The communication is sent (hard or soft copy) to the customer

The customer seeks out the information from a central source (website/system)


Choosing the right channel – the ‘Rule of Seven’

Choosing the right channel for the right message is not an exact science, and there are no hard and fast guarantees that any channel will be more efficient than any other, except face-to-face communications. Face-face, whether it is one to one or one to many, is considered, the strongest form of communication which it is why it is recommended for important change projects, and of course, financial decisions. However, one important rule of marketing which supports the requirement to have mix of media is the ‘Rule of Seven’. The Rule of Seven requires that a customer needs to have received the message at least seven times before it is understood and actioned. The message can be delivered some ways through a number of channels (posters, emails, animations or even face to face), but it needs to be recognisable (of its brand and for clarity).

The following chart sets out our view of engagement effectiveness across many typical communication channels.

Learning styles and skills

When deciding on communications channels, we should take into account the other factors that influence our customers, such as their skills and learning preferences. Learning preferences determine how people like to absorb information. We find Kolb’s learning styles simple to apply.

Kolb’s learning styles model



This chart summarises the learning preference alongside example communications channels. Ultimately we all gain insight from all communication channels available to us. What this chart does reveal, however, is a possible predominance of ‘thinker’ or ‘read’ communications across pensions. There are of course many great examples of communications covering all preferences – this needs to become routine practice for all of us.

Learning preference
What they find easy
What’s attractive
Example channels

Reader / Thinker

Learning preference? Reading written content to gain information, thinking and reflection and analysis
What’s attractive? Well written content, detailed yet clear and simple structure.
Example channels? iPDFs, Factsheets, Flipbooks, White papers, Guides, Articles and Thought pieces

Watcher / Doer

Learning preference? Tailored user experiences watches and reflects
What’s attractive? Storytelling with a clear narrative
Example channels? Animated films, vox pops, webcasts

Player / Feeler

Learning preference? Tailored user experiences, concrete and tangible character-led
What’s attractive? Playful, intuitive and consumer grade
Example channels? Modellers, profilers, gamified

Berlo’s Communication Model

For skills, we look to Berlo's communication model which sets out the factors which influence the sender’s ability to communicate a message and the customer’s ability to understand the message.

Survey Findings

From our survey we learned that a number of pension schemes are trying new and innovative engagement techniques.

Communication Planning and Channels

Nearly all using

  • Animations
  • Targeted newsletters
  • Campaigns
  • Calls to action

Planning to use

  • TV Channel
  • Blogs
  • Online tutorials and learning
  • Virtual reality
  • Internal social tools

Not using or planning to

  • Gamification
  • Facebook
  • Personalised emails



Gamifying works because it combines the motivating fun aspects of games with creativity, behavioural science and communication best practice. Research has identified eight core drivers of engagement are essential to successful gamification:

Top 8 motivational drivers

Epic meaning & calling
Development & achievement
Empowerment of creativity & feedback
Ownership & possession
Social influence & relatedness
Scarcity & impatience
Unpredictability & curiosity
Unpredictability & curiosity


Source: Yu-kai Chou


Storytelling has always been the primary form of knowledge transfer. Stories are engaging and become very persuasive when one can directly relate to them. The brain comes alive to imagery and transports the reader to the events through the visual character(s). The physical traits of the characters are important as they also have to serve the campaign narrative and represent the brand to give the story clarity and a ring of truth.

The characters are valid because they evoke emotions that mirror the receiver's thoughts and feelings. The psychologist Carl Gustav Jung identified a set of universal character archetypes that reside within our collective unconscious. Those patterns represent fundamental human topics and evoke deep emotions. Jung defined twelve primary types that symbolise basic human motivations. Each type has its own set of values, meanings and personality traits.



Apps are now mainstream, so it's worth thinking about how an app might support pensions engagement. To make the most of an App, and to make it useful and compelling. Here are our top tips:

  • Think ‘doing something useful’ on a mobile device or via any other web access.
  • Think powerful, dynamic, highly functional, two-way, the personalised connection between your scheme and your customers.
  • Invest in a stable and flexible set of templates at the outset, and you will be able to re-use these frequently and enjoy economies in future iterations over time.
  • Embed analytics throughout the app and get to know your analytics reports to harvest traffic data efficiently. The value of knowing who is using your app and how they are using it is in part your justification for it.
  • Build a catalogue of re-usable components and make these readily available to your developers.
  • If using iTunes App Store (iOS) or Google Play (Android), they will need to approve the app before publishing.
  • Make the App long-lived; many fall out of use after just the initial download.  


Communication Planning

The communications plan needs to spell out how resources will be allocated, including staff time, budgets, computers, software, equipment, databases, in-house and contract services. Your communication plan’s purpose is to identify detailed timings, resources required and responsibilities once you had decided on the communication messages, channels and objectives.

The following chart sets out the overall approach.



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