Goodbye voluntary benefits. Hello enhanced benefits!

That’s right, the class of benefits currently known as “voluntary” are about to get a nomenclature makeover that will have a big impact on their acceptance.

What’s in a name?

Shakespeare notwithstanding (“…a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”), in marketing a name can make a huge difference. Would Dove soap retain its strong appeal to women with the name “Cleanse and Freshen?” Would DieHard batteries pack the same marketing punch, if the manufacturer rebranded them “Long-Term” batteries? In marketing, names matter.

As I noted in a previous column (EBA, June 2015), labeling valuable and important benefits, such as critical illness, cancer, accident, hospital indemnity, short-term disability and permanent (whole and universal) life, has been a huge mistake.

With benefit plans leaving employees with greater out-of-pocket exposure, referring to these benefits as voluntary fails to convey their substantial value. The term “voluntary” is a holdover from the past, and with more and more employers willing to pay all or part of the premium for these benefits, the label is no longer accurate. Moreover, with benefit advisers increasingly integrating these benefits into the medical plan to reduce the overall benefit spend, calling them voluntary ignores their valuable role in benefit plan design.

But the bottom line is this: With many employers and HR professionals biased against what they perceive as “voluntary benefits,” persisting in the use of this terminology is a self-defeating marketing decision.

Knowing not to bring a problem to the table without also bringing a solution, in my June column I suggested that we replace the name “voluntary” with “supplemental,” which is defined as “added to complete or make up a deficiency.” “Supplemental” accurately describes what these benefits do and how they function. Benefits such as critical illness and accident, for example, supplement the medical plan. But while “supplemental” is a more accurate modifier than “voluntary,” it lacks marketing punch.

Marketing masterstroke

That problem was solved at the recent Agency Growth & Leadership Summit (ASCEND) in Nashville, TN, where a new and vastly improved name was proposed. This new name is “enhanced benefits,” and it will usher in an era of phenomenal growth for this much-maligned benefits category. Let me explain why.

"Calling these benefits 'enhanced' is a marketing masterstroke."

Imagine asking a room full of employees, “Who is interested in some voluntary benefits?” How many people do you imagine would raise their hands? After all, there’s nothing about the term “voluntary” that makes these offerings appear very desirable. If anything, the label brings to mind the old army adage, “never volunteer.”

But what if instead you asked, “Who is interested in some enhanced benefits?” Enhanced is commonly understood to mean “increased in value or quality” and the use of this word would undoubtedly encourage a lot more hands go up. I mean, who wouldn’t want their benefits to be enhanced?

Calling these benefits “enhanced” is a marketing masterstroke. Yes, of course they supplement the core benefit package, but the enhanced label makes it clear they do so much more than just that.

So stop talking about voluntary benefits. Show your employer clients how enhanced benefits can improve their benefits plan by providing stronger financial protection from the risks of illness and injury, and I guarantee you that their employees will flock to sign up.

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