Branding Communication Fair 2014: Pension awareness, from theory to practice

Imagine this: You’re a newlywed. Happy and in love. Excited about your future with your spouse, especially in the new house you just bought. Then, one day, your parents show up, carrying suitcases. You ask what’s wrong. “We’re moving in, dear,” you mom says. “We have run out of pension money.”

When you think about brand management, you likely think about Google, Coca-Cola, Facebook or Armani. Sexy brands—the ones everyone knows about. When the students who signed up for the brand management course were informed about the topic of their projects—pensions—they were initially quite disappointed. How do you turn something that dull into an interesting service?

This is exactly the question many companies, research agencies, communication experts and governmental institutions ask themselves. Several studies have shown that the word “pension” has many negative connotations: loss of social relevance, physical decline, nursing homes and the like.

Still, taking your pension into account as early as possible has both societal and economic importance, experts claim. According to Arjen-Bart Koens, supervisor at the Autoriteit Financiele Markten (AFM), the authority of financial markets which guards pension communication in the Netherlands, people don’t look too far beyond the near future. Especially not when it comes to making sacrifices.

“People are after immediate profit,” Koens says. “They don’t want to wait twenty or thirty years before they can benefit from their investments.”

Taking this problem as a starting point, Dr. Lisa Brüggen, Associate Professor of Marketing and coordinator of the brand management course, developed an assignment for her students. “The pension sector is in desperate need of strategies to reach people,” Brüggen explains. Frits Bart, Director of Strategy and Relations at AEGON, agrees.

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“Pension funds have been spending millions on communication over the past decade, but unfortunately it hasn’t had much effect,” Bart says. “I really hope that some of these students will join the industry. We can use their creative minds.”

The creativity of the students was clear at the second edition of the Pension Branding Communication Fair, sponsored by AEGON, which took place at the School of Business and Economics on the thirteenth of October 2014. Here, 42 groups of students presented their ideas on how to increase pension awareness to a jury.

The students’ projects were very diverse: some made use of social media, many teams had developed apps and personalised websites, others even made online games and videos. Overall, the fourteen jury members were impressed with the level of professionalism some of the ideas reached over the six-week course.

Something for everyone
At last year’s fair, the brand management course increased in popularity. Over 200 students signed up this year. For some of them it was part of their marketing major or minor, but the course also attracted many exchange students.

At last year’s fair, the brand management course increased in popularity. Over 200 students signed up this year. For some of them it was part of their marketing major or minor, but the course also attracted many exchange students.

The fact that students could apply their theoretical knowledge onto a case, almost immediately after the start of the course, made it very interesting. The Branding Communication Fair, the competitive elements and connection to the industry was also seen as an attractive aspect.

As International Business student Monika Hulewicz explains, “Being judged on our projects by professionals who are very knowledgeable on pensions was a good experience. It meant we had to be very well informed about the product we were trying to sell.”

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One of the tutors, Wiebke Eberhardt, adds: “In this setting, students immediately encounter some of the real-life issues consultants for example would also have to deal with. Working in a group setting, effective communication, presentation, writing reports and so on.”

But, according to Eberhardt, the fair was also interesting for the jury members. “Take AEGON for example—a multinational insurance, pensions and asset management company,” she says. “For them, the customer centrality idea is becoming very important. They are really trying to transfer this marketing strategy to the pension sector. Looking at demand, and differences between customers. But so far, not much has been implemented, especially when it comes to communication. In their projects, many students focused on younger generations. Their fresh outlook on pension communication is sometimes lacking in the industry. From that perspective, the Branding Communication Fair could be seen as one big focus group for the jury members.”

This is why Brüggen found it important to include different stakeholders, but also to share the results of the projects with the (pension) industry. “My idea was to assemble a jury with a lot of expertise, but also to make sure that the members would look at the student projects from different angles. Eventually, the jury consisted of fourteen representatives from pension funds and insurance companies, governmental bodies like the AFM or DNB, research agencies, communication strategists and academia.”

DSC_0699The winning teams

As part of their assignment, students had to link their campaign to a life event: getting married, buying a house or getting a new job. After several rounds of speed dating, the jury selected three winning teams, based on creativity, but also the level of customer centrism, the financial feasibility and how clear their communication was.

All winners received a certificate and a gift voucher, handed over by jury members Frits Bart (Director Strategy and Relations, AEGON), Dirk Broeders (Senior strategy advisor at the Supervisory Policy division and a specialist in regulation of pension funds), and Dirk Kuijpers (Owner of ActuIT).

List of jury members
Here is a complete list of this year’s jury members:

  • Frits Bart (Director Strategy and Relations, AEGON)
  • Roos Kuip (Head of Communication of the “Pensioenfederatie”, the organization which represent pension funds in the Netherlands)
  • Dirk Broeders (Senior strategy advisor at the Supervisory Policy division and a specialist in regulation of pension funds.)
  • Femke Kruiderink (Regulator at the “Autoriteit Financiële Markten (AFM)”, the Authority of Financial markets which guards pension communication in the Netherlands)
  • Dirk Kuijpers (Owner of ActuIT)
  • Kornelis Wetsema (Owner Catapult Creative Communication)
  • Rob Braaskma (Director Pension fund HIBIN)
  • Julie Visser (Senior Consultant at TNS NIPO, the market research agency which does a lot of research on pensions)
  • Chantal Hoet (Proposition Manager Pension and Retirement Services at Aegon )
  • Con Snijders (Manager Marketing & Communication at APG)
  • Academic experts:
  • Prof. Dr. Hans Kasper
  • Dr. Anouk Bollen
  • Dr. Thomas Post
  • Dr. Raymond Montizaan

Click here for a Flickr album of the event.

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Find out more about Dr. Lisa Brüggen and all UM professors on the UM Expert Guide.

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