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Power behind the web

What is important is the vehicle that leads you to the online information.

Almost everyone would agree that some form of online servicing is beneficial to advisers and many advisers have gone beyond this to create their own web presence and brand. But, at the same time, some question the investment they have made in new media and wonder if their money could be better spent or perhaps better targeted.

Most intermediary – and provider – online marketing involves lead generation via a website which requires individuals to visit and transact in some way. Even if they do not transact a product, they may ask for information. The problem is how to get a share in a crowded market without having to spend heavily on promoting your website.

We perhaps go wrong on two counts. First, we sometimes overestimate public appetite for financial information. Second, we may forget where the web can be at its most powerful. To illustrate, we can look at an example from another industry.

This involves a famous encyclopedia manufacturer and an equally famous internet search engine. Some years ago, the encyclopedia company noticed that sales were falling. After conducting research, it became clear that this was because information was available easily online without having to look it up in an expensive book so they decided to put the wealth of information contained in their books online and charge people for access to it.

The strategy failed and the encyclopedia company now depends more and more on its die-hard customers, who like the traditional feel and heritability of the books. Meanwhile, the internet search engine goes from strength to strength.

What the search engine realised was that it is not the information itself that is important but the route that you take to it. This is the real power of the web. Anyone can put information online but the vehicle to find that information will be what sticks in the mind.

Let us apply that to corporate pensions in the workplace, where employees want to find out information on their pension. The ideal would be to make sure that you are the route they use to get that information. By doing this, you ensure that they are exposed to your message every time they want to find something out.

You do not want to rebuild provider extranets (well, perhaps you do but it would use up all your weekends) so you might look at controlling the information flow so that if an employee wants to get information, they move through a site which contains a message from you. This could be as simple as “Visit my website” or could be “I have a special deal on Isas/mortgages/life cover – contact me for details.”

The software that helps you achieve this needs to have features and benefits which make it attractive to the client company. But, perhaps more importantly, it needs to have hooks which will make employees use it as part of their daily life.

A key thing to think about when addressing your marketing is information flow. Employees within pension schemes at client companies may look at your website once a year on average. They may look at a provider site marginally more often. But most employees with access to an intranet will look at it every day and the more content-rich that site is, the more they will come back. So if you can inhabit that information flow, you will expose more people to your messages more often and if you get this right, you will see a direct commercial benefit.

Some HR people (if you buy them a drink) will admit that they are not as keen on flexible benefits as is often supposed. What they really like is the communication power that comes with flex benefit systems – helping staff to understand and value their benefits fully as well as minimising time-wasting queries. They also like the fact that an employee is using a system that the employer has provided so they can find useful information. This reinforces the ties between the two parties. What the HR people are saying is that they value being the search engine rather than just the encyclopedia, even if in reality they fill both roles.

Mark Polson is head of corporate business at Scottish Life.

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