Improve Retirement Outcomes With a Simple ‘Nudge’

Offering a new perspective, a marketing agency provides ideas for getting participants more engaged in their retirement plans.

Many workers struggle to save, particularly for long-term goals such as retirement. It’s common knowledge that they often fail to participate in an employer’s retirement plan, or they set an inadequate saving rate if they do participate. Even though a retirement plan will benefit their future, they may not feel able, due to competing financial demands, to make the necessary changes.


Research has shown that workers are not only feeling the impact but also are seeking help.

Just a few of the most notable findings:

  • Only 17% of workers are very confident in their ability to retire comfortably.[1]
  • Nearly one in three worry about their finances while at work.[2]
  • Over 50% of workers say that not saving more is their biggest regret.[3]
  • Over one-third of retirees say they are unable to do the things they had wanted to do in retirement.[4]
  • 80% of workers would like a “nudge” from their employer to help them save more.[5]


This creates a perfect storm to address with a people-based marketing program—one that can improve retirement outcomes through 401(k), 403(b) and 457 and other employer-sponsored plans.  People-based marketing includes the use of addressable, personalized messaging to manage relationships over time. 


Everything starts with the consumer—in this case, the retirement plan participant. The following is a breakdown of proven marketing strategies that could “nudge” participants to take actions that will deliver positive, long-term outcomes:


Strategic Framework


  • In order to fully understand the customer, you must ensure groups are valued and prioritized. To do this, segmentation is necessary.
  • Given you are working with a wide variety of plan participants, life-stage segmentation should be the foundation for the participant program.
  • Segments can run the gamut from eligible nonparticipants, to newly enrolled participants, to those in their early through mid careers, to those later in their careers, to, finally, retirees.
  • Next, design strategies for each segment utilizing predictive analytics to focus on key, high-opportunity subgroups. This enables a prioritization process for participants, which allows those with the greatest potential to receive the greatest number of contacts.


  • With segments in place, a messaging strategy should be developed. This allows for suitable messages to be delivered to participants as they move along the journey to retirement.
  • Messaging can be divided into three, wide-ranging categories with variations according to audience segment. Suggested messaging categories include “‘always-on’ education,” “behavior-based triggers” and “industry-sponsored events.” Each presents an opportunity to leverage knowledge of the participant to drive improved effectiveness.


  • Channel selection is extremely important, as it serves as the blueprint for delivery. Take the time to design a thoughtful allocation of channel resources.
  • A true omni-channel plan involves tactics such as direct mail, email, website, addressable digital display, paid and organic social media, call center and on-site participant meetings.
  • Given the large number of channels, achieving synergy during orchestration is critical. Make sure to avoid is oversaturation of an audience or conflicting messages being shared in different channels.

Test-and-learn plan

Ongoing optimization, enabled by a clearly articulated test-and-learn plan, helps you improve and evolve your program:

  • How is each segment performing? What drives that performance?
  • Which messages resonate? Which formats?
  • How is each channel performing? How is performance being affected? For example, direct mail only versus direct mail plus email. What external factors affect results?
  • Reporting and analytics
    • Finally, it’s extremely important to build a process by which to periodically assess program performance and then make appropriate changes.


As employer-sponsored retirement plans embrace the use of nudging to improve the retirement outcomes of employees, people-based marketing is poised to take off.


Merkle is a data-driven, technology-enabled, global performance marketing agency that specializes in the delivery of unique, personalized customer experiences across platforms and devices.



This feature is to provide general information only, does not constitute legal or tax advice, and cannot be used or substituted for legal or tax advice. Any opinions of the author do not necessarily reflect the stance of Strategic Insight or its affiliates.

[1] Employee Benefit Research Institute, 2018 Retirement Confidence Survey

[2] PWC, 2017 Employee Financial Wellness Survey

[3] American Century Investments, 2017 National Survey of Defined Contribution Plan Participants

[4] Nationwide Retirement Institute, 2018 Social Security Survey

[5] American Century Investments, 2017 National Survey of Defined Contribution Plan Participants