MassMututal uses ads targeted at different "personas" to influence different client demographics.

Women, especially millennials, are responding more favorably to retirement education campaigns than men are, according to MassMutual Retirement Services. The company found savings rates are increasing among women and in some cases surpassing those of men.

“The longer-term trends show women are taking retirement savings more seriously and in some instances are now eclipsing men,” Elaine Sarsynski, executive vice president for MassMutual Retirement Services, said in a statement. “MassMutual is seeing increases in the rates that women respond to campaigns to boost their retirement savings. We’re now finding that women’s retirement savings account balances in defined contribution plans such as 401(k)s are climbing faster than men’s.”

The average 401(k) balance among women increased 17% over the past year and is up 71% since 2009. Furthermore, the gap in average balance between men and women fell almost three points since 2010 to 37.8%.

Women in the 18- to 34-year-old age band outperformed other women “by far and, interestingly enough, [have] done so year over year,” Shannon Caminiti, head of MassMutual’s retirement plan participant experience, told ThinkAdvisor on Thursday. Millennial women “outperformed the 2013 campaign by 38%, and our 2012 campaign by 55%. What we’re doing is working, and we try to continue to make sure that our messaging, our imagery is relevant and targeted.”

Caminiti suggested email has a lot to do with younger women’s higher response rate. “That generation has grown up with [email]. There never hasn’t been email” for them, she said. “Everything has been instant and immediate, and email feels very comfortable” for them.

She said they receive very high rates of email responses “because it’s in front of you, you can act on it and move on. That’s just a very natural approach for that demographic.”

Additionally, for older women, “everybody’s got a hand in that age group’s pocket,” Caminiti said. “They’re sandwiched in between paying for their own mortgage, paying for their own retirement. Their children are coming up to planning for hundreds of thousands of dollars in college costs. Their parents, who probably didn’t save as much as they should have, they’re now stepping in and helping them. I think there are more objections in that group just by the nature of the increased demands on them.”

MassMutual is not just competing with other retirement plan providers for their customers’ attention, but with every other advertiser. “What we try to do in our communications is get five, 20 seconds of the participants’ time,” Caminiti said. “We know we’re competing with Macy’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, the car ads of the world, so we’re trying to get them to focus on what we’re trying to say. We want to be one of those three or four messages that really cuts through the noise.”

To do that, MassMutual created “personas”to target its communications. The firm combines data from employers like marital status, gender and age, with information it gets from participants’ website visits and email responses, and third-party data.

“If we bucket all of that together, we create what we call personas,” Caminiti explained. “It’s like attributes, like behaviors, like attitudes, and with that, it helps us build a familiarity, build a consensus, which is really important because it helps us get in the mind of those unique individuals and relate to them on a level that matters to them. What that leads to for us is better decision making for our female participants.”

MassMutual used this strategy recently on its national campaign. “While to the untrained eye, our campaigns all look the same, we have versions for three different age segments in both genders. The imagery that we use is specific and targeted to each persona.”

In addition to sending targeted postcards and emails to participants, MassMutual also targets its personal communications in meetings and webinars, Caminiti said. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all. We don’t take a blanket approach. We want to make sure that based on the data, based on our research, based on third-party research, what we’re saying is important and impactful.”