The ESOP Association wants to hear from you: Would you mind taking a few minutes to tell us about your website experience today? Your feedback is confidential, and will take less than 5 minutes to complete.

Take the Survey
ESOP Association Blog

Know Your Audience and Know Your Message: Comprehensive New Communications Research On The Way

James Bonham, President and CEO, The ESOP Association
Jim Bonham_Advocacy Academy 2023

Over the past few months, The ESOP Association has been conducting an expansive market research study looking into attitudes toward ESOPs and employee ownership. Our goal for this ambitious project is to help ESOPs and professional service providers gain an edge in both internal and external communications through data-driven messaging that resonates with target audiences. We are just now starting to receive and analyze the results from this first-of-its-kind study, and we will release the initial findings and key takeaways at next week’s National Conference in Washington, DC.

This has been an exciting project to undertake that tests many of the fundamental ways we communicate about ESOPs to employees, to prospective employees, to customers and clients, and to the public at large. For professional advisors, it dives deeply into the way we explain ESOPs to business owners who may potentially form an ESOP.  And for public officials and policy decision makers, we have tested the most persuasive benefits out of the multitudes of positive societal benefits that ESOPs provide. It will take months of analysis and synthesis to pull together all that we have learned, but the end goal is to provide meaningful, and tested, guides for communicating to specific audiences and truly leveraging your ESOP to maximum benefit.

We convened a total of seven focus groups to dive deep into what really moves the needle with different audiences. These focus groups included two groups with non-ESOP business owners, two groups with ESOP employee owners, two groups with non-ESOP employees, and a group of top ESOP professionals across all major disciplines (valuation, administration, legal etc.). We also conducted a comprehensive national public opinion survey of 2,000 people. In addition, the survey included oversamples of current employee owners (to gain a quantitative perspective of their attitudes toward ESOPs), as well as non-ESOP business owners (to gauge awareness and likelihood of considering an ESOP in the future). In all, more than 4,000 Americans will have participated in the study.

While we are still crunching the numbers, the results so far are proving to be quite rich. We’ll go into much greater detail next Thursday, May 9 at 12:15pm, but three core themes are emerging:

Validation of previous studies into employee ownership: 

The Employee Ownership Foundation, the Rutgers Institute for the Study of Employee Ownership and Profit Sharing, and others have sponsored and conducted research into employee ownership over the years. The ESOP Association’s research provides further data-driven validation of previous studies. Namely, that ESOP employees are more satisfied in their jobs, have significantly greater savings, and believe in much greater numbers that they can achieve the American Dream compared to non-ESOP employees.

The audience is as important as the message: 

As we tested the most positive aspects of ESOPs and employee ownership, we began to see some highly varied results across key demographic groups. A message that, for example, resonates highly with younger employee owners might rate much farther down the scale for job seekers or consumers. We’ll go into this in some detail during National Conference, but the key takeaway here is that ESOPs should be hyper-focused on calibrating messages for different audiences. Successful political campaigns are very good at doing this, and with a little effort and coordination across marketing, HR, and communications teams, ESOP companies can strengthen their brand and value proposition across all key stakeholder groups.

Raising awareness of ESOPs can be a key driver of future success: 

Across populations, the more people know about ESOPs, the more favorable attitudes they have toward them. This includes the general public and non-ESOP business owners. This metric is critical because it validates with data what we have long believed and held to be true about ESOPs and employee ownership. However, to use a political analogy, our entire community must get better at defining ourselves, because awareness of ESOPs among the general American public remains fairly low. This is partly because the total number of ESOPs in the U.S. hovers around 7,000 companies, or an average of less than 140 ESOPs per state. And it’s also partly due to the level of financial literacy within the general public, many of whom find the concept of ESOPs to be confusing at first. But the data show very clearly that when the general public has a better awareness of ESOPs, metrics rise across the board, from overall favorability to purchasing decisions as well as job search likelihood.

This is just a sneak preview of the Association’s findings. To learn more, be sure to attend the May 9 General Session at National Conference on The ESOP Value Proposition. We’ll have our project leaders, Alex Braun and Dom Bartkus from SKDK and HarrisX, on hand to dive deep into key findings and provide you with insights you can take home and begin implementing at your ESOP. And over the next several months, The ESOP Association will be releasing a series of communications guides breaking down our research with compelling and actionable guidance across several disciplines, including Marketing, Human Resources, Internal and External Communications, and guides for our Professional members. 

Looking forward to seeing you at National Conference next week!