According to a recent report in Bloomberg, only about three percent of American families save for college using 529 plans. That means 97 percent don't leverage them and they could be missing out on the tax and other benefits they offer to college savers.

According to the report, the top reasons cited for not investing in them include high fees, limited investment options and complex rules. To that list, we add one more: ineffective marketing.

Most 529 plans are marketed like commodities. Highly conventional state wrappers and branding are applied to products with similar features sponsored by individual states and managed by different financial firms. It's a category with a whole lot of sameness and not enough helpful information to get consumers to take action.

It's time for state agencies and investment companies to leverage modern marketing techniques and fresh thinking to attract more investors to these beneficial college-saving vehicles. Here are five innovative ideas.

1. Educate about education saving. These days, research shows women control most family financial decisions. Related studies reveal that women prefer to be educated about financial solutions, not sold investment products and performance. That's why it's critical to offer education on the benefits of a college education, how to save for college and the pros and cons of the different options available for saving, including 529s. Incorporating these products into a broader college saving story will help more women understand their value and leverage them in their family's overall educational saving plan.

2. Use new media options. More and more families today get information from social media, lifestyle blogs, podcasts and other alternative media options. Use them to distribute education about college saving. It makes sense to leverage the media your audience is already engaged with rather then try to draw them to your website. Plus, your message will seem more credible if it's introduced by a resource they already trust rather than an unknown state agency or financial company.

3. Paint a picture. College is all about aspiration and dreams of a better future. Why not use inspirational images, infographics and videos to explain the value of a college education and the importance of saving for it? Words are a great tool to use to educate prospects, but a picture is worth a thousand of them.

4. Focus on feelings. College is one of life's most important and emotional milestones. Who hasn't teared-up when they've dropped their kids off to college or watched them graduate? Marketing for 529 plans will resonate more if it's as much about feelings and emotions as dollars and performance.

5. It takes a family. Don't limit yourself to marketing college saving plans to parents. Grandparents, godparents, aunts and uncles and others are big influencers on a child's educational decisions. Provide these influencers with conversation-starters about college. Make it easy to pass on this information via email and social media.

Looking for fresh ideas on how to market 529 plans and other education-saving products? Contact Carpenter Group. We've helped major financial firms find novel ways to market conventional financial products. Our campaigns get results.