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How Nationwide is building design thinking into its marketing strategy

  • Nationwide's shift to a holistic marketing approach is emblematic of the industry's focus on financial health rather than siloed offerings
  • Digital marketing is a focus for Nationwide, with continued emphasis on next-generation social platforms like Snapchat, Instagram and Pinterest
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How Nationwide is building design thinking into its marketing strategy

Scott Sanchez, Nationwide’s chief innovation officer, goes door to door to talk to customers. He’s often only able to understand customers’ needs after a bigger discussion about their life situation.

“I was at a customer’s house, and we wanted to talk 401(k)s and retirement. And he said, ‘What I really want to do is open a bed and breakfast [upon retirement.]’ Well, how can we help him with that? It’s about reframing and thinking of the industry and people in a different way,” he said.

Nationwide is focus-testing with customers to better understand their life situations — a holistic, life-stage approach that’s making its way into its marketing programs. Insurers have typically promoted their offerings on a hard-sell, single-product approach, but now, the company is trying to reach customers by getting a 360-degree perspective of their lives organized around stages. These could include sending a child to college, raising a baby or planning for retirement. It’s a customer solutions-focused approach synonymous with design thinking.

“Design thinking is about empathy, trying things before you really do them and iterating over and over again,” said Sanchez, who reports to CMO and president of emerging businesses Terrance Williams. “People can’t [always] tell you what they want; it’s our job to figure what’s underneath — their needs.”

Since the 93-year-old Columbus, Ohio-based insurer brought its sub-brands under one umbrella three years ago, the company has been promoting holistic solutions and paths to financial health rather than products for specific use cases like protecting a home, vehicle or trip.

Some of this comes across in a campaign called “Songs for all Sides,” which includes video ads that focus on meeting customers’ needs as they evolve through life stages.

“We’re using musicians to drive home messaging that centers around solutions and life events,” said Williams. “If you look at vignettes, they’re trying to tell a specific story to connect emotionally with the consumer.”

 

The short video spots, and other marketing materials are inspired by real-life financial situations of customers. Incorporating design thinking into product marketing is an important marker of a shift in the way companies see their product maps.

The company reportedly spent $255 million in measured-media ad spending in 2016. A key way to meet customers during their life stages is through social media ads, and to enable that, it’s allocating 50 percent of its ad spend on paid digital ads, according to Williams. Facebook and Twitter are the actively used social platforms; Nationwide targets social videos to customers based on their activity. Williams said Nationwide is looking to grow its presence on Instagram and Snapchat to reach younger customers. Looking to the future, the company wants to do more on Pinterest because of its unique ability to curate content based on life situations.

“It’s the ability to get granular around someone’s interests,” Williams said. “[Pinterest] gives us insights that a life event is coming for an individual which then allows us to be very specific about it by maybe sending a link to a blog or a pop-up ad.”

Nationwide isn’t unique among financial-services companies in taking a holistic approach to marketing. Digital financial platforms like SoFi, Varo Money and Chime focus on financial empowerment along a trajectory of life’s milestones. But industry watchers say a life-stage approach is still a new strategy for the insurance industry.

“Traditionally, the industry has taken a very product-or-process approach to selling their stuff — things like ‘you want to buy our auto insurance policy because it’s cheaper,’ etc.,” said Michael Fitzgerald, senior analyst at Celent.

Instead of a product marketing approach that’s entirely based on transactions such as “create a quote,” insurers are moving toward an approach that’s more data-driven and based on a customer’s needs.

“The solution is designed based on what the customer wants from an insurer — for example, ‘know me’ is the customer saying, ‘when I contact you, don’t make me give you information that you already have.'”

Photo of Terrance Williams courtesy of Nationwide

 

 

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