Q&A with Brad Barnett, Vice President, Enterprise Marketing, Nationwide

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Cover image for  article: Q&A with Brad Barnett, Vice President, Enterprise Marketing, Nationwide

Brad Barnett (pictured above) is Vice President, Enterprise Marketing at Nationwide. He will be a speaker at the ANA Brand Masters Conference, April 15-17 in Carlsbad, California. ANA Senior Director, Brand & Media John Paquin recently sat down with Brad for a pre-conference interview where they discussed how Nationwide leverages the NFL across media, advertising and sponsorships to create value for all its core businesses and how any-sized brand can learn from their experience.

John Paquin: Celebrity spokespeople seem to come and go, but you have a successful, 10 year-long relationship with Peyton Manning. To what do you attribute this longevity, and what do you see as the long-term value of the relationship? How did you select Peyton in the first place?

Brad Barnett: In 2014, we decided that the NFL was the right platform to accelerate our brand. It offered scale, the most diverse fanbase in all of sports, over-indexed with partners who sell our products, and offered relationship-building opportunities for stronger B2B marketing efforts that are important in our business.

The NFL became a strategic investment across advertising, media and sponsorships to drive greater impact for and alignment around our brand. From an advertising perspective, we sought a spokesperson who would be contextually relevant to the platform, could appeal to the masses, and whose values matched ours, and it didn't take us long to narrow our focus down to Peyton Manning. His overall relevance/equity scores, the way he handled himself on and off the field, the professionalism he brought to every conversation and overall likeability made him a great fit. After 10 years, we still view Peyton as an impactful strategic brand partner.

Paquin: Shifting gears, Nationwide's jingle is an earworm if there ever was one. It's been around since 1967 and is front and center in your marketing efforts, not just an obligatory sting at the end. Yet some agency creatives often try to relegate these equities to an afterthought in service of "greater creativity." Has this debate come up internally or with your partner agencies?

Barnett: We view having an iconic jingle as a strategic branding asset in a marketing world where brands are fighting for attention. Consumers can become unengaged in commercial breaks, and using music has proven to drive increased attention, brand linkage and overall stopping power. When it's authentic to the brand -- and highly effective when used -- there are no internal debates. More than anything, the jingle is not just seven notes: it's our brand promise.

Paquin: We noted that Nationwide is on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For 2023list, which is no small thing! Can you talk about your company culture and how you think it impacts the business?

Barnett: Over the past three years, Nationwide has grown topline performance by nearly $14B, surpassing $60B in 2023. When a company is seeing that kind of success, it has to be doing several things right. A key contributor to these results is highly engaged associates (employees). Ours is a company where the word "culture" means something -- opportunities for advancement, mission-driven work, prioritizing the customer, a sense of belonging, a family-like atmosphere, a hybrid work environment… the list goes on. When you can bottle that, it is an accelerant that drives substantive business results and leads to people wanting to work here (and stay for a long time).

Paquin: And finally, any advice for our smaller members who may have more modest budgets, given your own success building amazing long-term equity in the Nationwide brand?

Barnett: Budgets are all relative based on your category. Nationwide is a modest spender in a very competitive category with significant media investment. On the insurance side, we are outspent 15-20x depending on the competitor. So even in our world, we must relentlessly search for differentiation and space where we can stand out to audiences and communicate key messages. While the investment strategy is critical, brands must earn equity over time.

That said, I realize our budget is not small compared to many other brands. I've had the experience of working in R&D, where you are vying for small dollars to prototype, build and search for product-market fit. In those instances, we live by the advice of Y Combinator's Paul Graham: do things that don't scale. We're searching for low-cost, non-scalable, ways to get users to try our products, with the goal of iteration and product development. We also deploy traction marketing strategies to start with bullseye tactics we know acquire users most efficiently, and then rapidly improve performance in those channels and expand outwards. Having a strong brand does dramatically improve the performance of early-stage products but, for lesser-known brands, focus on building an incredible product first and a brand second.

At some point in a brand's journey, you must ultimately tackle the challenge of broad distribution. Most DTC brands eventually need to be a merchant on Amazon or a get on a shelf at Walmart, and we are no different (for us that's large financial firms, brokers and agents). The cost of acquisition and overall unit economics dramatically improve when you can successfully do this. It's a strategic advantage to have this accessible to early-stage products in your core businesses.

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