This article written by Brad Barnett, AVP National Media & Sports Marketing at Nationwide Insurance.
My journey from majoring in technology, to being a marketing leader
I remember being an undergrad freshman when I needed to choose what I wanted to do professionally. While sitting with advisors, I admittedly had no plan. I’ve always envied people who knew what they wanted to do from the time they were 10 years old. I unfortunately was not one of those people.
I ultimately focused my studies on Management Information Systems, mostly for two reasons – 1) strong starting salaries out of school, and 2) security in knowing that technology-focused fields were expected to be in high demand for the foreseeable future.
But I had one major problem when I graduated and it came time to find a job. I wanted nothing to do with a career focused on computers or programming. I guess when you pick a profession for salary and job security vs. authentic passion and interest, that can happen. In search of finding the “right” opportunity, I was fortunate to secure a position at Nationwide, one of the largest insurance and financial services brands in the U.S., and a Fortune 100 company that is based in Columbus, Ohio.
Like many people (at least I assume), working in the business of insurance and financial services was not my plan, but working for a big company was. Fresh out of undergrad and eager to make an impact, I was ready to show from my first day what I could do. Thankfully, my first position at Nationwide focused on product development and competitive intelligence, which became central to my understanding of the economics of our business. I lean on what I learned about our business in those “early” roles to this day.
After a few years developing new products and rolling them out nationally (which can be challenging in a category subject to so many different regulators), I became more and more interested in marketing, and specifically, the messaging, media, product development, campaign, and promotional aspects of engaging directly with consumers. And while not a “classically trained marketer,” I was able to demonstrate the right skill sets and competencies to get a marketing leader to take a chance on me.
Since then, I have had the fortune of working on every brand or product on the property and casualty side of the business at Nationwide. As an incredibly diversified brand, these experiences allowed me to work not only on personal lines, but also unique products such as commercial and farm/agribusiness.
As I enter my twelfth year (on the older end of the Millennial spectrum at 33 years old), I find myself counting my blessings more often than not for what I get to do every day – leading a strong national media and sports marketing team that is focused on driving Nationwide’s enterprise businesses (now 4+ years in this role).
The concept of billion-dollar brand advertising and marketing’s role in driving business results has evolved at an incredible rate in our industry. P&C personal lines competitors (e.g., GEICO, Progressive, USAA) that successfully envisioned the future, met a consumer need and captured market share have a way of forcing that change. Marketers are now asked to not only build the brand, but drive demand and sales, create differentiation, acquire/retain the best customers, innovate new products and services and develop the optimal consumer experience (in addition to much more). In what has historically been a sales-and underwriting-driven category, this has been a major shift over the past 15-20 years.
Insurance and financial services categories can often be difficult for marketers, especially those who come from traditional consumer goods backgrounds. For example, there is relatively low seasonality, significant regulation, lack of perceived differentiation, difficultly in innovating (and owning it), more than $6 billion spent in measured media, and — the big one – selling a promise vs. a product. These are fair concerns from marketers, as it can often be tough to work in a “low involvement” category in a world that now equips people to avoid ads through DVRs, ad blockers and on-demand viewing.
This is where I find my team’s role critical – to position our brand to be more relevant and appealing to get our desired message to the right audience. In essence, set up our brand to successfully sell a product to the right consumer.
Over the past two to three years, our strategy has focused on smart media placement and engaging content, especially in live broadcast environments. We believe this meets consumers on their terms and through shared passions, which can make a lasting impact. This approach is what has successfully led Nationwide into many live sports venues and personalities, such as the NFL (and Peyton Manning), NASCAR (and Dale Earnhardt Jr.) and the PGA Tour (and Jack Nicklaus). This is a strategy we laid out in 2012 and continue to live into today.
I think our category is a great place to be at this time. People interested in working in marketing in our type of business need to remember that they are working for a major brand, not “just an insurance company.” While I get that it’s not the same as leading marketing for a brand like Coke, and can be perceived as “less sexy” than other consumer goods roles, the ability to leverage your strategic, creative, technological and analytical skills are equal. I have the fortune of working alongside some incredibly talented marketers who I know could easily work for those other big brands if they wanted to. Being around such talent has made me better, challenges me daily, and most importantly, has made Nationwide better.
When I joined Nationwide, I didn’t set out to be in marketing, but I am thankful that it found me. I’m lucky to be where I am given my background, but have worked hard in every aspect along the way to get here, and have maximized every opportunity provided to me. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times of self-doubt or uncertainty, but each time I remained confident, leveraged my co-workers and their talents and focused on making the right decisions.
Our Millennial generation is unfortunately often branded as lazy or whiney. I’ve never understood that and it certainly doesn’t accurately represent me. My sense has always been that Millennials want to make an impact more than anything else – societal, professional, personal, etc. If given the chance, in the right setting and with the right tools, my bet is always on them to do that.
My story may not be the norm, but hopefully it provides lessons on how to work toward what you want, take chances on unconventional talent, and ultimately take advantage of opportunities.
To the next leader who is unsure about what he or she wants to do…I hope you are lucky enough to have the opportunity to take a chance on something that could define your career in the most unexpected, and spectacular way.
Brad majored in MIS because of good starting salaries and confidence that tech would remain important in the business world. He never thought he'd work in insurance. He didn't want to program so he grabbed an insurance job and has grown to run Nationwide Insurance's sports marketing. This is one great story.