CMO of the Week: Nationwide’s Ramon Jones

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When Ramon Jones was appointed chief marketing officer of Nationwide a little more than two years ago, the 20 year brand veteran knew it would be a challenge.

When Ramon Jones was appointed chief marketing officer of Nationwide a little more than two years ago, the 20 year brand veteran knew it would be a challenge.

“Two years ago, we were just starting to move into a pandemic and a whole bunch of other societal shifts were occurring as I was stepping into a new job,” says Jones. “This hasn't been marketing as usual. It's really been focusing on making sure that we're running a modern marketing operation. It's making sure that we're leveraging digital and data technology in a very meaningful way.” 

While most people know the Fortune 100 brand from its iconic jingle, the insurance and financial services company is expanding its branding through partnerships that support its brand mission:  “to protect people, businesses and futures with extraordinary care.”

For instance, Nationwide has been partners with the NFL for almost a decade now, sponsoring the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. “Our partnership with the NFL is unique in that the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award is given to an active player who was focused on giving back to their community in one way or another,” adds Jones. “We've targeted that award because it's consistent with our values and how we like to describe ourselves as more than a business.” 

Nationwide also recently partnered with the National Women's Soccer League to help promote social good. The brand sponsors the league and the players who are working on nonprofits in their communities. Additionally, the brand sponsors a local hospital near the company’s headquarters.

“Nationwide Children's Hospital, which is located here in central Ohio, is another partnership that we've had for a long time that demonstrates that we are more than a business,” Jones comments. “We use these partnerships, not just to generate brand awareness, but to also show support for the communities in which our customers and our associates live and work.”

Brand Innovators caught up with Jones from his office in Columbus, Ohio to talk about target audiences, digital innovation and brand purpose. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Who are your target audiences and how you are reaching them?

There are two primary audiences that we are trying to reach – the end consumer and the intermediary. Our marketing strategy is based on reaching both of those but prioritizing that intermediary first since north of 90% of the revenues for Nationwide come through an intermediary partner. That could be a financial adviser, or it could be an agent or broker or a partner that distributes our products. It's really important that we maintain that awareness with that target audience. Secondarily, we want to make sure that our iconic brand is top of mind for consumers. 

To do so we go through a variety of different channels for intermediaries to make sure that Nationwide and those partners are the brands they trust for the expertise that Nationwide brings to the table for the products that we sell. Those channels will look like thought leadership pieces through digital, it might look like promotions through LinkedIn and other professional platforms. It might look like specific audience-generating activities that are focused on licensed professionals that sell our products. It might even include some of our sports relationships. There's a variety of platforms that we'll use there. 

We use a lot of social and digital and other tactics to reach consumer directly. While we have dialed it back, but we also still do broadcast. We still use cable. But we're purchasing through streaming platforms and subscription platforms. We're probably 60-70% digital marketing, as opposed to broadcast and typical marketing and that increased substantially over the last five to 10 years. 

How does your brand purpose show up in your work?

Nationwide is more than a business. Our mission is to protect people, businesses, and futures with extraordinary care. All 25,000 or so of our associates can mention that mission. Our partnership with Nationwide Children's Hospital is one that's kind of evolved over the last decade or so. It's located here in central Ohio. Probably 40% of our associates are located here in central Ohio and it just made a lot of sense for us to make an investment and a partnership with an organization that's doing so much good for our associates and for our business partners here in Ohio. 

Columbus is our home office and so we struck up this relationship with Nationwide Children's starting by just investing in some of the research that they're doing and it's grown over time. Our CEO is now sitting on the board. This is just an example of how we're a little different than most companies that are out there. I don't know another insurance company that has a children's hospital named after it. It's a point of pride for us. 

2022 has been a very uncertain year with inflation and a recession looming. How is your brand adapting to the times?

I'm proud of the fact that we've made really smart business driven decisions over the course of the last several years. We've already demonstrated that through the good times and bad, we're positioned to make really good decisions to drive solid business results. Last year was actually a record year Nationwide and coming out of a pandemic. It's nice to see when you make really smart business-driven decisions that it pays off. 

As we look at the next 12 to 18 months, there's rumors of a recession. There's other business and economic challenges that we fully expect to face. We're gonna lean into it. We're very well prepared to manage any uncertainty that's coming our way because we are strong and stable and focus on capital preservation. We focus on a return on investment for the work that we do. We're being very diligent in how we make marketing investments going forward. I'm confident of the decisions that we're going to make going forward.

How is Nationwide thinking about new technology innovations such as Web3 and NFTs? 

I would love to break out the crystal ball to tell you what marketing and distribution and sales will look like 10 years from now. What I can tell you is that it'll look different than it does today. From a marketing perspective, that's where our whole focus on testing and learning lots of new ideas comes into play. In the last year or two, we've built up a marketing technology operation within the marketing group here and they're focused not only on making sure that we're very efficient in the technology and marketing that we're doing. They're also looking at new trends. They're testing out the metaverse and looking at different ways of building our brands and platforms in spaces that look a little different than how we've done it in the past. I don't know specifically what the future will look like. We're testing and learning. It's a lot of different ways of making sure that we maintain brand awareness with our targeted audiences going forward, whatever that might look like. 

Can you talk about Nationwide's commitments to diversity in equality and inclusion?

I am super proud of our track record in the DE&I space, because we've been committed to the DE&I before the term DE&I was the thing. I've been here for 22 years now. For 20 of my 22 years, we have been focused on associate resource groups, casting that wide net for talent, and making sure that the associates that are part of the Nationwide family reflect the rich diversity of the US labor market. We've been intentional in how we show up for years. Our partnerships with a variety of organizations and schools and federal organizations is not new for us. It's always been part of our DNA. Our current chief diversity officer is not our first, she's probably our third or fourth at this point, just demonstrating the fact that the focus of diversity has always been part of Nationwide. 

From an associate perspective, it's making sure that we're available in the markets to consumers across all different demographics and making sure that we're investing in that next generation of advisor. The Financial Alliance for Racial Equity is an example of making sure that we're showing how insurance and financial services could be a viable career path for students coming out of HBCUs. And also making our products available in different communities across the US. 

What are you most excited about as the leader of the brand for the rest of 2022?

There's so much uncertainty that we're going to face between now and the end of the year. What I am excited about is the fact that we've made a very clear marketing strategy in front of our board and executive team in 2022. This is the first true year that we're actually leaning into the strategy. I'm excited about seeing how this will continue to deliver that marketing return on investment. 

No one knows what the economy's going to do. No one knows what the impacts of inflation is going to look like, but I'm proud to work for a strong and stable company like Nationwide. I'm proud of how we responded to challenges in the past, and very optimistic about how we'll do that for the balance of this year. We've really leaned into flexible work environments and the ability to get work done regardless of the structure of our associate base where people are located. 

I'm a dad and I'm about to send my daughter to college. I'm looking forward to that. I sleep well knowing that I work for a company that's strong and stable, and I'm part of a team that's making really good decisions.

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