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How Nationwide uses data to help customers plan for their future

An interview with Nationwide's Shannon McCarthy

Despite decades of knowing the impact that relevant communication has on consumer engagement, marketers are still challenged with how to best apply all the marketing tools and assets available, such as data, analytics, and a focused strategy, to really drive engagement. In a recent Gartner study, it was revealed that marketers tend to spend a lot of time ‘wrangling’ data rather than analyzing and using it to drive program success.

So, how are insurance marketers moving the needle and overcoming data challenges?  I spoke with Shannon McCarthy, Sr Consultant at Nationwide Financial, and long-time Merkle client, about how Nationwide is leveraging data and analytics to drive relevant communication. Nationwide impacts the lives of consumers through their award-winning Retirement Planning Participant Engagement Program. ¹


Merkle: “ Shannon, retirement planning is a big hurdle for some. What key challenges are you overcoming with Nationwide’s Retirement Participant Engagement Communication Program?”

Shannon: “A key challenge we face is vying for participants’ time in their daily lives. They have a lot to do and tend to avoid “heavy” topics like retirement planning because they lack knowledge and confidence on the topic, the thought alone overwhelms them, or it’s just too far away to worry about. Employers are offering this great benefit to their employees and yet so many of them are not taking full advantage it. We are tasked with helping the employer improve plan engagement and helping employees improve their retirement readiness.”


Merkle: “What key strategies and tools do you and the Merkle team use to overcome this issue, and what has the impact been so far?”

Shannon: “Deploying a people-based marketing strategy combined with impactful creative and powerful yet easy to use tools has absolutely helped. In today’s world, people expect you to know them and delight them by serving up relevant  information with an easy way to act on it right now. There is a certain level of acceptance about the use of data, but only if used in the right way. And data is at the heart of our approach. Understanding what data we have access to, how can we bring it together to better inform timely and personalized communications to participants, motivating them to act, and then knowing what the next-best communication should be for that person. Investment in a database and campaign management tool to support this strategy has been critical. The investment does pay off too — we have seen impressive lift in our key metrics, one of which involves measuring how well we are improving participants’ retirement readiness.”


Merkle: “Has it been easy? What kinds of roadblocks have you dealt with?

Shannon: “I think the biggest challenge, and one we are not alone in, is that there is so much data. And, it is frustrating when you can’t access it or it’s in a format that is not immediately usable. Even worse, the data you think is being saved is not being saved by the system (as a marketer, this is where you just beat your head on your desk). There is so much potential in data and we are now helping to educate our business and IT partners about the uses of data. In this way, they can include requirements in system updates or new launches that ensure we are saving the data in the way we can access and use it to the benefit of our customers. It has taken a lot of conversations, a lot of sharing examples and visuals, but the lightbulbs are going on, and in a big way! We have IT partners who are now just as geeked-out about the potential as we are, and they are now spreading the word for us.”  


Merkle: “Let’s talk about the future. What is the next evolution for your program, and where do you see the market headed in terms of how to engage with consumers?”

Shannon: “Edutainment is coming, especially with such a complex and avoided topic as retirement planning. With so many Americans not saving for retirement and lacking in fundamental financial education, we’ve got to innovate and meet them where they are, doing the things that they enjoy, like playing games for instance. Things like game-based education and rewards where the entire experience is not only fun, but personalized. Kind of like a mom who knows you love brownies, but you also need your veggies too, so she sneaks pureed carrots in there without you even knowing.”


Merkle: “So where should marketers start in terms of enhancing engagement with consumers?”

Shannon: Focus groups and research in invaluable. To stay relevant and keep up with consumer needs, wants, and perceptions, is much better than them having them tell you. Facts or stats are fine, but the real insights — what  marketers live for —come when you start to see and hear the emotion coming from those consumers as you reach out and talk to them.”


¹Nationwide Financial, in partnership with Merkle, was awarded Marketer Quarterly’s Best Cross-Channel Campaign for Financial Services award. The award-winning campaign, Be Your Own Hero, targeted over 300,000 participants in Nationwide Financials’ employer-sponsored retirement plans. Be Your Own Hero communicated a sense of empowerment and encouraged retirement plan participants to take charge of their retirement savings right now. The campaign combined traditional channels, like direct mail and email, and overlaid addressable display and targeted social for amplification. From October to December 2016, the campaign drove a 70% increase in contact center calls, a 50% increase in contributions, and a 98% increase in rollovers of funds from other retirement savings plans into Nationwide plans.