How Northwestern Mutual’s focus on women changed its media mix

Over the last two years, Northwestern Mutual has changed its approach to marketing. Instead of creating ads that primarily targeted men, the company is now spending money to specifically target women. Doing so has changed the way the financial planning company approaches its media buying — adding more lifestyle channels on TV, and different digital channels to the mix.

This shift has come after the company named CMO Aditi Gokhale. When it comes to financial services companies there is typically a gap in connecting with women and Gokhale recognized the business opportunity for Northwestern Mutual to fill that gap, she said.

“When you think about the business side, in 51% of households, women are the financial decision-makers,” said Gokhale, adding that the company continues to focus on and invest in targeting women. “The purchasing power of women, in general, will continue to skyrocket.”

It also created its first TV ad, released in 2017, focusing on a woman as she charts the path to creating her own business after tiring of a male-dominated workplace. The company is also creating editorial and social content that specifically features women and men. For media buying, the company added Bravo, HGTV and Lifetime to its linear TV buying and TheSkimm, Well + Good and The Knot to its digital buying.

In 2018, Northwestern Mutual spent $71 million in media, up from 2017’s $68 million, per Kantar, which also found that the company spent $26 million in the first quarter of 2019. It’s unclear how much of its advertising dollars went to campaigns targeting women or what percentage of the company’s customers are female, as the company declined to share those numbers. The company works with creative agency GSD&M.

Northwestern Mutual says the approach has increased its female audience overall. For example, creating content for and buying media where women will see it has increased the brand’s female social audience, specifically on Instagram, where the company now has a 56% female and 44% male social following. The first ad focused on a woman’s career garnered the company’s highest emotional engagement and consideration by women, up 18 points year-over-year (the company declined a request to clarify from what to what the lift represents).

“We’ve found success engaging women through content about real women who are reaching their financial goals and key life moments such as planning a family vacation, preparing for maternity leave or starting a business,” said Gokhale.

Northwestern Mutual is employing this strategy with its current campaign, “MoneyMates,” which looks at financial planning through the lens of couples during wedding season. By placing media on The Knot and working with female influencers, the company is looking to attract women by talking about the importance of financial planning and marriage.

“We are focused on women influencers,” said Gokhale of the MoneyMates campaign. “We’re looking at a roster of influencers to speak genuinely from a variety of perspectives. We’ve got couples, relationship and wedding experts and we’ve also got our own advisors.”

Over the last 18 months, the company has changed its marketing on social media, shifting away from using the channels for company news to a focus on content targeting consumers. Last year, it experimented with using YouTube and Instagram influencers to create content for a program called, “If It Was Up to My Kids.” Following that campaign, the company decided to once again use influencers for its MoneyMates program.

In general, Gokhale has employed what she calls a “human data” approach to the brand’s that meshes together “the EQ and the IQ by creating rich narratives and storytelling with the different tables of data,” said Gokhale. For example, in using this approach, the company built an insurance calculator that was less about data and more about a personalized experience for consumers. In doing so, 20% of the company’s digital sales leads in the last year came through that calculator.

This approach has proved successful, with Northwestern Mutual now at 1.25 million registered users (the company declined to share what it was previously) and with a 45% uptick in customers between the ages of 25 and 39.

This story previously said an ad that was released in 2017 came out this past February. A clarification that 20% of the company’s digital sales leads came from its digital calculator was added. We regret the errors.

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