Brands, balls and flying shoes

30 October 2023

World Employer Branding Day is like a triple shot of espresso – one team of presenters after another come bounding onto the stage, to a theatre full of employer branding converts if not evangelists.  There’s no bothering with questions or discussion (that’s for lunch or drinks afterwards); the intention is simply to hit you with more stories and stats than you can ever possibly compute.   


In truth, this feels like the ultimate celebration of all that is good in employer branding – giving everyone a collective pat on the back and a round of applause that could be heard in Dam Square. When Matthew Jeffrey of EY made a plea to the audience to keep focusing on ‘disruptive, stand-out marketing’, the whole theatre nearly exploded with a sense of pride and exhilaration. 


Compared to the event in Lisbon the year before, this was undoubtedly a step up in insight and energy.  The only downside being the weather.  Lisbon was a sunny 23 degrees.  Amsterdam was so wet the traditional Friday morning tour of the city was cancelled. 


So what did we hear?  On a macro level, there were three main themes: 


People – employee stories are a perennial favourite for employer branding teams, and this year was no exception.  And why not.  Authentic, user-generated content is a powerful way to connect with talent. 


One brand – an underlying theme was that of there being one brand rather than two, and also the importance of HR and Marketing working hand in glove.  Not a new development, perhaps, but of greater importance as organisations realise that in many industries, talent are often customers too, and how they need to unify under a common purpose. 


Data – it was great to see lots of data being bandied around, especially a quite brilliant dashboard.  But also, a much greater focus on results and how they are being measured.   


Here’s a run-down of our favourite sessions and some key takeaways: 


ASML – never heard of this business before (and why would I?).  It’s in the ‘chip’ business and one of those best-kept secrets.  A company of phenomenal growth, with half the workforce having been there for less than two years.  It’s clear then that the Employer Brand is as important for this mass hiring as it is to build a connection with new hires in the workplace. 


Activision Blizzard – the honesty of the case study was surprising (the shadow of a takeover by Microsoft as well as sexual assault allegations) and reminded us that we never develop an employer brand in a vacuum.  In this context, it was a question of going to the people to help develop, shape and tell the story.   


Lego – who doesn’t love Lego?! This was a story of expedience – as the company adapted its approach to the typical employer branding process.  Instead of a long, drawn-out research phase, the business treated this more like a recruitment campaign and focused on Lego people!  It shows that you don’t always have to do a major research phase – especially if the business are asking, ‘we’re Lego, doesn’t everyone know who we are?!’. 


Indeed and Glassdoor – I thought this would be an uber sales pitch by two of the giants of recruitment.  But it actually turned out to be an extremely insightful look at the connection between wellbeing and productivity – and four key factors – sense of purpose, sense of satisfaction, level of happiness and level of stress.  In a hybrid world where connection can be difficult, it reminded us of the importance of community. 


Kaufland – another organisation I had never heard of – but this was the case study of the day.  The Acces campaign resulted in hiring over 450 people with a disability.  There was also a little magic in their TikTok campaign focused on using sign language.  Both of these were a reminder that diversity shouldn’t be a catch-call campaign, but focused on specific audiences, to really drive results. 


Siemens – a well-known and popular employer that receives a job application every 9 seconds!  Again a strong focus on advocacy and also referral; and with a workforce of 240k people, they took time to educate, inform and inspire that internal audience.  So important.   


Primark – another big brand that has 2.5 million applications, including 58,000 in the time it took for Steven and Neil to do their presentation.  Interesting to hear that a 60-second video was the optimal length for the most traction; for many of our audiences, that feels too long.  Their use of ‘advanced job descriptions’ should be adopted by more people – instead of a 513-word job description, it becomes a more dynamic job description sliced into bite-sized chunks. 


Mondelez – Ted’s approach here was quite refreshing, especially for a big, global business.  He highlighted the disconnect between external TikTok employer branding and the dull drip-feed of internal comms; and how they had moved the EB inside, focusing on storytelling and advocacy.  For Mondelez, a good sign of employer brand reputation is the number of referrals. 


Amazon Ads – this was a story about the importance of focusing on data and measurement, to prove your business case and secure more budget to do more great things.  It also featured a dashboard that followed the AIDA process – Attraction (Impressions), Interest (Clicks), Desire (Visitors), Action (Applications) – for every job campaign and job type.  Bravo! 


Vattenfall – not a brand I had ever heard of, but a great example of how a utilities business had moved to a purpose-led strategy and improved employee engagement by 23 percentage points (from 57% to 80% over 3 years).  It is now the third most valuable brand in Sweden behind IKEA and Spotify.   


Haleon – the story of a $10 billion start-up.  This was the consumer healthcare business divested from GSK with no brand, no purpose, no values and of course no employer brand.  Literally a blank sheet.  And an expectation to do things better than they had been done before.  Some interesting concepts involved here – an online research community to gather insights from colleagues during Covid.  It ranged from questions like ‘How are you?’ to ‘Write a postcard to the leaders of the company’.  A workshop also focused on four quadrants – Quick Wins, Strategic Wins, Sticking Plaster, Energy Sappers.  Lots of nice insights. 


Lidl – the starting point was a lack of consistency, a lack of focus, no customer and colleague alignment, and no clear data.  Pretty sure, there are many organisations that have this starting point!  From then on, we saw a real change in look and feel – literally from arms folded to arms wide; and a bringing together of the brand across customer, corporate and employer branding.   


EY – some great innovations from the team at EY, including the WeVerse, EY’s use of the Metaverse for student engagement in North America; plus robot dogs, a different kind of web experience and its NextWave Careers.  But what captured the imagination of the audience was the shoe-throwing when Matthew suggested we should spend more time in the “candidates’ shoes” and also made a plea to do more ‘stand-out, disruptive’ marketing and build strong relationships with talent.  Huge fun! 


A fun day, with some lovely food and drinks in the evening – and a photo booth!  Special thanks to Brett and team for organising.  The big question is, where will it be next year?  Somewhere sunny, we hope… 

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