Employer Branding: How to market your organization under the new paradigm—Part 1: What is employer branding?

What changes have we faced as a society due to the global COVID-19 pandemic?

In Japan, such expressions as “Avoid the ‘Three Cs’ (closed spaces, crowded places, close-contact settings),” “Stay home,” “telework,” and “online drinking parties” became pervasive and many saw significant changes in the ways they lived and worked compared with how they did before.

And the organizational HR domain was no exception when it came to such changes. For example, recruitment activities can now be conducted entirely online. In addition, as a result of the promotion of remote work, many companies have likely had to change the way they engage with their existing employees.

These changes have led to a focus on “employer brand,” the appeal that a company can leverage to attract job seekers and contribute to retaining existing employees, and “employee branding,” the activities used to build such a brand.

In this column, we will discuss why companies need an employee brand today and provide examples of these efforts with a focus on recruiting.

The increased importance of employer branding in the wake of COVID-19

COVID-19 led to sweeping changes in recruitment, making it possible for the entire process—from the release of information to recruitment, interviewing, and hiring—to be completed online. This has led to reduced face-to-face contact between job applicants and companies and, as a result, increased the importance of social media and websites that provide word-of-mouth company feedback as sources of information on companies for job seekers.

According to the Recruit Career Shushoku Mirai Research Institute’s “Employment White Paper 2021,”1 topping the challenges that companies cited in handling the new-graduate recruitment process online were “know-how” (63.3%) and “internal environment and facilities” (61.0%) in first and second place, respectively, followed by “conveying the attractiveness of the company” (52.8%).

Also, according to the same survey, as for “Information that is more difficult for companies to convey to job seekers through an online selection process compared with a face-to-face approach,” “Personality and appeal of employees” (72.8%) and “Workplace atmosphere and organizational culture” (83.8%) accounted for an exceptionally large number of the multiple-response answers and, among these, “Workplace atmosphere and organizational culture,” accounting for 34% of single-response answers, was identified as the most significant challenge.

It is clear that online recruiting activities pose challenges for companies in conveying the appeal and culture of their company in efforts to attract job seekers.

According to the article “How to Maintain Effective Employer Brand During COVID”2 from Comparably, a company that compares employers, brands, and salaries, in recent years social media and online company review sites have become more popular and influential in job seekers’ career decisions.

Also, as for attracting and retaining talent, the article points out that, especially during the pandemic, employer branding strategy is a critical component for organizations and goes on to say that companies that are unable to maintain an effective employer brand will face not only recruiting challenges but also sales, marketing, and other operational issues as well.

What is an employer brand?

The “employer brand” is a concept proposed by Tim Ambler and Simon Barrow.

In Ambler and Barrow (1996, p.187), employer brand is defined as “the package of functional, economic, and psychological benefits provided by employment, and identified with the employing company.”

Additionally, the Forbes article “Why Employer Branding Is Still A Key Priority in 2021”3 provides the following explanation of employer branding: “Fundamentally, it’s a company’s identity, a thoughtfully-crafted mix of its vision, mission, character, culture, and personality to attract and keep potential and current employees.”

In other words, the employer brand is the attractiveness as a place to work of the company, and is offered as a means of appealing to job seekers who are considering applying to that company, as well to existing employees.

Randstad, in its article “Employer Brand Is Still Critical in Winning Great Talent,”4 cites the following key elements of a strong employer brand:

  • Well-understood values and culture
  • Workplace transparency
  • Authenticity
  • Brand evangelists and promoters
  • Well-defined employee value propositions

With regard to employee value propositions (EVPs), mentioned above, HR Exchange Network’s article “Best Practices for Developing Your Employer Brand”5 explains: “Similar to employer branding, the EVP is a tool for marketing your organization to potential hires. It refers to the specific reasons someone might want to work for you.”

Concrete examples of employer branding

What follows is a summary of how Heineken carried out its employer branding as explained in the DeVelde article “Heineken Employer Branding Case Study—Through the Line Branding”6 and the Randstad article “Employer Branding at Heineken.”7

The company’s employer brand story provided “a way to show potential applicants what it’s really like working for Heineken—for them to select in or select out.”6 Through the initiative, “they wanted to attract applicants with real passion for the [Heineken] brand, and ultimately improve quality and fit.”6

Heineken’s approach to building its brand can be summarized as follows (indirectly based on the previously mentioned DeVelde [item 1] and Randstad [items 2 to 4] articles):

1. Articulating the company’s brand values
When developing its EVP, the company engaged in conversations with its employees about what they felt were Heineken’s defining features, identifying the following three: adventure ([Heineken’s] people are curios, can work in many different countries and try new things), friends (we can bring people together), and fame (we’re clearly a well-known company).

2. Attracting candidates through the company’s brand values before they apply
Heineken, through its “Go Places” campaign, led potential job candidates to choose for themselves if they wanted to apply for a job at the company. The campaign featured a video where candidates were asked to respond to 12 questions within a given amount of time. All of the questions were related to Heineken’s three key employer brand values of adventure, friends, and fame.

There were no good or bad responses and no winners or losers. The goal was to lead candidates to choose for themselves if they wanted to apply for a role at Heineken or not.

The campaign was initially launched internally to instill feelings of pride and joy toward the company among employees, and have them share it with friends. Several hundreds of thousands of people took part in the campaign with over 70% of participants completing the quiz and more than 13% applying for a role at Heineken.

3. Measuring the quality of hire
Heineken worked with LinkedIn to gauge the quality of its hiring practices by finding out where the applicants who participated in the “Go Places” campaign but were not hired eventually found jobs. The survey revealed that the companies that subsequently hired them included quality companies, an indication of the quality of the candidates.

4. Building collaborative relationships with functions other than HR
The project became a cross-functional collaboration among different divisions with common interests, namely HR (attracting the right candidates), Marketing (reaching consumers in a different channel), and Communications (reinforcing the corporate brand). But the collaboration was not simply about trying to collaborate, but rather was more focused on finding common interests and common ground.

The pandemic has brought about major changes in hiring practices and the working environment. In order to respond to and surmount these changes, companies will need to promote their company’s appeal to job seekers and existing employees more assertively than ever to attract and retain talent that align with their corporate philosophy.

Leveraging such employer branding activities, it may be necessary for companies to maintain an unwavering self-awareness of who they are through such means as developing EVPs. Now might be a good time for your organization to affirm or redefine its appeal and philosophy, and discuss activities to communicate them.

Works cited:
Ambler, T. & Barrow, S. (1996). The employer brand. Journal of Brand Management, 4 (3),  185-206.

1: Recruit Career Shushoku Mirai Research Institute “Employment White Paper 2021” (in Japanese, referenced on June 3, 2022)

2: Comparably “How To Maintain Effective Employer Brand During COVID” (referenced on June 3, 2022)

3: Forbes “Why Employer Branding Is Still A Key Priority In 2021”(referenced on June 3, 2022)

4: Randstad “Employer brand is still critical to winning great talent”(referenced on June 3, 2022)

5: HR Exchange Network “Best Practices for Developing Your Employer Brand” (referenced on June 3, 2022)

6: Develde “HEINEKEN Employer Branding Case Study – Through the Line Branding” (referenced on June 3, 2022)

7: Randstad “Employer branding at Heineken.” (referenced on June 3, 2022)