Why Content is King for Employer Branding

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg


There are great people out there considering joining your organisation. Do they apply blindly? Probably not? Do they Google the company and read up on whatever they can find? More likely. Today I’m speaking to Todd Wheatland of King Content to find out why content is essential for employer branding.

Listen or read the summary below and don’t forget to subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.

Tell us about King Content and what you do?

I am the head of strategy at King Content, which is an agency that essentially does content strategy development, content asset development, anything from digital, any digital asset from blogs and articles and ebooks through to feature films and documentaries for corporate clients. And as well as social media, organic and increasingly paid media amplification. So we’re an end-to-end digital specialist content marketing agency.

Prior to King, I was head of marketing at Kelly Services, which is in the staffing recruiting space. And I was with Kelly for many years, in various roles, moving up through marketing and some operational exposure. So my background is definitely at that intersection between, let’s call it marketing and HR, or marketing and talent.

How do organisations use content marketing for employer branding?

They don’t. I’m a marketer, I came at this space, this gig very much from a “let’s help marketers become publishers, let’s help people understand that the world’s changed and they don’t have to keep going out and doing global funnel marketing or promotion.” All that beautiful, wonderful stuff that content marketing represents in terms of philosophy.

What I’ve found though is that whilst that was the big opportunity, say in the last five or six years, in the last two years in particular, was in a huge swing towards organisations genuinely wanting to apply these same tools and tactics towards solving their own audience challenges, whether that’s talking to a broader audience challenges, so not just in the traditional marketing silo but any particular organisation that has an audience and an objective can really take advantage of the same type of approach, in building a greater sense of community and more authenticity and transparency and all those wonderful things.

I think organisations are absolutely getting the budgets that they didn’t have two years ago and I see year on year, I see doubling, tripling, quadrupling of budgets and employer branding from many organisations. Getting much more sophisticated in the analytics and the way that they apply that and especially for global organisations much more localised in recognising the connection between geography and specific role demand.

And really building a connection between seeing that employer branding doesn’t have to be a soft cousin of marketing brand thinking but can actually have a very strong ROI connection to the actual talent objectives of the organisation.

With budgets tripling and quadrupling, does that mean a lot more content is being created and published in the space?

It does. But I think the shift at the same time, as we all know, we’ve seen the great promise of social media, six or seven years ago, it was going to be free forever and you could just shout your messages and people would click on your links and come pouring back to your website, because that’s what they wanted to do. Or so we deluded ourselves into thinking.

The reality of those platforms is that that actually was so effective that everyone did it and we quickly killed that as a potential model. And Facebook, we’ve got client organisations under 1% for organic reach on Facebook now, we’ve seen even in the last three months, dramatic plunging in returns on organic visibility for many publishers.

They are media companies, and the opposite side of that, they’ve become much better at actually acting like media organisations, you’ve seen LinkedIn this week introduce programmatic, you’ve seen and you’ll see a huge amount more product focused evolution from LinkedIn, for example, as a paid media play. It’ll become much easier, and they’re really trying to tap into that big agency, big corporate spend, just like Facebook has done so extremely well.

Is the solution to create great content that will resonate with your audience?

The solution is definitely not more content. The solution is developing content with intent and understanding before you create it, how you’re going to get it in front of the right audience. It’s much less about, “Gee I’ve got a blog and I’ve got four social channels so I need to produce a piece of content every day for the blog and shout it out in the social channels.” It’s much less about that, one piece of content every day and much more about how to make sure every piece of content that goes out is actually trying to achieve an objective that I’m intentionally developing it for and is actually getting a connection with the audience that I’m putting it in front of.

So it’s not just, “Shit, it’s Monday, I’ve got to do X”. It’s like, “Let’s get one piece out every couple of weeks. Let’s make it fantastic and let’s use what savings we’ve made to actually pay to get in front of that audience” rather than thinking they’re going to somehow discover it themselves.

How do you go about measuring the ROI on content?

I think there’s a couple of things going on. I think the why marketing, the whole concept of lead nurturing got so good, and that really migrated from the B2B side where there was a clear demand on marketing to generate leads. And the ecosystem developed and had these tools that could actually help even the most disorganised marketer understand okay, well, there’s actually a logic or something, as flawed as the logic may be, there’s a way to try do this. I think that ecosystem hasn’t existed in full talent in the same way.

You’ve got a legacy technology sitting around, you’ve got a lot of start-ups trying to do very different things as well. So it’s definitely an interesting space and there are things happening, but you see products like Clinch for example that are trying to do really clever things with combining more employer burning-type content assets with the actual vacancy, so you’re creating this bridge between the branding activity, story-telling activity, and the actual “Okay, how are we going to make money out of this thing?”

And the analytics that those sorts of platforms are able to achieve now are really quite breath-taking even compared to where it was even six months ago. So I think we’re going to see continued evolution of how relatively easy it is to track and score and get indicators as to “Are these things working?” And I think in general buckets, you’re always trying to understand, “Well, who has seen this content in what context? How has it seemed to influence what they were doing or thinking or their willingness to share or generate some organic or some other indicated interest in what you’ve created?”

And ultimately the hardest thing, which everyone struggles with, in any audience objective, people struggle with how can we demonstrate in ROI that it links to a business outcome for us. And that in most cases, is sales or lead generation or job application or join a community. So it’s being really clear on what is the metric we can measure that can demonstrate as close to possible that there is a money component that’s actually being delivered here. It’s really hard.

Who is doing it right in the content marketing space?

I think what Universum has done, really well, just thinking about the marketing side. They have gone from, you know they produced all this fantastic research and insights, interview over a million people a year and get these amazing sort of data points, but their legacy was, they hadn’t packaged that up in a way that actually worked to bring in new opportunities. So starting with what was a really small pilot, initially, they took their first toe in the water around how could content marketing bring that latent asset, the value of that, to life.

And actually this is indicative of the huge challenge a lot of the companies have historically is that they have copyrighted type resources internally. So people who are trained to tell the world how great you are or try to talk about the positive things about organizations, they’re running from the organisation’s perspective.

Our approach and those who really get content marketing I think would share that, is that that’s the last thing you want to do. What you really want to do is start with a journalistic mindset, not a copyrighted mindset. And a journalist is trained to seek out these characteristics of an audience because everything that they’re doing is crafted towards the engagement they want to achieve through the audience.

And that’s the really key difference in how, if you look at where Universum was at, say 18 months ago, compared with where they are now, everything they do now is talking to that audience, or their audiences they’re trying to target with. Understanding the role of pathways of a buyer’s journey, from someone becoming aware of a brand and at what point you try to capture that as a lead. Developing different types of content assets at different parts of that journey, channeling someone into certain communities or certain nurturing pathways, etc.

So really applying what is by now a fairly evolved or fairly common way of looking at a framework, as to how you’re actually going to try to achieve an objective. Being really clear and investing the resources internally and externally, to link the business objective to the marketing objective, and then to measure what actually happened in between. And that’s the goal, that’s what so many people fail to do, is actually develop, document a strategy before you start, and know before you start how you’re going to measure success. And it’s the one thing that’s so obvious and the one thing that so many organizations struggle to do.

I think for me, it’s the philosophy of bringing someone along in a relationship-building context rather than just from the transactive, that’s the sort of thing that I think unites people, it’s the philosophy lens that you can apply over this that should be carried through from your own platforms into external platforms. And that is really what’s changed in the native advertising and the social layers now as they become media players, is there’s much more awareness of that content thread that can be pulled through. And there’s still connections into the traditional advertising or events or whatever may be but it’s this, it’s starting from that point of the audience understanding.

Lenovo is an organisation who’s done huge amount of effort in just in the first segment they approached was the SMV segment in Europe. And really trying to understand, “Well how, what are those insights that can help us break away from just those meaningful, forward-looking, gadget-oriented, technology discussions that are the default wallpaper that exists for so many life-style or business type, technology meets the future sort of aspirational society content?” There’s so much fricking content and so many people trying to talk to in that segment, a small to medium business buyer, a certain number of employees, etc. And there’s just so much noise being streamed at these people.

So I think that Lenovo really invested in the right way around developing personas, content personas for those people, what sort of content are they really interested in, what are they already exposed to, what do they seem to be engaging most, who are their competitors and how are they talking to those people? Not just the traditional competitors, as in people who sell products and services similar to Lenovo, but the other people who are filling their feed. Or trying to approach them for different things.

McKinsey, for example, have always been fantastic at this. And people go “Of course they bloody have, they’ve got all this money and they’ve got the brand and stuff.” But the fact is, it’s McKinsey’s always had the Quarterly, for example. HBO’s always had HBO.

But not everyone’s managed to translate that offline success into a digital platform that works from a business generation perspective. There’s a difference between vanity publishing and traditional thought leadership publishing which is, “Gee we have a lot of smart people, let’s tell their stories. Oh, let’s blend some case studies in there and let’s have this magazine that looks good.” But the architecture behind that isn’t actually intelligent and isn’t informing the editorial teams as to which is the content that’s leading to the most successful business outcome. Then I don’t think it’s a successful content marketing project, even though to all intents and purposes from the outside world, it may look amazing and people get all excited about it.

McKinsey actually have the machine behind the scenes that actually turn that in to money and that’s why I think that’s why that’s an admirable one.

What recruitment or staffing brands are doing content marketing right?

I must say, dear listeners, that earlier I did mention to your host that I didn’t have any examples from recruiting and that it wasn’t because there probably wasn’t some good stuff going on, I think it’s that I just haven’t been across that space in the past two years at the same depth.

Having said that, I see a lot of vanilla type things in recruitment and staffing, absolutely, I don’t think it’s been a leadership segment for this at all, and I think there’s also a conflicted piece within recruitment organisations because of the cycle of what’s more important, sourcing or getting new business in. There’s this Jekyll and Hyde type personalities that recruiting organisations often go through.

I think what we’ve also seen is that the power of an individual sourcer or recruiter and their profile in an industry and the connection between their expertise as the go-to person, that they can actually build up independent of the recruiting organisation around them or if they’re independent, is something that’s been building for at least 10 years now. So the concept of a superstar recruiter or someone who’s actually, can go direct to the audience and build that in an organic way is something I think has been a big part of this recruiting and sourcing space in particular, but there’s no one I’m looking to. Not that they’re aren’t great examples but I don’t have them on the top of my head.

What do you think of the CEOs of Adecco Group and Hays being LinkedIn Influencers?

I don’t know those examples in terms of their connection to an actual business. I don’t know why they’re doing that. I think that’s what it comes down to. What role, assume there’s an addressable audience on LinkedIn, absolutely. If you have genuine content, if it’s not just badly ghostwritten corporate speak around “Here’s us doing this thing or here’s me talking about leadership or mentoring” or, there’s a lot of terrible content on LinkedIn. On every platform, there’s a lot of terrible content on every platform.

The biggest struggle, again especially for large organisations, is authenticity with relevance to the audience, not just vanity publishing because here’s my little thing and I want to talk about leadership because that will set me up for my next job. It’s got to actually say, how can I actually connect this to an awareness play for the brand or humanising my organisation’s brand. You can’t just humanise a brand by saying I posted a piece of content and you can make a comment. The actual tone, the nature, the topics, these things, they can’t be talking about you, you’ve got to be very clearly speaking to the objective you had for that, and be consistent about that from month to month, or whatever it is.

I think a lot of these influencer posts, the ones that were in the earlier days really successful, had huge authenticity from people. Now, I think the risk is, because more and more people are just piling into it, the risk is it just becomes another part of that “Okay, let’s get someone to write this thing and let’s whack someone else’s name on it and put it up there.” Which can still work but the stories have to be pulled from that person, you really need to invest in doing extremely well if you’re going to have go through and have any support for that sort of stuff.

What’s the content strategy for brand Todd Wheatland?

I think from a personal perspective, I’ve always been fascinated by the role of individuals and individuals within organisations and there’s a line between your personal and professional brand or where do you cross the line between what’s good for you and what’s good for the business? A very common challenge for a lot of people who are in this space, especially really active in social and in a big organisation. Huge number of people who’ve been shopped from those organisations because they seem to have crossed some imaginary line at some point, but for me… People love to make fun of LinkedIn, I love LinkedIn, I think it’s definitely my most useful platform.

I’ve actually become very, a little bit obsessed with Snapchat of late and needing to explain to my son why he wasn’t going to get access to it and him saying it wasn’t fair for me to tell him that if I didn’t know enough of what the platform was. And so I forced myself to get into it and I find it for me, it feels like the early days of Twitter. It’s kind of funny, people don’t really know how to do it, they’re really confused, it’s unusual, there’s lots of humour and discovery and newness about it. I think it’s definitely going to become a B2B play. I’ve actually engaged with a lot of my clients on Snapchat now and I’ve found it kind of like, you can get client relationships going on Facebook, for example, then there’s just a tone difference and a level of emotional connection that you have for that person for some strange reason that you feel on Facebook that you wouldn’t perhaps on LinkedIn.

You can achieve the same thing on Twitter, though it’s getting harder, it’s becoming less of that sort of platform, but I think Snapchat’s where that sort of activity is really happening now. That sort of personal connection, the ability to do direct messaging in a funny way with the clients. I actually did it with the head of a fairly large organisation recently where we literally just had what would have been an email conversation previously, literally just taking stupid photos of ourselves with filters and then writing text on the actual snaps, and sending each other. So I think that’s a real interesting blend, or breaking down of traditional comms channels and the way you can do that.

What are you and your clients looking to improve and expand on at the moment?

There’s an underlying complexity now to content marketing now that didn’t exist a couple of years ago. It used to be very much like okay, like I said before, you can’t just whack some stuff on your website, copy a link and shout about it in social channels and people will come and they’ll love it. And they’ll join a community or they’ll download something or they’ll give you an email address. It was very, very simple. You had to really be bad at it, six or seven years ago, to not to get some kind of success even if you knew what you were trying to do.

And I still think it’s possible to start from scratch and be very, very successful but it’s definitely not about producing more content. It’s definitely not about just going, “oh well shit, I like to write and I know some people and I’m going to write some stuff and I’m going to put it out there.” Our experience is consumerism and it’s typically now through discovery, and that discovery may be contextual ads served up to us, it may be inline feed ads on Facebook, for example, so that’s where you’re competing against people’s mums and their brothers and their friends and the disaster in Turkey and whatever, you’ve got these other things that are getting pushed in, in a contextual way, and they’re speaking to that person, in an understanding way, they’re recognising who that person is as an individual.

And the promise of social platforms now and certainly Facebook’s ability to target down to an individual level for example, it’s so much more extraordinarily than your ability to create content for every single person on the planet. So there’s a line there that’s, it’s almost like the ecosystem has outgrown your financial capability to actually use it to that extent. So you’ve got to find a happy medium whereby you can still create purposeful and intentional content but unless you really have invested in knowing, and I can’t emphasise this enough, obviously because I’ve said it 6 or 7 times in the last 20 minutes, but if you don’t spend the time really knowing the things that are going to get your audience fired up or resonating then you’re just one of the thousands of other stories that aren’t quite that personal to them any more and just get thumbed over, even if you manage to get in someone’s feed and pay for it.

So it’s almost as if the stakes have been raised at every single level. Now when the stakes get raised, it’s “Oh shit, we’ve got to do more and more and more.” That’s absolutely when you have to do the opposite and just do a lot less.

And I would advise anyone to do all they can to declass our things. Not do five things, just do one thing. Start from a very simple premise and reduce the frequency and just focus on quality, consistency, and things you have a heightened degree of confidence are going to engage with a person. And test everything. A/B testing is iterative responses, even if you spend the time developing a strategy, you recognised that that’s just a hypothesis, that’s not the way the world is going to work until you actually put it into action.

And even if you have a strategy and it’s worked, it’s not going to work the same way in six months time. Because these platforms that we’re playing in are constantly changing. I don’t know how many updates that the Twitters and Facebooks and LinkedIns have made this year but it’s at least one a week from all of them that can have a significant impact on the financial viability of a certain tactic or not.

Follow Todd on Twitter @ToddWheatland and make sure you subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.



Our newsletter is exclusively curated by our CEO, Jörgen Sundberg, for leaders who make decisions about talent. Subscribe for updates on The Employer Branding Podcast, new articles, eBooks, research and events we’re working on.


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