The Evolution of Employer Branding

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg


The benefits of a strong employer brand include lower employee turnover, lower cost per hire and increased job consideration by top talent. To do it successfully you need the right tools, skills and up-to-date knowledge. To shed some insight on this I’ve spoken to Claes Peyron of Employer Branding Academy, our gracious sponsors.

Listen to the episode below, subscribe to the podcast or keep reading for a summary of our conversation.

Tell us about the Employer Branding Academy?

Employer Branding Academy is a company owned by Universum, the global leader in employer branding. And what we do is that we offer training and employer branding to HR, marketing, and communication professionals. Today we have two different offers. Two different products with a very humble names. World class employer branding, and world class recruitment marketing. Both of these products are offered in either a blended format, including face to face meetings and e-learning or as pure e-learning. The courses typically take around eight weeks to complete and are designed to allow the participants to study in parallel with their day to day jobs. And at the end of the completed course, the participants also get a certification.

We’ve been doing this for about two and a half years now. And the reviews from our previous participants have been very good, very positive. So we’re very happy about that. And just recently we also got approved by the HRCI, the HR certification Institute. Which means the participants can earn credits when taking our courses as well.

What’s your journey to heading this up?

Well, I’ve been with Universum for about five years now. I started out as the head of the Nordic and Eastern European region. And then spent a couple years as head of the Swedish market. Plus, my most fancy role perhaps which was global head of insight, which is all about trying to make use of Universum’s data, in this case, all the research that company does and predict the future. Basically look into the future and see where the world is heading when it comes to talent. The result was books and white papers and other things that came out of that. And a couple of years ago, I added to this the CEO role for Employer Branding Academy as well.

Let’s start with the big question. Why do we need employer branding?

Yeah, that is a big question isn’t it? Well, a few reasons why we need it today and why we probably will need it even more in the future. And that is that we see an increased competition. I think everybody has heard about the war for talent. McKinsey came up with this book I think in the year 2000 and edited version of that in 2012 where they basically said you know we were right back in 2000 but it was even more extreme than we thought.

And the increased competition is due to two things mainly. It’s aging population in most countries in the world. So basically there’s not enough younger people to fill the holes that the retirement people are leaving behind them. That’s one thing. And there’s also a much stronger focus on the topic in itself. So more and more companies are out there marketing themselves as employers. There’s also an increased focus on matching a company’s culture and value with the talent. So talent or young people, in general, are more and more aware of their own beliefs, their own bigger purpose in life perhaps and are trying to find the best possible match for the company. That means that companies basically have to get out there and talk about themselves in a softer way.

And thirdly there’s a financial reason. So several studies that we’ve seen and including Boston Consulting Group have shown that companies that invest in employer branding that they benefit from as much as 3.5 higher revenue growth and as much as 2.5 profit margin increases. So there’s a very clear financial case there as well. And in short, companies that invest in employer branding will be more profitable, will be more successful.

What’s the difference between employer branding and recruitment/HR marketing?

There’s so many different terms in this industry, isn’t it? And I think we’re all confused about it. But my view on this is that employer branding or perhaps employer brand management, as it’s more and more called these days, is long term. Meaning the long-term effort to create a brand position that attracts and retains the right talent. So it’s basically a company with a very clear notion of what we want to be perceived as three years down the road because if we are perceived as that, that will help us attract the people that will help us grow our business. That’s the long-term employer brand management. Well, over three years, or five years even. Recruitment marketing is much more short term. It’s about executing on that employer brand but with a full focus on driving increased number of quality candidates basically. So it’s very linked to classical recruitment but it’s adding the employer branding on top of that if that makes sense.

What’s a step by step guide to success employer branding success?

I can let you know five steps as I see it:

  1. The first and perhaps the most important step is to understand the business objectives. So basically understanding where my company’s heading? What are the biggest drivers in our future business plan? What’s going to make our company grow, be more profitable? Whatever it is that we have in our business plan, what are those drivers?
  2. And then it’s understanding the target groups that are most important to deliver on those business objectives.
  3. The third step is to set the EVP, as we call it, which is the employee value proposition. Basically, the promise that we make to future and current members of staff. As well as setting my KPIs, my key performance indicators, what I’m going to measure everything against.
  4. And the fourth step is to set your creative strategies. So basically the visual identity, perhaps the creative idea that you have that you want to bring out there when marketing yourself externally. As well as defining your communication mix. Which channels will do the job for me? Do I need to get out there and drive awareness, or consideration, or preference, or whatever it is?
  5. The fifth step is to execute on all of these plans and to follow up by using very careful metrics, continuously using data.

What employer branding pitfalls should companies avoid?

I would say it’s two areas. First of all, it’s that you don’t spend enough time understanding the business. Typically because this is done by HR. HR perhaps don’t have all that knowledge, and they don’t spend the time and understanding that are going to ask somebody that can tell them about these long-term drivers for the company. So that’s one of the traditional pitfalls I would see.

Second one is about the target groups, that many companies are way too vague in their definition of their target groups. They talk about engineers in general or, you know, business people in general. They don’t dare perhaps to be narrowed down and to be much more segmented. And then you end up with campaigns or messaging that appeals to no one really because you haven’t made the effort of narrowing it down to the people that you really, really need and really, really match you.

Does a well-known consumer brand translate into an effective employer brand?

Well, unlike perhaps a general belief, I would say that companies with a strong consumer brand have a disadvantage actually because they would attract a lot of people for the wrong reasons. They would attract a lot of people based on the consumer marketing that they do.

I mean take a cool company like Adidas for instance, who has a very fancy image in the minds of consumers who buy their shoes and clothes and what have you. And you think you’re going to come there and work only with cool marketing. And that’s true to an extent, but what they really need is logistics people, they need R&D people and all of these things. And they are obviously struggling with finding these types of people.

So the ones that really have a benefit are actually the ones that don’t have the consumer brands. So the B2B companies and you typically find them in the professional services industry. They have been working on with employer branding for decades. So the likes of you know the big fives for instance. EY, PWC. Those type of companies or the big strategy consultants; Mckinsey, BCG. Because for them, people is what they sell, obviously. For them, it’s natural to focus on this. And they are not to be disturbed by their consumer brand. They can focus entirely on their employer brand, which is as important to them as normal consumer in their case, client marketing.

How has employer branding evolved?

Well over the past five years that I’ve spent with the university, I’ve seen a number of things. I’ve seen an increased interest from top management, very dramatic increase I would say. Simply because you know the notion of talent being one of the key competitive advantages they that you can have now and in the future has become very clear, even to top management. So an increased interest from them.

Increased digitalisation of course. Social media has changed everything when it comes to marketing in general but also when it comes to employer branding. There’s an increased focus on insights and data definitely. So with all these options and all these possibilities, and a need to be much more precise in who I target, I need more data to understand what they think of me and what I should be communicating to them. And we also see that there’s an increase in influences from consumer marketing. So we see the whole employer branding industry mimicking to a certain degree what happens in consumer marketing.

What are the trends for employer branding over the next three to five years?

One thing that we already see is purpose-driven brands. Everybody talks about that today. You know, how can we find this the answer to the question why we do what we do? So we see we see companies doing that. You know, trying to come up with something that appeals not only to the brain perhaps of talent but also to the heart that wants something that is much more engaging. So purpose-driven brands is something that we’ll see more and more.

We’ll also see much more holistic employer branding. With that I mean companies looking at employer branding from an employee experience point of view. Meaning that you know we make a promise as an employer that this is who we are and what we deliver and what we expect of you. And we put that out and the first time anybody hears about that is perhaps at university. And then somebody applies to us. And they come through the candidate experience. And then they join us and they are on board and they work with us for three or four years. And then they exit and they end up in the alumni program and so forth.

All of these different things are different touch points. And when we talk about employee experience, we want that employer brand or the EVP, to basically exist in every touch point that we just talked about. So it’s about looking at the whole experience and making sure that we don’t have any red flags, that we continuously delivered on what we said. So a much bigger thing really and a bigger job as well for the people working with employer branding.

Third thing that we see is an increase in transparency and authenticity. Social media opens up everything in the likes of Glassdoor and other sites like that meaning that companies have to be much more honest about who they are and they want to be, and they need to be much more honest about not only their positive things but also their negative things.

And then digitalisation of course. I don’t know what we’re going to see next but obviously, we’re going to see lots of new things coming out. New social media channels, LinkedIn may be doing new things. But we’ll see other companies popping up as well. And then we’ll see more companies trying to link their employer brand to their consumer or corporate brand, trying to leverage the effect of the other.

How important is it for employer branding professionals to stay updated?

Very important I think, because you know we are living in the information and knowledge society. And we’ll be doing that for the coming decades. So the talent aspect of business will grow dramatically in importance. I even predict that the second most important person in many companies in a few years will be the Chief HRO or the Chief Talent Officer if you like because the focus on this topic will be so strong. And a couple of years ago and in Davos, in the big meeting in Davos, the chairman there actually stated that talentism is the new capitalism. Meaning that companies that have a people strategy that beats other companies will have a stronger competitive advantage than perhaps having access to capital or the right products or what have you.

What employer brands inspire you?

I have to mention, and perhaps they’ve been mentioned too often, but I have to mention Google. They’ve done something tremendous over the past 10 years, and it’s for the simple reason that they have been entirely focused on people from the get-go. So they pretty much said that, “It doesn’t matter what our product or business strategy is. As long as we get the right people in, we know that we’re going to be fine.” You can see that today very clearly, in that they have a very strong differentiated position. They are the company that is most associated with innovation in the world, so that’s very clear for them. They obviously use data a lot as well.

EY is another one that I think have been consistently doing a very good job over the past 15, 20 years. And just recently, they also introduced a more purpose-driven brand, saying that “building a better working world” is what they’re all about, which I think is quite inspiring.

The third one I want to point at is a Swedish/UK company called King or, as they used to be called. They are the producer of Candy Crush Saga, the perfect game. Very, very successful. They have gone from basically 20 people to around 800 people in only 3 years’ time, obviously with the help of that hit game. What they’ve done very well is that they’ve spent almost all their efforts on culture. So they’ve grown from 20 to 600 or 700, 800 people while maintaining a very, very strong culture. So the advocacy at that company is absolutely fantastic. So they basically don’t have to do any sort of external employer branding. Their employees are doing the work for them.

Check out the Employer Branding Academy today and use the promo code ‘linkhumans’ for a 15% discount. Finally, don’t forget to subscribe to this 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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