It is one of the biggest challenges facing the global economy today and in the future: according to a study by global management consultancy Korn Ferry, there will be a shortage of around 85 million workers worldwide by 2030. As a result, employer branding is moving to the top of the corporate agenda. Zaid Sagha, Senior Consultant Client Growth & Innovation at Mediaplus International, has developed an employer branding campaign for an international company and shares his experiences in this interview.

Zaid, you have just developed an international employer branding strategy for a client. If I want to become an international employer brand or recruit internationally, what should I bear in mind?

A brand that wants to expand beyond its current market and recruit local talent in the target markets where it operates should start thinking about its employer brand image. The employer branding image serves as an extension of the corporate brand image. When developing an international employer branding strategy, consider cultural nuances, diversity and local market trends. Tailor your messaging to resonate in each region while maintaining a consistent global brand image. Understand the local talent landscape, recruitment practices and legal considerations. Finally, the brand should use platforms and channels that are popular and relevant in each region.

For example, what makes candidates tick in China, India or the US? What makes them different from those in Germany? Do they need to be addressed differently in terms of content?

The work culture is different in each market. For example, in terms of leadership, China has hierarchical structures, the US has egalitarian approaches, and Germany is somewhere in the middle. When it comes to decision-making, the Chinese and Indian markets are top-down, while Germany favours a consultative approach. In terms of trust in the workplace, Germany and the US prioritise task-based trust, while India and China emphasise relationship-based trust.

However, we cannot generalise from these findings. Research is needed to understand the market landscape, talent behaviour and our brand perception. Decoding the information from the research allows us to draw some insights, which may sometimes be relevant to the current market situation or just a recent snapshot. Building our communications around these insights is essential and typically what makes a great campaign.

Does job search information behaviour differ from country to country?

Yes, information behavior and job search habits can vary from country to country. Each market has popular job board platforms, taking into account language preferences. Some markets may rely more on professional networks, while others may prefer traditional job boards. Local trends dictate how we can effectively reach our target audience.

What advice would you give to a company that is considering international employer branding or international recruitment for the first time?

When approaching the task, you have to know that it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. It’s something that needs to be worked on and built over time. It’s like starting a relationship with each market differently. Being honest and trustworthy is the most important part of building the relationship. Competition is only going to get tougher in the future. It is essential to research and understand the cultural aspects of each target market, establish a robust online presence on both local and global platforms, humanise the brand by using employee testimonials and success stories, and tailor content localisation to resonate with specific audiences in each market.

In your current case, the client is specifically looking for IT/tech specialists. what are the particular challenges here?

IT is currently the most in-demand sector across all industries. Of course, with advances in technological resolution and new technologies such as AI and others, the competition is only going to get fiercer. A critical aspect of the task is to understand the reasons why talent is choosing the competition over us. Identifying the underlying factors and the truth behind their choices, coupled with understanding the differences in their preferences and the needs of potential IT talent, will enable us to formulate a strategy to successfully attract IT talent in the future.

However, whether IT-focused or engineering-focused, the key is to understand the local talent landscape, recruitment practices and the talent journey. Each journey is born out of a specific barrier, and understanding this means examining the baseline, which includes factors such as the mental and cognitive load of choosing a new employer based on company reputation, growth opportunities, recognition, challenges, cultural fit and work-life balance.

To sum up, what are the top three tips you would give to companies regarding employer branding campaigns?

I actually have four tips:

  1. Building your employer branding image is not something you build quickly and it is not something you stop doing. It is an ongoing effort that requires your attention.
  2. While recruitment is a separate activity, building your reputation as an employer is another essential aspect. This contributes to long-term brand building and streamlines the recruitment process for future endeavours.
  3. Much like the dynamics in marketing, a sales campaign is different from a brand campaign. Brand campaigns have the potential to drive long-term success and generate future demand.
  4. When building your employer branding image, approach it in the same way as your corporate brand image. Be bold. Use creative and unconventional media channels. Go beyond the traditional messaging pillars that promote career development, culture, inclusion and diversity.

Most companies are convinced that their brand has fully exploited its potential. But far from it: the brand can only score maximum points in the target group if its tradition, its promise and its unique history are well known. The most general definition of a brand is: “The consumer’s idea of a product or service”. So it’s not just about knowing and recognizing, it’s above all about associative connections. Clearly, this is the big moment of storytelling.

And this often starts from scratch in young markets. After all, international brands are often completely unknown to local consumers and potential customers in the major growth markets. In 2013, 70% of Chinese car buyers were still first-time buyers. Most of them had just obtained their driving licenses. They had no product or purchasing experience. Many of them had never been in a showroom before or had dealt with the technical aspects of an engine. For Western brands, this is a challenge, but also a great opportunity. Niklas Schaffmeister (Managing Partner Globeone) and Florian Haller (CEO Serviceplan Group) therefore explain the cornerstones of an engaging storytelling. Further details on that can be found in our new Springer publication “Successful brand development in the major emerging markets” (written in German).

1. Brand knowledge: Managers like to overestimate consumers

A well thought-out strategy with determined implementation is needed. When formulating the strategy, marketing cannot simply assume that the target group being addressed already has the necessary knowledge of the brand simply because connoisseurs of the company are familiar with many details. Brand managers often overestimate what consumers already know. This often results in communication campaigns that do not go far enough. But it is imperative to explain what the brand in question stands for. If this is done in a committed, interesting and motivating way, a lot can be gained. It is important not to overload the storytelling with messages. Target groups in emerging markets are usually 10 or 20 years younger than those in developed Western markets.

2. Understandable messages: Consumers must be addressed in their language

In the new markets, the 30- to 40-year-olds belong to the richest target group, which is already accustomed to exciting and committed marketing techniques. If a bank argues with traditional terms such as “trust” or “security”, its marketing message will not automatically be well received by these “newly-rich” consumers. Many people in these middle income brackets are also consumers without good foreign language skills. Don’t use too many English and technical terms. Admittedly, design and other concrete arguments of conviction are very important for this. But they must be communicated to consumers who are generally not technical experts in their own language. They must also be made aware of why this brand in particular meets their specific needs. Making new customers familiar with the brand requires patience.

3. Tradition is the trump card: With the brand history to the price premium

Every brand strategy must have enough space to tell the history of the brand. You have to take enough time to explain why your brand is unique and how much time it took to become a leading brand. The traditional aspect and the associated foreign brand image are the only sustainable competitive advantage that cannot easily be imitated. Those who tell their own story thus have the opportunity to achieve a clear price premium for the brand, compared to local competitors. This goal can be achieved with clear language and simple explanations as well as with visual clarity and a creative implementation of the campaign. This is the only way to break the communicative flooding in megacities.

4. Educating the consumer: For each product there are instructive campaigns

Educational campaigns or brand academies are particularly suitable for informing a target group about the brand history and special unique selling points. There are many educational examples of awareness-raising campaigns. For example, the highly creative and very successful “MINI Academy for Rapid Learners”. Its success is due to the fact that it has been excellently integrated into the local cultural framework. In Europe, MINI has the image of a cheeky, flexible and individualistic small car. In 2009, the brand was still not able to develop the hoped-for potential in China so quickly. In China, the MINI was initially considered a cute little car for young women and a fun car for young people as a whole. Men and older customers were underrepresented in this group. The MINI managers wanted to make “the most exciting small car in the world” interesting for a broader group of buyers. To this end, a creative strategy was developed around the themes of “dynamic driving experience”, “cult design” and “tradition”. A MINI Academy was founded to inform Chinese consumers about the rich tradition and history of the MINI brand. The Academy was a platform that made it possible to communicate within the local cultural environment via different media channels and at the same time to establish a strong connection to the Chinese mentality.

There are many success stories proving how well storytelling can attract young target groups in growth markets. The history of the brand and its special features must be clearly highlighted. Educational campaigns with instructive and easy-to-understand content are achieving great success.

How do I come up with a film that is complete and takes place around me? Above, below, left, right and even behind my back something can take place. All of a sudden, the rules are different from a normal film in 16:9 format. The following points should make starting out with such an idea easier. Please think now deeply about your brand, and ask yourself the following six questions:

1. Where does my target group like to be?

By using virtual reality glasses, you get the feeling that you are, all of a sudden, in another place. Merely: Which place is the right one for my brand? What do I know already about the needs of my target group? Which are the places that stir up emotions? Which places does my target group know already from my TV spots?

2. In what kind of situation do they want to be?

When it is not a specific place, might it then be a specific moment? A moment with other people? Is it funny, moving or romantic? What is incredible when it happens once to me? Or where would I like to stand directly next to?

3. Where does my target group like to be sometime?

As a spectator, I can suddenly look at the world from someone else’s eyes. And, admittedly, clearly stronger than from a point-of-view-perspective with 16:9 filming.

4. Where can only my brand beam the people into?

Do I organise special events, at which the target group can virtually be present? Do I have a celebrity, whom they can get close to? Should everybody test sit in my new car? Or in a car that has not been build at all yet?

5. What does my brand world look like?

When people spoke about customers entering into a brand world, it mostly referred to a stand or a shop. Virtual reality and 360° films are the first media that can actually bring customers into a brand world. The opportunity for an emotional experience with the brand! Furthermore: How does it look there? What are the colours, how do I meet the people? What sounds or music do I hear?

6. Which place or what experience supports the campaign message?

VR is a new medium, and not just simply a single measure. In the media mix of a campaign it can, for example, take over the part of proving the advertising message. When I claim something on TV, I can make it possible for the customer to experience it via VR or a 360° film.