HEINEKEN Employer Branding Case Study – Through the Line Branding
The Employer Brand is part of the holy brand trinity for many companies; corporate, marketing and employer. Its articulation is emerging using the same marketing principles and vernacular. Employee and customer journeys/experiences are interrelated drivers of business success.
The growing energy around Employer Branding is leading to greater functional collaboration and is an opportunity for co-creation. HEINEKEN is an example of this, where an HR initiative brought collaboration across various functions, including Marketing and Corporate Communications, to position the company in a different space. HEINEKEN is not a mono brand company, it has an international footprint across 70 countries with 250 brands. The Employer Brand created an umbrella for the company and a great opportunity to inspire not only candidates, but also consumers.
‘When you reach out to a person, they are not only a candidate but also a consumer, they are everything in one person.’
Alfonso Auñón García, Head of Global Talent Acquisition at HEINEKEN, recounted the journey the company took to bring their Employer Brand to life. From the outside, it appeared that they were addressing Employer Branding five years ago with the ‘Graduate’ campaign; however, that was a marketing – and not an HR – initiative. It proved that good stories that connect with people can have impact across the whole brand architecture. Alfonso explained that the HR Leadership team at HEINEKEN raised the question of Employer Branding three years ago. The question was, did they really need one with such a strong consumer brand? Their issue was not scarcity of talent and applicants. By telling the HEINEKEN Employer Brand story, it was a way to show potential applicants what it’s really like working for HEINEKEN – for them to select in or select out. Through this, they wanted to attract applicants with real passion for the brand, and ultimately improve quality and fit.
Nearly two years ago, with limited budget and headcount, Alfonso started his exploration into the HEINEKEN Employer Brand. His objective was to find out what the true HEINEKEN Employer Brand was, starting from the inside out.
‘In the beginning it was an idea, a team of two getting under the skin of who HEINEKEN was, what did employees really think of the brand and the HEINEKEN culture? We wanted to go on a journey but we had to ask first ‘what is that journey’?’
That journey went far and wide; a survey of 700 employees across 20 countries, reflecting the diversity of the business and a survey of 1,300 people representing external stakeholders. It led to the past – its heritage; a theme of ‘adventure’ emerging from stories of Freddy Heineken. Alfonso shared the story of Freddy Heineken dropping a dart in a map to decide on which country to go to next. Another theme that emerged was togetherness, distilled into ‘friends’. Alfonso drew on both heritage and research; ‘I don’t serve beer, I serve warmth,’ said Freddy Heineken and today’s employees come together irrespective of function or hierarchy to share a beer at 5pm on a Friday.
To speak the language of marketers, you need to use marketing methodology. Alfonso and his team crafted their Employer brand DNA and its ‘Brand in a Bottle’ – an internal HEINEKEN methodology. They identified 3 brand values: fame, adventure and friends.
After six months, Alfonso had his findings and the beginning of a very exciting Employer Branding story. But it went further than simply a story. For HEINEKEN’s HR function, Employer Branding was an opportunity to co-create with other functions. Alfonso remarked it was truly a company journey, there was a real sense of excitement to be part of something big. It was an opportunity to build a future legacy of the company and other functions got behind it, ‘they did not want to miss the train’.
The project became a cross-functional collaboration, a kind of a logical collaboration, an organic collaboration. Alfonso explained, ‘collaboration is not about trying to collaborate, it is more about finding common interest and common grounds and then it just happens’.
What was the common interests? For HR it was to attract the right candidates. For Marketing, to reach consumers in a different channel, and for Communications – it was a way to reinforce the corporate brand. It was melding theses interests that took an exploring activity to a group wide project.
The journey was quite complex, with no clear budget, no clear plan, no clear team, it was an organic process. It was at this point Alfonso brought in external agencies, including Cloud factory and Superhero Cheesecake. He knew, in typical HEINEKEN spirit, that he didn’t want to work with a traditional Employer Branding agency. His rationale was simple, he didn’t want an agency to help build the story; he wanted an agency that knew nothing about employer branding, but knew how to build a brand.
It was a learning process for all involved. It was the first time the agencies had worked with HR to build an Employer Branding campaign. They were all first timers. This, Alfonso remarked, created a lot of complexity, but also a lot of fun and good ideas.
The entire idea for the campaign was engagement first, to create something meaningful, giving something back to the consumer and with a purpose, not just a gimmick; it had to be something real. They did not want the campaign and the customer journey to be a screening or a selection tool. They discussed whether it should be the first step when you apply for job and what do to about data capture? They discarded the first, thinking it would detract from engagement. They decided not to capture data for various reasons. The journey would go from interacting with the assets to applying for a job at HEINEKEN. It would be a ‘pull’ mechanism for people to apply and have a great experience, regardless if they applied or not. They wanted the experience to embody the HEINEKEN brand and be bold. They wanted people would say, ‘I loved this, but it’s not for me’ or ‘I loved this and it is my place to be’.
Different audiences are attracted by different things, and for this reason, Alfonso told us they did not want to fall into the trap of making the interaction functionally orientated. They wanted to embrace diversity and opportunity. It was not about geographically going places, it was about going places in your mind, about daring to be different, diversity of experience and of people.
The resulting ‘Go Places’ campaign combined inspirations from both Dr. Seuss and Freddy Heineken. It embodied the theme of ‘adventure’ which set the tone of the campaign – the thinking differently, exploring new ideas which was inspired by Dr Seuss’s Oh The Places You’ll Go. The video featured a Dr Seuss type character and actual HEINEKEN employees. The interview platform took inspiration of Freddy Heineken’s renowned interviewing practices – sending candidates on staged trips, to meet say, his wife, to really get to know the candidate’s personality. This, as Alfonso remarked, was when the real interview started.
In the modern-day ‘Go Places’ interview, candidates were led to a highly engaging, Dr Seuss style video where they were asked to respond, within a given time, to 12 questions, all relating to HEINEKEN’s 3 key Employer Brand values, fame, adventure and friends. They identified 3 personality traits for each value. From these traits they developed the questions based on the Enneagram model, resulting in a personal profile. It worked in a way like a horoscope. Everyone got a report that is like them; its constructive and positive. There were no good or bad profiles. There were no winners or losers. They wanted something real for everyone, leading candidates to choose for themselves if they wanted to apply for a role at HEINEKEN or not. If they did the profile was included and was used through the full talent acquisition process and was the basis of all conversations.
The campaign, when we spoke with Alfonso, had been rolled out to 18+ countries; they created a global community and global storytelling guidelines. The articulation of each local campaign was done with a local twist, referred to as a “local top spin” at HEINEKEN. The ‘glocal’ campaigns had global DNA, global positioning, a powerful global asset, but were locally relevant. Localisation included translating subtitles into different languages to adapting 5 out of 12 questions. For example, in the question “do you have strong roots?” in the Netherlands you see Amstel, in Nigeria you see Star and in Mexico you see Sol. Another question about food was also localised too. The campaign articulation was also open to local interpretation. In Vietnam they did a version of a talent show, in Romania they had Go Places Black Box installation. Execution was different in different places, but the big idea remained the same. In every single country, the campaign was launched internally first; to build brand ambassadors and to make employees feel proud and happy and start sharing with friends.
The campaign elicited a huge response – hundreds of thousands took the quiz with over 70% completing it and a more than 13% applying for a role at HEINEKEN. However, what was really interesting was how they approached measuring the quality of candidates who interacted.
Afonso is the first to agree that quality of hire is difficult to measure. You can gage the one you hired but what about the quality of those you did not? Working with LinkedIn, HEINEKEN created a process to see where these candidates were subsequently hired. An assumption was made that if they knew where these candidates were hired, depending on which company hired them, that they could create a metric of quality directly relating to the hiring company. They saw from this research that these companies included ‘quality’ companies such as KPMG, Unilever, Ernst and Young, Accenture, Coca Cola and Nestle to name but a few. Thus, indicating the quality of candidates that were not hired.
The ‘Go Places’ campaign has been an unprecedented success. It channelled real company truths and insights, cross-functional collaboration, was localised and had a clear proposition that worked across all roles and functions. It embraced marketing methodology in a meaningful way and offered a clear framework to deliver against both HR and brand KPIs.
If you’ve not seen it, do: goplaces.theheinekencompany.com/en
About the author
Anita van de Velde
With many years working on both the agency and client side in the UK, Anita developed integrated marketing communications strategies for a number of Blue Chip clients. As a direct marketing expert, she was an early advocate of digital channels.