Universum: Southeast Asia is in need of employer branding!

Banks, for instance, have an increasing need to hire talent with IT skills (the type of talent who does not traditionally view them as an attractive employer). And most companies need to find ways to attract different target groups such as millennials and Generation Z, in addition to speaking to the particular needs of various nationalities/cultures. Then employer branding comes into play.

The Swedish company Universum have become world-leading experts in the field of employer branding, knowing everything there is to understand about talent and their preferences in terms of where they want to work, why, and how they choose their ideal employers.

Universum is seeing strong growth in the demand for their services across APAC including Southeast Asia. That is why Universum decided to heavily invest in region and appoint Joakim Ström as the CEO of APAC.

Joakim has clocked up a total of 13 years in Singapore during three different time periods, where he has spent the last five years with Universum. After his Masters studies, Joakim started a management consultancy business and was then headhunted by Universum to work directly with their CEO before being sent to run the Asian region.

“Our CEO decided to decentralise the organization five years ago to secure a more local and agile approach in terms of market penetration. We decided to move many of the core functions from the head quarter to the local offices including Singapore and Shanghai. We have since then grown our business by almost 800 per cent in Asia where Southeast Asia is the main growth contributor. It is really happening here now; companies are beginning to wake up and realise that it is extremely difficult to attract, recruit, and retain talent. The talent market is nowadays very competitive and we are one of the few companies that can help organizations adapt their communication and make them understand what they must do,” says Joakim.

Universum was started 28 years ago in Stockholm, Sweden and has since then grown into a global business, covering over 60 markets with physical presence in twenty.

“We started conducting a syndicated student survey in Sweden, then Scandinavia, Europe, US and finally Asia. Universum opened its first office in Shanghai almost 15 years ago when many European and American clients wanted to understand the preferences of Chinese talent,” Joakim relates.

Universum is considered to be the pioneer within employer branding and there are not many established players in this field. “So we have a first mover advantage and companies who want to build a solid employer brand will first and foremost come to us.” Joakim says.

Universum has formed strategic partnerships with over 2000 universities across the world which enables them to gather respondents for their surveys. In turn universities get to understand best practices when interacting with employers, offering career advice for their students, and getting access to detailed data on how their students perceive top employers and what they are looking for in their future careers.

From these large university student surveys, companies can get an indication of their popularity and the perception of them as employers as well as benchmarking against the competition. Today, Universum possess the largest perception-related data-set in the world on career-seekers.

“The student surveys are still part of our backbone and an important component. However, our portfolio has quickly evolved and we are now also providing companies with employer branding related consultancy and activation services. Our fastest growing revenue stream comes from the latter, where we help companies to execute their employer branding strategies in the most effective channels,” Joakim explains.

Universum’s approach to strategic employer branding include: 1) How a company’s organizational purpose and objectives impact their talent needs. For instance the digitalisation of businesses is pushing the need to recruit new type of talent, such as programmers, developers, etc. 2) Talent and market insights: What are the key talent career drivers and how do those align with the perceptions of your organization and talent competitors? 3) Employee insight: What are your current engagement drivers and key potential strengths and differentiators as an employer? 4) Generating an employer value proposition with USP:s that are attractive, credible, true, distinct and sustainable 5) Formulate a data-led and targeted communication strategy 6) Activate your employer brand with the ambition to engage with the right talent for your organization 7) Measure the impact of your activities and make sure all your KPIs are reached.

Apart from running annual syndicated surveys, Universum is also conducting a lot of customised quantitate and qualitative research that includes insights on existing employees (through employee interviews, focus groups etc.)

“What’s quite important and something that many companies tend to forget is: if one focuses too much on short-term recruitment needs one goes out and focus on being attractive only for those on the outside and might forget what’s the truth/reality on the inside. We think that in order to build a strong employer brand one must look at it both internally and externally.”

Many companies view this type of branding as recruitment marketing towards young talent, as in when a company needs to recruit x number of new employees and wants a recruitment driven campaign linked to that.

“But the more mature companies see employer branding as a more holistic initiative and an opportunity to impact their long term business success. Even if they are not planning to expand its workforce, they still want to make sure they are an attractive employer and secure a healthy talent pipeline for future needs.”

“Also, many companies have a very traditional way of recruiting and tend to only look at numbers (i.e. try to get as many applications as possible). Today it does not work like that; it is not about quantity anymore. It is all about getting the right talent who wants to join an organization for the right reasons – it is better to get two CVs that are spot-on than to get 2000 unsuitable CVs.”

“But many companies are desperate and try to be everything for everyone. One tries to talk only about what one is good at and don’t dare to bring up the negatives – and get applications accordingly. But eventually you have to spend a lot of time in filtering out the right talent and you will probably see a negative effect on engagement levels ones the new employee realises all the flaws on the inside.”

“According to us, if you work strategically with your employer brand, you do that filtration right away. If you cannot offer exactly what talent wants such as work-life balance, you should then focus your communication around what you CAN offer and turn to those interested in that,” concludes Joakim.

As mentioned, Universum also assists comprehensively when it comes to the activation stage; to push out the right message, based on talent insights, to the right target group, and via the right channels.

“It is really important that the message feels authentic, and speaks to the receiver also in terms of culture. The receiver must be able to recognise herself/himself. Universum use a lot of content marketing when crafting messages for their clients, where they primarily use authentic stories from employees aligned to the company’s value proposition.”

“One size does not fit all, not even within Southeast Asia: Malaysia is different compared to Vietnam and Thailand etc., and many companies forget that; thinking they can use one and the same strategy for all target groups within Asia. That won’t work!”

An example of a target group is the Millennials (and Generation Z next in line). Universum has followed this generation for a long time and is constantly trying to help organizations to understand what Millennials want in their career. Joakim believes that it pays off to focus on aspects of employer branding that appeal to Millennials and have a targeted approach in terms of attracting, recruiting and retaining them.

To help ‘understanding this misunderstood generation’ Universum, together with INSEAD Emerging Markets Institute and the HEAD Foundation, in 2014 launched the first global survey of how millennial attitudes and actions vary across the globe.

“We even arrange workshops with employers and their Millennials to make them understand each other and address potential misperceptions.”

“McKinsey started to talk about the war for talent a decade ago. We at Universum believe that the war is over and that talent won. It is therefore crucial for companies to move away from a ‘we-know-it-all’ attitude and adopt an insight-driven talent centric approach when it comes to talent acquisition.”

About Joakim Persson

Freelance business and lifestyle photojournalist

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