“HR started cooperating with marketing and put a lot of time into extensive marketing research to get an even better understanding of our target audience.”Christian Edman Freudenthal, Senior HR strategist for the Swedish Armed Force
If the perception of your organization has historically been male-dominated, masculine, and quite homogenous, and then suddenly – things change. Think about the challenges your organization will face with the employer brand.
The Swedish Armed Forces have faced that challenge, and they have accomplished a massive turnaround in the perception and communication of their employer brand throughout the last decade. Why? Because Sweden decided to no longer apply the military conscription and from then on be an all-volunteer force.
During our Employer Branding Summit in 2021, we had the honour to welcome Christian Edman Freudenthal, Senior HR strategist for the Swedish Armed Force. Christian unwrapped the recipe behind their progressive campaigns, pinpointed specific target groups, and managed to change the perception of themselves across the whole population.
We don’t always march straight. A flag worth defending. Come as you are, and we live in Sweden in peace. These are just a few examples of Sweden’s Armed Force’s powerful messages that have echoed throughout Swedish society for the past 10 years. So, how – and why – did the shift in their employer branding communication initiate?
From being supplied with talents to doing the work themselves.
It all started when you couldn’t be forced – as a man – to participate in the Swedish Armed Force. Also, with the knowledge that if the military conscription would apply again, it would include both men and women. Overnight, the Swedish Armed Force became a large employer and the largest recruiter of both men and women.
A change of mindset was imminent – from inside out to outside in. Likewise, the recruitment organisation of The Swedish Armed Forces had to up their understanding and started cooperating with marketing. They put a lot of time into extensive marketing research, which showed that trust, knowledge and interest from citizens were disturbingly low. They needed to do something. So, from 2014, they started to work with the Swedish Armed Force brand. And this landed, in 2016, in a brand strategy.
“Market research has always been the key element in marketing. But it’s an important tool within HR in solving challenges or approaching new target groups.”
Like all our speakers, Christian got several questions from the event chat and our moderators. Here are some of his answers.
When looking into your target groups while conducting these surveys, how often do you see big changes?
It doesn’t happen very fast. It takes a long time. For instance, when we started in 2010, people didn’t even perceive the Armed Force as an employer. But now, we can see that we are – and that change happen during a ten-year period. Another thing is that we have been perceived as a male-only organization, with over 100-years of men doing their military services. And in 2010, if you asked people who the armed force would be – if it was a person – it would be identified as a tall middle-aged white man. Today, we see changes in the picture of the armed force and now you would look at smiley young women and men. But it takes time, and we are not where we want to be just yet.
How did you go about creating your employer brand communication?
The first question we asked ourselves was – is this campaign needed? You need to identify the goal and the effect that you’re looking for. It’s important to understand the target group’s drivers concerning your brand – because understanding that is fundamental for the communications that you are developing. It’s one thing to plan, but you have to take action and do it.
How do you work with understanding these target groups that you have?
We have a general target group which is young women and men. Besides that, we have specific target groups for different business areas and skills. We analyse our surveys that are done by an external marketing research agency, as well as the annual reports that we buy. We also track our brand externally, which allows us to follow different target groups in their perception of us as a brand and as an employer. All the conducted research, we review on a quarterly and annual basis. We also track internally with employee and exit surveys.
TOP THREE RECOMMENDATIONS on how to pinpoint your target audience.
1. You have to be clear on who you want to recruit. But also, in what specific areas. You need one target group for every business area. And you have to decide what’s the most important for you – you can’t do everything at once.
2. Another thing is the customer journey. We work a lot with customer relationship management. It’s traditionally used for sales and marketing but is effective in HR as well. Because you can use it in enhancing your processes and gives you concrete things to do regarding communication.
3. Be curious and bold. If you have facts, you can handle scepticism and criticism. People always have opinions because they think they know better.
Christan Edman Freudenthal is a senior HR strategist within the Supreme Commanders staff at the Armed Forces HQ. Among other things, Christian has been in charge of SwAF Employer Brand strategy since 2009.