Storytelling about Wiser with Alex Ayin

Welcome to the Use Case Podcast, episode 102. This week we have storytelling about Wiser with Alex Ayin. During this episode, Alex and I talk about how practitioners make the business case or the use case for purchasing Wiser.

Alex is an expert in all things employer brand and talent attraction. His passion to change the way people think about work really comes through during the podcast.

Give the show a listen and please let me know what you think.

Thanks, William

Show length: 33 minutes


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William: 00:24
Ladies and gentlemen, this is William and you’re listening to The Use Case podcast. Today we’re on with Alex Ayin and we’re talking about the firm Wiser and so excited to jump right into it. Alex, would you do us a favor and introduce both of yourself and introduce us to Wiser?

Alex: 00:44
Indeed. Thanks very much, William. Wiser is an employer branding creative and recruitment agency. I am the marketing director at Wiser, recently joined, but the business has been going now for seven years and ultimately we help large enterprise clients with their employee brand transformations. So that’s everything from the research phase in which we’ll do EVP messaging, brand frameworks, we’ll interview staff, we’ll do qualitative and quantitative research. And then start building a brand visual identity, an employer brand visual identity.

Alex: 01:25
And then the second part of what we do is then activating that. So whether that’s through leadership videos, career site builds, recruitment and marketing campaigns. Everything to really change the perception of an employer brand or increase that perception or the brand essence within certain demographics, whether that be on campus with students, or whether that be for hard to hire talent, such as tech. We’re getting a lot of briefs at the minute for people wanting to hire tech, senior tech, whether it’s engineering or developers.

William: 02:00
So first of all, great intro and great explanation of what you all do. Let’s start with some of the basics because we learned some things, I would assume your clients learned some things during COVID, and maybe EB changed a little bit because of COVID? But also want to get your take right after that, I want to get your take on what you think are the impacts of COVID for EB. What are we looking at like in a post COVID world, from an employer branding perspective?

Alex: 02:35
Yeah, really interesting. And we’ve been talking about it quite a lot in the office is the stats, especially from agencies and our clients. We’re having a lot of people leave organizations. They’re calling it the great resignation rather than the great recession. So there’s a lot more people now questioning what an organization means to them, if it fits into their lifestyle. So the focus for us and for our clients has been on how we can improve and increase the employee experience so that the people that they have within that organization feel a connection. They also feel that the organization is supportive of, whether it be flexible working, whether it be the projects that they need to work on in specific locations. Is there going to be adequate safety equipment if they’re going to come back to the office?

Alex: 03:28
And the companies that are really doing the best, especially across the pond and in the UK are the ones that are doubled down and really focusing on that employee experience and what they can give to the employee to make them feel most comfortable and also be able to perform at their best. So I think that’s probably the main crux of the post-COVID world is the difference between what we were used to working in, so going to the office every day, and the new norm of what that looks like and how you can give the staff the technology, the equipment, the team structures, the autonomy, to be able to operate in that hybrid/flexible working environment.

William: 04:14
It’s interesting. Here in the States, we’re talking a lot about the companies are forcing them, I’m using the word force, really requiring people to go back to the office, which personally I think is a mistake. Especially things that we’ve learned through COVID, especially some of the jobs where you can do them remotely and might even be better performed for remotely. But I’m trying to figure out what’s the best way to position this for a particular company? Forced seems wrong, maybe remote forever seems maybe a bit too utopian. So, I know that everyone’s going to come to a hybrid model on their own, and everyone’s going to make mistakes along this. But what do you think is important for companies as they communicate their employer brand? And then as they employ that with jobs and the value proposition, et cetera. What do you think is important for them to just carefully consider as they communicate?

Alex: 05:28
Yeah. The communication part is huge on that point alone. I did a post about this about Spotify going completely remote and it got 250,000 views on that post alone. Just because so many people had an opinion and were engaged on that topic, specifically. I think having the office culture is always going to be an integral part for many organizations and just people. If you think about us as human beings, we, from the stone ages, have wanted to connect and be together in communities. And so the appeal and the flexibility of homeworking and the productivity, think how much more we get done now, is really important.

Alex: 06:16
But actually, so we’re working on a couple of campaigns at the minute which are internal employee brand campaigns, which are bringing people together. So each quarter having a big central event in which different teams would come together for, whether it be a retreat, a learning experience, just something that brings and gets everybody together in the same room from different departments that wouldn’t necessarily speak.

Alex: 06:41
So I think the policy moving forward, from a communication standpoint, one of the key things is, well from our opinion, would be to if you can work from anywhere and that anywhere could be home, could be a remote office space nearby your house, it could be the main office, it could be satellite offices where people can dip in and dip out and potentially have team meetings or stand-ups or connect. And I think the importance of that and how you articulate what you’re going to do is going to be vital for attracting some of the best talent.

Alex: 07:20
And if you think about, especially in tech, we’re now not geographically limited to only hiring people from a certain location. So your talent pool now could be even greater. The skillsets that you currently don’t have, or are with your competitors within your immediate vicinity, you can now get great talent, potentially even better talent, from further afield. And so for some companies, if they are able to communicate their EVP, what the mission that they’re on, what they’re trying to create and the purpose of the organization in a really compelling way online, then you’re going to attract some of the best people from around the world to want to join and get involved with that mission. And if you also have the added benefit that you’re not geographically constraint and saying to people that you have to be in the office two days a week, three days a week, four days a week, then you could increase your skillsets within the ranks significantly.

William: 08:19
Yeah. And you’re opening up your aperture. So we’re talking about a lot here in the States, inclusion, diversity, inclusion, belonging, equity, equality. But we’re talking about how do you not end up with five pear shaped, middle-aged white guys. So how do you go about that differently. And so if you do have an environment where you can have folks that work from anywhere in the world, you can actually start to really thinking about inclusion in a lot different ways that not just inclusion inside the four walls of whatever country you live in, or the state or territory or whatever. But really truly global inclusion, which is fascinating to me.

William: 09:06
Let me ask a question about the mistakes that you routinely see and y’all talk about. We’re not going to talk about anybody in particular, of course, but just general mistakes that you see in recruitment marketing on one side and employer brand in general. What are some of those things that you just routinely, okay, we see this over and over, we’ve got to undo this or redo this or fix this, if you will. What are some of those things?

Alex: 09:40
100%. So from the employer brand side, often we will go into a creative session with the copywriting and creative strategy team and the client that we’re working on, if you were to take away that brand logo, their brand values, their EVP, their taglines could be the same on about 10 to 15 of their competitors. The language they use is very similar. It’s not differentiated, it doesn’t speak to a specific individual. So we get a lot of generic language, generic phrases, and ultimately they don’t put their line in the sand. They’re not focused on compelling the few and repelling the many.

Alex: 10:28
And that’s something that we really do. Whenever we’re thinking about messaging or building a brand or especially brown framework for any of our clients, we’re thinking about who exactly is that person, the ideal target person, within different teams, and we need to flex within different role categories and seniorities. But ultimately what the characteristics and the values and the principles that make people within your organization very successful? And also where are the gaps? Where are the ones where there’re things that aren’t going right in terms of business projects or growth or specific teams that aren’t performing? What are the ones that they’re missing? So do they have people that aren’t showing the key attributes that what makes you a X brand person, or a Wiser person as we always call it? We know when someone’s Wiser by speaking to them, how they speak to other people, how they treat other people, how they operate, how they make moves, how they expect more of themselves. It’s ingrained within our values and throughout the interview process.

Alex: 11:29
And so that’s what we do, we do a lot of work with our clients is, is trying to bring that out. It’s asking the right questions, delving into what makes you special, and then articulating that in a way that’s really compelling to a specific demographic so that you will get the best people applying for that role. So I would say that from the employer branding standpoint.

Alex: 11:5
Then on the recruitment marketing area, which is where I focus on predominantly, especially on social media. And that’s my background, has been in social media for the last seven, eight years. People and clients are putting out content which focuses on them. So they’re trying to tell the candidates everything about them, which to a certain extent that needs to happen. So you need to have business achievements, milestones, things that you’re doing for specific causes or mission focused content. That stuff will tap into people’s identity and what they care about. But that should only be 25%. The other 75% should focus on the candidate.

Alex: 12:36
So if you ask yourself, how can you make that candidate’s life better? How can you entertain them? How can you educate them? How can you help them get their promotion? How can you improve their life in some way and add value on a consistent basis so that when they are thinking about their next career move, you then become the proxy employer of choice? Because over the past six, seven months, you’ve given them so much value for free that they then feel obliged to at least come and explore what the opportunities are with you. And you’ve then got a much better chance of convincing that person, especially if they’re senior and in a role change at senior level, takes a hell of a lot of… You’ve got family, kids, monetary impacts of what you’re getting paid, et cetera. It’s a big decision. So, that’s where this really comes into it. Simon about building a community and offering value to the candidate rather than only focusing on what you can do and all the great things within your organization.

William: 13:36
Well, it’s thinking about, you said it twice in [inaudible 00:13:42] this, to the attract and repel. So an employer brand, a great employer brand, does both. It’s not just attract, so you’re not just focused on trying to bring everything too. You’re trying to also so that people can see themselves in there, but they can also see themselves not there, just equally important. So you’ve touched on that, but you also did it again on the recruitment marketing and employer brand side, where you basically said the content should also be balance. Balanced in the sense of you want to talk about yourself, but you also want to talk about customer success and things are doing in the community, balancing things to where it’s not all one dimensional me. So thank you for both hitting on both of those things because I think people just understanding the balance on both sides is really important.

Alex: 14:38
Definitely. And also the final thing on that point, which we always try and get down to is the traditional storytelling arc. So finding a hero’s journey within the organization. So say it’s James, he’s 32 years old. He’s gone from being a developer, now he heads up the entire department. How can we tell his story in a really compelling and entertaining way and inspiring way? Because other people looking at that hey want to root for James, it’s like when you’re watching your favorite film or TV show. So if you can take people on that journey and tell a narrative through the eyes of someone which they relate to, or see themselves as potentially being a couple of years, that then is where you really get to the gold for recruitment and marketing.

William: 15:25
I love it. So now let’s pivot to two Wiser in the sense of how people buy and how people start to budget and think about working with Wiser. So give me an idea of what great customers look like for Wiser. I ran an ad agency for 140 years, and I can tell you from that experience that there were great customers and clients that got it and clients that we just worked with and took their checks, at gunpoint. The longer the relationship was, was usually the people that we were already closer to. They got us, we got them. From forgiveness in there, there was trust, respect, all that other stuff. But give us a sense of just if you were to build the DNA of what is a great customer for Wiser, what does it look like?

Alex: 16:26
Yes. Great question, William. So I would say where we do the best work for our clients is when we have a customer that knows that they need to transition from a perception of their brand, or an old version of their brand, into the new world. So we’ve had a few clients that are really big retail group across Europe, over 30,000 staff. And they have predominantly been a bricks and mortar organization. COVID has accelerated this, the move to e-commerce, but they also have gone on that journey over the past two years and they’re trying to elevate each area of the business. But they need to fundamentally change that brand, the old brand, in order to attract the people that were going to take jobs at Facebook or Google or any of the big tech companies to come in and help build that it and e-commerce infrastructure.

Alex: 17:29
And so that’s where we do the best work, when people know that they’re coming from a brand which has a certain reputation, they need to change that reputation. So we’ll come in and we’ll interview the staff, we’ll find out what exactly makes that organization unique and special. And then we will tell that story over the next six to 12 months through a whole variety of creative. So ultimately we’re a creative agency at heart, and it’s where people come to us for because we can create unbelievable powerfully made videos. We can create a graphic design, we can create new websites that just look amazing, like beautiful destinations for people to hit on new careers website.

Alex: 18:09
And so that’s what an ideal client would be, where the first stages we come and do an initial research piece. We’ll find out all of the information that I touched on. We’ll also find out the landscape and interview people at your competitors to find out what they think of the company. We’ll take all of that information, turn that into a full employer brand framework, EVP messaging, and then we’ll turn the EVP and the brand values into content. So whether that’s managing social media assets, managing the social media communities on LinkedIn, on Instagram, ruining recruitment, marketing campaigns, and building communities, whether it’s tech, commercial, sales hires. We’ll build a community on one of those platforms. So that when the time’s right, they will want to come work for you.

Alex: 18:56
And then ultimately over the long term period, we’ll come in within the organization and run employer brand champions programs. So we will take 30 to 40 leaders from across the business, and it doesn’t even have to be leaders, but key people of influence, and show them how they can build their personal brand in a way that articulates the new brand values or any of the messaging that we’ve created through what they’re seeing day in day out on the ground. And we find that’s probably one of the most powerful ways to increase referrals on attraction because it’s so authentic coming from the horse’s mouth of people that work within the organization.

William: 19:42
It’s funny that you mentioned this because, again, if they don’t recognize that they need a problem. Y’all are selling a pill and if you’re selling a pill thin yeah, you might’ve sell that in the business. But the entire time you’re pushing this boulder up the hill that they don’t recognize that they have a problem. They almost have to recognize we have a problem. And now it’s a matter of how do we fix the problem and how do we solve the problem and who do we use to then do this, that and the other. But if they don’t recognize they have a problem you could still win that business. Trust me.

Alex: 20:22
Yeah. But it’s uphill, like you say. People come to us when they’ve either got an attraction issue or their retention, they’re losing a lot of people to competitors. Or the third element is we will run from all the way from attraction through to assessment center, through to actually implementing internships schemes and graduate schemes. We will run that process. Anything for a brand’s early careers or early talent programs, we will come in and almost be a third party outsourced option for you to bring in the best young people from across campus.

William: 21:00
Okay. So, second question. Kind of along the lines, but the buying questions that y’all like to hear. And really what I’m trying to get at with this particular question is when you’re talking to prospects, they send off signals. So they send off signals that they either get it, they don’t get it, this, that, and the other. And some of them, you said earlier, that you can tell that they’re Wiser, you can tell that they are already on that plane. One of the questions that give you the clue that, yeah, they get it. And more to the point, what are questions that y’all just love to receive in the sales and marketing process?

Alex: 21:51
Yeah. So if a client’s asking us, where do we position ourselves with young people? That’s a great question. How do we attract the young people? How do we increase the applications to our graduate scheme? How do we increase diverse? So we’re getting a hell of a lot, especially after what happened last year and the impact post George Floyd, is how do we ensure our processes are inclusive? Or at least how we’re putting ourselves out there in the market to attract a diverse breadth of candidates, both for the early careers, but also for more senior roles.

Alex: 22:33
And so as soon as people then start talking in those languages, that’s where we know that our expertise are in communication, in video creation, in graphic design, in brand building, in visual identity. So, there’s a way that we can take what makes you special, or the unique differentiators, and turn that into a piece of storytelling or piece of content that will speak to that person who you can’t currently engage with. So they’re the, I would say, probably the main question. When people start asking that in terms of where you want to be here, or we want to build this tech team, but we’re just getting no applications for the roles, that’s where we really come into our own, I would say.

William: 23:21
Right. I can see that. It’s not only that they recognize a problem in general, now it’s specific, it’s nuance. It’s like, “Hey, we’re having a real difficulty retaining this or attracting this. And we’ve tried this, we’ve tried that, we’ve tried 15 different things. None of it’s working. We need help. Here’s where we need help.” And you’ll probably discover other things that they need help with, of course. But if they have something, they’re sending a signal that not only do we recognize we have a problem, we recognize we have a very specific problem and let’s peel the onion and figure out how to fix that.

William: 24:04
I know this is going to be a difficult question in the sense of pricing and budgets and everything is, it depends. But I know that folks struggle both in HR and in talent acquisition to figure out how much does this stuff cost? And, again, I’ve been on the agency side and I would tell people when they would ask me, “Oh, hell, this is a real simple.” And of course I was being very sarcastic. “This is very simple. We just roll dice and that’s how we create proposals.”

Alex: 24:43
Yeah. Especially, I’ve heard that in previous creative agencies. Yeah.

William: 24:48
And so half of it is like, are they being serious? Well, kind of. It depends the breadth and depth of a project. But you’re going into, again, a client can use you for something very bespoke, very simple, or they can use you for the breadth and depth of all your services. So budget, it can be pick a number of other hat. However, let’s try and give the audience a little bit of a guide of what they should be thinking in terms of budgeting.

Alex: 25:20
Yeah. So for the research piece at the beginning, so that’s everything from coming into your organization, speaking to your people, taking all the learnings that we gain. And then also speaking externally to key focus groups, actually talent mapping, where you’re losing people to, where other people within your industry going. And then presenting back the findings alongside a whole report about the current state of your employer brand. That is anywhere, depending on how many interviews, it’s mid five figures for something like that. So that’s the research piece, the EVP piece.

William: 26:04
With that, you think it’s important for every client to start with research?

Alex: 26:09
100% because if you think about your organization as if you’re a team, I always think about it in the team sense or sports team sense. You need to understand exactly what the strategy is, where you’re going to play. And you can see teams that have that and the teams that don’t. So for me, it’s exactly the same with a bigger organization, probably even more important because you’ve got so many more people and you want them to be all communicating the same thing, believing in the same thing, in terms of the messaging. And also what you stand for, what the purpose is, what’s in it for them essentially every day they come to work. And what’s in it for the potential candidates, so that you’re attracting the right person.

Alex: 26:55
And then off the back of a lot of that research and language, the content that you’re then putting out, or the recruiting marketing campaign, really needs to tap in, or at least have that as the seeds, the infrastructure, building the tree. That’s where we really see it coming through. So for us, we always start every project from a research based lens. And if there’s already been research done even better because then we can come in and take that research and turn it into something which is more tangible. The creative things are much more tangible, like social media content, the artwork, the design, the website.

William: 27:35
Again, all that stuff’s important. Research gets you grounded and gets the client grounded on, “Hey, let’s make sure we see the world the same way. Here’s what we found out. Here’s what we believe. Here’s where we’d like to do. Do we all see this the same way? Great.” And then tactically, now you got all kinds of fun stuff that you can get into. And I think that becomes more fun for the client because they can see the career page changes, their job ads are starting to change. They can see some of that fun stuff. But again, the research isn’t fun. It’s fun for people that love to do research, but it’s not necessarily fun for the client. But the output of which drives everything, or can drive everything.

Alex: 28:29
Exactly, 100%. And if you think about not, just from an employer brand standpoint, but just marketing in general, the best campaigns I’ve ever seen in the world, Nike, Just Do It. The one for PNG for the Olympics when it was “Thank you mom.” That was born out of a piece of insight, which told everybody that the person that was potentially unappreciated from these world-class athletes, was the mum doing all the lunches, the trips to all the different states to play games. And that was a piece of insight from research, which then turned into one of the most talked about, well executed campaigns, creative campaigns.

William: 29:17
Well, I-

Alex: 29:18
Sorry, I-

William: 29:21
No, finish.

Alex: 29:21
I was just going to say. But it wouldn’t have been as powerful or hit home as much if they didn’t have all of that research that had gone ahead to shape the campaign.

William: 29:31
Well, I can tell you that 100 years ago, I did a market research. I was working for an ad agency and we were doing a focus. And so I was sitting behind the glass while we’re recording this and it was for Dirt Devil, a vacuum cleaner company. Guy is going through the market research, asking each person, “What do you think?” The vacuum cleaner is up on the table. Typical primary research and focus group stuff. And I remember this moment where he asks, he’s like “What do you think?” Because the thing was called Tornado or Wind Tunnel or some something like that. She goes, “I don’t believe it because I don’t see it. If that was like clear and I could see it, then I’d believe it.”

William: 30:23
And it’s like the light bulb went off right in front of everybody behind the glass and Dirt Devil was on the phone with engineering, right then, like, “Can we make this piece clear?” And they were like, “Yeah. Why would you want to do that?” And they were like, “Yeah, doesn’t matter. We’re not even going to get into the details. Can you make it clear?” “Yeah, of course we can make it clear.” “Fantastic. Thanks” Had that question not been asked, had that answer not been given, that wouldn’t have changed and their sales for that vacuum cleaner wouldn’t have been what they were. It was one little data point from one woman in Cleveland, Ohio. So it can be magical when it clicks.

William: 31:17
Last question as we roll out, the folks that you find yourself working with, primarily, I would assume it’s talent acquisition and HR. And probably even more specifically getting into employer branding and branding and maybe even marketing folks, but who’s on the other side as your clients?

Alex: 31:35
Yeah. You hit the nail on the head. So we work very closely with the HR directors, people directors, often C-suite level people because they want to shift the organization or there’s a key business transformation piece. And they know in the majority of companies that people are going to be the driving force behind those changes. So we usually have a senior stakeholder either from the board or C-suite. But then on a day to day we’ll work with HR director, head of early careers. Yeah.

William: 32:10
That makes sense. That makes absolute sense to me. So this has been fantastic. Thank you so much, Alex. I absolutely appreciate you coming on the podcast and breaking down Wiser for us. Also thanks for everyone listening to The Use Case podcast.

Alex: 32:26
Thanks very much William.

The Use Case Podcast

William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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