Kimberly-Clark Seeks ‘Original Thinkers’

Company rebrands to overcome outdated perception, location challenges

By Roy Maurer Dec 22, 2016
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Manufacturer Kimberly-Clark—the company behind consumer brands like Kleenex, Cottonelle and Huggies—is betting on an employer branding push to convince Millennial and tech talent to move to its Neenah, Wis., campus to take part in innovative, cutting-edge work.

The company faces fundamental recruiting challenges such as job seekers not knowing what opportunities are available, the perception that the company must be an old-school manufacturing operation and its location—the North American headquarters are in Wisconsin's Fox Valley region, about two hours from the nearest large population centers in Milwaukee and Madison.

"Our challenge is always getting top talent," said Frans Mahieu, global marketing director of people strategy at Kimberly-Clark. "The job market is tightening, especially for the cream of the crop, and we are competing with startups in Manhattan and Silicon Valley for developers and engineers."

The company recently launched a branding campaign that frames Kimberly-Clark workers and applicants as "original thinkers." The campaign is centered on a new careers site and what has proven to be a very popular online quiz.

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"We felt we needed to sharpen our message," Mahieu said. "We needed to do a better job at letting people know who we are and that candidates can be original thinkers here."

But how to reach the coveted Millennial demographic—the largest share of the labor market? "We couldn't just say that 'We are original thinkers,' " Mahieu said. "We thought we should let them experience the concept and engage with our message." Eventually the company settled on a short, fun, BuzzFeed-type quiz. You're asked, for example, how you'd prepare for a day-long hike: by throwing out the map and following your instincts or packing everything you need? And if you were charged with recruiting volunteers for an upcoming food drive, would you analyze previous data for solutions or create an app to reduce the need for volunteers? The quiz then tells you what sort of original thinker you are, such as a "dreamer," an "analyst" or a "disruptor."

However, the quiz is not a screening tool, Mahieu said. "It's meant to show potential candidates that the company is looking for different kinds of people. It's also a good conversation-starter between the company's recruiters and candidates. Instead of an awkward conversation where recruiters move into their sales pitch, the ice is broken when candidates bring up their quiz results."

The site also features employees who have impacted the brand (and what kind of thinker they are), including workers who developed a bladder-support product and others who changed the way Huggies are marketed.

Welcome to Neenah

Even though the company has a flexible work program, the majority of employees work onsite in Neenah, so informing curious job seekers about the area and the campus was another important goal of the branding effort.

The new careers site explores Neenah through videos, pictures and an interactive map highlighting arts festivals, music clubs, brew pubs and hiking trails. "We want to show that working at Kimberly-Clark comes with having an appealing lifestyle," Mahieu said. The editors at Money magazine have agreed that the benefits of the region are many, naming the Neenah-Appleton area one of the best places to live in the U.S.

"We never showcased before what it was like to live in Neenah," Mahieu said. "We highlight the diversity, the performing arts and the beautiful outdoors. If you don't tell people about it, they won't be familiar with it."

Spreading the Word

The company began by taking the message to its own employees. "We wanted to make sure they understood what we're doing," Mahieu said. "And we wanted to engage them. They are a key source for referrals."

Employees took the quiz first and then passed it around through social networks.

The company used its original thinkers quiz during the 2016 fall college campus recruiting drive and is advertising on LinkedIn and Facebook.

Approximately 10,000 people took the quiz in its first three months. About half of those who have taken the quiz have shared it with friends and family, Mahieu said. About 20 percent have clicked onto the Kimberly-Clark careers site and browsed jobs.

"We don't have the hard data yet, but our number of applications are way up since we launched the rebranded site and quiz," he said.

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