The Power of Employer Branding: DHL's Global Approach

Cathal Divilly

In this episode of The Red Cube Podcast, Great Place to Work CEO Cathal Divilly is joined by Simon Buehler, Global Employer Branding Lead at DHL. Simon shares his extensive experience in employer branding, detailing his journey over the past six years at DHL and the innovative strategies he has implemented to unify the company's global employer brand. Learn about DHL's comprehensive branding approach, the deep research involved in understanding employee and candidate perspectives, and the unique initiatives like DHL's esports campaign that have helped them stand out as an employer of choice.

Simon's insights provide a fascinating look into the challenges and successes of managing a global brand in a large organisation.

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> In this podcast

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Simon Buehler

Global Employer Branding Lead


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Cathal Divilly

Great Place to Work Ireland


> About Simon

Simon is Global Employer Branding Lead at DHL, now taking care of DHL’s employer brand for more than 6 years, bringing in more than 10 years of experience on the consumer marketing side. He's also part of the group-wide Marketing Executive Team, which helps him bridge the gap between Brand Marketing and Employer Branding. This has led to some award-winning employer branding cross-over campaigns in the realm of esports (CounterStrike, DOTA2, mobile games) and Formula 1. He is also a self-professed "supernerd" and is currently working on his Iron Man cosplay armour (after finishing a bunch of other nerdy projects). When he is not busy with these endeavours, he tries to raise two kids, aged 3 and 5, which in his words, is a whole other whirlwind of emotions! Simon also holds a Master of Science degree with a major in Marketing & Empirical Research.



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Cathal Divilly: So welcome Red Cube listeners to our latest episode. We are delighted to be joined by Simon Buehler, Global Employer Brand Lead for DHL. Simon you're very welcome. Thanks for joining us. 


Simon Buehler: Thanks for having me. 


Cathal Divilly: Simon, I think for our listeners, probably the best way to start is give people a sense of your career history, your role that sounds really exciting and give people a sense of your current role with DHL. 


Simon Buehler: Yes, absolutely. So I have been with DHL for almost six years now and I have been taking care of our global employer brand ever since. Now DHL for those listeners who don't know what we do; we have about 600,000 employees and that means we hire around 130,000 per year. So that is a lot of turnover. So of course employer branding and recruiting is one of our, well, the things that we take most care of.  

So what you got to know about DHL is we are basically a family of divisions. That's Supply Chain, Business, Global Forwarding, Post and Parcel Express, all of those different divisions. And my task is basically to unite them under one roof with one employer brand, one core campaign mechanic and stuff like that, right? I try to push as much as I can fancy new marketing ideas and I guess we're gonna be talking about those in a minute.  

So before joining DHL, before going over to the employer branding side of things, I have 10 years of experience in consumer marketing, so I did brand marketing, social media marketing and most importantly, content marketing. We'll get to that in a minute as well. 


Cathal Divilly: So you said there, taking care of the employer brand, so let's go back six years, right? So was the employer brand established at that point, or was it in development mode, what stage were you at? 


Simon Buehler: Yes, it was kind of established, but it wasn't really rolled out into all of the business units yet. So we had a general understanding and we were just trying to reboot the way we communicate with our candidates back then. But then we said, hey, wait a minute. It makes sense to really figure out, what is it that we want to communicate? So we did a proper assessment of where we stand and what it means joining DHL. And based on that we updated our campaign materials.  

Now that was five years ago. And then after the pandemic we thought to ourselves, maybe it makes sense to revisit this. So that was before the pandemic. And then afterwards we did another round of a strategic assessment of where we are with the 360 degree analysis, you know, asking our managers, asking our employees and asking candidates out there what they value in an employer and what we can really say about ourselves. 


Cathal Divilly: Brilliant, and Simon, was that sort of deep research, one to one conversation, surveys, combination or?  


Simon Buehler: Yeah, exactly. That was a combination of all of these. I had the pleasure of interviewing 40 something business leaders, so not only marketing folks, but you know people that bring in the money like from operations and marketing and finance and stuff. So I got in touch with all of these people and we used a framework that we can then analyse, you know and putting those different views on top of each other.  

So then we knew what our employees are thinking, what our stakeholders are thinking and the candidate view. And based on that we developed you know that little sweet spot where what we can reliably say about ourselves and what is interesting to our candidates. That is how we develop our new campaign structure. 


Cathal Divilly: Very good. And we know the most authentic employer brands of course come from the internal lived reality of the people within the business. So that's why it's so important to do that. 


Simon Buehler: That's exactly right. So we set out on this project which took about, I think 8 months or so. And we set out and we wanted to have at least 80% of agreement of our employees with the values and the positioning that we created. And so we ran another survey after we went through the whole process, then we ran another survey and we asked them, hey, how do you feel about this? Does this describe our employer brand, does this describe our company? And now we have a strong agreement, at least 80%, which is what we're aiming for.  

And then I also asked people, hey, if you agree, what is your love story around this particular pillar that describes your relationship with DHL? Now I have like 3,000 different stories from people that explain why DHL really delivers the difference or what makes DHL care and this was super important because now I have these nuggets that can really tell the audience now, why is there a reason to believe our position? So that’s quite nice. 


Cathal Divilly: That’s really cool yeah, so give me an example of a pillar, right. And then maybe a love story. 


Simon Buehler: Right. So our first one is we deliver the difference. This is something that came out of the pandemic where our employees say, well, we really kept the world going. And you know, we kept these connections that, you know, we are connected animals, right? So we kept this going while everything else was grinding to a halt. And one of the love stories that I that I really like is – it was an employee who had moved to Sydney, Australia and she was pregnant and so she had her friends over here in Germany and they sent her some gifts and they were talking on the phone and right in this moment that DHL courier opened the door and she was presented with that box that her colleagues put together. You couldn't script a better story than this! If you ask an agency, come up with a cool story. But that was an actual quote from a person, from one of our employees. And there are, like, hundreds of those in there. 


Cathal Divilly: That's amazing. And I can hear our listeners kind of ask right. So you've shared one pillar there. We don't have the benefit of visuals in this mode of communication, but is it possible, Simon, for you to describe the employer brand, maybe the pillars for the audience? 


Simon Buehler: Yes. So the first one is all about our purpose. It's about connecting people, improving lives and we call that “Deliver the Difference”. Because you know what makes it special, what makes the value that we bring to the world? We call that “Deliver the Difference”.  

The second pillar is what we call “We Care”. So inside our company, there's a huge programme, it's all around respect and results. It's the way we want to conduct business all the way from the very top to the managers that are running the supply chain depots in the very front, and this guides the way we treat each other and we call that “We Care”. So that's the second pillar.  

And the third pillar is “We Grow Together”. So we at DHL, I don't know if you know this, but almost everybody that joins our company can go through the “Certified” training. So the certified training turns you into a certified logistics professional CLP or a certified international specialist. So depending on your role and where you want to develop, you can go through these certified programmes, and this is something that I didn't know before I joined this company that we do have this.  

And I think it's super strong because you have this badge, even after you leave our company that people can see, alright, so this guy is a certified logistics professional. So that's just one of the reasons why we think this growing together, this moving up in the ranks is something that we really value. And then we also have these learn and grow waves where people from all over the world can just join and listen and interact with speakers and learn about how to progress in their careers. 


Cathal Divilly: Wow. So you could be outside the sector, outside the industry and actually come to DHL and be sort of qualified almost in logistics through that certification, is it Simon? 


Simon Buehler: That's exactly right. Yeah. I mean, before I joined, I had nothing to do with logistics and now I'm a certified logistics manager and look we have these, OK you cannot see those now, but we have these little passports where you can collect stamps of the different trainings and certifieds that you go through. And I think this is super strong and I wouldn't have guessed to see something like this in a logistics company. 


Cathal Divilly: Wow, that's really cool, right? So Simon just showed his own passport there to the camera, which was great to see. So we've got the pillars, right? We've got the employer brand. We've validated it with employees to match your experience. We have the love stories. Could you share Simon some of the activations then that you do around your employer brand? I know you do some cool stuff in DHL. 


Simon Buehler: Yes, yes we can. So nobody reads a positioning statement. Nobody cares about those pillars, right? So you need to find a creative platform in order to communicate this to the audience. And for this, we found something that I think, it's super powerful. We call it “Your Future, Delivered”. That's the main campaign headline, that's the campaign platform that goes through all of our communications.  

The power of this is that you can twist it, you can turn it and you can adjust it to what you need to tell your target group. Like for example, let's say you're hiring graduates, right? And the graduates, they are all about growing and you know, where do I go? What is my next job after this one? Right. So you can load “Your Future, Delivered”, you can load it up with “it's about your personal future”. It's about, you know, the steps that you take, the mentorships and all of these really cool things that we provide. So it's a very unique individual thing, Your Future, Delivered. 

But if you have a different target audience, let's say somebody who cares about the environment or who cares about the social impact of big companies and really wants to look at the purpose that a company has. Here you can talk more about the collective view, you know, it's a bigger thing. Did you know that DHL has the so-called Disaster Response Team? This is a group of logistics professionals that go someplace when there's been an earthquake or something like this, right, because logistics break down on the ground and that team of professionals that go there, they make sure that humanitarian aid gets delivered to the people and they set up, you know, out of nothing, they set up these kind of airports and logistics processes.  

And so it's not only about your personal future, but you can expand it to the good that we do as a company. It's about the collective future of what we can do something about. And this is also something where our Go Green and our Go Teach and our Go Help initiatives come in that you know, we try to give something back to the community really  

Right, back to your question about how do we communicate this! Right so, we have the pillars, we turned this into a campaign platform, which we called Your Future, Delivered and for this we developed a brand new approach to how to create visuals for that campaign. So we have an AI tool that's been used by my brand marketing colleagues for the longest time and we've adjusted this tool that it can also produce our distinct look and feel in our Your Future, Delivered campaign. So what this tool does is, it can help my recruiters and our talent acquisition professionals in the countries on the ground to create their own assets with the language they need, with the heroes, and with the headlines that they need. And so with this we can support them to have something that is in the style of our Your Future, Delivered campaign. But it's very, very much customised to their unique target audience and to their unique countries. 


Cathal Divilly: A number of months ago Simon, I watched the movie Gran Turismo – so the computer game Gran Turismo, and then there's some experts at that computer game and really good drivers, etcetera. And the movie was all about how then the car company was able to recruit the best of the best in terms of gamers. And you have an esports campaign as well at DHL, is that right? 


Simon Buehler: That is absolutely right. So my background, as I said, is in consumer marketing and content marketing. So I've been doing a lot of brand activations before. At some point I reached out to my brand marketing colleagues in DHL and I asked them, hey, how do you feel about joining forces a little bit to you know, position our brand in the eyes of our consumers, from a recruiting angle. So I started with esports, because I felt like that's one of the sports or the entertainment choices of the young generation.  

So what is esports? Esports is professional players competing against each other in front of millions! But not on a soccer field or on a football field, but virtually. It sounds a little bonkers if you think about it, but actually it's not very different from watching some people chase after a ball or play tennis or something like this. And for DHL, we've been doing this for more than six years. I approached the brand marketing team and I asked them, hey, should we try this out?  

So we started with small little pilots; we created a game and we introduced some employer brand messages and that worked really nicely. And so we got a little bigger, a little bolder and then we ran an influencer campaign in 2022. It's one of the best-known influencers in the Dota game! You will never know who it is unless you watch the game or unless you play the game. We partnered with him and I sat down with him and I explained to him, look, this is what DHL is all about. And then he turned our employer brand into his own language, into his own narrative. So he explained to the audience, look, here's why you should have a look at DHL because of A, B and C. And that’s just so different compared to if I were talking to that target audience because they wouldn't believe me. 

And this guy, he has been producing funny skits around our brand, around DHL for the last five years. So this was the very first time that we introduced this specific angle of taking something back, and I think this is where the key lies, why this has been so successful. So we've been providing cool content consistently and you know we've been loading up our brand as the fun enabler for their favourite game. And now is the first time that we said, hey, why don't you have a look at our jobs? We are actually pretty cool. And it worked really really nicely. That was back in 2022.  

And then last year, we did some real full blown 360° campaigns, meaning we used our employee advocacy programme, we created regular employer branding campaigns with the assets from our layout creator, from this AI tool. Then we ran an esports campaign, and we had some on the ground activations. And I wanted to do that for the same target group at the same time, because I wanted to see what the difference is.  

Well, it works so well because we have this enormous organic spill over traffic. So our friends at brand marketing, they are spending quite some money to activate their target audience. We are everywhere basically. So people see that. And then we put these links, hey, why don't you check out what DHL is all about? And this is an enormous spillover that of course supports my HR marketing, my targeted ads. And so I mean when I first had to present this to some boards, I promised the world, but we overdelivered because I knew this was going to work, because of this organic spillover traffic. 


Cathal Divilly: That's so cool, and I guess you have to be subtle around the DHL messaging, not to kind of ruin the online gaming experience, right? How do you strike that balance? 


Simon Buehler: Yes. So we are not really in the game, but you can see us all around the game. Like this guy, SirActionSlacks – that’s his name if you want to Google him – he does these really cool videos around the game and it's like it's an added benefit. It's nothing that you would need, and nothing that you see when you play the game, but you get it on top and it's just funny and it's entertaining. So that's the content that we're providing. 

And then of course, when you watch the tournaments, then of course there's lower thirds banners where it says DHL or we have a live stream integration where the studios get branded in DHL and stuff like this. So this has been going on for more than five years. And with this consistency, it doesn't feel like a sore thumb anymore, we're just part of the game. 


Cathal Divilly: And you said, Simon, it's been a great success. How do you quantify that in terms of numbers, how do you measure that? 


Simon Buehler: That's a really good question. So, of course I'm being asked how many people have applied from this, but yeah, I need to answer this question because that's the top of mind. But we also did another study and this is something that I borrowed from my previous life in brand marketing. So have you heard of implicit association tests? 


Cathal Divilly: I have never heard of that. 


Simon Buehler: Yeah, this is really, really cool. So you ask people, how do you feel about a company, you show them a stimulus like a DHL logo and you ask them “is DHL a great company to work for?” “Is DHL a responsible company?”, you know stuff like this, our employer brand position. And then you design this as an experiment. You ask people before they enter our campaign. And then you ask a randomised set of other people, after they consumed our campaign.  

But you don't ask them explicitly like, how do you feel about this, but it works like Tinder, where you swipe left or you swipe right depending if you agree or if you don't agree. We don't actually care what you swipe. What we measure is how long it takes you to take that decision. This is all based on Daniel Kahneman's Nobel Prize in psychology that he received a few years back. Your brain has two different systems – it has this subconscious level that's super fast, and it has this conscious, this thinking about stuff level, right. So what we want to measure is how long does it take you to answer DHL is a responsible company, for example, right. And if it takes you a little time, like around a second or 1 1/2 seconds, that means it's a strong connection. There's a strong subliminal connection in your mind.  

And so we did this before and after the campaign and now I can tell you that our values, they shifted by plus 43%. So is DHL a great place to work is plus 43% for those people that went through the campaign. So now I can tell you, so we had 6,000 people apply from this campaign, but we have 30,000 people that went through the campaign and now have a +43% better view on this subconscious, this subliminal level. And yeah, so I've worked in some other companies before and what we did is we tested every single bit of advertising that is going out to the market. With this test, just to understand is it on brand? Does it support our messaging that we're trying to get into people's heads?  

So I have the results from the applications right, then I have this shift and luckily when this campaign ran, that was just about the time when Stepstone Universum, who we are also looking at the numbers of our how we rank in the different disciplines, that was just the time when they did the field study, and so we improved in that target group by I think it was 19 or 16 ranks or something like this. So I have multiple different indicators that can tell me, yes, this campaign was quite successful. That was a long answer to your question! I hope I touched on all aspects there. 


Cathal Divilly: No, you absolutely did, Simon. So Hilda, your colleague spoke in January at the Employer Branding Summit and the question kind of on everyone's mind was, because DHL is so big, right? The scale of the organisation is massive. We're recruiting 130,000 people on an annual basis – given how big it is globally, is there a way of creating alignment within countries or is it within families just for that consistency of employer brand? How do you look at that, Simon? 


Simon Buehler: Well, we invited all of the business units to contribute when we set up the whole employer brand and our three elements, We Deliver The Difference, We Care and We Grow Together – that's aligned all over the business units and also our campaign platform, Your Future Delivered, this is for everybody.  

But I would never dare to tell somebody in a country on how to communicate We Care in that specific country because I just don't know from my ivory tower, over here in Germany, right, or what a growth aspect – how people are interpreting We Grow Together, how that would work in Abu Dhabi – I have no idea. So that's why we're providing this framework and we're providing the tools that you can create your own layouts and everything with our AI tool. But the actual implementation, what does it mean for my target group in my country – that is up for that specific country manager, that specific business unit. 

I feel like it makes no difference at all if the people in in Mexico have a different understanding of what growth means in that company compared to the UK or to Germany or something like this because you know, it's just so distinct from each other. As long as we all agree that these are the elements that are important to us, to the company, to our prospective employees, then that's fine. And then the reasons to believe the nuggets, that's all up to the different business units. 


Cathal Divilly: Super, so there’s ownership at a unit level in terms of that, not tailoring, we agree on the framework, we agree that these are the things and then you can kind of localise it for your own, which is great. And Simon, you're really experienced in terms of employer branding, right? So, let's say for our listeners, right, they're starting out an employer branding journey. How would you advise them on how to start, where to start first, kind of key steps that they need to do? 


Simon Buehler: I think the most important step to take is to do an analysis of where you are and what the people in your country, in your market, in your job cluster, value, because without this, how would you ever come up with a headline? How would you ever decide on what to put on a career website, for example, right? So I would start by listening to your employees – why did you join this company? What makes it special working here and then relate this to what candidates are looking for. And when you put those two views onto each other, then you can turn this into messaging. 


Cathal Divilly: That's great, Simon. And the big challenge, right, that we hear back sometimes from organisations. Big question, how do I convince my leadership team that this is something we need to do?  


Simon Buehler: This is something that is also true for the consumer world, right? Why is brand marketing important? But of course they are looking at a whole different level of budgets and opportunities there. So in that case it is possible to do some media mix modelling where you shift budget from TV advertising to online to newspaper to something else and then you see how the sales are changing. But of course we don't have this because we are not looking at these kind of budgets.  

But for me the way to describe this is to run specific examples. If you think about data science or IT, for example, everybody wants to hire data scientists, right? And for us, I would try to bring my leadership team on this journey, right? So for us, our operations legacy, how we are seen in the market as DHL, you see the postal courier, you see the supply chain depots, you see the big trucks and everything, right and this kind of holds us back from drawing in data scientists organically because they see a DHL truck and then they think, OK, this is not for me because I'm not a truck driver, right? They want to work in software companies and you know, the digital companies.  

So it's actually our perceived employer brand in their heads, holding them back from applying organically. So we can do 2 things; we can either invest at the source of the problem, which is in the heads of the data scientists, right? So we can try to shape the employer brand for that particular target group. Or number 2, we can just try to deal with this problem where it arises. So this would be a transactional problem.  

So the first one, employer branding is at the source, and the other one, the transactional thing is right in the moment when you're trying to recruit somebody – and this is happening on a job board. And that would mean you would have to reach maybe 1,000 instead of 10 data scientists for them to say, alright, I'm gonna click on DHL and see what they offer. And right in this moment on the job boards, we are competing with the sexiest names out there – we are competing with the Microsofts and the Googles and the Metas and Facebook and stuff right? So you have to consider, there is a finite amount of talent – it’s a given supply, it does not increase, not substantially. But there's an enormous demand for these target groups for this talent. And well, if you apply basic economic theory, it'll tell you, higher demand, constant supply – the prices will go up, so it'll be super inefficient. 

And there's the saying in consumer marketing, the closer you get to the point of purchase, the more expensive it is to acquire the customer. So my advice, or better yet what I say is, we are spending on employer branding, by not addressing the problem at the very front of the funnel, but at the very end. And this is super inefficient because we are, you know, in such a tight competition, we are right there at the point of purchase where we try to get people to look at our jobs without priming them that there is a really cool opportunity at DHL. That was a really long-winded answer, but it is. It is a difficult thing and it has to do a lot with, do you believe in the power of the brand? And I'm guessing you're using an iPhone and you're wearing Nike shoes, so maybe everybody kind of believes in the power of a brand. 


Cathal Divilly: Simon I found that really interesting – every single organisation has an employer brand, whether they like it or not. They may not focus or invest in it, but we all have employer brands. What’s next for DHL in terms of the employer branding focus? Is it maintain the current path, is there new activations, how do you see that Simon over the next year or so? 


Simon Buehler: Yeah. So we're going to keep on increasing our connection with our brand marketing folks because I believe this is where the power lies. We have some strong sponsorships within DHL. We have Formula One. We have the esports sponsorship. We have a Coldplay sponsorship. And by connecting these two worlds, I think we can harness so much more of that power. I'm not trying to tell my brand marketing folks something like, alright, every message has to be employer branding. No, no, no, not at all.  

So for me, the key is that the customer journey is first. So my marketing friends, they want the customer to do something. I don't know, maybe they want them to sign up for a blog or maybe they want them to participate in a game or something like this. But after this has concluded, this is where I say, hey, how about we try to introduce an employer brand message, like for the Coldplay example, we had a quiz on our website where people were able to win Coldplay tickets – and you know everybody wants those, right? And so people were going through the quiz and then they had to sign up, and in this verification email that they got “thank you for playing the game, we do have some really cool jobs, why don't you go check it out?”  

It hurts nobody, because the customer has already done whatever they want them to do, and we have some 10,000 since we started this campaign and that was just summer last year, some 10,000 people clicked on those messages. And basically, it's free! So it's free for me and for my brand marketing folks, it's a secondary purpose that they can use to, you know, defend their budget because everybody has to defend their budget somehow. So they're not only branding DHL as a really cool company for delivery services and everything, but they are also supporting our employer brand. And who doesn't want to support our employer brand? 


Cathal Divilly: So it's capitalising on the opportunity at the right time. 


Simon Buehler: Exactly. 


Cathal Divilly: So we're not going to be doing a PowerPoint presentation on DHL as an employer at the Coldplay concert for the audience, right? But it's figuring out where can we capitalise on this opportunity in the right way and hopefully drive pipeline, drive talent, drive interest into DHL’s employer brand. And our audience can see it, but I'm seeing Marvel in the background and the Mandalorian and all of that. You're a big fan of Marvel? 


Simon Buehler: Yeah, absolutely, yeah! 


Cathal Divilly: Do you have a favourite character? 


Simon Buehler: Oh, it's Iron Man. I'm working on an Iron Man costume – well, it's not a costume, it's an armour of course. So I've really embraced the nerd lifestyle because I love it. I love the gaming. I love everything around this. The audience cannot see it, so there's the Mandalorian, and this will be where the Iron Man is going to be standing next in a few weeks. 


Cathal Divilly: What is it about Iron Man? 


Simon Buehler: I don't know. It's a regular person with the use of technology, he gets to be a superhero. Maybe that's it. I don't know. I never thought about this, really! 


Cathal Divilly: Simon, you've been really generous with your time. Thank you very much for joining us today. It was great to have you. 


Simon Buehler: It was a pleasure. Thank you. 


Cathal Divilly: Thanks Simon.