Marketing an employment brand in a recession: Q&A with Seek’s Jennifer ten Seldam

How do you market a jobs board when the economy is in recession and a global pandemic is causing job losses left, right and centre? Can you maintain a market-leading position when there is no market?

Seek's marketing director Jennifer ten Seldam answers these questions - and more - when she speaks to Mumbrella's Vivienne Kelly about the brand's partnership with Spotify, and what's keeping her up at night.

Jennifer ten Seldam, marketing director, Seek (JS)
Vivienne Kelly, editor, Mumbrella (VK)

VK: How did a partnership between Seek and Spotify come about? It’s not necessarily an obvious coupling.

JS: It’s definitely an interesting one, and one that we’re super happy about actually.

There’s probably a couple of things. First of all, we always make sure that we’re not just being creative for creative’s sake. Obviously there’s a huge power in creativity, but you still need to come back to the primary objective of the brief, and really for us, if you think about Seek’s purpose in market and our brand, we launched a brand campaign earlier in the year that was all about letting people know that we have more to offer than being jobs board – we’ve actually got a huge career and hiring advice offering. So it doesn’t matter if you’re searching for a job, or if you’re just trying to make better headway in your current role, we’ve got a whole heap of resources that will help you. So we’ve restarted that brand journey around awareness around that side of our offering.

And then COVID hit, and I tell you what, it’s not much of a silver lining, but in terms of really piquing interest in that subject around career advice, you couldn’t have picked a more crucial time.

When you’re a brand in market that is as strong and well-known as Seek is, in times of crisis people turn to brands that they trust, and we had people proactively coming to us saying ‘What do I do? I’ve lost my job.’ Or ‘I’m trying to figure out this remote working thing’. And we were like ‘Sugar. We’ve got a huge role to play here. We’ve actually got a responsibility to respond to this need in market.’

Seek’s career hub

So we did a really quick pivot actually. We’ve obviously got standard foundational research programs in place, but we thought ‘Gosh. It’s called unprecedented times for a reason. There’s actually no precedent for us to go off here in terms of having a read on customer sentiment and what customers really need from us acutely right now.’

So we got some studies into market really quickly on a weekly basis, and one of the insights that came to light for us is obviously there’s a lot more stress in the market on the candidate side, a lot more uncertainty, and 44% of people were staying up late at night worrying about work, and we saw peaks in terms of search terms around ‘career advice’ and ‘helping my career’ happening between 10pm at night and three o’clock in the morning. So it’s obviously really playing on people’s minds in the middle of the night. And I think we could all really relate to that.

So with this kind of broader intent to provide career advice and support to people, we found that the really pointed insight where we could add value, and when we started to explore that as a challenge with TBWA, who we’ve just started working with on the creative side, one of the things we tapped into was the power of music to really help relax people. There’s something really powerful about bringing tangible advice to help give people perspective on a career challenge with something to sooth them off to sleep, to really have this broader value proposition to market that talks to this insight of people staying up late worrying about work.

Seek’s Sleepmix

So Spotify was kind of a natural partnership from that point of view, because they’ve got huge reach from a music point of view, they’re a great distributor of this kind of content, but also like Seek, they’re really heavily AI-driven, so we both run our businesses using customer experience data and customer behavioural data to really generate an experience for our customers. So on the Seek side, we can really curate the advice that we’re giving to people, and on the Spotify side, using some of the consulting work that we got Bill [Thompson, distinguished professor and director of the Music, Sound and Performance Lab at Macquarie University] to do as well as Spotify’s algorithm, we could curate this list of tracks to accompany the career advice that would appeal to the person listening, but also really work to relax them and send them off to sleep.

So that’s how it all came about.

VK: More widely, how do you remain relevant as a brand when there’s so much focus on the fact that job listings are down and the job market is seen to be in trouble?

JS: I think there’s a couple of different ways that we maintain relevance in market. We had to do a really quick pivot actually because I think one of the things we recognised is we’d been out in market with quite high-level brand messaging around career advice, but also how we help people progress in their careers. And it’s just not the time for that right now. People want really tangible value. I think we’ve all seen the link that’s doing the rounds on YouTube where all COVID ads are the same, and we watched that and we we’re like ‘We don’t want to be those brands’. Because it almost seems wasteful in some respects to put money into market talking about yourself when what you should be doing is trying to help.

Seek and Spotify have united for the project

I think brands like Seek are in a privileged position, because as I say, in times of crisis you turn to brands you trust. We are undoubtedly the strongest employment brand in market in Australia, so if people are saying ‘Help’, you have to invest in helping them.

So what we’ve done is obviously from a job search point of view, there’s been some enhancements to the site. You can go on the site and there’s a remote working filter, so you can actively search for jobs that can be done from home. So there’s some changes to the product proposition from that perspective. We created a COVID candidate hub where you can go in and get advice on everything from being made redundant, what’s the difference between being made redundant and being stood down? How do I stand out from the crowd in a really crowded job market? So the kind of job search-type career advice, to as I said ‘I’m now having to work remotely. How do I lead in this environment? How do I collaborate? What kind of online tools are available to me to help me be good at my job under changed circumstances?’ So we really created very holistic advice and turned it into support for candidates no matter whether they lost their job or if they’re just working differently.

And then from a marketing point of view, we’re trying to do things like this collaboration with Briggs and with Spotify to deliver career advice in a different way and address problems at particular points in time – like not being able to sleep because you’re worried about work.

The interface

I think to stay relevant at this point in time, you need to have something tangible to offer. You need to actually be helping, because there’s just so much noise out there. So to be able to cut through, you need to be offering tangible value.

VK: Do you see any hope for the job market bouncing back? What’s your view on the remainder of 2020 for Seek?

JS: I think it’s really hard to predict that shape and the pace of the recovery. I think pretty much any economist you speak to would say that. And business confidence follows that kind of trajectory, and hiring follows that. So what we have seen is that when lockdowns came in, the initial impact of COVID happened, there was a really immediate impact to hiring. We saw job ads come down quite a bit. We’ve seen a really steady recovery ever since, but what’s really hard to say is, does the recovery get us back to a point where job ads are at the same level that they were pre-COVID in the next six months, 12 months, 18 months?

The whole reason everyone talks about this point in time being unprecedented as I said is because there is no precedent. And it’s not a linear recovery, as we’re seeing in Victoria, either.

So it’s a very hard question to answer, in terms of what employment prospects look like in the long-term, because there’s just so many variables at play, and it’s just not your typical recovery scenario.

VK: And so what does success look like for you with this campaign then? Given that it’s so different and we’re in such an ‘unprecedented’ time?

JS: Success for us is being able to track at brand level whether people are taking value from what we’re putting out in market. So it’s less about trying to track the number of visits to the site. We already have really high site visitation, because people know who Seek is, and are naturally turning to us at this point in time.

What we want to be able to see is people saying ‘Gosh I was having this problem. I was one of the 44% of people that is staying up late at night, and I engaged with this piece of content, and I found it genuinely valuable and it helped give me perspective on my problem, and maybe it didn’t absolve it for me completely, but at least it helped me get a decent night’s sleep and feel better about being able to deal with it in the morning’. If we could see that, I guess a perception shift on the candidate side, then we feel like we’ve done our job.

VK: What is the greatest challenge that marketers are facing this year?

JS: I think whenever there’s an economic downturn, there’s a huge majority of businesses whose knee-jerk reaction will be to cut marketing investment. I think we all know that. And as marketers we know that you need to continually invest in your brand – in the long-term you want to come out stronger on the other side.

So I think for many marketers, there’s a really fundamental initial challenge to be able to maintain some level of spend in market when the business starts to look at you more like a cost and less like an investment, because of where the business is at at this point in time. I think that’s probably the most fundamental challenge. So if you haven’t made a case for the importance of brand and brand equity for the long-term success of your business, people are probably scrambling right now to do that.

VK: And what keeps you up at night?

JS: What keeps me up at night?

Look, I think for me, the uncertainty. The same way as it keeps everyone else up at night at a personal level.

Aussies have been struggling to sleep in the pandemic [Photo by Ben Blennerhassett on Unsplash]

I don’t think there’s a single person that thinks that we will just revert back to the way things were when restrictions have all been completely lifted. I think there is the expectation broadly, and we see this in research, that people believe that we can learn things about the way that we can work in the future, or over the course of the last three months. And there’s a lot of really good learnings that we can take into building a better version of normal going forward that incorporates flexibility, it incorporates greater work-life balance.

So I spend a bit of time awake at night thinking about how that could work and what some of the trade offs are with working face-to-face and working remotely.


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