Employer Branding Viking Style: Who We Are and the Stories We Tell

Guest: David Anderson Culture, Employment Branding and Culture, HR

Note from KD:  David Anderson is part of the FOT tribe, a working HR pro who could have easily written for FOT for years if he only had time.  As it turns out, he has time now – he’s on the market for a new opportunity.  If you’re looking for a great HR or Talent Acquisition leader, this is your guy. Check out his LinkedIn profile here and be sure to comment about his trendy, Instagram-esqe photo. Also note the Matrix-influenced custom LinkedIn url… #MrAnderson #Neo #hirethisguy… 

Brand:  a (1)a mark made by burning with a hot iron to attest manufacture or quality or to designate ownership (2)a printed mark made for similar purposes: see trademark

I hear a lot of simple talk these days about building an employer brand.  As if all there is to it is putting up a website, job postings and employee t-shirts and saying, “Look how cool we are!”

But making your website pretty and telling us you work hard and play hard (um, can you say cliché?), and other branding activities are empty marketing tactics if we do not first start with a talent strategy.

It begins with the old standards…


  • Where are you going?
  • Who will you become as a company/organization?


  • Who are you today?
  • Why do you exist? Or, what is your purpose?
  • What difference do you make?


  • What do you stand for?
  • What do you allow/dis-allow?
  • What markings are on your company’s compass?

Without these ensigns ingrained in our company culture, we will be like an army showing up to the war for talent with painted faces and shiny shields having forgotten to sharpen our swords or to bring along our flag bearers.  Now, we don’t need a William Wallace speech to get us to work every day.  It’s not tyranny we’re battling against.  Well, usually not.  But what we workforce warriors do need is to feel as if we are an important part of a vision, mission, and a team with core values so that our contributions can become the fabric of our brand, or unfurled flag.  The face paint goes on last.

So, yeah, you can probably tell I’ve been watching that new show, Vikings, from the History Channel.  I love it!  I mean, it’s hard not to admire such a badass, main character with an unquenchable thirst for conquest and adventure, right?  And from the first few minutes of episode one, I understood what the name Ragnar Lothbrok would represent:

  1. He has vision where others do not.
  2. His mission is to his family and countrymen.
  3. And what he values is the blunt truth, personal honor, valor, and keeping the Norse gods on his side.

In a recent episode Ragnar and his raiders return from a second trip to England with a boat heavy laden with treasure.  After some political bickering with the Earl about due credit and overcoming the Earl’s focus on what went wrong instead of all that went right, Ragnar and his party gather around with ale and revel in their tales of adventure.

What we corporate warriors can learn from these Norsemen is that our positive corporate culture stories can breathe new life into our existing employer brand.

Think about it.  Our stories may consist of…

  • Innovation wins
  • Employees and the company helping other employees in times of need
  • An employee’s successful onboarding experience
  • Sales wins
  • Employees who left and came back and why they returned
  • Community involvement and volunteerism
  • Unexpected recognition
  • Stories about doing the right thing
  • Examples of work-life balance

So to improve your employer brand, first put on your Viking hat–you know–the one with the horns, and then ask…

  1. Do we know and understand our vision, mission, and core values?
  2. Are we as a company, teams, employees, and company officers walking out our vision and mission, while staying true to our values?
  3. Are we celebrating the spoils of victory?  Or in other words, do we effectively recognize and reward goal aligned performance and behavior?
  4. Do we temporarily mourn our losses, learn from them, and make the necessary adjustments to win the next battle?
  5. And overall, are we watching, listening, and capturing the events that become the things of lore and even corporate legend?

It took Leif Erikson more than a fortnight to cross the Atlantic, and it will take some time to build your brand, but if you do it right, she’ll sail.