Sparking conversations with virtual reality

How Siemens uses cardboard virtual reality viewers to attract the employees of the future

To attract today’s talent it isn’t enough to highlight the work your organisation does. Potential employees want to know what it feels like to work in it. For this, Siemens found that a simple cardboard device came in handy.

Image: Assembly instructions for a virtual reality cardboard viewer given to Siemens employees / Image: Siemens

Employer branding is about identity. It is about how the people who work for an organisation view the organisation as an employer. And it is about how the people the organisation would like to see work for it view it as a potential employer.

In contrast to classic corporate branding, employer branding is not primarily about an organisation’s products and services.

Take my company, Siemens. We do some amazing stuff. Among other things, we are currently working on doubling Egypt’s energy production, finding ways to prevent malaria, making cities smarter and more eco-efficient, designing mobile, autonomous, and connected 3D printing robots, and helping NASA explore Mars. In short, we are changing the world through engineering.

Highlighting these things will help attract talent, for sure. But talent today has plenty of ways of finding out about a company’s portfolio: through ads, business news, events and many other channels. And the power of a portfolio as an attractor is waning, with talent becoming ever more interested in the deeper questions that even platforms like glassdoor or kununu, where employees can review their employer, often do not adequately address. These questions include: what does it feel like to be part of a team that worked on this company’s products and services? What does it take to develop the products? How does delivering the services shape the working week? What were the challenges along the way?

Questions like these often provide the best answers for interested prospects as to whether they might fit into an organisation. They are open-ended and provide sufficient space for the true feelings of the people already working at the company to come through.

Recently, the need to communicate this more human aspect of working at an organisation has increased due to shifts in labour market preferences. Before we started to develop our own new employer brand, we put a lot of effort into trying to understand these shifts and the ways in which today’s internal and external talent markets are evolving. From this we gained valuable insights into what today’s labour market expects from employers, enabling us to develop our employer value proposition (EVP).

An example of a recent shift in labour market preferences is the one highlighted in a recent study by Universum, a specialist in talent market intelligence and employer branding, which found that within Generation Z, 55 percent prefer the idea of founding or at least working for a start-up to that of working for an established player.

For Siemens, these shifts have led to a decline in our attractiveness scores as an employer. Merely doing impressive things no longer automatically makes us the kind of place where a gifted engineer, data scientist or technologist might consider working.

We have found, however, that the preference for start-ups is often based on a misunderstanding of what is like to work for an established player. At the same time, we have come to recognise that correcting this misunderstanding is more than a matter of presenting facts and figures. Data can, of course, point prospective employees in the right direction. But according to our research, what really sparks an interest in our company as a potential employer is a presentation of the human side of working at it. In order to change people’s perceptions of working at a large company like Siemens, we found that it is crucial that they connect on a human level and feel something.

"What really sparks an interest in our company as a potential employer is a presentation of the human side of working at it."

This insight now forms the basis for employer branding at Siemens.

The conversation principle

We know that the most powerful way to find out what work at an organisation is like is through speaking with someone who works there. And we know that the more our world digitalises, the more a personal conversation with an old college friend or former colleague will stand out from a message carefully curated by a company department. This dialogue creates a much more personal impression of an organisation and helps convey its culture. This is why at Siemens we have introduced a new employer branding strategy based on sparking conversations, namely ones about the future of engineering and what it takes to get there.

These conversations are not intended to take place on an abstract level between our company and the talent market. The aim is to spark a multitude of conversations with society. They can be initiated internally or externally. The important thing is that they are always at the human level and thus provide an important insight into what it is like to work at Siemens.

This conversation principle is influencing all of our employer branding activities. In early 2017, for example, we relaunched, the second-most frequently visited website at, restructuring it around employee-driven stories that provide an authentic look at what it is like to work at Siemens.

Our aim is to give potential candidates as unedited an account as possible of what they can expect from Siemens as an employer. We believe that, as long as we resist trying somehow to inject corporate jargon or corporate messaging into the dialogue, these conversations are the best tool we have for spreading knowledge about what it is like to work at our company and the kind of culture that awaits a new recruit.

And while developing the new strategy, we asked not only what content could we use to spark these conversations but also how could we spark these conversations at scale. We were pretty agnostic as to how to go about doing this, but knew that using technology to drive scale and, furthermore, selecting a technology that would by its very nature give employees and prospects something interesting and relevant to talk about, would resonate particularly well in an engineering company like Siemens.

So, among other things, we decided to produce state-of-the-art virtual reality documentary videos featuring Siemens colleagues working in different countries and different Siemens businesses. We call these featured employees “Siemens Future Makers” because we want to highlight how they are able to put their unique experience, capabilities, and expertise to use at our company not just to do a job but to contribute to making the future of engineering happen.

The rationale for choosing virtual reality as a key channel is based on its immersive features and its ability to transport people into another world. This technology offers a completely new way of imparting what it is like to operate in a particular environment, such as in the work environment at Siemens. The series of virtual reality documentary videos that we have produced allows the audience to step into the various different worlds of work inhabited by different Siemens employees around the world. They enable prospective employees to experience on a very personal level how these employees spend the working day and how the impact of their work on society motivates them.

"The rationale for choosing virtual reality as a key channel is based on its immersive features and its ability to transport people into another world."

The employees and stories featured in the virtual reality documentaries were selected in collaboration with colleagues from the respective countries to ensure that the content is relevant and authentic and represents Siemens in the most insightful way.

To ensure that the experience is scalable in practice we employed technology that is easy to use and easy to share. We created an app, Siemens 360°, for iOS and Android. This app, used in combination with the virtual reality Google cardboards that, branded with our own logo, we were able to produce in huge numbers at relatively low cost, is starting to make it possible for pretty much anyone around the world with a connection to or interest in Siemens to experience virtual reality and to do so within the context of the Siemens employer brand.

Siemens employees in India try out their new virtual reality app / Photo: Siemens

As with all our employer branding activities, the initial focus was internal. This was not just because we were looking for feedback, but also because we believe that, when developing a new employer brand, it is absolutely crucial to include colleagues from all over the world and right from the beginning. After all, the employer brand belongs to them, and so leaving them out of any major decisions regarding it would be inauthentic. On this note, we asked the different countries to choose their own launch date based on local considerations.

A consequence of this was that, despite the fact that Siemens is headquartered in Germany, the first launches did not take place in the German market. In fact, the first launch of the new employer brand, in May 2017, was in India, where we invited all our colleagues—from the shop floor to the boardroom—to talk about Siemens India as an employer and about the positive impact that their work is having on Indian society. This saw the first mass distribution of our beautifully branded cardboard viewers, which were given to all employees in the country. In June we launched in China, where, again, every employee received a branded cardboard viewer.

In September 2017 will we launch the new Siemens employee brand in Germany, followed a month later by launches in the United Kingdom and UAE. The rollouts will continue around the world in the months after that.

Eventually all Siemens employees will receive a branded cardboard that, when used with their smartphone, will enable them to experience the highly immersive and rich virtual reality environment of the films. Crucially, because the technology runs on individual smartphones via an app, the experience can also be shared with family and friends, thereby scaling the experience and the conversations.

After the internal launch, as we start to spread the brand externally, the films will also enable us to show a more intimate side of our company at events and job fairs and then, in an even broader context, to the general public.

From vertical to horizontal

Another advantage of using technology to tell our story is that it allows us to measure how effectively the brand is performing. Over time we will be able to identify directly via the technology which personal stories are resonating well and then draw conclusions as to why certain themes are hitting home better than others. We can measure the impact of our work by using various measurement tools and tracking various indicators.

These include a site performance dashboard for our websites and social channels, video statistics, regular surveys and social listening tools. It is still early days, but so far the data suggests that the new employer brand strategy (including the virtual reality videos) is being extremely well received in the markets in which we have launched.

By switching from a vertical, headquarters-led programme to a horizontal, employee-driven one, we believe that we have created a strong, contemporary approach for the Siemens employer brand, a brand that is fully owned by the employees.

This horizontal approach does not mean that there is no direction to the programme. In fact, in an intensive process of collaboration and co-creation, we have created a solid framework for the Siemens employer brand that provides guidance to those running the employer brand program in the different regions.

What it does mean, though, is that, since our colleagues in different countries need to address their unique local situation and needs, we have had to relinquish some control at headquarters to ensure that they can employ different tactics to spark the types of conversations that best suit their local goals.

This requires much mutual trust and continuous dialogue. It requires the willingness in headquarters to give up influence and power and the willingness in the regions to assume responsibility and gain autonomy. Collaboration and co-creation are therefore additional essential pillars of the Siemens employer branding strategy.

Rosa Riera

Rosa Riera is vice president for employer branding and social innovation at Siemens AG. In her previous roles, she worked in marketing in the healthcare business, was responsible for Siemens’ global diversity strategy, and implemented several digital communications initiatives. Throughout her career Ms Riera was based in Munich, New York City, Erlangen, and Marburg.