‘Original Thinkers’ Wanted: 5 Questions With Kimberly-Clark’s Frans Mahieu


Kimberly-Clark Welcome Original Thinkers

It’s one thing to sell a job location at a major CPG company in bucolic northeast Wisconsin to a Baby Boomer or even a Gen X-er. But like most businesses that didn’t start out digital and was built by previous generations, Kimberly-Clark is having to appeal to tech-savvy and free-thinking millennials as a crucial employee base. Now Generation Y accounts for more than half of the company’s new hires, and its hiring strategy has had to evolve to woo them.

For the maker of Huggies, U by Kotex and Kleenex, that means coming up with ways to position Kimberly-Clark as a company where creative, out-of-the-box and digitally-focused millennials are needed and can thrive, and to promote the Neenah-Appleton area—where its North American consumer products business is headquartered—near Wisconsin’s thumb and Green Bay as a vibrant and exciting place to live.

Kimberly-Clark Original Thinkers

One strategy Kimberly-Clark has been using is an outreach campaign, “Welcome Original Thinkers,” which offers online tools that help professionals identify their individual thinking styles and how they apply these insights to do their best work.

The effort includes the Original Thinkers Quiz, a series of questions that help people identify their individual thinking styles by asking how they would attend a music festival, organize a neighborhood recycling drive, and other scenarios. Based on their responses, participants are matched with one of eight distinct thinking styles, such as “The Dreamer,” whose belief that anything is possible helps him accomplish what others consider impossible, and “The Muse,” who may seem quiet, but only because she is considering all her creative options.

“Today, the competition for the highly talented professional is intense,” said Sue Dodsworth, vice president of talent management, in a press release. “Through our Original Thinkers initiative, we are highlighting the importance of diversity of thought in building our company’s future, as well as our commitment to providing a professional environment in which unique voices and original ideas are valued and accepted.”

To date, more than 35,000 people have taken the quiz. More than 80,000 people have visited the related website. More than 30 percent of them go on to the company’s job-listing site to check for open positions.

Heineken may be the only other major consumer-goods company taking such an original approach to online recruiting. In the case of the beer brand, it’s an initiative called “Go Places.”

brandchannel talked with Atlanta-based Frans Mahieu, Kimberly-Clark’s global marketing director of people strategy, about how they’re successfully recruiting millennials and lessons for other companies.

bc: What have you learned from marketing diapers and Kleenex that has helped you figure out how to appeal to potential and current employees?

Frans Mahieu - Kimberly-ClarkFrans Mahieu (right): It’s applying the same process that we apply in supermarkets. I came from marketing into HR. We are using exactly the same formats in terms of what we do for insight recovery, how we develop brand profiles and how we develop integrated marketing plans. Specifically, we said, “What can we do to make sure we are absolutely bringing the top millennial talent into Kimberly-Clark, and how can we engage with them?” In consumer marketing we have strong engagement programs, such as “the Kleenex moment,” and strong engagement programs with U by Kotex.

bc: How does the “Welcome Original Thinkers” quiz bring candidates into the hiring funnel?

Mahieu: We have a program that not only talks with creative thinkers but engages with them. That’s the key. How can we engage with them? And the quiz is one way to do that.

bc: Why a quiz instead of, say, video?

Mahieu: We wanted to make sure we had an idea of what kind of original thinking is important for the company. Instead of telling people that, we wanted them to experience that and find out for themselves. They might have taken quizzes in the past. One of the most interesting ways would be to have people go through that themselves and have them discover their preferred thinking style.

We could have done video, yes. One thing we do on the website is snippets of brand examples where we have brand innovation. On the Original Thinkers career site we show Kimberly-Clark innovations and the relevant thinking style.

The quiz is the engagement mechanism and after you take the quiz you’re directed to the career site where they have things including profiles of actual K-C employees who exemplify those different thinking styles and it also connects them to examples of the types of work they do on the different brands.


bc: You seem to be taking a rather oblique approach rather than directly saying, “We need you and here are the jobs we need to fill.” Why?

Mahieu: I do believe that we first still have to sell Kimberly-Clark as a company. Instead of saying come to Neehah, first people need to understand we are a great company to work for. And the way we differentiate is that we want to provide that first thinking that if they work for our brands they can do original thinking.

We identify the space and an environment where they—millennials especially—can bring their best thinking and be encouraged. Then when people go to website they see more about Neenah and what we manage to offer.

bc: What’s the biggest challenge of recruiting and retaining millennials in Flyover Country, and with an old-line company, versus other potential destinations on the coasts or with startups?

Mahieu: There’s nothing old-line about our company anymore if you see what we’ve done, and what U by Kotex has done to the feminine hygiene category for instance, with the U by Kotex platform and the “Power of the Period” campaign. So there are interesting stories of what you can do with K-C.

We have a big brand and they can have global impact, they can really do innovative things as an engineer or a marketer or someone in the IT area. That’s something I see across functions. We are affecting things that no one else has done, not something we buy from a supplier. We bring it onboard. We have a solid offering for people who want to do exciting work.

In terms of the area, the things that we hear from people who work at Kimberly Clark are that they love the fact that within 20 minutes they can be on a  kayak on a lake or a river. It’s actually 18 minutes. I can’t even get back to my home here in Atlanta from work in 20 minutes. That is something people really like about the culture in the Neenah-Appleton area. It also has unique farm-to-table restaurants and bars and an interesting atmosphere that a lot of millennials seem to like.

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