Building a Winning Employer Brand

Historically, recruiting has been a very reactionary and somewhat circular discipline. You identify job openings, fill them as quickly and cheaply as possible, and then start the whole process again as soon as another need is identified. But there are much more subtle forces at work that require a longer-term approach: your employer brand affects whether the right candidates apply to your company in the first place, take your offer when you extend it, and stay at your company once they are hired. The identification and execution of a successful employer brand can have an enormous impact on your entire company’s overall profitability, vision, and future direction. Companies with strong employer brands will realize a huge competitive advantage when competing for top talent. Companies without strong employer brands will be forced to lure candidates with higher salaries and added benefits. What is an Employer Brand? First, let’s define what an employer brand is and is not. Your company’s employer brand is not a print advertising or banner campaign. It is not the design of your website or job fair booth. It is not the TV commercials that sell your company’s services. And it is definitely not your logo. These are all executions of what you believe your brand should be, but they only represent the tip of the iceberg. An employer brand encompasses all of the thoughts, feelings, perceptions and ideas that candidates associate with your company as a potential place to work. This can be derived from many sources, including what they’ve experienced at your company or heard from others who have worked there; how your company positions itself in person (job fairs, interviews and events), in print, and online; what the press is saying about your company; and what methods you are using to communicate with your target audience. Your brand exists in candidates’ and employees’ minds, and needs to be cultivated, whether the economy is going up or down. Put simply, an employer brand is a promise; your ability to deliver on that promise defines who you are to candidates. Based in large part on this definition, a candidate will choose to work or not to work at your company. And an employee will decide to stay or leave depending on if their expectations have been met. Building Blocks The employer brand building process starts with a holistic understanding of the current employment experience you are delivering; how your value proposition and brand compares to your competition for talent (hint: your competitors are not necessarily in your industry); target audience demographics and psychographics; and what you desire your brand position to ultimately be. Information gathered leads to an employer brand positioning statement, which serves as the foundation and differentiation point for all integrated communications strategies. Vital target audience and competitor information can be derived from several sources, including but not limited to internal and external focus groups, employee satisfaction surveys, and exit interview data. The more digging you do, the more likely you are to find the right answers. Don’t rely on innuendo or assumptions, or your own personal perception of your company’s employment experience and value proposition. Perceptions typically vary by audience demographics, geographies, job functions and business units. What you may experience as an employee is likely not representative of the company as a whole. Armed with the right information, you can establish a strong employer brand positioning statement. More often than not, I have also seen this information lead to broad-scale organizational improvements not limited to HR practices or benefits. For maximum effect, ensure that all future communications – from website development to job postings to internal communications – stay “on-brand” and that all employees are aware of and involved in “living the brand.” The Integrated Approach Many employers take the easy way out: dangle a desirable carrot in front of candidates and hope that they’re just hungry enough to take it. This has resulted in a sea of undifferentiated employers dangling virtually identical carrots in front of the same candidates. Not only is this a dartboard approach to attracting talent, it also has the potential to severely diminish your brand and affect retention. Client research has shown us at TMP that most messages (read: promises) being communicated to candidates are most often partially or completely inaccurate. Based on these unfulfilled promises, employees with desirable skills will become less loyal over time and will start looking for other opportunities more quickly. Research has also shown us that employees, like consumers, are attracted to strong brands. Less expensive Generic Cola may taste just like Coke, but consumers identify more with Coke, giving them a dominant market share and an almost undying customer loyalty. Likewise, it is more attractive for an employee to work at Company A with the stronger employer brand than to seek employment at a Brand X Company that is undifferentiated from several other similar companies. And that same element of customer loyalty that sells more Coke translates into longer tenures, higher productivity, and increased retention. Companies that truly integrate the messages designed to attract and retain the best employees will be better positioned for long-term success as an organization. These companies will ensure that Internal Communications, Marketing and Recruiting messages are all on-brand and support strong, distinguishable employer brand positioning statements. Employees’ attraction to these brands will lead to a higher level of long-term organizational talent that is surprisingly less expensive to find and easier to keep. Special thanks to Rob O’Keefe with TMP’s Employer Branding Group for his assistance with this article. <*SPONSORMESSAGE*>

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Dave Lefkow is currently the CEO of talentspark (www.talentsparkconsulting.com), a consulting firm that helps companies use technology to gain a competitive advantage for talent, and a regular contributor to ERE on human capital, technology, and branding related subjects. He is also an international speaker on human capital trends and best practices, having spoken in countries as close as Canada and as far away as Malaysia and Australia. His consulting work has spanned a wide variety of industries and recruiting challenges with companies like Starbucks, Boeing, HP, Microsoft, Expedia, Washington Mutual, Nike and Swedish Medical Center.

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