“2015 is the year content subsumes marketing and brands realize that content is the atomic particle of every aspect of marketing.” — Shane Snow, Contently
It’s old hat to say that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos defined “brand” as what people say about you when you aren’t in the room. But even if that’s true, Bezos has only identified the situation without prescribing a way of changing it. If you can’t be in the room to change the brand, what can we do to influence how people talk about you?
For talent acquisition professionals, this is doubly important as our prospects form impressions of our brands long before we can reach out to them. Decisions such as to whether to sign up for updates, whether to respond to a recruiter, and whether to apply for a job start with the brand when you’re not in the room.
Which is why we’re so in love with content and content marketing. Think about that moment when people talk about you when you aren’t there. Content is what they are looking at. Content is what they are referring to. Content is what helped them form an opinion about you. At the same time, content is what draws you to their attention via Google and social media. Content is what gets shared because done well, it is engaging, useful, educational, and entertaining.
In many ways, 2013 and 2014 were when content marketing went from “interesting idea” to “useful tool” for talent acquisition. As case studies start trickling out of agencies, showing that content influences people at almost every stage of the sales or consideration process, everyone is taking content seriously. More companies are looking to content to advance their employer value proposition to prospects at every position of the sales funnel.
As 2015 approaches, no doubt you’re wondering what the future holds for content marketing within the talent acquisition space. While content marketing sometimes feels new and novel, the future boils down to being authentic, specific, and useful.
We professional marketers can create (or in many cases, pay others to create) content that is pretty light on realism. We can bend and twist words to split hairs and provide just the right spin. Modern marketing is about finding the precise words to convey just the right meaning without outright lying.
Beyond that, there are a million ways to whip a teaspoon of bland verbiage into gallons of even blander text in a blink (Like people who make a dozen versions of the same blog post by running it through Google Translate into Spanish and back into English: the words are different, but somehow even less useful, like a copy of a copy).
If these ideas suggest that our marketing is flawed because it never feels real and honest, then you’d be right. It’s not always malicious. Think of “everyone’s favorite place to want to work” –Google. They love to talk about the six different kinds of milk their baristas can add to your coffee. The free gourmet and healthy food. The commuter busses with WiFi. And the massage rooms! Talking about that is all marketing — not because it’s a lie (they aren’t lies, as I can attest), but because those things hide a deeper idea: that working for Google means working very long hours. That’s why you are only steps away from free food and coffee: because the minutes of lost productivity far outweigh the cost of espresso.
For the right kind of driven employee, long hours sound fine because it comes with such nice perks. But talking about the perks without talking about the hours is marketing, because it isn’t a complete picture. It isn’t authentic.
If we could invent a Maslow’s hierarchy of content marketing, the base, instead of focusing on physical safety and security, would be all about creating something honest and real. Volume isn’t the problem, it’s authenticity.
No matter how interesting, surprising, engaging, or magnetic the content, a lack of authenticity hollows out its value like termites in a house: you may have a fancy new kitchen, but the foundation is crumbling and you’ll never get your value out of it.
This isn’t strictly new. For decades, commercials and advertisements have bent over backwards to not sound like commercials and advertisements. They try and sound like tiny dramas, like personal notes, or like jokes told between friends. But no matter how they contort themselves, they still end up sounding like commercials and they end up getting filtered out of our targets’ minds. And millennials are even better at sniffing out and avoiding anything that sounds like an ad.
It is for this reason that we believe firmly in authenticity as a way to better communicate with your prospects and to see that employee-generated content is a powerful means to create and spread that authenticity.
Employee-generated content is only just beginning to become a power in content marketing. As you tell your story, you can either tell it from behind a wall of corporate speak or let the real faces of real employees explain what they know. Glassdoor isn’t the first company to use employee-generated content as the basis of its platform (I remember plenty of local forums at the turn of the century in which employees revealed how poorly the sausage was being made, as well as F*%$ed Company, which was the TMZ of the dot-com economy, spilling the beans on life within some of the biggest brands). But it exists in a space where people are comfortable sharing their stories in large enough quantities to make quantitative measurements interesting: Having a Glassdoor score of 2.6 isn’t great, but a score of 1.9 feels ominous.
Every company we’ve talked to about employee-generated content has the same concern: negative feedback. To this idea we have three challenges:
- By not participating in the conversation, you cede the conversation to the loudest voice. I can assure you that the loudest voice is not one that will sing your praises. In other words, this is already happening whether you like it or not. You might as well get in there and tell your side.
- You can’t change negative feedback, but you can play a part. You can encourage your staff to participate, either in Glassdoor sites or in internal communication projects. Participating can help overwhelm negative sentiments.
- Negative feedback is authentic. No one is perfect. No company is perfect. Google, SAS, and any other company that delivers perks by the truckload still has negative sides. So, rather than hide your head in the sand, embrace them. Dr. Robert Cialdini (the godfather of persuasion science) suggests that saying three positive things makes you sound like a salesperson, but saying three positive things with a negative thing makes you look far more authentic and people will be far more willing to listen. (More here, on persuasion.)
What’s the old saying? Once you can fake sincerity, you’ve got it made? That works well in the short-term, but as you build your brand on a foundation, would you rather it be something solid and authentic you can grow on top of? Or would you build on the shifting sands of faux-authenticity, hoping your best prospects don’t notice?
Above I talked about how good content is authentic content, meaning that it genuinely reflects your company and your brand, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Your candidates will become increasingly good at spotting un-authentic language and avoid it like the plague, so if you want to attract and grow a better talent pool, authenticity is step one.
The step after that is to take that authenticity and shine it like a light on you and your prospects. That light must be focused properly, like a spotlight; otherwise, it just disperses a vague warm glow. This means that the next most important part of a content marketing strategy that resonates with great prospects is to get specific.
Have you been shopping recently? Have you seen your online actions reflected in the marketing pushed at you? You look at that lovely handmade scarf for your cousin and suddenly that same scarf from that same store is showing up in the sidebar of Facebook and other websites.
Of course you have. In fact, you’ve been seeing it for about two years. We’re starting to see a little more logic being applied to such “re-targeted” ads, so, if you looked at and bought a blouse, you might be sent ads with necklaces that would go well with that blouse.
Go buy some prenatal vitamins at Target and you’ll start seeing flyers and emails suggesting you stock up on diapers about six months later. Tell Facebook you like a TV show and you’ll see ads for similar TV shows. Last week, I saw an ad for a T-shirt that could only be interesting to people who grew up in my hometown (population 4,124).
The entire ad market has been shifting gears in the last two years toward a single goal: specificity. With the advent of “big data” available at large (pun only slightly intended), the goal is to build an ad that is so specific, it is shown to one person, but it makes that person buy. That it is so well targeted, it not only knows my age, gender, mailing address, previous addresses, job title, rough income, college, hometown, relationship status, family situation, duration at current company, favorite TV shows, movies, books, and websites, it should be able to know that I am incredibly susceptible to ads about how to get newborns to sleep sooner, cry less, and learn faster (yes, I just had a child, and since it is my first, it should be child’s play to deduce that this is all new to me and so products that reduce my fear and stress level are very interesting to me right now).
By being as specific as possible, marketers aren’t casting their nets wide and hoping something works, they are waiting until the exact right moment when the target will actually want to know about their product, instead of wasting money pushing it out willy nilly.
Talent acquisition marketers could and should start taking notes. We’ve all learned that a strategy that involves putting job opening notices on every board and ad network has that same kind of post-and-pray mentality and is really no strategy at all. Content marketing should follow those same guidelines.
Think of a single very important role you need to fill. Not a branch to staff or a department to grow, but of a single hire you need to make (this is what we mean by specificity). What does that person do right now? Is this a lateral move for them or a leap forward? What kind of role did they have before you hired them? What websites did they read to stay up-to-date on the role? Are they at an entry level or something with far more experience? What would be more important to them: learning how to grow their career, learning how to make a greater impact with the industry, or how to manage a work-life balance?
If you can’t answer these questions, you have an issue: either you don’t know who you are trying to hire (and hoping some Prince or Princess Charming waltzes into the offices and charms the dickens out of your hiring manager), or you don’t know why that person would ever work for you.
But when you can answer those questions, you understand how that person will be looking for a job (even if they aren’t actively looking yet). That knowledge lets you smartly select what kind of content will appeal to that person and how they will want to come across it.
The nice part about content marketing is that any piece of content you build, even for something as specific as this single job opening you’ve got in mind, can be reused for other roles. You can wrap it in a different frame, push it via a different channel or connect it to a different call to action, making something very specific perform for a multitude of audiences.
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The issue tends to be that we are unwilling to be specific for fear of alienating some people within our target audiences. If you develop content that talks about how to advance within your industry, you may be pushing away people more focused on a different work-life balance. But when you envisioned the role and who would fill it, you didn’t think of a work-life balance person, you thought of someone with different ambitions. Because of this, you actually don’t want the work-life balance candidate to become interested in this position because they aren’t the right fit. If you are worried about alienating that work-life balance candidate, you are really saying you didn’t properly determine who your successful candidate was. It’s not the content that scares you; it’s that you are unwilling to be specific about what you want in a candidate.
Engagement is a function of specificity. The more specific you get, the more someone can become excited in what you have to say. People don’t engage with bland statements; they engage with ideas that are real enough to touch.
Deciding to be non-specific in your language and content will draw people who don’t need to be engaged with your company to apply. They are the people who were going to apply regardless, but are those the people you really want to reach? People who are good enough to be selective cannot be swayed with bland ideas. So, a lack of specificity in your content will result in fewer stellar candidates applying. Conversely, the more specific you can make your content, the more likely you will be to draw better candidates who are also better fits with your company.
Above, we’ve seen how content needs to become more authentic and more specific in 2015 to hold value. Without that, vague and rose-colored content simply won’t resonate with your best prospects.
But there is one final trend to consider in 2015 for your content marketing. Once you can build content that is real and specific, the question becomes: Can you build content that is useful?
There are only three reasons people go online: to buy or accomplish something, to learn something or to be entertained. No one goes online simply to get bathed in the warm light of your brand. No one goes just to look at your logo. No one goes to apply for jobs just because it’s a good way to waste their time.
Ultimately, the reason people go online is because going online has value to them. The problem with this though, is that most brands do not provide content that is of any value to prospects or customers. The content brands do provide may have a lot of value to the brand, but almost none to anyone else.
Do you go to Amazon to hear about its corporate vision, or to learn about products before you buy them?
Do you go to Google to read the statement from its CEO, or to find information that will help you solve a problem?
We are witnessing the death of business-centric content marketing. Everyone is starting to look at their analytics with wide-open eyes and to understand what content people actually look at and what they really want. Brands are doing a better job of looking at their websites and digital properties through the eyes of their prospect because it’s all about the prospect.
This isn’t really new. It’s always been about the user or prospect. But without database-driven dynamic websites, or tagged content that connects relevant jobs to interesting content (and vice versa), we were not prepared for the kind of specificity and authenticity it took to provide utility to all the different kinds of prospects we wanted to attract. Now, we don’t have that excuse.
Successful brands start by listening to understand their prospects, learning who they are and where they are in the sales funnel. You don’t talk to people who are barely aware of who you are the same way you talk to your fans. And you don’t talk to five-year IT pros the same way you talk to your next director of operations. With this, companies can create a clear picture of what these prospects need.
The word “need” is crucial, because if you are filling a need, you are providing real utility and value to the prospect. Because without getting what they need, those interested and interesting prospects will simply go elsewhere.
Abandon all your brand-focused thoughts, because no one cares about your brand. Take a good hard look at your analytics to see what people are searching for when they find you or what they search for when they land on your site. If you ignore anything brand-related (you were already appealing to them) and only look at terms people are putting in to solve their problems, you can see how well you are serving your various audiences. You can see how well you are providing utility to people whom you want to apply.
So here’s the real prediction for 2015 content marketers: The brands that are going to be successful are going to care less about social media platforms, but care a great deal more about forming real relationships online. These relationships don’t have to be real time, where prospects ask questions and brands respond immediately, but they will occur with content that resonates with the reader and compels action.
Brands that aren’t striving for such online relationships are betting their company’s future on the people who are going to apply for pretty much any job.
Ignore them, and some nobody company you’ve never heard of will be hiring all your best prospects before you even know about them.
Better yet, do this right and start to steal your competitions’ prospects.