Knowledge is Power: The Value of Research

Used properly, research is perhaps the most powerful tool in the world of marketing and advertising. Marketing departments use several forms of research to do everything from developing new products, targeting media buys and advertising campaigns, and developing powerful brands that build customer loyalty. But in the recruitment marketing world, where budgets are much tighter and the competition for talent can come from any number of industries, is research effective and affordable? For many companies, the answer is a resounding yes. In fact, research has the potential to have a greater, more far-reaching impact on their recruitment success than for their counterparts in product marketing. Branding in the Current Environment In the current economy, employers have the upper hand when it comes to recruiting most candidates. There’s not much a company has to say outside of, “I have a job that pays well,” to get hundreds of resumes (though mostly unqualified). And there are still several jobs out there that remain hard to fill under any economic conditions. Many employers are wisely using any downtime presented by the economy to put a powerful brand in place that will attract top talent when the tables turn once again. (And with the number of baby boomers nearing retirement age, believe me when I say it will.) In one of my previous columns on employer branding, I discussed how companies with strong employer brands would realize a huge competitive advantage when competing for top talent. Better-branded companies will spend less to find and keep the best employees, while companies without strong employer brands will be forced to lure candidates with higher salaries and added, often ridiculous, benefits. But as your marketing department will tell you, establishing a strong brand starts with meticulous research. Without it, any marketing efforts you implement will merely be guesswork. Why Knowledge Is Power Let’s examine what building your brand would be like without the benefit of research. You start with what you think are your best traits as an employer. Extensive benefits plans. Stock options. Cutting-edge technology. A casual culture. Open door policy. Tremendous growth opportunities. And the buzzword for the new millennium: stability. Put all those things together in a branding campaign, and you’ll sound exactly like every other employer out there. Therein lies the problem in recruitment marketing: most employers are completely undifferentiated from one another because they promote identical employment offerings outside of the job itself. Retention rates also suffer when employers use this flawed methodology, as advertising promises based on assumptions are less likely to translate into an actual employment experience for the individuals you do end up hiring. With research, however, you can directly ask specific types of candidates:

  • What they look for in a company
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  • What their perceptions of your company are vs. what your current employees are actually experiencing
  • What your competition is up to and how they’re perceived
  • What messages candidates respond to
  • What media these candidates are likely to be reading
  • How they look for work

You can also touch base with candidates who didn’t take your offers and find out why. Research data can be utilized in a way that is very similar to how product marketers use it. Significant improvements can be made in your recruiting product (the employment experience you are delivering), price (your compensation package), promotion (what messages you use to communicate with candidates and current employees), and placement (how you choose to reach them) based on what you learn from your target audiences. Building a strong brand from your research will help you avoid having to compete exclusively on price. In short, you can use research to make wholesale improvements in the way you go about recruiting and retaining employees – and spend less money doing it. Forms of Research Secondary research is a great way to understand your general positioning as an employer, learn about your audience, and identify misperceptions. There are several secondary research studies available to you, including a recent, very detailed one from Universum that covers everything from branding and benchmarking to diversity on college campuses, both domestic and abroad. An Employer Attribute Study that details the most desired traits in employers by job categories – sent out to over 125,000 job seekers in 42 job categories – was also completed in the last year by TMP Worldwide in partnership with Monster.com. Dig deeper into the existing data pool and you can gain demographic data (like age and income level) as well as psychographic data (like what they buy and what they do outside of work) data on candidates using something as simple as common employee ZIP codes. You can find the number of competitors in a specific market, or even discover where your competition is advertising. Primary research, or research conducted specifically for you, requires more of an investment, but has the potential to be the most valuable tool in your arsenal. Qualitative research tools include focus groups, website usability studies and tests, copy and design testing, and online discussion groups. By supporting the data you gather in these groups with quantitative research tools like online surveys that can automatically report on trends from a larger population of participants, you can take most of the guesswork out of your recruitment branding campaign and media planning efforts. In product marketing, almost every company uses some form of research to make informed decisions related to their products, promotions, and advertising messages. In recruitment marketing, however, very few companies have the foresight to think like marketers and invest in research. But what that means is that research has the potential to have a much greater impact in recruiting than it does even in product marketing. The few companies that are using research are building long-term, differentiated employer brands based on real target audience data, targeting their media campaigns, building more effective employment websites, and refining their overall recruitment and retention efforts at the same time.

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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