By Dr. John Sullivan and Master Burnett
It happens to each of us nearly every day. We read something, act on the information, and find out later that the information we acted on deceived us in some way. An advertisement for a sandwich from a quick-service restaurant features a plump, juicy, perfectly grilled chicken breast stacked on a freshly baked sandwich roll with crisp lettuce, juicy, ripe, red tomatoes, and just a hint of mayo. Unfortunately when you order the sandwich you get an anemic-looking piece of chicken devoid of grill marks, wilted, rusted lettuce, green sliced tomatoes, and an old hamburger bun that looks like it got run over by a truck.
The phenomenon of deceptive advertising is pervasive. It happens with food products, automotive products, service offerings, and yes, even employment.
An opinion poll conducted in March with individuals who had posted their resumes on Yahoo! HotJobs found that just 21% of job seekers trust the employment advertisements produced by employers. While this level of trust is higher by 4% than trust in advertising in general, according to market research by Ipsos, it still sends a clear signal that past experience with employment advertising has led the majority of job seekers to distrust employment advertisements.
Broad Generic Claims Build Distrust
Employment ads are full of unsubstantiated claims that just beg for people to establish expectations that most employers cannot live up to. Unfortunately, many of these claims are supported by ad-hoc testimony during job interviews, so candidates start to buy in. You have seen such claims before, and you are probably guilty of using them. Some position the employer, while others position the opportunity. Sample claims include “The world’s number one,” or “Offering the most innovative products and services,” or even “The most highly skilled and diverse team,” to name just a few.
At first glance, you may not think ill of these claims, but ask yourself, number one compared to what? Most innovative products and services compared to whom? The most highly skilled and diverse team according to whom?
Upon closer examination, you can see that all of these claims are statements capable of leading job seekers to make erroneous judgments about the opportunity. In the marketing world, these types of claims are referred to as “incomplete comparisons” and “implied superiority claims.”
Absence of Facts Leads to Destructive Expectations
While you may not have set out to mislead job seekers, by omitting facts and making claims open to interpretation you have created a situation whereby the job seeker can form her/her own expectations.
Because these expectations are often formed subconsciously and rarely expressed, it is unlikely that most organizations would be able to live up to them. At some point, people will realize a disconnect between their expectations and the actual experience. For some, this disconnect will occur during the due diligence process; for others, it will happen after they have joined the organization.
If the disconnect is large enough and happens early enough, you will experience something we call “crib death” (i.e., the employee will kill his or her employment shortly after joining the organization).
If the realization of the disconnect is of a smaller magnitude or happens later on in the employment life cycle, the employee may not sever their relationship with the organization, but will most likely disengage. Regardless, allowing prospective employees to form their own expectations without guidance or influence is destructive.
Leveraging Product Marketing to End Deceptive Advertising
For the past two weeks, our articles have proposed implementing a product management role to govern the production of employment opportunities. It was a new model that equates employment opportunities to products and proposes an infrastructure for management similar to that which governs the production of goods and services in the enterprise.
Most organizations that employ product managers also employ product marketing professionals who partner closely with product management to build out the framework and communication vehicles that will promote the product offering to the target audience. While product managers own the feature set of a product, product marketers own the promotion of the product to the target audience.
While it is certainly true that product marketers engage in deceptive advertising, they have an opportunity not to. Because product management and product marketing work in tandem to create and promote a product defined by a specific set of features, they can if they so desire communicate factually.
Unfortunately, in most organizations, employment professionals are not able to leverage a similar infrastructure, which limits their ability to communicate factually on all employment value proposition elements with a defined target audience.
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The role of product marketing is simple. Product marketers analyze product offerings, measure their value, develop positioning strategies, develop product packaging, and promote the product through communications to a target audience. Specific responsibilities often include:
- Defining and implementing a customer communications strategy.
- Maximizing ROI on advertising expenditures.
- Defining market research studies to gain knowledge about user attitudes and behavior.
- Developing collateral that optimally positions the strengths of products.
It is a role that is desperately needed in recruitment. While you might think your recruitment advertising partners are adept at employment product marketing skills, you would be sadly mistaken. (It is not uncommon for recruitment advertisers to market the same positioning to a multitude of employers.)
Why the Status Quo Just Isn’t Acceptable Anymore
Undoubtedly, some of you reading this article and its predecessors are actively dismissing every premise presented on the grounds that what you are doing now or have always done in working fine.
To that perspective, our response is simple: don’t change, but don’t be surprised when you end up unemployed or marginalized.
The studies are clear: 79% of job seekers distrust how you market employment opportunities. Not surprisingly, 64% of HR professionals don’t think their approaches are antiquated, and state that they are working fine, actively contributing to the success of their organizations. While job seekers distrust communications from employers, they tend to trust communications from other sources.
Research conducted by the Pew Research Center reveals that a vast majority of online Americans turn to their networks aided by the Internet to get access to resources, information, and people they trust. The percentage of users who state that the Internet plays a major role in helping them form opinions and make decisions increased 33% in 2006. As of January 2007, more than 55% of American youth leverage online social networking sites to manage their relationships, and 74% of those with a profile visit their sites daily.
If you think the online networking craze is irrelevant or just for teens, you would be oblivious to the facts. In October 2006, ComScore, a global Internet information provider for consumer behavior insight, reported that just 12% of MySpace users are aged 12 to 17, while 41% are aged 35 to 54. If facts matter, the average MySpace user is 35!
The time has come for HR professionals to step up to the plate and admit that managing a workforce is more complex than managing a product portfolio, but that the same standards and infrastructure apply.
Employment professionals need to keenly understand job-seeker behavior and develop go-to market strategies for employment products that both meet the needs of employment consumers and can be positioned in a desirable way based on factual comparison.
If you are ready, tune in next week for the final installment to learn a new marketing communications model for employment products.