You Have 1 of These 4 Brands

brandsSoftware is everywhere. It is, as Marc Andreessen pointed out, “eating the world.” What began with the communication and entertainment industries has expanded to include education, finance, national defense, and healthcare. Powerful software and the people that build it are now determining factors in the success of all major industries.

Today, a huge percentage of the people capable of building such software are millennials with a technical background. Employers need to create a brand and culture specifically geared toward hiring millennial tech talent in order to stay competitive. This can be a major departure from the norm in terms of culture, messaging, and brand.

We at Looksharp talk to a huge number of employers tasked with recruiting top technical talent that do not have the brands to compete effectively. Where do they start?

Employers tend to fall into four major categories, each with their own unique set of challenges and opportunities for differentiation.

Group #1: Companies with the right brand for the right talent: Think Basecamp. Its brand (innovative tech company) fits its hiring need (innovative tech talent). Its culture is open — something engineers value. The problems it gives new hires are interesting and dynamic.

If you’re in this bucket, nice work! If not, don’t worry; you don’t need to be a tech company in order to compete. Which brings us to the second group.

Group #2: Companies with the right brand for the wrong talent: This group is comprised of big non-tech companies that now need tech talent so they don’t end up like Borders. They have significant employment brand recognition, sure, but not for millennial tech talent.

Let’s look at Walmart. In 2011, the retail giant did roughly $6 billion in business, less than 2 percent of which came from online sales. The year before, Amazon crushed Walmart with $35 billion in online retain revenue.

Walmart knew it needed to create a culture that would attract engineering talent  so in 2011, it acquired Kosmix. At the time, Kosmix was a search engine startup. Like Google, its algorithm crawled the web looking for content related to a user’s search terms. Unlike Google, however, it was able to return content related to that user’s search, even if it didn’t contain the specific search term.

Walmart recognized the value this could have when applied to online retail.

From the start, Walmart let Kosmix run like a startup. The new Walmart accelerator program (renamed @WalmartLabs) gave engineers “the freedom to experiment in small teams on far-flung new ideas.” This internal culture was relayed to other engineers in the tech community, thereby attracting more talent.

Today, @WalmartLabs is an established brand in the engineering world. It has transformed Walmart from being viewed solely a retail company to a place where engineers, specifically millennials, can grow and thrive.

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Group #3: Companies without a millennial brand in any category: These are companies that do not have millennial-friendly brands, especially for technical talent. Maybe they’re known as old school, maybe no one thinks they’re “cool.” The bottom line is, they have a hard time resonating with the right audience.

Intuit had this problem until it revamped its entire internal structure to make it more flexible for engineers to push code and run tests on the site. This fast-paced development is extremely popular in the engineering world and makes it easier for their recruiters to pitch them as an engineering-friendly company.

Group #4: Companies with no brand (yet!): These are primarily small employers with little-to-no brand recognition. This blank slate can work in their favor because they don’t have to rebrand themselves like Walmart or Intuit. It can work against them because millennial engineers don’t know who they are.

The first step to solving this problem is to focus on what millennials care most about: professional development and mentorship. In our 2014 State of the Intern report we found 67.4 percent of students ranked “ability for long-term advancement” above every other factor, in terms of determining their careers.

If small employers can authentically communicate that career advancement, learning, and access to management , they’re one step ahead of their larger competitors.

Winning top millennial tech talent isn’t just a game for tech companies. Employers in every industry need to compete, and they need to address their unique set problems to do so effectively.

In order to win millennial tech talent, employers need a brand and culture that speaks to the environment and opportunities this talent craves.

Andrew Maguire is founder and CEO of Looksharp, a company dedicated to launching student careers. Looksharp was named one of Inc's top five websites changing education today and Forbes' top 10 sites for students finding an internship.

He has worked with hundreds of companies including Fortune 500s and world-changing non-profits to develop strategies to better engage and hire top millennial talent.


6 Comments on “You Have 1 of These 4 Brands

  1. Hi Andrew. As the Chief Brand Officer of an agency specializing in Employer Branding, indulge me while I play brand police. I think it’s important to separate brands and employer brand from the benefits of segmented messages by target audience.

    All companies have an employer brand. There is typically a unique culture with talent expectations and rewards. The question is whether companies have done the analysis required to uncover the unique value proposition of their employer brand by audience segments. If they haven’t, they should follow your advice under Group 4.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment! The distinction between brand and segmented messaging is an important one. That said, massive trends like the disruption of entire industries by software or our march toward a 75% millennial workforce require more than segmented messaging. The core culture and the overarching employment brand need to resonate strongly with these groups. Those that fail to adapt from the inside out will win.

      1. I totally agree, and you have the order right – the culture should align to the wants and needs of the target audience and then the employer brand just needs to reflect the culture (as always).

    2. Yeah, good point Jordioni — while I think the “Employer Branding” aspect is implied, it would be good to have some explicit words in here about what that is and how it differs from a company’s consumer brand.

      That said — as a software engineer — I have to say a lot of what Andrew brings up in this article resonates with me, personally. Walmart really did do a good job rebranding as an employer for tech talent, and even though they’d need to do a lot more (ie, _none_ of their employees should be able to qualify for food stamps or government assistance) before I would be willing to work for them, they did make noticeable strides in that department. And for engineers who aren’t as concerned with social impact as I am, I think Walmartlabs is totally a viable option.

      The funny thing to me is that as far as “professional development” goes, one lesson I had to learn very early is that to make meaningful strides, you really need to jump ship and start fresh at a new company. Your current employer will always want more from you and will rarely be willing to recognize your growth and contributions in any significant way. But maybe (hopefully) this is changing as millennials join the workforce.

      Cheers and good article Andrew!

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