This post is designed to provide a high-level understanding for new talent acquisition leaders who are trying to figure out how to build a strong employer brand.
Your employer brand is a sum of your company’s image and reputation in the market. It includes every human association, feeling, and perception - and is your company’s “total truth” – good or bad. Most of the work done in employer branding is related to trying to attract and motivate the people you want to join the company, without repelling those you want as well.
We sometimes think of employer branding work as the creation of messages, imagery, and ideas projected out to move people to internalize thoughts such as: “I want to know this company”, “I want to be associated with this company”, “I want to work inside this company, and “I love this company.”
Creating a strong employer brand is not about pulling the wool over “gullible” peoples’ eyes. It’s about understanding your company's true nature - it's authentic self - and then using what you learn to promote the company (as an employer firm) to attract new people into the firm and keep people in the organization.
The hard, behind-the-scenes (or out of sight) work in employer branding – is to unchain or fix any negative associations, and then invest in promoting the positive (associations and attributes) – and to make sure the right people take notice, maintain an affinity for your company (as an employer), and keep the company top of mind.
The best employers collect feedback (usually through surveys or audits) to understand the positive and negative associates with their company. They take the time to ask top employees what they like most about the company, why they joined, and why they continue to stay committed. They use the data to uncover the right employer value propositions (EVPs) and attributes to share with the market. They take the time to fix negative characteristics – and work to turn real (and perceived) negatives into “positive truths”. And they speak and relate to the market in a way that helps to attract and keep the right talent. When they do this, voice and reality is consistent and people see and hear more clearly – and can relate more readily.
The best employers also understand the triggers and frames of reference. Our “frame of reference” is what comes to mind because of our past experiences. When people think of a company, most can’t help but to being up past experiences (and emotions) with that company. Some of us, when we think of Starbucks, imagine a great cup of coffee or that they provide great benefits to temporary workers. Others think about their low wages, burnt coffee, and long lines. Our frame of reference plays a huge part in how we view a company.
In the same way corporate brands trigger positive and negative reactions, employers' brands trigger reactions as well. What comes mind when you think “Apple”? Some people process it like this: my computer, Steve Jobs, upscale computers, iPhone, iPad, California, great place to work, and “wish I could work there”. Other people might think: way too expensive, elitist, silly, fake, I would never work there.
Strong brands break through and get noticed. They come to mind and have great salience. What do you think about when you hear “Just Do It” or “Don’t leave home without it”? Most of us will think about Nike and MasterCard. It can be the same for the employer brand. The best brands also have “category-cued salience”. This means that whenever someone brings up a category like “search” most people think of Google. When people think of “chicken sandwich for lunch”, most will think about Chick-fil-A. When people think of the best new place to work building electric cars or rockets, what comes to mind? Tesla? SpaceX?
Consumer brand attributes might include: color, quality, origin, flavor. Employer brands are no different. Our employer brand attributes might include: fun, safe, professional, hard-working, career opportunity, exclusivity, unpretentious, ego, respect, and so on. Employers should be in tune with their most salient attributes and work to promote them and keep them top of mind.
It’s important for employers to understand these positive and negative reactions, fix what they can, and then and do all they can to define and promote the most authentic attributes to their brand.
As a new talent acquisition leader, you can go as deep and wide as you want to build out your employer brand. Some keep it simple. Others go deep and consider bandwagon effects, positive reinforcers, cuing, and more. The important thing to remember is that your employer brand is your employer “truth”. It’s not something you can simple write and say to the market and have them believe it. It’s an ongoing relationship between your company and everyone else – good or bad.
Lastly, brands are most believable when there is a consistency between two ideas. Our minds go to work (and not in a good way) examining situations when there are two competing messages or signals.
Remember that very company has their weaknesses. Yours is no different. Take the time to understand your company (as an employer) and then fix what you can as best as you can. Then promote the rest as best you can. Be as fair in your representation of the firm as possible. Be as authentic as possible.
Employer branding work is a hard thing to get right and it requires that you listen carefully, filter out the noise, focus on the right material, and then connect with people in a powerful and truthful way. It can be a real game-changer when done correctly.
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