Based on Google Trends data and anecdotal evidence in the form of podcast topics in the HR, this is the year of Employer Brand (at least in the talent acquisition community).
I say this like people who say this is the year of women in Hollywood or the year of mobile in tech, that is with tongue firmly in cheek, knowing full-well that employer brand has always been important, whether we listen to expert-stocked panels at conferences.
But ask ten people what an employer brand is and where it comes from and you’ll get ten answers, which is no way to facilitate growth.
So by way to establishing a definition and getting everyone on the same page, here are the seven most common myths about employer brand…busted.
Myth 1: You have to build an employer brand.
To paraphrase Jeff Bezos (as I seem to do a lot lately), your employer brand is what people think and say about you when they aren’t on the clock. So your employer brand, regardless of the investment you’ve put into it, exists.
It existed before Glassdoor bought their domain or before Google made internet search actually useful. It was always there, whether you applied the label “employer brand” to it or not.
Your brand is naturally occurring, like frost on windows and self-congratulations at award shows. No one has to make it happen, it just is. The same is true of your brand. A brand is the pattern of perceptions and experiences each individual has about you. If the perceptions suggest a fun workplace over and over again, that’s your brand. If they suggest a frustrating place to work filled with bureaucracy and petty infighting, well, that’s true, too.
Think of the Apple consumer brand. Are you in the camp that thinks it is crazy to pay a premium for an overly-fussy piece of aluminum and glass, or in the camp that values Apple’s commitment to minimalistic design? Both things are true, those both things are Apple’s consumer brand.
Granted, Apple likes to foster the latter over the former, but both perceptions are true, reinforced over and over by each product release of shiny and pretty objects that sell for more than their commodity-focused competition.
So your brand exists, even as a motley collection of perceptions. The question isn’t “how will you build your employer brand,” but rather, “how are you going to support and encourage the perceptions that are most beneficial to you?”
Myth 2: Employer brand is controlled by employers.
Without naming names, if I suggested a certain chemical or energy company, known for its insensitive treatment of the environment, decided that its brand was all about Mother Earth, no one would believe it. That corporate brand is already solidified in people’s minds as not being the friend of the fluffy bunny.
The same is true for your employer brand. It already exists. And while there are ways to shape and augment your employer brand, pulling it too far away from reality leads to an inauthentic brand and an empty brand promise. You and your executives may want your employer brand to be about teamwork and collaboration, but if all the chatter is about petty infighting and politics, you aren’t going to get very far.
In the end, you are who you are.
But like you or me, we can all select different outfits to make ourselves look thinner or taller or cooler or smarter. We can also go on a diet and get our teeth whitened. You might always be you, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to put the nicest frame around it, and highlight your best features.
Flash back to about 15 years ago. Google was still an up-and-coming search engine, showing a lot of promise competing with (at the time) behemoth Yahoo! And the like. At the time, their engineers were spending 18-20 hours a day coding, debugging, and managing servers. It was known as an exciting, albeit somewhat brutal place to work.
To get the most out of their teams, Google offered nap rooms, free food, and great coffee 24/7, eventually adding wifi-enabled commuter bus service for teams in Palo Alto. None of those perks changed the work-life balance, but they did serve to change the frame. Google’s employer brand isn’t about the workload as much as it is about the lengths Google is willing to go to enable and empower its people. It’s employees may complain about the hours, but they will also talk about the perks mitigating it.
It’s not that your employees or your execs own your brand, it’s that they shape it together.
Myth 3: Your employer brand is separate from your consumer brand.
When your consumer brand team lives in the marketing department and your employer brand team lives in HR, when there are specialized employer brand agencies, when books are written about branding that never mention employer brand, you might be inclined to think that your employer brand and your consumer or corporate brand are separate, divided by a steep wall.
It’s not true.
First off, your consumer brand has a deep and direct influence on your prospects. Admit it: people want to work for companies like Google and Amazon and Apple because they have such powerful and positive experiences with the products. The consumer brand is very often the first brand impression someone gets of you overall brand, including your employer brand.
Secondly, if your consumer brand is built on one idea and your employer brand on another, you will create a cognitive dissonance (fancy words for “that doesn’t add up”). If your brand is all about fun experiences for your customers, but your employees look like they are in their own personal hell, there’s a rift, each negatively impacting the other. Micromanaged staff rarely create a fun consumer experience.
The employer brand is a facet (not a separate thing) of the larger brand.
The fact that your employer brand is usually seen less as a profit center and more of a cost center, puts your consumer brand in the driver’s seat of the overall brand for most companies. But the role of the employer brand team isn’t to design a brand from whole cloth, but to see the larger brand through a prospect’s eyes, to decide what elements from the consumer a prospect will care about and instigate action.
You don’t want to ask your marketing to to do that. They should be focused on the consumer brand perception that leads to sales. But you should be focused on how that consumer brand creates a perception that aligns with the core brand, but compels candidates to apply.
Myths 4 & 5: Employees are the only way to communicate your Employer Brand; The only place that candidates pay attention to that EB communication is Glassdoor.
You’d think that if your employer brand is what your staff says about you, your staff is your primary means of that communication. But that’s only part of the picture.
Remember, your brand is a pattern of perceptions, some of which occurred in people’s minds when they were a consumer of your brand before they ever began looking for a job. Some perceptions come from the news, or from friends and family. If a recruiter pings them on LinkedIn and is a jerk or helpful, those interactions form and shape that employer brand.
When the candidate is looking for a job, they learn more about you on review sites, social media, and search engines. They will reach out to current and former employees, and engage in conversation online. And only some of those are direct employee channels.
But you’re not done. When you bring a candidate in to interview, the interview itself, the recruiter or scheduler, and even the hiring manager impact the candidate’s perception of the employer brand.
And love them or hate them, it looks like Glassdoor is here to stay. Their mission is to establish transparency in the experience of working for a given company has a lot of fans. And while they have done a pretty amazing job encouraging and elevating the conversation around the power of employer brand, they are hardly the only place people absorb employer brand messages.
So while employees have a significant role to play embodying your employer brand, establishing authenticity and credibility through their role, there are many other touch points impact the brand.
Myth 6: Building an employer brand is expensive.
You might have gotten this impression because building a consumer brand is typically pretty expensive. But your employer brand has a different context and thus isn’t beholden to the same rules.
For example, when you are building a consumer brand, you are often building a brand from a clean sheet of paper. That’s usually not the case with an employer brand, as it lives as a facet of the existing consumer brand. You are building on an existing foundation.
Also, if you want to create an army of ambassadors of your consumer brand, you usually have to hire people, or create a network of costly incentives to make that happen. For your employer brand, you already have an army of potential advocates in the form of your staff.
With a little training and encouragement, they can be defending your employer brand all over social media and to their own networks.
Now, that isn’t to say that building a clear and authentic employer brand that is steadily and consistently communicated out across an untold number of channels is free. You are building and maintaining a pattern over time, something that takes some dedication, usually by a designated employer brand manager or team, to wrangle the existing resources and spot opportunities where small investments can reap huge dividends.
Myth 7: There’s no way to measure your employer brand.
Every business is different and every brand is slightly different, so there are probably lots of different ways to measure your brand that make sense for you.
For example, if your goal is to extend the reach of your brand awareness, perhaps social media reach makes sense as a metric.
Or perhaps you intend for your employer brand to elevate the average quality of candidates who apply. In that case, measuring the percentage of applicants who are reviewed by a screener and passed forward might take for a smart metric.
But for almost every company, the easiest and most readily available metric to track is your Glassdoor company rating (and full-disclosure, aside from a branded water bottle for participating in a joint speaking event last year, I am not being compensated by Glassdoor).
There are flaws in the numbers, to be sure. It is based on longitudinal data, providing some historical impact rather than giving a snapshot of your score. But deep within the analytics of the tool, you can see trends upwards or downwards, as well a break the data down by location or career area (useful if you are trying to measure a specific campaign).
The best part is that moving the needle on Glassdoor isn’t just a metric you and your stakeholders see. Good work that moves the number up leads to fewer high-quality candidates removing you from their consideration set, driving overall applicant quality up.
A focus on supporting and communicating your employer brand can have significant impact, though it is certainly no magic bullet.
About the Author:
James Ellis is currently Managing Consultant at BEX Consultants, which focuses on helping recruiting organizations develop and activate their employer brands while teaching hiring managers how to pick great candidates and radically improve hiring success.
Prior to joining BEX consultants, James most recently served as VP of Inbound Marketing at TMP Worldwide, where he was responsible for establishing TMP as the preeminent leader in recruiting content, tasked with developing and leading a global team dedicated to activating employer brand through content and media strategy. James started his career as a content consultant and commentator for SaltLab.
James currently lives in Chicago, where he hosts the Talent Cast podcast, and spends his time partnering with Fortune 1000 clients to develop recruitment marketing, digital and content strategies to find and attract the best talent.
Follow James on Twitter @TheWarforTalent or connect with him on LinkedIn.
By James Ellis
It's very possible that the rumors are true and that James Ellis was a mild-mannered digital marketer who was bitten by a radioactive recruiter six years ago and now has strange new powers. But what we do know is that James is a leading voice in employer branding, developing and activating dozens of brands of every size, running The Talent Cast podcast for more than three years, writing the Employer Brand Headlines newsletter and writing for a number of industry publications. His mission is to evolve the conversation around recruiting and hiring. He is currently the Director of Employer Brand at Universum. He lives in Chicago with his wife and daughter.
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