The Core of a Strong Employer Brand

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We’ve probably spilled a gallon of digital ink talking about where your employer brand comes from (spoiler: it already exists - it’s the perception prospects put together about you based on all the interactions they have with your brand).  

But those interactions don’t come out of the blue. When those prospects buy a product, they are interacting with your product and marketing teams. When they have an issue with that product, they are interacting with your customer service teams. When they see news about your company, they are likely interacting with policies created by the executive team. Obviously, when they engage at a hiring event or with a recruiter over InMail or the phone, they are interacting with your talent team.

All those interactions have a single common source: your company culture. How you organize your company, what you reward and punish, who you fire and hire, and how decisions get made, result in the products and services you offer. If you value speedy innovation over support, you are comfortable rolling out products that still need a little polish because you know being first is better than being perfect. Or if your company is all about scale and growth, maybe you’re comfortable with the bureaucracy needed to support that scale.

Every business makes choices and those choices become the company’s DNA, imprinting itself on everything a company does, from design and communication to talent acquisition and human resources.

So, if your brand is how people perceive you based on what you do and how you do it, which is itself based on your company culture, how do you create a strong employer brand?

First, let’s remember that the brand isn’t created. It is revealed. To extract value from it, your job is to take what’s interesting and compelling about what you do and how you do it and tell that story

But there’s something more to it than just generating all possible stories that showcase interesting things your company is doing. The strength of an employer brand isn’t measured in the sheer tonnage of content you generate. An employer brand’s strength is a function of how well aligned those stories are to each other and how well those stories connect to the right kind of people.

Telling a million stories without focus or alignment is like taking a million steps, each in a random direction: you will have done a lot of walking, but likely won’t have covered much ground. When someone sees a story about (for example) a leader who has risen from entry-level sales to Senior Director of Merchant Management, that’s an amazing story of career growth and a company committed to doing what it takes to keep great talent around. If the next story I see from that company is all about how someone volunteered 100 hours of service this year, there’s a mis-alignment. Does this company reward service? Or do they reward determination and drive? I wouldn’t assume they would value both, because (to paraphrase The Incredibles), when everything is rewarded, nothing is really rewarded. A lack of focus and clarity pushes your brand to the back of people’s minds, where it will stay forever.

But the strength isn’t just alignment, it is also focus on the correct audience. Telling the stories of what your employees do when they aren’t on the clock is a story of work-life balance. But is that who you really are? Is that how you want people to see you?  

There’s no right answer to that question. The wise company knows itself and what it stands for (and what it isn’t as concerned about). The foolish company is reactive and chases down negative reviews with programs and campaigns that try to be everything to everyone.

A strong brand might instead be distilled as “people like us do things like this.” This is a Seth Godin quote about marketing and the culture of groups, making it a perfect way of approaching employer brand.

For example, at SpaceX, people obsessed with space travel (people like us) dedicate their lives to doing the impossible (do things like this). Or at Nordstroms, people dedicated to service (people like us) go the extra mile to help customers (do things like this). Or at the Ritz Carlton, people who want to be empowered, are given the power to spend up to $2000 to fix a customer problem.  

Strong brands take what is unique about your DNA and culture, and tell stories about it in a focused way, so that people similar to that DNA, can hear the dog whistle and respond.

That’s the core of a strong employer brand.

This kind of distillation provides a focus and clarity to attract the right people and compel the wrong people to look elsewhere. It is strength to get fewer applications because of the faith that those who do apply will be better fits. It is the strength to attempt to be singular of vision, knowing not everyone will want to be a part of it. 

If you’re looking at your recruiting issues and think employer brand thinking might help you make a breakthrough in impact, reach out to Proactive Talent. We are obsessed with helping our clients revolutionize their ability to hire great talent!