When a new term or phrase emerges into the business sphere, we can be quick to assume it’s fleeting. New trends, buzzwords, and best practices emerge overnight and we’re left to wonder what’s real. We invented, over-adopted, and grew sick of vague phrasing like “disrupting the industry” or “crushing it” while stressing over the potential impact of new concepts like blockchain, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. Many things that create a buzz are just that, a buzz: quick to hit, quick to disappear. We have our fair share of buzz in the HR space, too. One such trending phrase, earning over 49,000 monthly Google searches for the term alone, and hundreds of thousands of related searches, is employer branding.
Interestingly enough, the concept of employer branding is not new. The phrase emerged in the 1990s and, despite a recent uptick in discourse about employer branding, has been used in corporate-speak for over 25 years. While it’s largely unknown why terms and trends resurface and consume our feeds, employer branding is back with a flourish.
It’s easy to postulate why employer branding would re-enter our collective conscience. Ours is an era of HR rebirth and a complete transformation of how we view business and work. I recently did a deep-dive on emerging HR trends which corroborates the renewed importance of the employer brand.
Today, I’ll be pulling back the curtain to answer some often-searched questions about employer branding:
10 questions about employer branding
Q. What is employer branding?
Let’s start at the beginning.
Employer branding is loosely defined as “an employer’s reputation as a place to work, and their employee value proposition, as opposed to the more general corporate brand reputation and value proposition to customers.”
While that might seem generic and, frankly, a bit obvious – let’s dig deeper.
When we talk about a consumer-facing brand, it’s really the combined ethos of that company’s reputation, messaging, voice and tone, personality, appearance, and system of beliefs. The same is true for an employer brand. That brand is the collection of a company’s reputation in the eyes of candidates and employees, the way they position job offerings, and how employees and applicants are treated. The employer brand speaks to what it’s like to work at a given company and how that company’s leaders and teams live their values out loud.
Q. Why is employer branding important?
Much like a consumer-facing brand, the employer brand can make or break that company’s growth and success. Chiefly, a company’s employer brand impacts the following:
Ease of recruiting
A strong employer brand is a key component to inbound recruitment. When your recruiting team doesn’t have to perform as much outbound research to draw in applicants, their time is better spent.
Their caliber of applicants
If your company is losing out on awesome talent, it could be because of your reputation or employer brand. Today’s candidates will avoid companies that harbor outdated practices, overlook key social issues, or communicate negatively.
The relevance of their talent pool
When a company’s employer brand is clear and evident, they won’t only attract higher caliber talent, but more relevant talent. People whose views, beliefs, and intentions align with your company can find and pursue you more easily when those values are communicated upfront.
How current employees behave
The impact of your employer reputation doesn’t stop at the recruitment stage. Your current employees want to feel proud of where they work and what they do. If your employer brand and culture are uninspiring or even toxic, your people might leave in droves or stay and fester.
How consumers perceive them
Word gets out. Your employer brand is effectively a facet of your consumer brand. I don’t want to buy from brands that don’t treat (and compensate) their people well, do you? (PS–Hear what Zestful’s CEO has to say about how much to pay your employees.)
Their bottom line
If people don’t intrinsically want to work for you, you’ll have to provide an incentive. This incentive usually equates to above-market salary offerings ponied up to get quality talent in the door.
According to studies from Link Human, a bad reputation could cost you hundreds of dollars per employee salary per year. For a team of even 1,500 employees, that equates to over $1M in additional payroll expenses to attract and keep your employees. This doesn’t take into account the added costs of turnover and re-recruitment for positions where nobody wants to stay.
The opposite is also true, though. When your employer brand is strong, you can hire well, turnover is controlled, costs are lowered and, added bonus, your exceptional talent is more equipped to rack in the revenue.
Q. Which companies are known to be strong employers?
This is subjective, to a degree. What candidates want in an employer can vary and reputations wax and wane with time. However, LinkedIn published a report earlier this year detailing the top 50 most sought after brands to work for. A lot of biggies like Amazon and Apple still reign (for now), but the full list might surprise you.
Other roundups worth your perusal include companies with the:
- Most loved perks, including Asana, Airbnb, and Pinterest
- Best employee treatment, including Salesforce and Mars
- Greatest leadership (according to employees), including Intuit and Delta Airlines
- Healthiest work-life balance, including Starbucks, Zillow, and Costco
- Happiest employees, including Zoom, Hubspot, and LinkedIn
Obviously these companies run the gamut—they don’t all look alike in terms of values or reputation—but one thing is for sure: their employer branding is established and embraced.
Q. Is there such a thing as a bad employer brand?
Oh, 100% yes.
Employer branding isn’t just a box to check off, like having a mobile-responsive website or paying taxes. Your employer brand (and consumer brand, too!) are living, breathing ecosystems. This doesn’t only imply that employers can struggle with their reputation in general, but that even positive employer branding can sour. A change of ownership, policies, or societal expectations could change how you’re viewed in an instant.
In general, no reputation is better than a bad reputation but few companies are reputation-less for long.
Q. What should our employer brand strategy include?
When you begin to explore your employer brand—as it is, and as you’d like it to be—you’ll want to consider the following:
What are your goals for your employer brand?
Do you want to improve the caliber of your talent pool, increase the reach for your job postings, retool your culture, impress consumers, or something else? Don’t enter into an employer rebrand unless you have a reason. There are plenty to choose from.
What do you believe your employer brand is now?
It’s important to assess where you are before launching any kind of new business initiative. Gather quantitative data like how long the average employee stays with you, how many people apply for your jobs, and how much your turnover is costing you in dollars. Don’t forget to acquire qualitative data, too. Asking your employees and candidates for feedback is a great place to start.
How can you bridge the gap?
The space between where you are and where you want to be is where the magic happens. Your employer brand strategy should include ways to make your qualitative numbers where they need to be while making sure your story and reputation stay protected.
Who are you doing this for?
Just like with consumer branding, the majority of the work comes with knowing and empathizing with your audience. In this case, your primary audience is prospective employees and your secondary audience is the general public or your consumers. What do they all want from you? What are their values and goals? How can you anticipate what they need? How can you be better for them?
What’s your EVP?
Your EVP—your employer value proposition—is a manifesto about what you can offer to employees. Of course this can include things like up-market compensation, great medical benefits, or work perks. However, you should also include how you’ll help your people grow, who they can expect to work for and alongside, and how you’ll advocate for them.
Once you establish these, you’ll want to explore how to communicate your brand and measure your success, which we’ll address below.
Q. Who is accountable for our employer brand strategy?
This one is tricky. The stock answer is “whoever is responsible for your HR and recruitment duties” but the real answer is “everyone within your company.”
Culture can’t be held in the hands of the few, as it is already occupied by the collective.
Documenting and articulating the employer brand may come down to your recruitment team or hiring managers, but your leaders and every worker you employ will do the work to keep it honest.
Q. How do we document our employer brand internally?
Internally, you’ll document your employer brand alongside other culture docs and brand guidelines. Let your people know what you stand for, what they can expect, and how they can contribute.
Make sure this knowledge is freely given as part of your onboarding process, reviewed frequently, and even displayed in your office. While your culture extends beyond your employer brand, they’re intertwined. Make sure that everything you promise to candidates, you give to employees.
Q. Where and how do we communicate our employer brand, externally?
Everywhere. Unlike a marketing campaign that gets assigned to specific channels like social media or email, your employer brand is subtle and malleable. Yes, you’ll deliberately assert your values and benefits in job postings and on your website, but that doesn’t automatically dictate the response. Your employer brand is also communicated in choices your leaders make, the reputation you’ve earned, and the promises you keep. There’s no hack for that.
You can, however, develop campaigns to promote your employer branding story more deliberately. Here are a few examples of companies promoting their employer brands well.
Q. How can we measure whether our employer brand strategy is working?
Stay involved. Watch your social mentions, research your own company reputation, seek feedback, and respond proactively. Go back to the goals you set in your employer brand strategy development and reassess in 6 months or a year. Look at the quantitative data—the talent pool growth, the reduction in turnover—as well as the anecdotals. Remember that a positive reputation and employer brand are not a destination at which to arrive. You’ll be working on this constantly and forever, if you do it right.
Q. What can we do to improve our employer brand in 2020?
Make it a focus. Ultimately, your employer brand will be as good as your employee satisfaction which is as good as your culture. Those things don’t change overnight.
If your employer brand appears weak, here’s what you can prioritize for the upcoming year:
- Host a work-free retreat or day-in for your whole team and get honest.
- Start having conversations with your candidates and seeking feedback.
- Incorporate an exit interview or review for employees who resign.
- Add employee stories to your content strategy and website.
- Watch top companies who are getting it right. Don’t copy and paste, observe.
- Put your current employees’ satisfaction above all other metrics for one year and see what happens.
While employer branding might seem like a big undertaking, especially for companies whose culture needs work, don’t fret. 2020 will be a big year for all of us and the good news is, we’re in this together. Come back to the Zestful blog for more strategies on how you can increase employee satisfaction, get better feedback, and become one of the best places to work.