Just like employee engagement, the concept of employer brand isn’t new. These days, we just talk about it differently and with a renewed focus. In fact, it’s been around for quite a while. It’s only the relative newbies like myself who have come to realize employer brand embodies everything that we are passionate about: employee value proposition, employee engagement, employee satisfaction and the marketing of that to employees. I’m sure thought leaders — and friends such as Richard Moseley (who wrote the book on employer branding) — will say, “I’ve been talking about this for years!” But you don’t always learn until you’ve actually tried. Here are some mistakes (that I’ve heard of or experienced myself) you should avoid to ensure you develop a strong employer brand that has you standing out in the crowd.
Mistake 1: Having too many people and not enough direction
Sometimes you don’t have enough supporters and at other times you have too many. Inevitably, you end up with that often repeated question: Who owns employer brand?
Employer branding is the trifecta of HR, Marketing and Communications. There is no disputing this. Up for debate is whether the owner of the employer brand is your CMO or your CHRO. It could be argued that since the longer tail is the infusion within HR programs, that the “ownership” then belongs to HR — with a
very extremely close partnership with Marketing. (No offense intended to those brand marketing peeps out there.)
Regardless, it’s essential to bring HR, Marketing and Communications stakeholders together to develop an employer brand strategy that infuses and activates consistently within these areas. If you can’t get everyone to understand who owns it, who leads it and their roles in activating it, then you end up with too many cooks in the kitchen or you will feel like a dog constantly chasing its tail (is that enough idioms for you?). Either way, you’re going to stifle progress or paralyze it completely. And lose a lot of hair in the process. Avoid.
Mistake 2: Misunderstanding the relationship between employer brand and corporate brand
Okay. So this is something that comes up ALL. THE. TIME. Some companies have such a strong corporate brand, that they don’t really need a separate employer brand (e.g., Apple, Google >> Innovation). But it’s rare that a corporate brand is strong enough to speak to your reputation as both a company and as an employer.
It’s not uncommon to hear things like “we can’t have two brands” OR “why is an employer brand necessary when we have a corporate brand.”
And questions like: “How does this work with my existing messaging?” OR “Do I have to put it everywhere?”
Even better, questions like “Is it employer brand or is it employer branding?”
I do not know the answer to all these questions. But I do know that “brand” is a noun and “branding” is a verb.
I also know that your employer brand generally markets to prospective and current employees. Your corporate brand markets to everyone else. Your employer brand influences internal and external perceptions and your reputation as an employer. Your corporate brand influences internal and external perceptions and your reputation as a company.
The employer brand should always ladder up to the corporate brand. It’s equally important that the employer brand messaging aligns with your company’s overall mission and vision — another compelling reason why Marketing is a very close partner.
The chart below explains the relationship of the employer brand to the corporate brand, and how it aligns to your existing vision, mission and messaging.
Mistake 3: Underestimating the importance of the employee value proposition
The entire premise of an employer brand is founded on the employee value proposition (EVP). The employer brand is the packaging, marketing and communication of that value proposition. As you develop your employer brand pillars and messaging, it is essential that you constantly refer back to the EVP to make sure the brand continues to reflect the differentiators and aspirations identified. You may need to adjust and modify based on the changing needs of the business.
If candidates don’t feel that what is promised during the candidate experience is what is received as an employee, then you lose all credibility because you’re creating inauthentic experiences. Don’t do this. Otherwise, you’ve defeated one of the primary purposes of your employer brand.
Mistake 4: Focusing only on recruitment marketing
Just recently, I was tweeting back and forth with Josh Friedland from Phenom People who made the comment that my focus was on recruitment marketing (don’t mean to call you out, Josh!). I was very quick to point out to him that I am not recruitment marketing, but employer brand marketing — which focuses on the end-to-end experience from candidate to employee to alum.
When you consider the employee lifecycle, recruiting or talent acquisition is logically where you would activate the employer brand first. But, recruiting is only the beginning. There’s a whole employee experience that follows (see the below diagram).
Some could even argue that the recruiting component is easy (ducking my head to avoid any flying shoes from recruiters) because you know exactly where you need to activate (e.g., career site, social media sites, job boards, applicant systems, talent relationship management systems, etc.). The bigger challenge is operationalizing and sustaining it within the employee experience — activating not only through internal communication channels but also in HR programs.
It could very well be that your primary objective is to focus on recruitment marketing only (whether it be due to resource or budget constraints). That’s okay. But you should consider that you’re not reaping the full benefits of a strong employer brand. If one of your objectives is to attract and retain employees, then you really must focus on both the candidate experience (attract) and the overall employee experience (retain).
Mistake 5: Thinking in terms of engagement versus experience
Some companies structure their initiatives around employee engagement programs such as employee advocacy, and use the strength of the employer brand as a key performance indicator (KPI) for employee engagement. But, employer branding is so much more than simply making brand advocates out of employees.
In actuality, employer brand is the program, employee advocacy is the tactic, and employee engagement is the outcome.
It’s a slight nuance, but an important one.
Employee engagement is “a moment in time” opportunity. There are many other touch points within the overall employee experience that are ideal opportunities to infuse employer brand. Some are within HR programs (e.g., annual enrollment, recognition, learning, diversity & inclusion) and others fall within internal communications (community giving, external news coverage, and marketing campaigns). And if your employee engagement numbers go up then you know you have a strong employer brand.
If you’re still noodling over this, think of it this way: Every employee has one employee journey (experience) with your company. Within that journey, there are multiple engagement touch points but there is only one journey. See below for example engagement touch points all through out the employee experience.
Mistake 6: Passing on the opportunity to segment for multiple audiences
When you think in terms of only the candidate experience and the employee experience, you are generally focusing on only two main target audiences. In the beginning, this may be the best approach. However, as you further develop and refine your employer brand, don’t pass up on the opportunity to segment for additional audiences, both externally and internally.
Develop personas to identify the qualities and characteristics of your target audiences, identify the value propositions that resonate with those audiences, align your messaging based on these drivers / attractors, and then build a communications channel mix based on where those audiences can be found.
Mistake 7: Measuring outcomes based on HR metrics only
There are many different metrics that can be used to measure the strength and impact of your employer brand. But, one of the biggest challenges is to create an employer brand measurement dashboard that includes KPIs that can be directly attributed to the employer brand work. And employer brand can be measured through more than just the annual employee opinion survey or through an employee engagement score. Identify other metrics from Marketing and Communications too. After all, if you’re going to activate and infuse the employer brand within various programs of HR, Marketing and Communications, then it stands to reason that you would include KPIs from these areas too.
For example, while “retention” is an often used HR metric (and an important one), there are many other variables that go into why an employee stays with a company that are not necessarily attributed to the employer brand. On the other hand, employer review rankings / lists, focus groups, survey results (candidate, new hire, and employee surveys) as well as employee advocacy and intranet content are all KPIs that can be directly attributed to your employer brand.
If you launch an employee advocacy program, you can use social media data points such as Reach, Reactions, Impressions and Likes to measure what employer brand message themes resonate externally and what resonates with employees internally based on the content shared.
Below are a combination of metrics that can be used to measure the strength and impact of your employer brand. Be sure to also check out the employer brand measurement dashboard.