Developing an Employment Brand Start with a Long Look in the Mirror


Where to Start

When you work in a client-driven industry like employer marketing/recruitment advertising, you have to be nimble (and capable) enough to jump in at many different places in the brand development process. Some organizations really want to do it the right way, and begin with lots of data from employee surveys, focus groups, market and competitive analysis, and more. However, as anyone in our industry knows, time and/or budget often don’t allow for that type of background and scope. So what do you do?

I always think a good place to start is with an honest look in the mirror at your organization. What do you do well as an employer? Where do you fall short? What is your candidate experience like? What is your reputation as an employer and is it accurate?

Keeping it Real

The problem, and where a lot of organizations get into trouble, comes when the employer brand reflects not what the employee value proposition truly is, but an unrealistic version of what they want it to be.

In over 20 years in recruitment communications, I’ve seen this more times than I care to count. A huge corporation touts that, well shucks, we’re just one big, happy family (which I guess is true if by family you mean a dysfunctional unit full of mutual hostility). The small suburban hospital, which could get a lot of goodwill and mileage emphasizing their history and commitment to their community, instead feels the need to tout that they have better medical technology and physicians than the Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins combined.  The rural Midwest college you’ve never heard of says they have a faculty and campus that make Harvard and Oxford sick with jealousy.

The obvious problem with any type of pie-in-the-sky employer brand is 1) No one believes it and 2) You’ve created something integral to your recruiting process on a shaky foundation.

The best employer brands I see are reflections of the organization’s culture.  Obviously, as an advertising guy, I’m all for the idea of putting your best foot forward to “sell” an employer. And I also know that if you do take that long look in the mirror, you’re going to see things about yourself as an employer that aren’t easily fixed. Still, a brand, at its most basic, is a promise. What is it you can promise candidates about working for your organization?

How & Why Keeping Your Brand Promise is Important

Do companies lie or break that promise? Sure, all the time. But realize that when you do, you’re only hurting yourself (again, my feeling is most people won’t buy it in the first placebut if they do, they will be disappointed and tell their friends).

Here’s a personal example from the marketing world. A big bank stresses in their commercials and marketing how friendly they are. Friendly, friendly, friendly.  The goal of the brand is to show that they are not at all like the typical bank with the rude and impersonal tellers. They greet you when you walk in like an old friend, go through car washes with you, stay open late just for you.

Years ago our company did some banking business with them and I had occasion to go to one branch often, sometimes several days a week. Each time I walked in I was treated as if I was about to rob the place. They asked for two forms of ID even though the tellers and I knew each other. Once I had two things to do there, forgot about one of them, realized my mistake and came right back to the same teller. Of course, she asked me for both forms of ID again. I can’t say if my experience was typical (it probably wasn’t) but I know that for me they clearly broke the promise of the brand.

My belief is that every organization has positive attributes that make it an attractive place to work. Those attributes may not be esoteric things like enlightenment or the fulfillment of all your career goals, and that’s okay. The fact that a job is close to home and has decent benefits is more than a legitimate reason for many people to want to work there.

Another example: We recently finished some employee testimonial videos for a client. I believe they will be very powerful and effective precisely because they’re not full of rehearsed corporate jargon (aren’t they the worst?). Instead the employees talk honestly about what they like about the company as well as the challenges. When an employee says we work really hard and often stay late, or you have to be able to excel in an environment where you don’t receive a lot of direction, or we’re constantly measured on our performance, you’re more likely to believe that the great things they say about working there are true.

When it comes to your employment brand, start by being “real,” then work on selling what’s good about your organization.