Scant attention has been paid to the fact that an employer brand is only relevant to the people who care about it. How they care and what they care about is a function of demographics, geography, and organizational role. Engineers from Georgia are different enough from Accountants in Manhattan that separate branding initiatives are likely necessary.
It may even be the case that the department is the proper level for brand initiatives.
For example, our friends at Starr-Tincup routinely receive an award as one of the best places to work in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. It’s a very cool place with an extraordinary vibe and culture. I’d like to work there. It’s a great place to be a creative contributor.
But, if you imagine for one second that a roughneck from the oil and gas industry or a software designer from the computer industry (both big in that part of Texas) would be happy there, you’ve got another thing coming.
This is why generic employment branding efforts for big companies don’t work very well. Branding is a targeting exercise. The brand is weak to the extent that it is delivered (no matter how inexpensively) to people who aren’t part of the target audience. Messages have to be tuned to (and all about) the people who receive them. If Starr-Tincup were to hit a bunch of oil industry folks with their message, it would turn them off. That’s unnecessary bridge burning.
This is a good news, bad news situation.
For smaller companies, the expense of articulating a message to the tiny audience of people who care means that all of the hard work is in audience development and identification. Larger companies, who can afford to have more generic messages, have an unnatural advantage in the employment market. This means that, for the time being) their cost of brand development is lower on a per applicant basis.
As we move headlong into the era in which everything is measured twice, these notions will start to validate themselves.
The Employer Popularity Index (EPI), an offering from AfterCollege, is worth your attention. AfterCollege powers job boards for and distributes job feeds to over 16,000 college departments around the United States. Using there distribution as a base, they are looking to correlate Employer Brand with college departments to get at the dynamics of Employer Branding for College Recruitment.
The early incarnations of the EPI are a classic mash up of performance data, cloud tags, and maps. By late Spring, the tool will have 100,000 samples from registered poll takers. This is a great demonstration of the ways in which the competitive playing field can be understood.
Of course, the AfterCollege stats are biased towards big name entities. The degree to which Google dwarfs a ten person consulting shop is more than size and money. The underlying brand propels the significance of Google’s employment brand to extraordinary heights.
The EPI, even in this beta format, allows employers with big recruiting budgets to really evaluate the competition on a market by market basis. This should, in turn, foster more targeted recruiting messaging and tactics.
In the end, great 21st Century Branding is all about the end user, not the company doing the branding. In the employment arena, what matters is not what your message is or even how effectively you navigate the Best Employer’s contests. Sustained effectiveness requires a visceral connection between the company and the applicant. AfterCollege’s EPI points the way to the level of detail required to be successful.