HRExaminer v3.14 April 6, 2012
Table of Contents
Dr. David Kippen returns to the HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board this week. Dr. Kippen is CEO and Chief Strategist of Evviva Brands. With a background spanning advertising and communications and a client base spanning the globe, Dr. Kippen is recognized as among the top thought leaders in brand strategy. David has held leadership roles in several top associations that support the HR and communications professions. He is currently a member of SHRM’s Performance Management Task Force and an active member of the Council of Communication Management. Full Bio »
3 Important Steps for Employment Branding
by David Kippen
Employer branding is growing up.
Ten years ago, the focus was on explaining that companies had both product brands and employer brands. Our clients were all called recruiters (or worked under the umbrella of talent acquisition titles). Recruiters worked with colleagues in marketing. But, as a general rule, marketing and HR didn’t get along.
Five years ago, the focus was on connecting all the marketing messages together. New titles came on the scene–like employer brand manager, and employment marketing manager. And marketing folks started finding their way into HR to fill them. Though these marketers often struggled to understand the complexities of HR–”you have how many audiences?”–they brought a number of important skills in agency management, and a strong sense of discipline to the client side of the equation.
When the recession pushed hiring into a deep freeze about four years ago, employer branding shifted from attraction to engagement. Initially, nobody was worrying about retention. As a result, internal and external employer brand practitioners began working with communications professionals and their often small, but always strategically-focused, budgets. Like the addition of marketers to HR, this shift brought important elements into the mix, and shifted the focus away from recruitment and external messaging to more existential questions about strategy, culture, corporate meaning and leadership.
Today, employer branding is on the verge of what may be the final step in its evolution. It has come from a loosely applied idea borrowed from marketing to a true professional specialty, one characterized by a commonly-accepted body of knowledge, body of practice, standards of measurement, and span of control. But before this can happen, at least three further evolutions must take place.
1. Employer branding must complete its separation from employment marketing. Today, whether it’s client side or provider side, there’s a stunning lack of clarity on where the employer brand ends and employment marketing begins.
Madison Avenue doesn’t have this problem:
- Brand shops develop brands. They do research. They work with leadership to understand corporate strategy and develop long-range brand plans with their organizational counterparts. With this insight in hand, they develop the brand identity (name, personality, purpose, voice, attributes, logo or logotype, brand line), brand strategy, brand guidelines and a limited number of brand assets.
- Ad agencies then use these assets to develop creative concepts from which they develop campaigns. They build websites. Develop account plans. Buy media. Create events. Measure traffic. And report campaign results.
In our space, this lack of clarity comes from a number of directions. The field’s new. There aren’t clear standards or measures (more about this in a moment). Many client-side practitioners are unsure of what they should ask for from–and what they can expect of–their external partner. Ad agencies add to the confusion by positioning themselves as one-stop-shops despite the inherent conflict of interest. (Media commissions are the closest thing to free money there is. So where the agency’s developing the brand strategy, the strategy will always point to spending of questionable value.)
The solution here is straightforward. As the distinction between employer branding and employment marketing becomes clearer, clients will seek the most efficient, best source of expertise for each discrete activity. Simply put, they’ll purchase brand work from brand shops and buy ad work from ad agencies.
2. Employer branding must be measured by metrics that matter. The thirst among clients for employer branding ROI is as endless as the target is illusive. It’s also largely pointless. In employer branding, ROI is the wrong answer to the wrong question. Though the typical investment in a recruitment campaign is a fraction of the spend for a product campaign, there are valid numbers that flow through the investment cycle. Some of these–like time to fill, cost per hire–are clear and straightforward measures. They’re blunt instruments and don’t give an accurate picture of causality. But all other things being more or less equal, they (and other similar measures ) are indicative of marketing effectiveness.
Unfortunately, these numbers don’t have that much to do with the employer brand itself. There are a number of ways of measuring employer brands. Through qualitative work it’s possible to get really good consensus about the brand’s heartland. This can be validated by quantitative studies inside and outside the organization. But there’s no industry consensus yet around what measures to apply universally. Until consensus emerges, the many self-proclaimed employer brand experts will continue to muddy the water.
3. Employer brand practitioners must specialize. Today’s generalist culture is the combination of employer branding’s ad agency roots and the field’s youth. Over time, we will see real professional specialization. As in brand agencies, expect to see expertise, and perhaps specialized credentials, in at least research, creative expression and strategy. Once these are in place, it will be possible to select a brand team, not just a brand “guru.” That’s important, because quite simply, it takes a team with specialized skills to get it right.
There’s a lot of ground to cover before these three thresholds are behind us. But there are good signs of progress in every direction. Clients are becoming much more selective and savvy about the branding professionals they engage, focusing on case studies, on-the-ground experience, and referrals to get past the spin. Ad agency offerings are being starved of oxygen– many of yesterday’s brand consulting “experts” have smoothly transitioned to “social media consultant” titles–and this trend shows every sign of picking up speed. Employer branding is showing up on the conference circuit for audiences well outside recruitment. And groups of specialist practitioners are forming strong, compelling offerings around employer brand research, strategy and creative.
The field won’t be fully grown in a day or a week. But it’s good to see we won’t be waiting a lifetime, either.
Please welcome Felix Wetzel to the HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board. Felix hails from Evenbase, a global digital recruitment group responsible for brands such as JobSite.com and Broadbean Technology where he leads strategy development. Felix is a leading commentator on digital marketing, social media and the future of recruitment whose career has included marketing and journalism roles. Full Bio »
Employment Branding – the Emperor’s New Clothes?
by Felix Wetzel
The term ‘employment branding’ and its current interpretations are as misguided as many approaches to ‘corporate social responsibility’ and ‘social enterprise’. Social enterprise in essence is operating a good business that provides work, spreads the wealth and takes the community into consideration. After all, the healthier the business, the healthier its contribution is to wider society. The ultimate CSR program of any company is to grow and be healthy and spread the wealth and value through employment and work.
It’s the same with employment branding. Instead of focusing on employment branding I would suggest focusing on enabling the growth of a fantastic culture and the building of an engaged workforce. That should come as natural as keeping the community in mind when doing business. Too much emphasis on employment branding just gets in the way of building a great team or returning to the excitement and passion we all felt when the company was in the start-up phase.
And here is why:
- “The value of a brand can now be defined as the number of active participants in a company’s network” – Regis McKenna, Total Access, 2002
- “The capital is in the people and not in the enterprise” – Lord Rothermere (Chairman DMGT), 2012
- “In an increasingly connected world the importance of institutions in the public diplomacy process will diminish while the importance of citizens as diplomats and key influencers will increase” – Felix Wetzel, Brand England, 2006.
Let’s weave these 3 strands together:
The people acting on behalf of your brand are the brand and the brand is defined by the conversation people have about the brand and by the interactions they experience with the brand. In our connected world, enabled and driven by social and mobile, the significance of person to person diplomacy, peer to peer interactions is increasing and is more impactful and effective than traditional diplomacy. This can be translated into ‘direct experience is more important than communicated experience’. The citizens of the brand are your employees, the most active participants in a companies’ network.
Therefore it makes (business-) sense to invest into building a very engaged workforce. A very engaged workforce is built (and above average results are delivered) when strategy and culture
go hand in hand, reinforce each other and therefore bring the purpose of a brand to life. A great culture and a great purpose result in stimulated employees who proactively talk about and live the culture day in day out, whilst relentlessly delivering against the shared purpose. In turn the company becomes a magnet for top performers. For example, Zappos are not well known for their employment brand, but for the culture they built and the experience they deliver.
All efforts that are poured into an employment brand would be better utilised in building a better company culture and identity (joined with a clear strategy and a compelling purpose), which will be the best employment branding exercise in itself and rids business of another unnecessary complication.
Over the years, we’ve spent a ton of time talking about employment branding. In its various aspects, employment branding is a key part of the equation for long term recruiting and talent management. If you aren’t willing to step up to the demands of web recruiting, you might as well outsource the function. Employment Branding is the craft of being so completely organized that you are ready with the right message for the right person when she comes along.
Traffic Development is the yin to the Employment Branding yang. Without adequate quantities of the right traffic (on the web and through the recruiting shop), there is little chance that the right quality of candidate will emerge in your database. Not all traffic is created equal.
Of course, you can and should purchase traffic from the big resellers. The most conventional means of buying visitors is to advertise on a variety of Job Boards. The idea, however, is not to simply dump those names into the Applicant Tracking System. Rather, once you have identified a potential candidate (ie, they want to apply to your job on some Job Board), you need to get them to go through your site. In other words, it’s worth the time and energy to work around the Job Board and send applicants to the URL on your site.
(All of this, by the way, is complete nonsense if you are unwilling or unable to invest in the necessary analysis and development associated with building a solid employment brand. If you can not afford a real website, dump the hard work of sifting quality on the people who should be recruiting. It appears to be the standard way to cheap out of effective performance.)
In most recruiting operations, more names in the database means less quality. The idea behind high performance recruiting is to subvert the natural tendency of the web to fill your computer up with junk. The ideal is that each new name raises the overall quality of the candidates with whom you have relationships.
Current practices do just the opposite. Each new name reduces the overall quality of the database.
Some people are lucky. If you have a brand like IBM, Coke, Nike or a hundred or so others, traffic is easy. Based on name recognition alone, many well known companies fill their databases with a hundred thousand new candidates a month. If you are not fortunate enough to be a celebrity, the work is a bit harder.
A combination of banner ads, reciprocal links, targeted content, search engine placement, keyword development, Job Board advertising and outright traffic purchases should be wielded to generate the right traffic flows. Once visitors cross the threshold of your website, the first goal should be to determine whether or not you want a longer relationship with them. Then you can let them go on to apply for a job.
Brands only matter to the people who care about them
Yesterday, we said “Employment Branding is the craft of being so completely organized that you are ready with the right message for the right person when she comes along.” Let’s take that a bit further today.
A brand is a relationship.
Brands only matter to the people who care about them. Mention the brand name outside of the circle of people who have the relationship and you will receive shoulder shrugs. Mention it inside the circle and you can spark a conversation full of passion and opinion. The only brands that matter are the ones that people care about.
The theory and development of branding has been reserved, historically, for companies that could afford large broadcast media campaigns. The best examples of brand marketing are consumer product companies, from automobiles to popular music to varieties of American Cheese. The term brand is used to cover a wide range of circumstances from name recognition to deep affinity.
The notion of a brand has been extended to cover some surprising things. FastCompany , the periodical manifesto for those who want to change organizations from within, extends the concept as a metaphor for personal marketing. Peppers and Rogers, the authors of popular books on database and relationship marketing, move the concept to tightly grouped members of a database.
It is useful to think about branding as an early stage technology. Purely a 20th Century invention, branding, like many first generation technologies, began in organizations that could afford clumsy and inefficient approaches because of their sheer size. For the past 70 years, branding has been a game of extensive spending to attract large numbers of people to a single product or company.
Today, however, the tools needed to build very clear, very small niche oriented brands are readily available. Like much of marketing, the tools are now available from the desktop. This “downward evolution” of marketing, covered in our earlier work, creates both expanded opportunity and expanded responsibility at the department and operating unit level.
Changing demographics create a new requirement for the development of Relationships between Employers and demographically defined pools of candidates. This process, which is an outgrowth of the emerging changes in the basic concept of management are nothing less than a redefinition of the boundaries of the organization.
The combination of need and trend is fortuitous. As the generational labor shortage unfolds its consequences, the competition for employees will become increasingly precise. Over the next several years, we will continue to witness a series of increasingly successful branding exercises that focus clearly on the branding of subcomponents of the organization.
What makes Company X the employer of choice for Unix professionals is unlikely to be the dynamic that attracts candidates in accounting. A brand, as it is commonly understood is a good place to start. But, the focus on being a generic “employer of choice” is an inadequate vision for effective long term labor supply management.
Employment Branding Fundamentals 3
Good friend Jason Seiden says, “Employment branding is not about the brand, it’s about the company.” It’s a helpful distinction. When branding experts look at the Employment Brand question, they see opportunities to extend the influence of the company’s brand. When talent acquisition people look at it, they see opportunities to make hiring more effective.
Seiden’s distinction helps focus on the meat of the Employment Branding question. Where the Brand, as envisioned and managed by marketing, is a monolithic thing, the Employment Brand is distributed. The Brand is the province of the customer experience. The Employment Brand is the province of the workforce experience (past, present and future). People can have experiences of either, both or none.
That’s why the range of approaches to Employment Branding is so wide. At one extreme are the folks who think about standardization of messages, fonts, color palettes and repeatability. At the other end of the spectrum are the players who think that it’s closer to a job by job story.
Jennifer McClure, widely known for her work in Employment Branding, tells great stories about the importance of having a standard script in the Recruiting operation. In a recent conversation, she told me of her experience with a company that had no concept of Employment Brand when she arrived on the scene. By teaching the Recruiting team to operate with standardized repeatable modules about culture and the company environment, she was able to focus the message of the entire organization. The result was better managed expectations from recruiters and candidates both.
The inside of every company is different from its outside. The inherent paradox is that the two, while intrinsically related, bear little or no resemblance to each other. The Brand is packaging, positioning and narrative for the outside of the company. The Employment Brand does the same for the inside. One is heads, the other tails.
The more you look at the question, the more you wonder why there isn’t a broadly accepted development path. The HR world is so full of best practices and development patterns that you’d be tempted to believe that the same would happen in employment branding. Certainly, there are lots of different models of complexity and approach.
While there is some movement around the employment brand community to define a maturity model, there is nothing currently available that helps companies navigate the full spectrum of choice. And, that doesn’t address the amazing potential emerging as Big Data helps us understand additional layers of the employment market conversation.
At the low end of the continuum, companies standardize their stories and strive to make pay, benefits and work environments consistent and competitive. At the far end, labor supply is managed with a clear understanding about the market realities for this job in this city. The whole equation gets very interesting when you try to apply it to complex organizations. The discipline varies with scale.
There is much to be done in the development of a solid Employment Branding framework. Stay tuned.