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HRExaminer Radio

Guest: Crystal Miller, CEO of Branded Strategies
Episode: 164
Air Date: March 30, 2016


Crystal Miller is the CEO of Branded Strategies, co-hosts a daily HR podcast called DriveThruHR and has over a decade of experience working with some of the world’s biggest brands. She has worked with start-ups to Fortune 15 companies on the intersection of HR & marketing; creating campaigns and strategies that solve business problems, tell compelling corporate stories and share the meaning of work in engaging ways that drive results. In addition, she has created more social communities than any other practitioner in the US and has led both the internal HR function for a regional real estate construction firm like mls vancouver, as well as the largest real estate recruiting practice for the leading single-site search firm in the United States.

She has been a reliable expert source on the topics of talent attraction, talent acquisition, talent management, and digital strategy for multiple media outlets including CBS, Hanley-Wood, Mashable, and ABC. As an industry leader, she is recognized for expertise in employer branding, recruitment strategy & marketing, social media, community building, digital strategic solutions and speaks globally on the same.


Audio MP3





Begin transcript

John Sumser: Good morning and welcome to HRExaminer Radio. I’m your host, John Sumser, and today we’re coming to you from beautiful Los Angeles, California. I passed the [inaudible 00:00:39] on my way to the magnificent W Hotel in Westwood and saw Ellie-Mae and Jethro and know I’m in Beverly Hills.


Today we’re going to be talking with Crystal Miller. Crystal is the CEO of an amazing little company called Branding Strategies. I happen to get a piece of paper and also notice that she has the title “Elevated Advisor” which I think is some sort of … Perhaps it’s a religious accomplishment, I’m not sure. Crystal is both the CEO of Branding Strategies and we’ll ask her about being an Elevated Advisor.


Crystal, how are you?


Crystal Miller: I’m pretty fantastic. As it turns out, I got engaged last night so I’m a pretty happy camper.


John Sumser: That’s great, and you got engaged to somebody you want to marry?


Crystal Miller: You know, I think that’s how that works. For anyone that doesn’t know in Our Space, I’ve been dating Dwayne Lay for the last year and some odd months. We’re fully-formed people and said let’s be fully-formed people together and so did I. That’s a little macabre for first thing in the morning, but I haven’t had coffee, so that’s that with that. You were at our dinner last night when we got engaged, so it’s kind of cool.


John Sumser: Yup, if you can’t have coffee I guess getting engaged is a good second. Would you take a moment and introduce yourself?


Crystal Miller: Sure, I am theonecrystal online, you can find me pretty much anywhere under that handle. I’ve been in Our Space since the HR and Recruiting space since 2004, and I’ve been marketing since 1996. I’ve been around the block for a little while. I found that I feel in love with the intersection of HR and marketing. It’s my happy place. What does that look like? Branding, recruitment, marketing, and talent attraction strategies.


I work with startups to fortune … I’ve got a Fortune 5 client at this point. Every size, every company that we all have the same thing. We want to bring on the best people, and we want them to be happy and productive, ideally. I work with companies on how to achieve that. Then I also, in the other arm of our company’s business, we have a HR technology practice that works with HR technology marketing specifically for vendors and technology companies that are looking to be in that intersection of HR and marketing. Employer branding recruitment marketing, and talent acquisition.


John Sumser: That’s pretty big universe, and it covers both sides of the market. Buys and sellers of the market, and you’re selling to both. That’s like an old arms dealing company. The key is to sell to both sides. I bet that runs in the family, I met your dad last night and he was in the defense industry, so of course you’re selling arms to both sides.


Crystal Miller: He worked for Techstrong for many years as an engineer and analyst. I’m very lucky he actually works with my company now as an analyst. Cracker-jack smart, and I’m not just saying that just because he’s my dad. I think you guys will see him around in the coming months, he’s been through a bunch that’s really cool.


It’s a big universe, but it’s related. When you look at the technology that helps to power these organizations in their quest to find talent, some of them are better than others. I found that a lot of them are actually better than they market themselves to be. Being able to work with companies, to share the same kind of storyline that you would with talent.


What’s the meaning of the work of the people that you’re trying to hire? What’s the point of the technology that you’re trying to use? What can help you accomplish? If you use it right, what happens? Those are the questions that we try to help companies answer, and then share with the marketplace.


John Sumser: That’s interesting. It’s related to the work that I do, which is looking at just the technology and the worker.


This thing, this Elevated Advisor thing, does that mean you have a special stool you carry around to stand on? What’s an Elevated Advisor?


Crystal Miller: That’s cute. I’m actually part of the advisory board for Elevated Careers by eHarmony. Which is great. They’re launching this week, which is a very big accomplishment for them that’s three years in the making. It’s a big product. There’s a group of six of us that all have different roles on their advisory board, it’s an influence marketing board. It is truly helping them better understand the marketplace that they’re working. My particular role for them is around customer positioning, which makes sense given what I do. In full disclosure, my organization is also the agency of record for them. We also work with their marketing.


John Sumser: That’s real interesting. What do you know about Elevated Careers? What’s the basic feel there?


Crystal Miller: I would say I know a whole lot. The basic deal there is eHarmony, that company that powers Elevated Careers, is a relationship company. When you look look at their expertise, it really has been about building successful relationships. Dr. Warren has been the CEO of that company for a very long time. He retired at some point, and came back because he’s like, “You know what, relationships matter in other verticals too and I want to help build that.” He met Dan Ericsson and the two of them were having a conversation, and Dan Ericsson was saying, “I know there’s a way to have better relationships at work, not necessarily just with your peers but to have a better working relationship with your employer. Work should not something that, frankly, sucks. A lot of people hate their jobs, and if they don’t hate their jobs they’re just engaged with their jobs about 70%. There’s got to be a better way, there’s got to be a way that you can match people in a career that fits not just their skills, but their work value, their personality, how they think, how the function.”


Dr. Warren agreed and they started to work with the chief data scientist for eHarmony, which is Steve Carter. They put the premise of the algorithms that eHarmony has built with their personal relationship product, and took that data science … The way that algorithm worked and created Elevated Careers. New set of drivers, the algorithm is specific to Elevated Careers, it’s a really fantastic product.


I like it because it does something nothing else has done. Which is pulled compatibility to the top of the funnel before you’ve invested a lot time and money, and emotion into someone that may not really be very good fit for your organization. It’s an expensive mistake for companies.


John Sumser: Do we know if this works? The idea is matching people to companies like eHarmony is matching up people to people, is that the idea?


Crystal Miller: Yeah, that’s the idea.


John Sumser: To do that, the company has to fill out a questionnaire, and then people fill out questionnaires. How do the mechanics work?


Crystal Miller: What was the last question, I’m sorry.


John Sumser: How do the mechanics work when you go to do this new thing that Elevated Careers does? I’m still trying to get a picture of what it is. Is it a job board, or is it an assessment system, or how does it work?


Crystal Miller: I think a combination thereof. Here’s how it works in its pure form. Let’s start with the job seeker side. You’re going to go to and you’re going to put in your zip code or your title, I forget which. It’s going to key off the assessment. It’s going to take you through a ten to twelve minutes depending on how much you ruminate, maybe 15 for you John, because you’re a thinker. It goes through all of these different questions that are going to assess your work your individual work values, and your personality. It’s going to match up with how you have assessed your current company’s culture.


It’s all very much driven on self-awareness and perception, but it’s your individual perception of how you work and what’s important to you. At the end of that assessment, you’re going to get a compatibility report that says based off of your stated work values and your stated personality, this is the kind of environment you’re most likely to be compatible with. Now, would you like to [inaudible 00:10:02]. Then you get to search for jobs.


Because it is a new product, a beta product and they wanted to make sure that they had enough to offer candidates from go, they have partnered with Simply Hired which has provided them with 2.5 million jobs that workers are able to assess their compatibility against. Which is pretty exciting.


On the employer side, the process is a little more involved, or can be. For our foundation partners, they have the ability to go to and get what’s called an Elevated Engagement report. What happens is they go in and say, “Hey I’m interesting, I want to learn more about this. I think compatibility may be something that we actually care about in our company.” They’ll do a survey. They’ll survey the organization, not the recruiter, Elevated will actually go and work with the organization to survey the existing employee population to find out what their employee population perceives the culture to be. Which is probably the purest way to get a culture assessment, correctly because you an ask a leadership what’s your culture, that’s what they want the culture to be. Not necessarily what the culture is. You need to know what the culture is to be able to hire effectively, you do.


When that ends, you get this engagement report and you have the ability to put your jobs into it, and search for candidates that are compatible with your stated culture. It’s really cool. The engagement report is actually the model and the [inaudible 00:11:42], it’s both by IOS. We’ll get into that a little more today on analyst day and you guys will see more about it in the coming weeks. It’s a really interesting product, and there’s not anything that looks just like it on the marketplace. They are the first to pull this out.


John Sumser: I think that might be right, but who’s the customer?


Crystal Miller: Frankly, they have two sets of customers. This product was built by a company that’s traditionally been B to C. They do have a job seeker focus on side, and on the other side, on the HR side, you’re probably your customer is going to be recruitment or heads of HR; because the ultimate impact … When you look at this, what’s the meaning of this, what happens if it’s done right, where you see the savings. You’re going to see some if it in talent acquisition, but the real savings is going to come through your reduction of regrettable turn over. Industry-wide that like an 11 billion dollar drain on the United States. In organizations, that’s hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars a year, when it’s done correctly.


John Sumser: That’s interesting. That sounds like that will be a bit of a challenge up front because those two possible places to sell are very different sales.


Crystal Miller: They are.


John Sumser: That means that the first while is going to be about figuring that part of it out. What a great project to be a part of. I’m pretty sure that this is either the beginning of something really really powerful or the end of something. I’m delighted to be able to get to witness this moment, where the product launches, that’s pretty cool. What does –


Crystal Miller: You said that yesterday. Before we trigger off of that, you said that yesterday in conversation, or the day before yesterday. I think you’re probably right, it probably is the end of something and the beginning of something. What those two things are maybe are different than what we might think they’d be, but I really think it’s the end of looking at recruiting as being transactional. At least that’s my hope. I hope that this launch and that this subsequent product in the market helps drive people to look at recruiting as more than just putting a butt in a seat. I hate that phrase so much and it’s so ingrained in that mentality is ingrained into our recruiting philosophy.


It’s such a miss, because yeah recruiting brings these people in, but everything that matter for bringing that person in happens after they onboard. Point of having them, the meaning of their work, the impact to the organization lasts so much longer than the recruiting process. If we could start to look at that as an investment from the day we open a wreck as opposed to this is a process that we have to get through in order to start working. I really think that will help change the efficacy, not of just recruiting, but of employment as well.


That’s a little lofty to think that any one tech could help facilitate that shift in perception, but I really hope that it does.


John Sumser: I think it’s more than a symptom perception. When I look at the problem you’re talking about what I see is, onboarding as the set of rituals associate with joining the tribe, and it’s a very complicated … Generally there’s some hazing involved in it. Often there’s a lot of learning of the mythology of the company involved in it. There’s a whole lot of learning who’s ring you have to kiss and who you can ignore. All of that stuff what happens when you join a new culture is what happens inside of onboarding. It’s good to have a higher likelihood that people will fit, but the onboarding process is arduous for a reason. It’s a weening out process, and sometimes weening out means that you have infant mortality right in the moment; and sometimes it means you have infant mortality a couple years out. I’m going to be surprised if this thing is important in that way, because it’s such a –


Crystal Miller: I don’t know that it will be important onboarding, but what I’m saying is I think that sometimes we look at recruiting as the let’s hurry up and get someone in process. Look at the metrics, we’re judged off of time to fill. What a ridiculous metric. When you really sit down and think about, time to fill has more importance than quality of hire. I look at that, and honestly, every once in a while I just want to go, “What the hell, man?”


When you think about quality of hire, that should be the stronger metric. That should be the more important, it’s just so much harder to calculate. It’s so much harder to quantify. Recruiting focuses in on what? Time to fill, cost to hire.


This product and other products can help with those areas. It feels like a mess. Again, my hope for this is that, if anything, not only do I hope that they have a successful product and they’re wildly successful because it’s part of my job, but I hope that brings around to a different point of conversation. Let me start talking about things that matter.


John Sumser: I think that would be amazing. I think it’s going to be interestingly challenging to differentiate this product from all of the things that are going on in the field of assessment and predictive analytics. This comes at a time when there’s an explosion in offerings in that area. The great thing is, this is the only brand of substance in that horse race. It’s a thick pack of players. I was at a conference in Minneapolis, a local conference in Minneapolis, where there were a thousand people interested in this topic. They had a kajillion little start-ups, and lots of methodology, and lots of curiosity. It was like recruiting was in the early days. The entire question is how do you understand the fit and the duration of an employees relationship with the company. With lots and lots of different analytics being associated with that. It’s a really really exciting time, and the primary advantage, it seems to me, that these folks have are that people know their brand and there’s some trust associated with the brand. That’s a very interesting place to start building. Is that how you see it?


Crystal Miller: I thinks that’s a fair statement.


John Sumser: What else is in the crystal bag of projects and interests? What are you working on?


Crystal Miller: Working on several things. Some of the things that I’m working on that I’m really having a lot of fun with is the recruitment marketing campaign for a pharmaceutical organization, bio-technical firm, really. They do biotech and pharmaceuticals, so that’s been interesting. Working on, how do you attract scientists? What does that look like? From a creative perspective, messaging fun. More than that, it’s the company’s first real foray into it. It’s their first walking through all of this. So teaching them, “Okay here’s how you do it. This is what that looks like.” Hatching them get excited as they start to put some of the stuff together and put this program in place is such an honor, really. You get in the weeds of it and there’s where you’re like, “Ugh, this is so trying. It’s so much faster to do myself.” It’s so much for fulfilling when you’re able to work with an organization and help them build that. It’s the teach a man to fish moment.


We often look at it from the standpoint of the fisherman. Once they’ve learned how to do it, and they can fish for themselves. Being able to play that mentor and teacher role is really exciting. It’s a very fulfilling part of my job.


John Sumser: What are the things that you say to attract scientists? I assume in biotech and pharma that the competition is pretty severe, so you must have to say some impressing things. Like, “Hey come use our fur-lined microscopes.”


Crystal Miller: No you’re probably … Look, everybody likes cool machines, there’s a reason that GE has an entire campaign called Bad Ass Machinery. No, what you’re talking about with scientists, what gets them excited, is the science. A lot of scientists, particularity in the biochemical field, they become scientists because they want to do and see things that no one’s done before. They want to discover, they want to … Innovate is not a buzzword for them. There are whole careers around trying to innovate a molecule. Which blows my mind, but I don’t have that discipline, I couldn’t do it. You talk about that, so being able to offer the ability to work on [inaudible 00:21:35] portfolios that maybe they don’t have access to at other places.


Each of these organizations focuses on different drugs, they’re not all producing the exact same drug. Not everyone is trying to be Tylenol. The types of medicines that they work on and impact those medicines ultimately have, the ability to help millions of people. When you look at doctors you’re looking at one-to-one type healthcare, you’re impacting the few. With Biochemists, they’re impacting the many, and the patient is more faceless, but it’s millions of them. That kind of magnitude resonates with them. You talk about those different points in your story.


John Sumser: How do you know what’s an exciting and challenging project? That would be a puzzler to me.


Crystal Miller: Part of it’s research. A lot of employer branding recruitment marketing, and this is … I’m going to get on my soapbox for a minute. I shake my head sometimes when I look at the stuff that people share. It’s neat and it’s flashy, and I do some of it too, so it’s not like an I’m better than moment. We share the end work of the stuff that we do. The glossy products, the cool employer branding video, you know whatever. Great, but what comes behind that in the how do you know is all of this research.


Specifically, for this project, we’ve surveyed. We surveyed and did interviews with scientist around what drives you, what motivates you, what kind of projects do you like to work, what are the words that you look for when you are looking at jobs? Why do you go from one place to another. What’s the point? How do we know, we surveyed, we researched. We spent a good deal of time doing it, it wasn’t a send out a five minute survey and you’re done. We spent a few weeks really putting together the background information to be able to have an effective campaign.


John Sumser: How do you judge the question of whether or not the campaign works and is worth the money? There’s research, there’s the campaign, there’s results. How do you tell when the results are good enough?


Crystal Miller: For me, there’s never good enough. There’s never a part where I’m like, “That’s it! It’s never going to get get any better than this.” Which is probably selfish and greedy, but whatever. The things that you want to look for, that you should see a lift in your … I’m going to start with a fuzzy metric and then movie in. You should see a lift in your brand awareness, you’re traffic, your chatter, your sentiment, your reach; you should see bumps in those. You should see a definite traffic increase to the links that you’re including in your campaign, which will probably lead to an increase of your application. If you really want to know if it worked correctly, don’t just look at your increase in application rate, look at your quality of applicant.


We talked about quality of hire earlier. That same concept can be applied at the application rate. QOA really revolves around what is the percentage of applicants that you have that are a fit for the minimum qualifications of the job. You can even get a little more detailed to that. With my clients we’ll work at minimum qualification, mid-grade and ideal applicant. We have percentage rates across each of those fields. Then you look at your head-to-head conversion rate. If they’re talking to you, chances are they’re talking with another organization as well. What percentage of the people that you’re making an offer to are closing with you based off of what they’ve learned versus another organization.


When you look at the rejections, you can look at, “Okay, well this one rejected for money.” You can attribute that loosely back to your recruitment marketing and employer branding campaigns. The reality is usually, “We’ll dismiss they ones that are on money.” The other reasons as point of efficacy are [inaudible 00:25:30] the recruitment marketing.


John Sumser: Got it. How do people find out about you? How do you get clients?


Crystal Miller: I actually work on referral. I don’t advertise, which at some point, that may change. Over the last few years, everything has been … You have to know one of my clients, and they have to refer you to me. If that doesn’t happen then I probably don’t work with you. There’s been a couple of exceptions of people that I’ve met at conferences that have said, “Hey, we have this problem.” So we’ll start having a conversation, that’s the lead time. To be able to work with me at that point is longer.


Partially because I’m not in it for … I say I’m not in it for the money, everybody wants to get paid, so there’s that. It’s not totally altruistic, but I’m not trying to be the next [inaudible 00:26:23], and I don’t want my business to be either. We really want to work with organizations that want to do something that has an impact. Employer branding isn’t just a checkbox, recruitment marketing isn’t just something that their CHRO said, “Oh we should do this.” They really do feel like there’s a way that they can improve. Point being, they get referred to me by someone. I know Jerry Crispin’s referred work to me, Bill Williams referred work to me, I think you’ve referred work to me. Someone may refer them, but for the most part, my clients actually send me more clients. Which is great.


John Sumser: That’s fantastic. We’ve zipped through our half an hour. Is there anything you want to be sure that the people who are listening to the show take away?


Crystal Miller: You know what? No. I wish that there was, there probably should be. It’s probably a missed opportunity. I guess if we circle back around, the whole Elevated thing, and what I do, the overarching message is find not just what you love to do, but find a place you love to do it and then just do that. I think we spend so much time at work, that to not love what you do is a really big miss. If you’re miserable where you do it, make a change. My organization really started because I needed to find a place where I could be me, and I could do the things that I loved, and I was unemployable because no one wanted to hire the things that I wanted to now. Now people hire for employer branding, and that’s great. I found a way to love what I do and where I do it, and that’s what I hope for everybody that listens to your show and everybody period. I really wish everybody could have that.


John Sumser: Okay, well thanks. Take a moment, reintroduce yourself and tell people again how to get ahold of you.


Crystal Miller: You’ve been talking with John Sumser and Crystal Miller, and I am the CEO of Branded Strategies, which is a boutique marketing firm that’s focused on employer branding recruitment marketing and the intersection of HR and marketing. You can find us at, you can find me online pretty much everywhere at theonecrystal. I’m really honored to have been on your show today, thank you John.


John Sumser: Thanks Crystal, I’m looking forward to this Elevated launch program that we’re going to see today. I really appreciate you taking the time to find your way into an LA story and spend the half hour talking with the audience.


This is HRExaminer radio, I’m your host John Sumser. We’ve been talking with theonecrystal, Crystal Miller who is an Elevated Advisor and the CEO or Branded Strategies. Thanks for taking the time to join us today, have a great afternoon, and we will see you on the other side. Thanks a lot, bye bye.

End transcript

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