Hiring managers, HR Leaders and even CEOs are consistently trying to build their own employer brands. The common refrain?

“I’ve worked here for 20 years!”
“I may be an executive now, but I started as a server.”
“We talk to our people all the time, we know what they like.”

But here’s the problem:

Employer brands can’t be built in boardrooms.

No matter how hard we try, we can’t understand, or pretend to understand how our colleagues think and feel, why they work, or what work means to them. Just by virtue of our role, our level and/or lens, we’re already biased. And not in a good way.

It’s time to face the reality of our workforce. We’re not the average.

In consumer marketing, our colleagues know the importance of understanding the customer. They spend millions on consumer market research and on creating personas of the typical customer. Even though they too are almost always customers of the brands they market, they don’t fall to their own perceptions or habits. They don’t build brands based on assumption. And neither should you.

The American worker, by and large, is an hourly wage earner, which, if you’re reading this, you’re most likely not.

While less than 20 million workers are blue collar, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 80 million, or 59% of all wage earners are hourly with several million of them still earning less than $7.25 an hour.


Susan LaMotte, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Member

It’s time to get grounded, get real, and be strategic about building your brand. Here’s how:

Do research

I don’t mean research on clicks or applies. Real, market research that provides qualitative insights on how your target audience behaves. Instead of spending hours on choosing just the perfect image for your ATS frame, focus on what matters to them. Only research can tell you.
I spoke to an employer brand professional just the other day focused on increasing the company’s Glassdoor rating. This professional had goals, a plan and a target rating. My response? Does your target audience even care?

Don’t market to the few

If the majority of your workers are hourly, and mobile device users, don’t create a careers site with bells and whistles that can only be experienced on a desktop or by candidates who have the time to devote to research. That’s one thing hourly wage earners don’t have: lots of extra time. Chipotle does a great job of clearly showing opportunity to increase wages—something that hourly workers prioritize over almost anything else.

Do step out of the ivory tower

To really understand how workers feel, how work intersects with life and what really matters to them, you have to go where they are. Leave the corporate office and go to the factory floor, the retail store front. When I was at Home Depot, I learned how to mix paint, make keys, unload shipments from the loading dock and understand inventory tracking at the store level. All the while, I asked workers about themselves, their lives and their work without presumption.

Don’t lose perspective

You may run or lead town hall meetings, walk the corridors of your office, or sit with employees at lunch. All helpful. But that only takes you out of your comfort zone briefly. Those activities alone can’t help you understand what it’s like to make $15/hour at this time, in your organization. Even if you’ve been there before, you’re not there now. As part of a slew of changes to better reward the hourly worker, WalMart recently rolled out an option to get an advance on your paycheck for when times are tight.

Do focus on speed

For the hourly worker, it’s about getting the job. That doesn’t mean to ignore branding or educating the candidate about the work experience. It does mean to confirm—will the $10/hour candidate stick around and wait for an offer if it takes two weeks? Take advantage of economic shifts to better market and attract talent. Fifth Third Bank recently announced wage increases in line with the new tax cuts proposed by the Trump administration. It’s not about politics here. From an employer brand perspective, they’re capitalizing on a marketing gold mine.

I’ve had 32 jobs in my 42 years. From $2.25 an hour to a 50% raise one year to $0 salary in the early years of exaqueo, I’ve lived in multiple tax brackets. But this doesn’t define the strategic employer brand recommendations I make. Sure, experience pays dividends. But the second you assume you know how your employees and candidates feel, your brand fails them.

Let’s make 2018 the year of empathy and understanding. Here’s to average.

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