3 Ways to Elevate Your Employer Brand Strategy in 2017

El·e·vate, verb
Raise to a more important or impressive level.

It’s nearly 2017 and employer branding is more mainstream than ever. Active employer brand management is no longer considered a fad. It’s a priority for C-suite executives and heads of human resources. Mid-sized businesses and global companies alike are allocating resources to research, develop and amplify their employer brands.

Let’s assume your organization is 100 percent on board and has been for the past few years. You have: executive buy-in, well-defined brand pillars and even an employer brandline. You’ve seen an increase in career site traffic and social profile engagement. But you are not someone to rest on her corporate laurels. You’re not ready to accept employer brand complacency. A good brand leader doesn’t build a brand and then sit back. He or she manages it, measures it, and constantly looks for ways to make it stronger and more impactful.

You want to continue to hone your craft while relentlessly amplifying your organization’s employer brand. But how? Here are three expert-level ways to elevate your employer brand work.

#1: Research, research and more research

The best way to elevate your current employer brand strategy is to get into the groove of conducting regular market research.

If you developed your employer brand architecture and brand pillars two to three years ago (or more), it’s time to collect both qualitative and quantitative data from specific talent segments, your high potential employees and ideal candidates. Doing so will either validate the continued authenticity of your brand with some tweaks and shifts, or it will illuminate the need to hit the reset button.

I recently asked my husband, who is a consumer marketing director for a well-known global brand, how often his team conducts market research. His reply? “All the time ... probably too much.” When it comes to HR departments and research, most companies conduct employee engagement surveys every one to two years. That’s just not a regular enough  cadence to truly understand your audience. And, engagement surveys don’t necessarily capture how employees behave or their preferences inside and outside of work.

Imagine the impact your employer brand could have if you knew:

  • How your ideal candidates behave throughout the job search,
  • What your high potentials care about at work,
  • What your employees value in their decision-making, and
  • Where employees spend time and energy outside work (because we know this impacts work decisions).

And, the data was always fresh. Or at least somewhat fresher than two years old. Ideally, employer brand teams and individual contributors would conduct market research on a quarterly basis or at least before any major campaign.

#2: Map brand messages to the employee lifecycle

Another way to elevate your brand is through consistent messaging. In consumer marketing, a message map is a framework used to align relevant messages to audience segments across channels. It’s a tool that supports brand consistency. As talent acquisition and employer brand leaders, you can take a similar approach to ensuring employer brand messages are aligned to the entire employment lifecycle—from pre-hire to alumnus.

One way to create an effective and easy-to-socialize message map is by creating a chart and following these simple steps:

Step One:
In Column A, list the talent objective. In most cases, this will include either talent attraction or talent retention.

Step Two:
In Column B, enter every step of the employee lifecycle, including but certainly not limited to: awareness, consideration, interview, onboarding, training, performance management, benefits administration, employee resource groups, departure and alumni.

Step Three:
Across Row 1, in each block enter your organization’s employer value proposition or brand pillars.

This is a very simplistic model, so keep in mind that your company’s message map will undoubtedly be much more complex. For example, if your organization has eight  tenets of its employer value proposition, four brand pillars and there are 20 significant stages of your employees’ lifecycle, you could be looking at more than 100 on-brand messages (and one really big spreadsheet!).

Now, you may be wondering if each pillar must align to each stage of the lifecycle, and our answer is, “no.” If it feels like you are trying to squeeze a square peg into a round hole, and forcing the message for the sake of the spreadsheet, stop. At its core, the message map should organically fill up with authentic—not forced—messages.

Two other items to note are: message maps are flexible. They are not carved in stone. As the needs of the business change, so will messages and map. And, message maps are guidelines; some messages may need to be nuanced in order to resonate more effectively to specific audience segments.

When properly built, the message map is guaranteed to be one your new favorite employer brand tools!

#3: Connect better with best-fit talent  

For years, consumer marketers have used personas to better understand their ideal customers. In parallel, creating personas can help you better understand your ideal candidates and what influences their career choices. They can help you get inside their hearts and minds and empathize with how they feel and make decisions. And, personas (like message maps) can be utilized in the many strategic areas of human resources—from talent acquisition to talent retention strategies.

Use of personas can ensure that all elements of the employee lifecycle carry an authentic employer brand. Additionally, they can support various efforts by talent acquisition, marketing and internal communications, including to:

  • Help recruiters develop empathy towards candidates,
  • Facilitate conversations with hiring managers,
  • Better inform recruitment marketing and creative direction, and
  • Align employee engagement campaigns.

There are many perspectives on building personas, we recommend conducting qualitative research when it comes to developing yours. While quantitative data (e.g. Google Analytics, source data and surveys) is great, the best way to understand your ideal candidates’ behaviors is to talk to high potential employees. Before conducting the interviews, decide:

  • What are the key talent segments or job families to start with?
  • Who are the HIPOs in each of these talent segments (i.e. who are the people you wish you had more of)?
  • Are any of the HIPOs a flight risk or are they engaged/committed to the business?
  • What questions should you ask to help you understand your ideal candidates—inside and outside of work?

Impactful, measurable employer branding doesn’t happen overnight. It takes knowledge, interest, time and effort to do it right. And, you don’t have to go it alone. Find ways to fit these three strategies into your 2017 roadmap by working in lock-step with your HR, communications and marketing colleagues. And, take our Employer Brand Readiness Survey or contact us directly to talk about the needs and goals of your company.

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Shannon Smedstad (@shannonsmedstad) is a Lead Consultant & Project Manager for exaqueo, a workforce consultancy that helps organizations build their cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact exaqueo to learn more about our employer brand innovation, workforce research and recruiting strategy offerings.

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