Employer Brand Journeys Begins with a Single Step—Research

While the notion of employer branding has been around since World War II recruitment posters proudly proclaimed “We want you for the U.S. Army,” the term itself wasn’t defined in print until 1996 by Simon Barrow and Tim Ambler in the Journal of Brand Management. It sat largely untouched for many years with companies focused on recruitment advertising, but not much else.

When I entered the field in 2008, employer branding was a renewed topic of conversation and yet still seemingly undefined. My then company, and a handful of others, began concerted efforts to understand, define and activate their brands.

We were the early trendsetters.
We were pioneers of something labeled a fad.

Fast forward ... and employer branding is more mainstream than ever. Today, active employer brand management is no longer considered a fad. It’s a priority for C-suite executives. It’s a strategic objective set by heads of human resources. Mid-sized businesses and global companies alike are allocating resources to research, develop and amplify their employer brands. But, why?

Because a holistic, well-developed employer brand strategy—grounded in research and executed over time—will change the way you attract, engage and retain best-fit talent.

Start your employer brand journey here

When Lao Tzu said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” he wasn’t referring to employer branding. But the sentiment rings true if you’re one of the many organizations hesitating to start your employer brand journey.

The best way to get started is to commit to making 2017 the year your organization begins. But instead of chasing after shiny, new objects or jumping on the latest tech bandwagon, decide which outcomes are most important to your business.

As you define, remember: outcomes before tactics. And in the case of employer branding, they could include priorities to:

  • Increase overall quality of hires
  • Improve the candidate experience
  • Decrease cost per application or cost per hire
  • Increase awareness within specific talent segments
  • Increase retention of best-fit talent
  • Increase the quality of employee referrals

Now, you may be reading this thinking, “OK, I know we’re struggling in key talent areas and I know which outcomes to drive toward … but I still can’t wrap my head around how to approach employer branding.” That’s a fair thought. One we’ve had before, too.

Employer branding success depends on research.

Just like consumer marketers rely on market research and the customer experience, it’s vital for companies to understand their candidates and employee experiences and preferences. At exaqueo, we believe research is a critical first step to ensuring employer brand success. Purposeful research helps to align the candidate experience and the employee experience, as well as key messages to the company’s culture, values, mission and vision.

And it comes well before shiny, new technologies  

You can’t brand your employment experience until you know the customer—in your case candidates and employees. And the only way to truly understand is through data. As you begin the research phase of your employer brand, potential data sets to obtain and analyze include:  

  • Internal and external focus groups
  • Recruiter and executive interviews
  • Ethnography or field/service observations
  • Hiring manager satisfaction surveys
  • Google Analytics and Google Trends
  • New hire data and declined offer feedback
  • ATS data for hired and rejected candidates
  • Online reputation and employee engagement surveys
  • Brand immersion calls with marketing or communications

We recommend conducting as much qualitative market research as possible—in addition to the quantitative. This is important because it helps you get inside the hearts and minds of your employees, and ensures more realistic and authentic brand development.  And if it’s unbiased, all the better.

Employees won’t be completely open and honest with you—they just won’t! > Click to tweet.

Research is knowledge is power

So, power is sort of a strong word. What we really mean is that without research, understanding and defining your employer brand becomes anecdotal at best. By taking the time to conduct research, you can truly understand:

  • Who your employees are, and how they think and feel
  • The perception of your company as a place to work
  • What you offer candidates and employees and what they value most

Once you have uncovered the common themes, you’ll want to analyze how your talent and industry competitors are selling their employer brands. By doing this, you will be able to understand areas where your company and competitors overlap, in order to identify key differentiators. And those differentiators becomes your value proposition.

That’s what you hang your hat on.

That’s what makes your employer brand unique and authentic to your organization. And, that’s when you can begin to activate and elevate your brand.  

An employer brand journey checklist

  • Commit to building an employer brand road map
  • Determine goals, objectives and overall strategy
  • Conduct and analyze internal and external research
  • Identify themes and determine key messages
  • Conduct competitive analysis to differentiate brand
  • Socialize messages and gain buy-in from key stakeholders
  • Develop and prioritize employer branding activation plan

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. 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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