4 Reasons Building Your Employer Brand Is Like March Madness

Each year, the March Madness tournament captivates fans across the U.S., with 68 of college’s best teams competing in a single-elimination tournament. With its whirlwind of upsets, buzzer-beaters, and Cinderella stories, each game is an emotional rollercoaster. The storylines are endless, and so too is the intensity and drama!

As dutiful spectators of the event and lovers of friendly competition, the exaqueo team annually participates in a tournament bracket challenge. We watch throughout the month as the drama unfolds and unexpected plot twists either sink our brackets or catapult them to victory. 

When you work for an employer brand and experience consulting firm, you find yourself constantly connecting your work to the real-world, reflecting on how lessons from one can be readily applied to the other. Inspired by the madness, we’re sharing four parallels between building your employer brand and the March Madness Tournament.

1. Research is essential.

Convinced the Blue Bloods will dominate this year? Searching for a lower-seeded team to put your faith in? Setting up your bracket with the best chance to win requires research to determine this year’s favorites, potential upsets, and storylines.

In the same way that research should be central to informing your bracket picks, it is also the foundation to building a strong employer brand. At exaqueo, we believe research is the key to understanding what’s in the hearts and minds of your employees. When you know what your employees experience—their motivations, challenges, and highlights—you can build an employer brand that is both authentic to their experience and rooted in the commitments you’re making as an organization to enhance this experience.

What journey do your employees take to understand and become interested in your company? What sources do they use and what influences them? What aspect of the employment relationship do they value most? What are their obstacles and challenges? Answering these questions uncovers the insights that will drive the strategy of an effective employer brand.

2. You need a cheering section.

When it comes to activating an impactful employer brand, having a cheering section is critical. Every team playing in the tournament needs its mascots and fans cheering from the stands, and in the same way, every great employer brand needs its change champions, brand ambassadors, and other advocates to celebrate and promote its successes.

Take Sister Jean for example, the chaplain for the Loyola University Chicago men's basketball team. An icon of faith, service, and basketball, Sister Jean became an overnight celebrity after the Ramblers' upset of Miami in the 2018 NCAA tournament. She embodies the spirit of her organization and serves as an inspirational figurehead for her team—much like an effective employer brand champion.

Activating your employer brand takes teamwork, coordination, and a coalition of executives, managers, and employees to successfully implement and maintain throughout the organization. When you are strategic and intentional about your plan, create momentum from the ground up, and equip your employees to be empowered advocates, your employer brand will thrive.

3. Anyone can be a Cinderella story.

March Madness is famous for its “Cinderella stories” — lower-ranked teams defeating tournament favorites with improbable runs and memorable upsets. The George Mason Patriots’ Final Four Run in 2006. The 2013 Wichita State Shockers’ unlikely stretch. The #15 seeded Saint Peter’s Peacocks’ notorious run in the 2022 season.

Similarly, every company has an opportunity to build a differentiated and authentic employer brand strategy to attract and retain great talent. “exaqueo,” a Latin word that loosely translates to "on equal footing," reminds us that we all start in the same place. We all have the same chance to recruit and retain talent who will thrive in our organizations. It's how we set ourselves apart that makes the difference.

Cinderella stories are a great reminder that regardless of the size or reputation of a company, if the employer brand strategy is authentically differentiated, it can build a brand that is memorable and competitive in the talent market. 

4. Watch your game tape. Learn and make adjustments.

Understanding the impact of and opportunities for your new employer brand is critical in maximizing its success. Like a March Madness team that studies game tape to identify what plays worked and what areas they need to improve, regularly measuring the impact of your employer brand on talent attraction and employee experience will highlight the plays that are working and where you have opportunities to pivot.

Tapping into candidates and employees alike to understand how they experience your brand can give you the valuable feedback you need to make informed decisions and continually improve your employer brand strategy. Whether it's conducting surveys or holding focus groups, taking the time to debrief and analyze your employer brand efforts will ensure that you're staying on track and maximizing your success.

While you’ll have to wait until next March to have another attempt at a successful tournament bracket, these learnings are ready to be applied to either build or strengthen an impactful employer brand. Thoughtful research, a coalition of supporters, the belief that you can build an employer brand that inspires and sets you apart, and the willingness to adjust as needed will all help your employer brand realize its shining moment.

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