Big Idea 2024: Tracking the Employer Brand Health of Your Organization

In September 2023, Jon Wenglikowski joined exaqueo as Managing Director of our Workforce Insight practice. Jon proudly embraces the moniker 'data geek' because he understands the power it holds. His journey into data analytics began during his tenure as a business planner at Toyota, working with the Scion model. Since then, he has led consumer and marketing insights teams at Microsoft, Zillow, and Adobe.

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Jon to talk about the importance of tracking brand health. Just like individuals need a check-up for their health, an organization needs to monitor and track the health of its brand—including its employer brand. Peers in Marketing have long known that understanding brand health allows companies to gain insights into how their brand is perceived, identify areas for improvement, and make informed decisions to strengthen their market position.

It’s time for organizations to understand how people perceive them as employers. That’s why tracking the employer brand health of your organization is a big idea for 2024.

Shannon: What is brand health tracking?

Jon: It is checking in on the overall well-being of your brand. So, what does that mean? It's evaluating how people feel about it. Do they know about it? Are they aware of it? If so, what associations do they have? What do they think of when they hear its name? And then, are they likely to try it or prefer it over alternatives? Will they tell others about it? So, lots of feelings are baked into how people think and feel about brands.

I want to add one caveat, that a brand health tracking program is not a campaign effectiveness tracker.

The way we feel about brands is influenced by several experiences, not just marketing efforts. A tracking program for brand health can give context to those experiences.

It’s not measuring just one effort in one channel.

Shannon: What are the benefits of tracking the brand over time?

Jon: It's not too much of a stretch to say that a strong brand is more likely to stay relevant and keep its fans happy and engaged. Modern tracking, observing the health over time, can spot opportunities for growth or pitfalls for stagnation. It can help you understand the evolving preferences of your target audience and what unique benefits the brand is bringing to them. Even though I just said it's not about campaign effectiveness, a tracking program can help optimize messaging about the brand, including channel strategy and content.

Shannon: You come from a consumer brand background. What are the organizational benefits of tracking the employer brand?

Jon: The proxies line up nicely, in the sense that you don't want to be caught unaware. Let's say we’re talking about an older brand, and you haven't done much to evolve with the times or observe how tastes change. If you're not adapting to those tastes, to meet the needs of the people you care about, how are you going to know? If you don't have your finger on the pulse, you're not going to know, and you're going to risk being left behind and becoming irrelevant.

Shannon: What are indicators of good employer brand health?

Jon: That's a tricky one. Brand health through research covers attitudinal responses—how people feel about a brand—that's one side of the coin. The other side is behavioral metrics, so clicking onto a website, filling out an application, and actual tangible actions people have taken.

Research is more perception-based, attitudinal-based, what they feel, not necessarily what they've done. So, in that regard, it's a few things. Awareness (aided and unaided) is the foundation of a strong brand. People can't love your brand if they've never heard of it. And it doesn't mean everyone has to know about your brand, just the folks you care about, just your target audience.

From there, it moves through the funnel. You need awareness from your target audience, then affinity, followed by a likelihood to consider your brand.

They're not going to consider you if they've never heard of you, nor are they going to prefer you if they're not considering you.

If you're not in their consideration set of certain companies that they're thinking about, then they'll never say "That's my top choice."

Other indicators will be subjective to any given brand. Usually, there's a core set of attributes that measure appeal, relevance, and differentiation. What sets the organization apart from competitors or alternatives?

Shannon: How do you track brand health? What are the methods or platforms to use?

Jon: Ideally, a good program uses a wide variety of methods. It starts with a custom survey. But it could also be looking broader at Glassdoor reviews or social listening for general sentiment awareness. There is also digital ethnography—going to a Reddit or a more specialized board, and understanding how people behave there when they're not being asked survey questions. And then, for a deeper level of intimacy versus scale, try for live interviews.

Shannon: Digital ethnography is interesting. How is that different than social listening?

Jon: They're similar, but if it's affecting your profile, that's got a different motivation than if you're engaged in a group board. So, you can see the questions people are asking. People aren't trying to curate a personality or an appearance as much in a Reddit environment as they are in an Instagram environment.

Shannon: You mentioned differentiation before. Should you include competitors when tracking brand health? Why or why not?

Jon: It's a good idea. There’s two primary areas of brand tracking: the first is your brand’s health over time. How is it evolving with the perceptions of your target audience? The second area is in-market, among competitors. How are you doing relative to Brand A and Brand B?

Very few brands have no competitors. People don't operate in a vacuum with no fear of substitutes; including competitors ensures a better understanding of how people make choices. Tracking brand perceptions versus competitors can identify: Is your positioning working? Is there a white space position that could be more beneficial to your business? Without reference to present positions or scores, you can't do that.

Shannon: How often should organizations track their employer brand health?

Jon: That's a good question. I want to revisit the distinction between attitudinal research and real-time behavioral tracking, such as clicks. Anything tracked daily, weekly, or monthly falls under behavioral data. Attitudinal research is less frequent - Brand awareness and perceptions (especially) are slower to change, even with significant marketing spend.

Employment relationships are complex and evolve over time. I would recommend measuring annually at the least, perhaps even quarterly.

Splitting the difference, twice a year is probably ideal.

Shannon: Are there any risks associated with not tracking employer brand health?

Jon: At the risk of repetition, you risk not knowing how to stay relevant, or you risk missing the boat on an opportunity, especially if tastes are changing substantially. How will you know which changes to make if you are unaware of what's going wrong or affecting your industry? Essentially, you're unable to make informed decisions on optimizing your messaging strategy, attractive efforts, or any number of things.

Shannon: How do you get started? What is the best next step for someone interested in tracking employer brand health in 2024?

Jon: Call me (laughs). But, really, think about what's important to your brand. Consider what your brand currently stands for, whether it's an employer brand, a consumer brand, or a B2B brand. Is there a foundational aspect to the brand, or is it merely based on running a few ads?

I would suggest conducting an audit of the brand to determine its current stance and conducting research to understand people's perceptions of it. Then, decide what holds the most value for you. Is it about increasing your name recognition and growing awareness, or is it closer to conversion, getting people to your site to take action?

Don't try to spread it too thin by aiming for everything. Start somewhere, and when in doubt, begin at the top with awareness. Initiate the process of learning about your target audience— their preferences, quirks, opinions, and the way they perceive your brand.

Ready to learn more about tracking the health of your organization’s employer brand? We believe the best conversations happen offline. Connect with the exaqueo team here.

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