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Advice / Employer Resources

6 Things You Need to Know About Employer Branding, According to an Industry Expert

Building a strong employer brand’s more important than ever. Just as important as your consumer brand, it’s critical to hiring and retaining top talent. But what makes for a strong employer brand, what metrics should you be paying attention to, and how do you do any of this stuff at your own company?

To answer these questions and more, we sat down with employer brand expert Lisa Cervenka, self-proclaimed "Brand Nerd" and co-founder of Brand Amper (now re-named BrandBuilder), a brand building tool recently acquired by The Muse, that enables companies to collect data and actionable insights on their culture, values, and employee sentiment.

1. What Makes for a Strong Employer Brand?

Creating any type of meaningful and memorable brand takes discipline, focus, and acute self-awareness (that’s straight out of my LinkedIn bio because those are some of my core beliefs about branding).

I think these things are even more important when creating an employer brand. I call it the most demanding brand of all because there are dozens of brand contact points to consider and candidates are often customers. It’s so much harder than it looks.

You have to take the time and care to reveal what employees truly feel the brand is—nothing is worse than seeing your organization pretend to be something it's not, publicly or taking a job only to find out that the culture was a marketer’s invention.

Being too aspirational or too generic are common mistakes. The more specific you dare to get about what people who succeed in your organization are drawn to, the better. You need to get real and that takes acute self-awareness. The focus and discipline are more about being consistent over time, certainly experimenting but staying true to who you are.

Creating any type of meaningful and memorable brand takes discipline, focus, and acute self-awareness...I think these things are even more important when creating an employer brand.

2. What Brands Are Really Nailing Employer Branding and What Can Other Companies Learn From Them?

The Brand Nerd here could go on and on with this one! In terms of successes, I like to read the case studies on HR Open Source. I get an amazing behind-the-scenes look at employer branding strategies including exactly how the practitioner did it, the mistakes they made, and how they measured it. Some of my favorite employer branding cases are from Dell, GoDaddy, Cisco, Thermofisher Scientific, Centric Consulting, Likeable Media, Hootsuite, and Lever.

Beyond the case studies on HROS, I love what Motley Fool, Indeed, Duo Security, and Hubspot do as well. What do all of these have in common? They have all clearly spent a lot of time capturing and articulating their cultures. And these are cultures that allow for experimentation and honest, generous sharing. These companies are not leading with fear! They trust their employees and they are all being refreshingly open and authentic.

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3. What Metrics Should Companies Use to Track the Success of Their Employer Branding Efforts?

This is the question and as a colleague of mine pointed out, it can be a tricky one. It’s really impossible to create a finite list of EB metrics you must track because there are countless strategies and tactics, and each of them has its own relevant metrics.

What you measure for an Employee Advocacy Program is going to be very different from what you track about a Candidate Experience initiative. A thought leader and friend of mine, Susan Strayer LaMotte, founder of Exaqueo, talks about tracking “Source of influence.” While this is really tough to do (platforms like SmashFly are designed to help), I believe it’s the most important over-arching metric.

I know many EB pros working to build dashboards to help determine what their particular key metrics are. I will continue to engage in that conversation and think it will ultimately be pretty custom for each practitioner. As I mentioned above, learning from the people who have successfully measured their efforts, the case studies, really help. This recent one from Blizzard Entertainment is a great example.

4. What’s One Tip You Have for Companies Just Starting to Build Their Employer Brand?

Building a brand can be so overwhelming. I think a great place to start is thinking about the interplay between the consumer brand and the employer brand and taking an integrated approach by trying to involve marketing.

The two brands need to be consistent and creating a relationship with the marketing folks in the organization can only help. Most likely, they need some education on the importance of the employer brand and how it supports recruiting as vitally as marketing supports sales. Once some trust is established, marketing can be a great resource and can share expertise on brand-building that can save EB pros a lot of time and money. Having each other as allies can be really powerful and create synergies that help get executive support and buy-in much more quickly.

Can I have one other tip? Talk to as many people in the space as you can. I’ve never seen a more engaged and helpful tribe, we all help each other!

5. What’s a Key Trend You’ve Seen in Employer Branding in the Past 6 Months?

There’s been a steady increase in the amount of jobs being created with “employer brand” in the title. Organizations are realizing that focusing on building the right Employer Brand is a need-to-have vs. a nice-to-have.

The C-suite is paying attention to this role because it’s so core to the health of the organization: If you can’t attract and retain the right talent, everything else is at risk. I co-moderate a closed EB group and the number of requests to join just keeps multiplying—the momentum’s really exciting!

6. Where Do You See the Future of Employer Branding in the Next One Year? Five Years?

As EB becomes more sophisticated, I think we will see it stay in TA because they are the experts on the customer (employees and prospects) and the channels, and they speak the language. But as marketing starts to pay more attention to this brand, a more formal relationship with marketing will evolve. I notice things like Gary Vaynerchuk, a renowned marketing expert, speaking at HR Tech World recently.

I think both brands will roll-up to someone who owns “Brand” at large. A chief creative officer or a chief branding officer. REI hired a chief creative officer a couple of years ago. He is in charge of brand storytelling for both the consumer and employment brand. That makes a lot of sense to me, to have someone who can go broad and have line of sight into both brands and the interplay and integration necessary to tell a complete brand story.

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