Shake-ups in the job market often happen quicker than it’s possible to keep track of.
But one macro-trend in the structure of the job market that’s impossible to ignore is the shift of power from employers to employees.
It’s a candidate's market, with plenty of unfilled positions across a healthy selection of companies — all vying for the attention of talent with competitive compensation schemes, a lengthy list of benefits, and other desirable incentives.
And the situation isn’t improving. It seems to be getting worse.
Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis suggests there were nearly 11 million job vacancies in the US in Q4 of 2021.
Which gives yet further importance to the strategic practice of employer branding.
Employer branding takes everything we’ve learned about marketing and branding and applies it to the relationship between employers and employees.
It aims to make the prospect of working with a given company more attractive than the other available options. And, as with traditional business-to-consumer marketing, it relies upon a deep understanding of the target audience and persuasive messaging to get the job done.
This article will break down the notion of employer branding in detail and offer salient strategies and tips so you can get started with attracting the best candidates on the market to your company.
What is meant by employer branding?
Employer branding is as it sounds — the application of marketing and branding principles to the employment experience at a given company to attract more candidates.
It is not to be confused with ‘corporate branding,’ which still concerns the traditional business-to-consumer relationship.
The subject of employer branding relates to your company's various structures, policies, and initiatives that define it as a desirable place to work.
In this respect, the target audience of employer branding is always your current and prospective employees. However, great employee branding does indeed have positive reputational effects that reach beyond this audience (clients, investors, and other stakeholders).
As with normal consumer marketing, key principles such as maintaining a core value proposition (‘employee value proposition’ in employer branding), catering your messaging toward targeted demographics, and developing a clear brand identity are of relevance.
Examples of companies with great employer branding
Employer branding is carried out by essentially every brand — whether they are aware of it or not.
As consumer touchpoints like websites and advertisements carry the identity of the brand, so too do employee touchpoints like job boards, internal newsletters, and even training programs. So, your employer branding could be weak without even having addressed it.
A recent example of employer branding strategies has surfaced in Facebook’s parent company Meta. In a post on his own Facebook page, CEO Mark Zuckerberg stated that the company values are being updated to reflect changes over the last decade.
Their existing value of “move fast” has changed to “move fast together,” "be bold" has changed to "build awesome things," and the addition of “focus on long term impact” makes up the final update.
Reactions to the changes have been mixed, with most of the negative attention paid to the company’s preferred new moniker for those who work at Meta — ‘metamates.’
Another example of employer branding can be found on Netflix’s jobs webpage. They offer a letter that extensively outlines the company culture, internal philosophies, and personal values that constitute the brand and its employees.
“We strive to hire the best and we value integrity, excellence, respect, inclusion, and collaboration.”
As the text is aimed at current and prospective employees, it’s a clear and effective example of employer branding that aims to filter the most relevant, highest-quality talent and appease and uplift its current employees.
How to build an incredible employer branding strategy
Above are two examples of the end result of employer branding.
But how does one go about establishing a proper employer branding strategy from the ground up? What are the key foundational elements of employer branding, and what steps do you need to take to undertake it properly within your company?
Consider the following best practices.
1. Audit your employer branding
As we mentioned earlier, you have employer branding, whether you know it or not.
The most relevant question as you begin your employer branding journey is where do you stand currently? What are the thoughts, opinions, and feelings that surround the employee experience at your company?
To get the answers to these questions, you must perform an employer branding audit.
This starts with collating all examples of employee touchpoints — job descriptions, acceptance letters, company mail, recruitment boards, onboarding documents, and everything else that an employee will be confronted with, from joining the company to leaving it.
Analyze these materials alongside feedback from your current, previous, and prospective employees (if possible). This will help you to identify elements that may be helping or hindering your employer branding efforts.
For example, a rejected candidate may report that the nature of their rejection was overly dismissive, brief, or unhelpful. This gives you clear objectives to focus on as you move onto the next stage of successful employer branding — crafting a new vision for the employer brand.
2. Edit your materials to align with a new vision
Branding exercises are most effective when there’s strong consistency across the messaging.
So don’t skip over the creation of a new employer brand vision when shaping up your materials.
You need to develop a core employee value proposition (EVP) that will inform the nature of your branding content and ideally persuade employees that your company is the best available option in a competitive market.
In the earlier example of Netflix, the EVP was ‘people over process.’ This principle suggests that employees can make decisions independently, that information will be shared broadly, and, fundamentally, that the needs of employees will be treated with higher respect than the demands of bureaucracy.
Your EVP can relate to a variety of contractual, experiential, and emotional ideals. It should be chosen based on the needs and desires of your employee base (which will be uncovered in the audit).
Of course, the value needs to exist in the first place before you create messaging around it — it’s improper to signal something that isn’t there and will only serve to damage your employer brand reputation.
Once you have landed on a concise EVP, you can begin to update your internal materials to reflect it. You can do this yourself or with the help of professional copywriting, which will help get the message across in a more effective and technically sound manner, free from grammatical errors.
3. Actively improve the employee experience
There are many ways to improve the quality of your employees’ experiences. There are small things you can do like encouraging managers to recognize employees for a job well done. We’ve put together a resource outlining 12 examples of effective recognition for employees to give you simple ideas that go a long way.
Likewise, investing in your employees' growth and development is a great way to foster positive employer branding. Who wouldn’t want to work for a company that actively enrolls employees in meaningful employee development programs?
Mentorship programs are another way that employers can improve the employee experience. They’re proven to increase employee retention rates and lead to employees that care more about the companies that they work for.
Don’t forget about recruiting either. Word of mouth from current employees is an effective way to attract applicants. And if current employees have mentors who propel their careers forward they’ll likely mention it to their colleagues. For that reason, consider mentoring programs when building a recruiting strategy.
4. Launch a content marketing strategy
The parallel with traditional marketing activities is relevant here, as employer branding needs to be undertaken strategically, with well-developed marketing strategies in place for both the short and long term.
The channels that you need to focus on in employer branding, though, are ones in which your current and prospective employees congregate.
Social media, job boards, and internal messaging systems are a few examples of employer branding marketing channels — all of which can be populated with carefully-crafted employer marketing content.
This video on the innocent drinks LinkedIn page is a good example, which describes a partnership they have that redistributes surplus stock to charitable causes, reducing waste and making a positive impact on local communities simultaneously.
The philanthropic nature of the partnership reflects positively on innocent drinks as a place to work, and anyone who visits the company’s LinkedIn page (namely, prospective employees) will be able to see it.
If you’re imagining that getting a team together to write, shoot, edit, and publish a video that has no demonstrable effect on the company's bottom line takes a lot of effort and investment, you’d be right.
But those who understand the ROI of quality talent recruitment will get it.
Plus, you can hire content marketing agencies to perform the heavy-lifting and ensure the materials are complete with other value-adding elements like quality backlinks. The bottom line is to make sure you have a content marketing strategy in place. It can just as easily apply to a B2B marketing strategy, too.
5. Monitor employee advocacy
To inform your employer branding activities, you must stay abreast of the current and projected state of the employer brand by constantly monitoring employee advocacy.
Employee advocacy is the extent to which current or previous employees rate the experience of working at your organization.
Employee advocates positively review and represent the organizational experience, often in public forums. As with any review, these will have a strong bearing on the recruitment potential of your company.
Unsurprisingly, research conducted by recruitment and company information website Glassdoor suggests that 95% of job seekers report that an employer’s reputation is a key factor in their decision to join a company.
And with online communities such as Glassdoor and many others offering an opportunity for employees to air their thoughts about working for a company in public, it’s easier than ever to get honest feedback and monitor employee advocacy.
Take the following ‘pros and cons’ list for working at Meta published on Glassdoor as an example:
Ideally, you should have a system in place that gathers and collates employee advocacy consistently so that you can get an up-to-date reflection of the employer brand sentiment for your company.
With this information, you can not only implement changes to your materials that work to eliminate the key issues that employees respond negatively to or even get inspiration for brand new employer marketing campaigns or EVPs.
6. Periodically re-examine and course-correct
The final piece of strategic advice in building a kickass employer brand is to regularly assess the approach as a whole — its successes and failures, blind spots, resource allocation, and relevance for the coming period.
Your products and services, customer base, and competition aren’t static. The nature of business is change, and the same can be said of your talent.
As you move into new product or service areas, shift toward a new demographic, or make company-wide cultural changes, your talent pool will change alongside you.
This means new talent demographics, different values, new standards for compensation and incentives, etc.
Anyone who can offer work-from-home but hasn’t implemented that change in their recruitment strategy clearly hasn't paid attention to this last tip.
Set dates for regular employer branding strategy audits and make sure the most pressing changes are reflected in your materials.
Ignore employer branding to your own peril
It might not strike you as obvious that employer branding has to be taken seriously on the face of it.
And it may not be the be-all and end-all for many businesses where talent isn’t a major consideration. But that list of businesses is small, and, statistically speaking, it’s unlikely that yours isn't on it.
But you’re here, so you’ve made the first necessary step of acknowledging the importance of employer branding.
Its similarities with traditional marketing really can’t be overstated, so if in doubt, use your marketing know-how to figure out how best to approach branding your business toward employees successfully.
And be sure to follow the major strategies listed in this article for complete employer branding success.