5 Ways to Go Beyond Conventional Employer Branding

2020 has been a year of incredible change and upheaval. For organizations and business leaders, managing the ripple effects of a global crisis requires an equal measure of poise and adaptability. Sometimes, though, you can’t solve a problem with the same level of thinking that led to it. To succeed in our new world, it’s becoming clear that conventional thinking has to change. 

Except, as talent acquisition professionals and employer brand leaders, we can often fall victim to an over-reliance on conventional thinking. 

And you can understand why, right? Conventional thinking can appear to minimize risk and ensure continuity, but when we make decisions based on feelings of fear and survival, the outcome is usually never good. As Robert Quinn, head of organization and management at the University of Michigan’s Ross Business School, told Psychology Today:

“We make these conventional assumptions because they’re often accurate and it’s how we see people behaving at work. So unless we do work to the contrary, which I call leadership, then organizations naturally drift towards the negative. But when we take fear away and we build confidence and hope and vision and orient people towards purpose and the future, the brain functions in a different way, and performance is different.” 

To truly excel as employers of choice, organizations need to navigate our new world with fresh thinking and ideas. We need thinking that addresses candidate concerns, doubles down on authenticity, and provides a clear and compelling vision for a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive future. Here are six examples of how conventional thinking should change:

1. Storytelling vs Storydoing

To connect with candidates, you need to move from storytelling to storydoing. Storytelling is very common among organizations, and often involves broadcasting a mission statement or employer brand tagline across multiple channels and platforms, promoting an ethos of what companies believe in and how they expect people to behave. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, but on the whole, it tends to lack any real substance or evidence of making real impact. Storydoing takes this one step further, and aligns higher purpose initiatives with real action. 

Storydoing starts with action, change, and impact and then provides a plethora of storytelling opportunities once real initiatives have been launched and significant results are evident. Examples of this could be anything from sacrificing profit for more ethical supply-chain choices, or investing in local communities.

In short, talk is cheap. If organizations become the change we want to see in the world, we’ll have a greater respect, trust, and affinity for them.

To challenge conventional thinking, start creating elevated employer brand content that resonates with people on an emotional level. Videos, rich media, and interactive content have an important role to play in bringing ambition, conviction, and innovation to life in meaningful ways. This is particularly true for specialist and graduate recruitment roles that are becoming increasingly difficult to fill. 

If you really want to push things to the next level, then do what few are willing to try: Experiment with gaming, immersive experiences, and virtual reality. These all have massive potential to engage candidates, but achieving them with tactical effectiveness requires a clear roadmap. 

When you combine higher-purpose initiatives with new and innovative ways of delivering content, then you instantly create a point of difference in the marketplace and are able to capture attention in a content-saturated landscape.

2. Ignoring Reality vs Incorporating Reality

It’s no longer enough to simply shout about the perks and benefits of your organization. You need to inspire talent. 

It’s common for organizations to focus on the “sunshine version” of the culture they have rather than focusing on the culture they need. To appeal to a new generation of talent, organizations must shift to bringing clarity to the difference between what they have and what they’re striving toward.

To achieve this, lean into the harsh realities of your organization that people need to overcome. Talk about the challenges, the imperfections, the adversities of the long road ahead as part of your vision for the future. This can become your greatest opportunity to engage, motivate, and connect with talent. 

When you identify this gap, you can communicate the expectations, requirements, sacrifices, and commitments of a role. Leaning into adversity and challenging talent to overcome obstacles is a great way to inspire people to find true impact, purpose, and fulfillment at work. 

3. Stating vs Proving

Right now, racial equity and social justice are top of mind for companies and employees alike. As such, people expect organizations to take a stance on these issues. However, words and provocative statements can fall short if there isn’t real action and meaning behind them. It’s no longer enough to simply say you value inclusion (it probably never was). You need to really prove to candidates that you’re committed to changing for the better. 

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are going to take a front seat and require a leading role in almost all initiatives that touch or influence the employee experience. But to truly bring about change, it’s important for organizations to take an honest assessment of where they’re at. This truth, coupled with a vision for the future, provides you a clear map from which to progress.

Once you have set the parameters of what your ideal culture should look like, you can then go find diverse talent by using a universal, equitable, and inclusive message. This helps you appeal to the type of person that is capable of thriving in your particular environment. Remember, you can’t go looking for a breadth of diversity without first setting the story for clear equity and inclusion.  

4. Portraying vs Connecting

In a world of “fake news” and unsubstantiated claims, people are yearning for information they can relate to and trust. According to research from LinkedIn, the No. 1 obstacle candidates experience when searching for a job is not knowing what it’s like to work at an organization. 

It’s important to help job-seekers interact and connect with employees who are actually doing their future job. One way to do that is with videos of workers talking about their work and your culture. Consider integrating them into job-description pages to give candidates full transparency on what it’s like to be part of the team.

But go beyond that by not just portraying your work environment but by actually connecting candidates to employees to have their questions answered in real time. This can be especially impactful because candidates trust employees three times more than the company to provide credible information on what it’s like to work there. 

By leveraging employee-generated content and enabling candidates to interact with employees, you’ll be able to build trust and show candidates that they’re valued and supported throughout the recruitment process. 

5. Passively Existence vs Active Branding

This one might sound obvious, but believe it or not, many organizations struggle with simple brand-name recognition. When candidates are searching for their next move, the companies with the strongest and most appealing employer brands will be the ones that inspire the most interest from potential recruits. 

Building an attractive employer brand isn’t just about your value exchange or offering. There are a number of practical strategies you can implement to encourage the right applicants. For starters, SEO strategies and tactics are finally emerging onto the major stage. As an employer, you need to understand how to rank effectively across the entire digital ecosystem, from Glassdoor and Indeed to Google and Facebook and beyond.

Visibility is getting harder and harder, especially as Google is updating its search rules and Facebook is increasing advertising prices. To outperform the competition, you need to look at new ways to boost online visibility. 

For example, there’s still room for organizations to build owned communities, either as a separate hub or as part of your careers website. What’s more, smart companies will begin to create talent alliances and cooperative communities instead of going it alone. Whether it’s partnerships with mindfulness apps like Headspace or fitness apps like Nike Run Club, or even larger collaborations with non-competing businesses, joining forces with others can only make your own proposition stronger.

At the end of the day, it’s about providing as much value as possible for your talent audience. By building communities that address the values, interests, and behaviors of your candidates and employees, you can demonstrate a genuine commitment to causes that amplify and strengthen your employer brand. 

Bryan Adams is the international best-selling author of Give & Get Employer Branding. He is also the CEO and founder of Ph.Creative, a leading employer brand agency that specializes in building world-class employer brand, EVP, and talent engagement strategy for companies such as Apple, American Airlines, GVC, and Blizzard Entertainment.

An employer brand thought leader and speaker, Bryan's aims to change the way people think about employer branding and EVP through unconventional and even controversial methodologies.

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