A Good Way to Waste Money, Time, and Attention: The 7 Most Common Reasons Employer Brand Initiatives Fail

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Oct 8, 2019

The numbers are impressive. When you have a strong employer brand, you can see up to a 50 percent drop in cost to hire and up to an 80 percent increase in retention (All data points come from Universum). You should expect to see far more inbound applicants, your recruiters will have higher InMail open rates, and your offer acceptance rates should grow. 

Which makes employer brand sound like a magic bullet. Like pixie dust you can sprinkle over any company and magically make things better.

Of course, that’s not true. An employer brand isn’t a quick fix. It isn’t easy to understand, crystalize, and define an employer value proposition that is authentic, credible, and attractive. It takes work to turn that idea into something that your target audience wants to hear and absorb.

Depending on the size of your company and how deeply you’ve invested in your employer brand, a failed project might just be a little embarrassing, or it might be a significant capital loss. Investing in videos, microsites, ratings sites, recruitment marketing platforms, focus group,s and surveys can quickly reach into six figures, and unless they made an obvious impact on your hiring, they were all wasted.

So if you’re interested in getting the value out of your employer brand and want to avoid wasting time, effort or money, here are the seven most common reasons employer brands fail and how to avoid them in no particular order:

One: You sound like everyone else

If I had a dime for every company I saw who extolled their staff’s ability to make an impact, I could retire in Fiji. Many companies develop their employer brand around what they think candidates want to hear, based on data that isn’t specific to their industry or company.

The solution is to differentiate, to look at what others in the market are doing and find that blue ocean space. If everyone is talking about impact or purpose, being the 200th company to do that same won’t mean anything. Find the position where you can stand out.

Two: You sound like someone else

In an effort to look and sound more appealing to candidates, companies try to build a brand that just isn’t real. It’s like the post office talking about the dynamic working environment or innovation, or a hedge fund talking about work/life balance. A strong brand isn’t just attractive it needs to be authentic.

There’s nothing wrong with being the post office. The stability and work/life balance it offers is unparalleled, and there are candidates who are attracted to exactly that kind of working culture. Trying to be someone you’re not might get a few more applicants, but they will all run away when they realize the truth (and leave some scathing reviews on their way out).

Three: Your brand isn’t attractive to your target audience

It’s not that there’s such a thing about being too truthful. But of all the traits that could describe you, are you highlighting the ones that people really want? When you go on a date, you could lead with the litany of messy breakups and how you aren’t the most tidy person, but you don’t. You focus on the very real stories and ideas that get them to see you in a positive light.

Employer brand is the same. Of all the things that describe you, pick the ones people actually want. Knowing what various audiences find attractive is a lot of work, requiring deep qualitative and quantitative research on your target audiences and your competitors’ positioning.

Four: Your brand doesn’t “stick” with staff

Having an EVP is only step one in a successful employer brand initiative. You need to integrate it into your company so that staff (not just recruiters) live it every day. Your talking points should show up in their reviews. They describe your company very much like recruiters would, albeit in their own words. A strong employer brand lives in the heart of every employee, not just leadership or talent acquisition.

Think of “brand activation” not as something you do to staff, but how you get them to see that they are an impact player in the success of the brand. Each one should see themselves in the brand, and the brand in themselves, which means focusing less on posters and campaigns and more on getting staff to embrace the brand. It’s like creating a movement without a leader. Once you get staff to feel like the brand is really theirs, it will take off. 

Five: Your brand never gets seen

Beyond internal staff, employer brand without a formal activation plan is all but doomed. A great EVP is conceptual, so turn that concept into taglines, hashtags, social media posts, staff stories and profiles, videos, targeted campaigns, events, messaging around existing events, language for job postings, career site content … the list goes on and on. 

It doesn’t happen magically. The real work in making an employer brand shine is in translating an abstract conceptual north star into hundreds and thousands of stories that reveal the brand. The content and distribution strategy illuminates the brand for people in various roles and stages of the funnel. A candidate won’t remember the EVP, but they will remember the video that exposes and exhibits the brand. It’s what makes your brand real. 

Six: Your brand doesn’t grow

If your employer brand stays part of the recruiting team, it is hiding in junior-varsity level forever. In order to grow and evolve, to integrate itself into more of the company itself, it needs to stop focusing exclusively on talent acquisition and learn how to play with marketing and internal comms teams. 

That’s a big demand, and it takes a great deal of time to prove you can play at that level. But without taking that leap (and having the EVP structure and justification for that structure), you’ll always be relegated to amateur league, playing against other amateurs while the pros keep their seat at the table, c-suite influence, and budgets. Step up your game or quit.

Seven: Your brand feels hollow, or seems to change with the season

The fastest way to launch an employer brand is to think short-term. To think small. But that isn’t a brand. It’s a campaign. It’s fashion. It’s the flavor of the week. And you’ll spend so much time trying to prop it up, injecting new ideas in it to keep it going, that you’ll never get anyone meaningful. It’s like a 40-year-old car that’s falling apart because it isn’t solid. You spend so much time duct-taping pieces back on that you never end up going anywhere.

Does your brand have a well-defined and validated EVP? What are the pillars that support it? Do you have different pillars for different teams or offices? Without this kind of structure, your brand is subject to the whim of the moment. You are crafting not a brand, but just enough of a campaign to justify launching it. It doesn’t have the gravitas or consideration that gives you options on how to communicate it without changing what you’re communicating. 

There are obvious and meaningful business impacts that happen when you invest in your employer brand. But checking the box isn’t going to do it. Like all things worth doing, the value of employer branding comes only occur when you invest in it correctly.

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