Employer Branding Beats Consumer Branding for Young Job-Seekers

Aug 5, 2014
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 7.31.34 AMTwo studies recently came out that provide interesting perspectives on how a brand is viewed by the general public and by young workers looking to start their careers. These surveys illustrate both the connection and disconnection between branding and employer branding.

The first study was conducted by CoreBrand, which annually surveys more than 10,000 business decision-makers from the top 20 percent of U.S. businesses. This is a survey of peers, not of average consumers. It determines two factors: Familiarity, based on whether respondents could name a brand’s verticals or subsidiaries; and Favorability, based on respondents’ opinions of the brand’s overall reputation, perception of management, and investment potential. CoreBrand considers brands with the highest scores in both categories to be the “Most Respected.” The top 10 of 2014 are:

  1. Coca-Cola
  2. PepsiCo
  3. Hershey
  4. Bayer
  5. Johnson & Johnson
  6. Harley-Davidson
  7. IBM
  8. Apple
  9. Kellogg
  10. General Electric

In short: business leaders know these brands, like them, and feel they’re well-run and have successful futures.

Collegefeed then looked at brands from the other direction, asking 15,000 Millennials (60 percent college students and 40 percent recent grads) their top three companies to work for. Respondents weren’t given a list; they could name any companies. Their top 10 are:

  1. Google
  2. Apple
  3. Facebook
  4. Microsoft
  5. Amazon
  6. eBay
  7. LinkedIn
  8. Yahoo
  9. Goldman Sachs
  10. IBM

The high number of tech companies may be due to the fact that 50 percent of Collegefeed’s respondents were in a “tech-oriented major,” or it might be reveal that more college students are studying technology to get ahead in the weak, post-recession economy.

Either way, only two companies from Collegefeed’s top 10 overlap with CoreBrand’s top 10: Apple and IBM. Coca-Cola and Pepsi, which are CoreBrand’s two “most respected” brands in the world, don’t even make Collegefeed’s top 50! Why the discrepancy? Could it have something to do with employer branding?

Indeed it does. A scan of Glassdoor’s 2014 Best Places to Work shows LinkedIn at No. 3, Facebook at No. 5, and Google at No. 8. Twitter, which just outside the top 10 of Collegefeed’s list, is No. 2 on Glassdoor. My conclusion is that a brand’s familiarity, likability, and even peer respect isn’t as compelling to young job-seekers as whether the company is a great place to work. That’s reinforced by Collegefeed’s respondents’ reasons for choosing their top employers: more than 75 percent said “people and culture fit.” Meanwhile, “company mission” scored below 45 percent and “market leadership” was below 20 percent.

As surprising as it may sound, recent college grads would rather work at an online company that treats them well than one that sells candy or soda or motorcycles.

In fact, the situation gets even more intriguing as you move down the list of Collegefeed’s most sought-after companies. “Boring” brands like Salesforce (No. 18) and Qualcomm (No. 19), which millennials rarely encounter or use, placed ahead of “cool” companies like The Walt Disney Company (No. 20) and Nike (No. 21), which millennials grew up with. Again, the answer lies in the employee experience. Qualcomm is No. 13 on the Glassdoor list, ahead of Nike (No. 29) and Disney (No. 42). Salesforce placed an amazing No. 7 on Fortune’s list of Best Companies to Work For.

Did all these college students read the lists? Probably not. But their information also came from some surprising places. “Friends” was the most-cited way that Collegefeed’s job-seekers heard about a company, with more than 70 percent of respondents putting it in their top three. Social media accounted for a third. As the CEO of Collegefeed put it, “If college students like something, they tell their friends on social media or face-to-face.” If you ask me, that’s one definition of employer branding.

Look at it another way: There are certain companies that are well known, but it’s not considered “cool” to work for them. I’m thinking of Walmart, ExxonMobil, or Bank of America. Job seekers may encounter them every day, and even use their products. And the company might have a lot of job openings that match the job-seekers’ skills. But it will take extra convincing to overcome young people’s perceptions. One way a brand is responding to this problem is WalmartLabs, the retail giant’s outreach to the tech community, which positions Walmart as an alternative to Google.?

The takeaway from all these lists and statistics: For a brand to attract top talent, it’s better to be liked by employees than by consumers, or even by other industry leaders. Hip companies like Google and Apple will always have a slight edge, but job-seekers care far more about cultural fit and career potential than about what their employer actually does — or what they pay. So if you think your “dull” company with average compensation can’t go after the best employees, think again.

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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