Employer branding is how your company is perceived by prospective and current employees. It includes company mission, culture, compensation, and more. It’s not necessary to push every one of these components. For instance, lower compensation can be counterbalanced with great culture. It’s the aggregate perception of all these pieces relative to other employers that make your employer brand.
A positive employer brand can go a long way in helping your small business hire and retain talent and stand out from other companies in your industry.
Employer Brand vs Company Brand
While your employer brand relates to how people perceives you as an employer, your company brand is broader. It includes traditional sales-related branding efforts and how the public perceives all aspects of your company. However, there is often overlap between your employer brand and sales marketing efforts.
For instance, TOMS shoes has baked in charitable giving throughout their business model and marketing. This helps their sales but also positions the company as a caring organization and employer. Similar to TOMS, you should leverage your traditional marketing capabilities as a starting point for your employer brand.
The main difference between company branding and employer branding is focus and channels. For employer branding, the focus is on key benefits to employees. Messaging should focus on benefits, not sales. And, you’re going to focus on channels that put that message in front of employees and potential employees, not customers.
6 Steps to Employer Branding
Similar to marketing your product, you need to think through and execute an employer brand strategy with a series of steps.
- Define Your Objectives
- Develop a Skill Needs List
- Define Your Employee Value Proposition (EVP)
- Get Input From Your Team
- Get the Word Out
- Measure & Evaluate
Step 1: Define Your Objectives
First, let’s be clear on the why of employer branding. Generally, businesses create an employer branding strategy for the following reasons:
Attracting Quality Candidates
Everyone has heard the refrain “hard to find good help”. Most small business owners know that attracting enough of the right employees is critical to success and growth. You need to have a great recruiting strategy, but any recruiting strategy is going to be more effective if supported by a great employer brand.
To meet hiring goals, you need to be able to convert candidates to employees. A strong employer brand will help you compete against other companies when those offers come rolling in for the great candidates.
Lower Acquisition Costs
A great employer brand will reduce costs because you attract more candidates per position with less effort. Also, since the most effective hiring comes through employee referrals, a great employer brand means people who work for and know your company will be more likely to refer the people they know. A cheaper way to acquire talent than job boards or recruiters.
Increase Employee Engagement
Reducing turnover in your workforce means reduced recruiting costs, reduced training costs, and reduction in the loss of experience. A strong employer brand is a key piece in reducing turnover as much as possible.
Now that we’re all super-motivated to have a great employer branding strategy and making it happen, what goes into it?
Step 2: Develop a Skill Needs List
The more specific you can be in your branding strategy, the more you’ll benefit from it. Instead of saying “we’re a great company to work for”, which is easy for any company to say, you need to talk specifics with the world.
Take a look at your current and future skill needs. Do you need customer service people, engineers, designers, salespeople? Often different types of employees value different things. Designers might want creative freedom. Salespeople want a fast growing company.
You want a cohesive employer branding strategy, but you may want to tailor your message and choose different channels as you try to reach different folks. For example, you might have a message about intellectual challenges when recruiting at an engineering school or emphasize a flexible work environment for customer service personnel.
Step 3: Define Your Employee Value Proposition (EVP)
Current and future employees are trading their time and effort in exchange for not only earnings, but also the experience of working for you. So it’s helpful to think about your employer brand in terms of an employee value proposition or EVP. According to an HBR study, 61% of organizations have an EVP. The goal is to define and be able to articulate your company’s key strengths, such as flex-time or employee-self management, relative to other employment options they may have. When defining your EVP, consider these top 5 workplace trends.
Survey Existing Employees
To start creating an EVP, assuming you’ve already thought about your skill needs list, begin with some research into what’s important to your target employees. Do surveys among existing employees and prospects. Check out what folks are saying on Glassdoor and social networks. What do they gripe about? What do they praise? This will help you craft your story and know what to emphasize.
In addition, you should research your competition. What are they focusing on in their employer branding? How are they articulating their EVP? What kind of benefits do they offer: health benefits, commuter benefits, unlimited PTO? What works, what doesn’t?
Now that you’ve got a list of skills, what’s important to folks, and what your competitors are doing, you should prioritize the list of benefits that you’d want to go to market with. Emphasize not only on what’s important, but how your strengths position you better than alternative employers.
Articulate Your Mission
Your EVP can’t just be a list of benefits. Your EVP needs to hit on all of the important benefits but needs to be articulated as a compelling story. That means all of the benefits need to fit cohesively into the company mission. What does your company stand for? Why does it exist? What’s the culture? What’s the vision for your company’s impact on the community?
A good example is Charity Water. They’ve baked their mission of bringing water to developing countries right into their business model and made it abundantly clear in all of their marketing. Good for sales but also helpful on the employer branding front.
Blend In Benefits
Armed with a mission, now build in all of your specific benefits into a cohesive story. Keep in mind your prioritized list of skill needs and what’s important to your target employees. The more cohesive you can blend in benefits under mission, the better your EVP and branding campaigns will be. There may be branches in your EVP and benefits articulation. You’ll want to tailor the messaging based each employee segment.
Here are some benefits you can focus on:
- Charitable involvement/volunteer work
- Health benefits and wellness classes
- Work/life balance
- Retirement benefits
- Company culture, including dress code and food, snacks, or beverages offered
- Vacation and paid time off
Act, Don’t Talk
Finally when crafting your EVP, the most important thing is not your message. Your employer branding campaign is to show off how your organization thinks and behaves. So while you need messaging, that messaging should focus on showing how your organization thinks and behaves, not just its principles.
If you don’t have a lot of activities that promote and enable your EVP, you need to do that first. Is one of your principles to support the environment? Then how does your business do that? Are employees volunteering to plant trees? Are they working on recycling drives? Make sure you’re walking the talk on your EVP before you start promoting it.
Instead of just a marketing campaign, Avon’s breast cancer fundraising run shows that the company is willing to get out and actually try to help women by sponsoring this race.
Project An Authentic Voice
As you head into creating your messaging for your employer branding, make sure you’re using the right voice and not coming off as holier-than-thou. People can see through marketing speak. Use a down-to-earth, approachable voice, and focus on showing actual activity as opposed to marketing messages.
Ben & Jerry’s ice cream sounds authentic when describing what fair trade means to them and why it’s important.
Step 4: Get Input From Your Team
Now that you’ve got a beautiful EVP, it’s time to get the word out. You’ll need a plan to execute your employer branding.
Figure Out Who Owns Your Employer Brand
The first step in any execution plan is clearly defining who’s responsible for it. For employee branding, often it’s a tussle between marketing and HR departments. Traditionally, HR departments have owned this function when it was mostly internally focused. However, the marketing department is skilled at evangelizing externally. It makes sense to leverage these capabilities and resources. So clearly, it’ll involve both departments, but having multiple departments ultimately responsible for execution is usually a recipe for failure. So pick one to take the lead.
Get Senior Leadership Buy-In
A proper employee branding strategy is ultimately going to require investment, effort, and focus. WIthout proper buy-in from owners and senior managers, you’re probably not going to get far. So get this early on in the process.
Get Cooperation From All Your Staff
A company needs to walk the employer branding talk for it to be authentic. That means the employer brand needs to reflect all the different parts of your company, e.g. marketing, operations, customer service. Make sure you involve each department in the planning process, so you have the necessary buy-in when it comes time to execute.
Step 5: Get the Word Out
Now that you’ve got your EVP and the ownership and buy-in you need, you need to map out how to get the word out. From your research, you should have a good sense of how to get in front of folks, similar to any marketing campaign. Each small business is going to have different channels to get the message in front of the right folks but here are some common ones.
Show Up On Company Review Sites
The first place that many potential candidates will go to learn more about your company is company review sites. Indeed, the world’s largest job board, has company profiles where job seekers and employees can leave reviews.
Make sure your profile information is up to date, upload photos that show happy employees having fun and doing activities that reflect your brand, answer any open questions, etc. A good place to start is to ask current employees to leave reviews. However, don’t try to game the system and ask a dozen employees to leave reviews at the same time. Indeed will flag that as spam. Ask for genuine reviews – perhaps one or two per month until you build up your profile page.
Glassdoor is another well known site where people can leave company reviews. You should add your employer branding message to your corporate profile on Glassdoor as well.
Create An Employee Referral Program
Referrals are usually the best ways for small businesses to attract talent. Make sure you have an employee referral program. Make sure both the messaging and processes reflect your EVP. For example, if work-life balance is a part of your EVP, think about rewarding those who refer hires by giving them time off from work instead of just a bonus.
Provide Training & Development Programs
Any employer branding project starts with your existing employees. Much like the act, don’t talk advice above, the first place you should start is in your internal training and development programs. Does your onboarding process incorporate your EVP principles? Does your review process include employee feedback on your EVP in addition to performance reviews? Do managers demonstrate your brand in how they manage?
Publish Internal Newsletters
This one should be pretty obvious. If you don’t have an internal newsletter, start one. It’s an easy way to get the word out to your employees about how you’re executing against your EVP.
Project Your Brand On Your Website
The first place folks will go to research your small business is your website. If you’re like most businesses, your website focuses on selling. But if you’re serious about attracting talent, you need to incorporate your mission and EVP into your home page and throughout the site. A key spot is your careers page. Make sure it reflects the branding your after. If you don’t have a careers page, you should create one.
Project Your Brand In Tangible Ways
For many small businesses, your physical presence is just as visible, if not more so, than your website. Review all the ways you’re visible to the world, such as uniforms, retail presence, packaging, etc. The goal is to work your employer branding throughout as much of it as you can, alongside your product marketing.
Review Career Postings
If you’re like most businesses, your postings for job openings have some sort of company background and job description. Review all existing ones and new ones to ensure both are using the messaging and voice you want.
Review Social Media
Here’s where you really want to make sure you’re using your authentic voice and focus on showing your EVP, not just marketing messages. Instead of posts that simply espouse good intentions and missions, use social to support your EVP activities. Use Twitter to promote activities, e.g. announcing a blood drive. Create groups on Facebook that support EVP-related efforts, e.g. volunteer groups. Evidence of activity will go much further than just branding messages.
Meld Marketing Campaigns With Your Employer Brand
You want your marketing to sell products. But if you’re serious about your EVP and your employer branding, you should work them into your marketing efforts to some extent. Quite often, employer branding and marketing are two sides of the same coin. Used well together, they can convince people to come work for you and feel better about buying your product.
Foundation Medicine Diversity Video
Budget Your Communication Strategy
Again, like any marketing campaign, you’re going to need funding to get the word out about your employer brand in all these channels. Some typical pieces of your budget should include:
- Full-time and part-time staffing
- Any tools you’ll need to execute and track your branding
- Direct advertising
- Production costs for advertising
- Special projects such as donating to charities or organizing events
There’s going to be some overlap between employee branding, marketing, and HR activities. Use your judgement on what belongs to each in the budget.
Step 6: Measure & Evaluate
A lot of factors go into determining the effectiveness of your employer brand. But the two main pieces are how effective you are at delivering on your EVP and how well are you at getting the word out.
Remember, in order to have an effective employer brand, it’s not enough to get the word out once. You need to continually hone the messaging in your EVP and reach job seekers and employees. Your long-term plan should also include periodic review and adjustment to make sure your small business is being effective over time.
The easiest place to measure your EVP is going to be with your employees. Employee surveys are a great way to do this. A few things you might want to start measuring if you’re not already would be:
- Employee engagement surveys
- Employee retention rates
- Employee activity, e.g. volunteer rates
- New employee post-onboarding surveys
- Exiting employee surveys
Click here for a free template of an employee survey.
Similar to any marketing campaigns, measuring how effective your employer branding is going outside of your small business is a bit trickier than internal. But here are a few ideas on how to measure it:
- Average number of candidates for job openings over time
- Time to hire
- External surveys
- Number of attendees at non-employee social activity, e.g. liking a blood drive
There are additional HR metrics that can also be a good measure of the success of your employer brand.
Bottom Line: Employer Branding
So you should now be armed with what you need to get your employer branding off the ground. Keep these key things in mind as you get started:
- You have to “walk the talk” on your brand, not just marketing speak
- Focus on evangelizing actual activity as opposed to good intentions
- To sustain a program over time, you need to gather data to support continued investment and improve the program over time.