The strength of a company’s reputation has implications beyond its ratings on employer review sites. In the war for talent, employer brand is an organization’s most powerful recruiting tool and one of its greatest assets for retaining scarce and valuable talent. In a recent RiseSmart #SmartTalkHR Webinar, “Employer Branding: Your Most Powerful Tool to Attract and Retain Talent”, I discussed the importance of the employer brand, its influence on job seekers and the success of recruiting efforts, some examples of exemplary employer brands, and provided some advice about how to build a better employer brand at your organization. I began by talking about the influence of a good employer brand on recruiting, retention, and increased productivity.

Your company’s employer brand is its story. It’s unique to your organization. That’s your edge and no competitor can steal it because it’s your story. Getting the competitive edge begins with understanding your employer brand and using it to your benefit.

Advice for HR: Think like a marketer

First, let me clarify. Marketing targets consumers. Recruitment marketing targets talent. While they are not the same thing, there are some strategies and best practices HR leaders can learn from marketers. Just as consumers are shopping for your products or services, job seekers are shopping for their next job.

Let’s look at your product or services from a marketing perspective. The marketer recognizes the importance of helping prospects to see themselves as changed as a result of using the product or service. For the customer, buying a product is also buying a projection. You hope that by acquiring an object, you will transform, acquire new emotions, and become part of the experience of the brand.

For HR leaders hoping to attract the best talent, they should be helping potential candidates project themselves into the environment of the organization. While the desired results are the same, HR isn’t selling a dream. Instead, the goal of the HR effort is to position the company authentically and to be genuine. Whether or not you portray your company as it actually is will make all the difference later whether you’ll be able to retain talent, or not. If you’re selling a dream, the employees you attract will be leaving in two weeks and you’ll have to redo the entire cycle again. Be bold, be compelling, but above all, be thruthful.

The importance of positive employer brands

First, the term employer brand gets bandied about quite often, so I want to stop here and define it. An employer brand is a term that is used to describe an organization’s reputation as an employer. Pretty simple. The concept started in the 1990’s when companies began to realize that they could create a positive feeling among job seekers that would make them want to join the company, even if they didn’t know what the role was. The goal is to get people to say, “I want to work for this company because it looks cool.”

30 years later, the term is a hot topic on Google and a variety of jobs that didn’t exist before, are now part of most large organizations, including:

  • Employer Brand Strategist
  • Recruitment Marketing and Employment Branding Lead
  • Employer Brand Director
  • and others

These positions and the emphasis on the employer brand exist because employers realize they need to think about an employer branding strategy. They realize the company’s employer brand will impact the bottom line, including:

  • Cost to hire
  • Time to hire,
  • Retention rates.

In fact, the majority of recruiters say that their employer brand has a significant impact on their hiring. It’s just easier to recruit the best talent when the company has a good reputation, the candidate already knows the organization, and the candidate has a positive opinion of the company.

Just like a good marketer, recruitment marketers and HR leaders need to identify your target audiences before you start to plan your employer branding strategy. Once you know who you’re trying to recruit, you can decide which specific platforms to use to talk about your brand and measure your impact.

It’s important to know that data is key. Set your KPIs and then measure your outcomes against your goals. Providing quantitative proof of the effectiveness of your programs will inform your budget year after year and help you plan where to invest next.

Targeting your audience

Job seeker behavior has changed a lot in the last couple of years. From being active job seekers while they were at work and searching on their desktop, now, people are jobs seekers at any moment when they are bored or dissatisfied with their current role or organization. Because of the explosion of devices, people can search at any moment and from anywhere. The first job of an employer hoping to attract individuals who are passively, or actively, looking for jobs is to control the message on each of the different platforms where people are searching.

Once prospective candidates find your job posting, or hear about it through their networks, they will move quickly from discovery to validation. Here is where it’s imperative to be authentic. For example, if in your job description you talk about how you are an employer of choice and that you offer a lot of training and other desirable perks, people will go validate that information on Glassdoor and other social media sites.

Prospective candidates will go check what people are saying about you. If what you’re saying is true, your current and former employees are already validating that. The process of discovery and validation that every job candidate now goes through is exactly why the entire process of how you treat your employees from onboarding to off-boarding and the outplacement services you provide is so crucial.

For existing employees, creating and maintaining a strong, positive employer brand has two benefits: productivity and retention. If, as an employer, you are genuine in your communications, and you are telling people who want to join your company the truth about what it’s like to work there, their expectations will be met once they join, and they will be productive. High productivity is a product of people feeling good about the place they have chosen to work, feeling valued for the work they do, feeling integral to the company’s success, and feeling proud of who they work for. The formula for retention is the exact same thing. In this way, the employer brand is intertwined and dependent on the established workplace culture.

Creating a strong workplace culture, and a positive employer brand, involves connecting your vision to your employees’ day to day. An employer value proposition cannot be an abstract concept, it needs to tie to what people are doing. It's not something that you develop to hang on the wall. It needs to be a living statement.

And finally, you need to value your employees during their entire life cycle. To effectively leverage your employer value proposition to hire people, you must be able to articulate who you are, and why you're genuine. Then, every decision your employees make when they work for you should be in line with your employer value proposition. It’s the same thing when you have to lay off people. You have to continue to respect your values as an employer and to treat your employees correctly with proper support and severance. So, this is how it all ties together for productivity and retention. When employees know that they’re going be taken care of from A to Z, they don't hesitate to give 110%.

If you’d like to hear some specific examples of companies who have successfully created exemplary employer brands and some tips for improving your employer brand, you can watch the webinar in its entirety here.

Kareen Emery is Director, Innovation & Consulting at The Foundry by Monster.