It’s doubtful that anyone reading this is going to try to argue that an organization’s brand is unimportant. But there’s more to a brand than what comes to mind for some. It’s not just external—the name and the colors and the logo that you put out into the wider world to attract business.
Your internal brand, directed at your current and potential future employees, is just as important as your external brand. And despite the fact that you have a (sort of) captive audience internally, that doesn’t mean you can just half-ass it. Your internal brand strategy has to be as robust as your external marketing strategy.
Here’s how to build your employer branding strategy so people want to come work for you—and once they’re there, they want to stay.
Why is employer branding important?
It’s a relevant question. If you haven’t been following our content religiously, this might even be the first time you’ve really heard or thought about it. There are two main roles that employer branding plays for your business.
The first is that it helps your business recruit new employees. In all kinds of marketing, from selling a product to running for political office, positive name recognition does a lot of the heavy lifting. After all, people are far less likely to buy from you if they have no idea who you are, or if they’ve heard of you but it’s all negative. This goes for hiring as well. And one way to get the word out—positively—is through your employer branding. If your employees are hitting the town in your company swag, they’re essentially a walking billboard for your brand. And your reputation will grow.
Strong employer branding also just makes it more fun to work somewhere. Simply making the effort shows your employees that you care about them and are willing and able to put forth an effort to make their days a little brighter. That you put them first, and that they matter to you beyond simply clocking in at 9 and clocking out at 5.
In short, your employer brand—from your core values all the way down to t-shirts and coffee mugs—makes your employees’ lives happier, and makes it more likely that people will want to work for you.
What makes a good employer brand?
There are five basic characteristics your employer brand needs to have in order to be successful. Good employer brands focus on the people who make up your business—your talent. They build and support a great culture, helping you know who you are as a business, why your business exists, and what you want to accomplish in the future. They provide for and even encourage growth, empowering your employees to learn and improve over time. They allow for your business to scale without losing sight of what makes you unique. And they show off how awesome your workplace is without being braggy about it—because nobody wants to hear you toot your own horn, but when your horn toots itself people will listen.
The parts of a good strategy
I think it’s safe to say that this all sounds pretty good. But how do you get there? The answer is pretty simple—the same way you build any kind of brand. It’s not by playing the wild card or making it up as you go along. You build a smart strategy and you stick to it. Here’s what you need to succeed.
Where are you going?
Start by determining what success looks like. In order to succeed, you need to know where your finish line is, so decide what you want your employer brand to do for you. Do you want to increase the volume of applicants when you post an available position? Do you want to improve your scores on employee satisfaction surveys among your existing workforce? Set the distinct goals you want to achieve—otherwise, you’ll be hard-pressed to determine whether what you’re doing is working, and whether you need to make adjustments.
Who are you looking for?
When you’re hiring for a position, you probably have an ideal candidate in mind. It’s the perfect employee, a person who fits your business better than anyone else—if you had a staff made up entirely of people like this, nothing could stop you. So what does that person look like? What are the must-haves to work for you? And—more importantly for this exercise—what are they looking for? Where do they go to look for work? What do they want in an employer?
You need to know who you’re looking for to have any hope of finding them. Determine your audience just like you would for any other brand strategy, so you’re not trying to please anyone and everyone.
What makes you unique?
When you’re selling to a customer, your pitch is built around this—your unique selling proposition (USP). Well, when it comes to your employer brand, your customer is your employee and your prospective future hires. So what is it that your business does for its employees that sets you apart? In other words, why would someone want to work for you instead of your competition?
Where can you reach the people you want?
Obviously in a perfect world, your employer brand would be ever-present. The right people would know who you are and think of you at just the right time, and they’d listen when you speak. Sadly, the real world does not work that way. You have to pick and choose where you’re going to show up and when. So obviously you want to know the best places to reach the audience you’re targeting.
While you’re researching your audience, be sure to look into the places they might go to learn about your business, or search for employment. Showing up there will place you top of mind when people are most likely to be receptive, and doing it right might make you irresistible.
Is it working?
Your strategy doesn’t end when your messaging first sees the light of day. Really, that's only just the beginning. Things change often, and your messaging needs to evolve to adapt. And even if nothing did change, some ideas that seem brilliant during a whiteboard brainstorm end up failing miserably in the real world. No matter what, you can’t get caught standing still. You need to know when changes are necessary.
And the only way to do that is to track the results of everything you’re doing. This can be as complex as an intricately designed digital marketing reporting system or as simple as observing the number and quality of job applications before and after trying various tactics. But no matter what, it’s critical to ensure you have some visibility into what is and is not working, so you can lean into and expand tactics that are seeing success and adjust or even abandon the ones that aren’t doing any good.
Build your brand—all of it.
Your internal brand is critical—perhaps just as much as your external brand. Your employer branding is your most powerful tool in the battle for talent, attracting new employees when you need to grow your staff and making life more enjoyable for your existing employees (therefore making them more likely to stick around). It can be hard to believe that your inward-facing work is as important as that which you’re using to actively attract business, but you’re nothing without your people—no business can succeed without great employees, no matter how good you are at selling to prospects. Build up your employer brand as much as you can, and get it out there. It’ll make a difference.
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