Competition for top candidates in today's tight talent market might be considered more "cutthroat" than "competitive," which means skilled job seekers have more power than ever before. There’s evidence to suggest that candidates are becoming more selective about who they go to work for: One recent survey, for example, shows that a majority of new hires applied for five roles or fewer in their latest job searches. 

a majority of new hires applied for five roles or fewer in their latest job searches.

As candidates become choosier, employer branding becomes an increasingly key differentiator, impacting your ability to attract and retain valuable employees.

In this article, you'll learn:

  • what employer branding is, and how it differs from your employer value proposition (EVP)

  • why employer branding matters — and the high cost of failure 

  • where good employer branding often goes awry

  • what you can do to fix it — and in so doing, leverage your employer brand as an effective talent acquisition and employee retention tool

Let's dive in. 

employer branding vs. EVP

First things first: What, exactly, is employer branding — and how does it differ from your EVP?

Let's start with high-level definitions of the two concepts, paying close attention to the key differences. 

  • As the name implies, EVP is all about value — duh. But what value are we talking about, specifically? It's internal. It's what makes every day on the job worthwhile for the people in your organization. It's the perceived, intrinsic value employees feel, day in and day out, from being a part of your workforce. 

  • Employer branding, on the other hand, is external. It's about reputation and image. It's what comes across in the net sum of your messaging, marketing and advertising (not just what you post on job boards). And when done right, it not only accurately communicates your EVP for key talent audiences but makes you far more appealing to them as well. 

Got it? Good. The key thing to remember is that, because your employer branding must be authentic (as we'll discuss in the next section), it must therefore accurately reflect your EVP. Today's employees can sniff out inauthenticity from a mile away, 

why employer branding is such a big deal 

Not convinced that strategically communicating your employer brand matters to your big-picture business goals? If the following three stats don't change your mind, nothing will. 

  • A full 94 percent of employees say they're likely to apply for open positions with companies that actively manage their employer brands.

  • The majority of job seekers report having initiated job applications with companies — only to subsequently abandon them after encountering negative online reviews. 

  • At large companies, research shows that the cost of a bad reputation is especially steep: For these companies, hiring and retaining essential talent translates to an estimated $7.6 million in additional financial outlays annually.

Of course, that's just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the potential for negative bottom-line impact when it comes to employer branding. 

where good employer branding goes bad 

Let's look at a few common areas where companies are struggling. 

poor hiring experiences

The end-to-end hiring process is where good employer brands too often go bad. Beyond the need for transparency and proactive communication throughout the process, many companies are failing in far more fundamental ways.

For one, almost 60 percent of candidates report that they've abandoned job applications due to issues or bugs with the website, according to recent research. Worse still, a majority of job seekers who have these types of negative experiences are likely to share them with friends, which immediately magnifies the issue. Considering that the overwhelming majority of job seekers (91%) say that poorly designed or executed online experiences critically damage an employer's brand, according to one study, you can't afford to let this happen to you. 

91% of job seekers say that poorly designed or executed online experiences critically damage an employer's brand.

inauthentic messaging 

Telling an authentic story is crucial — and among today's job seekers, particularly those raised on digital channels, inauthenticity is a big turn off. Not surprisingly, then, this is an area where many companies are struggling. Fortunately for you, you have an ace up your sleeve.

How so?

Most job seekers believe that a company's current employees are the most trusted source for information about the organization, according to a recent study. That not only illuminates the strong connection between EVP and employer branding — it also suggests that companies could leverage these same employees for employer branding efforts. Unfortunately, that's an opportunity too few companies are effectively leveraging today. 

monolithic messaging across channels 

Randstad's study on the impact of tech in the workplace clearly reveals that not all employees are using technology, or feeling its impact, in the same way — and that has definite implications for employer branding. You can't simply copy and paste the same message across channels and hope it resonates. In this day and age, that's not going to cut it. 

what you can do to fix it

Now that we have a clear sense of where, when and why employer branding derails, let's turn to thee focus areas to help fix it. Prioritize these and you'll be sure to see short- and long-term progress. 

audit your company's digital reputation

Studies have shown that over half of candidates won’t even apply to companies with negative reviews on job sites like kununu, so you should simply assume that candidates are scouring the web for information about your company before they decide to apply. 

over half of candidates won’t even apply to companies with negative reviews on job sites

But you can't begin to change those perceptions unless you know what's out there. And yet, surprisingly, less than half of companies right now are actively doing that, according to research from Harvard Business Review. 

Here’s how to get started:

  • The first step is to conduct a deep dive to get a panoramic view of your company's digital reputation. That should give you some idea of where you stand right now, and where you need to improve. 

  • Next, consider asking someone from your HR or PR team to set up a Google alert for your company. That way, you can track and manage messaging related to your company as it appears.

  • Finally, to proactively get out ahead of that messaging, consider designating someone within your company to reply to comments (or in the case of trolls, delete them) across social media channels. It’s a great way to engage and build relationships with candidates. 

define your message — and express it authentically

Once you've audited your reputation, and gotten a nuanced sense of where you stand today, it's time to start crafting your message. 

Given that a full 86 percent of HR professionals say that recruitment today more and more resembles marketing, it makes sense, in the context of employer branding, to start thinking about candidates as if they were customers. Indeed, you might even develop personas for different talent audiences — because the more you treat your recruitment efforts like marketing, the easier it should be for you to define a message that resonates. 

Ask yourself, for example: 

  • What do various candidates want from my company? 

  • What differentiates us from our competitors — and how can we convey that in a way that feels natural and authentic, not forced? 

  • Are there certain technologies or channels that lend themselves to that vision better than others?

Answering questions like these should help you develop a clearly defined message, one that you can promote consistently across all channels and touchpoints.

socialize your employer brand messaging 

Social media is the proving ground where employer brands are made or broken. So it's critical you're vying for attention on relevant channels — which doesn't just mean LinkedIn, but Instagram, too. What’s more, one SHRM study shows that messaging related to employer branding is the second-most-common reason that companies are using social media today. So you really can't afford not to be engaging with your talent audiences on these channels. 

messaging related to employer branding is the second-most-common reason that companies are using social media today.

How you execute is up to you, of course, but here’s one simple idea that has proven to be effective for many companies: 

  • Concept: Create a series of short (think 30–60 seconds) “day in the life” videos. 

  • Background: Each video should profile a specific employee or team. The goal is to showcase the exciting work that goes on every day, while also giving viewers a sense of your company's culture. 

  • Why it’s effective: These videos are closely aligned with the idea that authenticity matters in employer branding. They offer a seemingly unfiltered view into day-to-day work at your company. And that’s exactly why they’ll resonate with your audience on social channels — because you’re effectively “speaking their language.”  

Just be sure you're creating targeted, audience-specific messages and sharing them on the right channels. 

key takeaways 

It's clear that employer branding ties back to ROI in a host of different ways. Think of it as the equivalent to the recent finding, in a Harvard Business School working paper, that each additional star on Yelp corresponds to revenue gains of as much as nine percent. Reputation matters, now more than ever — and its importance is only going to increase, particularly as companies become increasingly reliant on independent contractors and the gig economy. So it's imperative that you're delivering the right messaging on the right channels and to the right audiences. Otherwise, your efforts are doomed to fail. 

Plus, if you’re still struggling with employer branding, that’s probably a sign you need to rethink your talent acquisition strategy. Alternately, you can get in touch with one of our talent experts to start making progress on employer branding — and all the rest of your talent pain points — today.

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