Human capital is the biggest single cost to an organisation, so getting your recruitment strategy right is a business-critical endeavour. But to really master talent acquisition and attract the best people to your organisation, you need a strong, effective employer branding strategy in place.
Every organisation wants to identify and recruit top-quality candidates. In reality, however, talent pools are finite and the job market remains increasingly competitive. To really stand out from the crowd, businesses need to speak directly to candidates in a way that appeals to their aspirations and intrinsic motivations.
This is where employer branding comes in. By painting an authentic picture of life at your business and targeting it towards the right kind of candidate, employer branding strategies can help you build a sustainable pipeline of talent — and save money in the process, too.
In this guide, we’ll show you how to build an employer branding strategy that’s aligned with wider business needs and geared towards achieving your recruitment goals.
What is employer branding?
Employer branding is the process of managing, maintaining, and promoting a company’s reputation as a great place to work for job seekers, existing employees, and key stakeholders alike.
In other words, it’s packaging your organisation’s values, approaches, and personality in a genuine, attractive format for your target audience.
Why is employer branding important?
In today’s business environment, ignoring the employer brand simply isn’t an option.
On the business side, 96% of companies believe employer brand and reputation can positively or negatively impact revenue. Externally, 78% of job candidates say the overall candidate experience they receive is an indicator of how a company values its people, while 84% of job seekers feel an employer’s reputation is important.
With the rise in remote working redefining company culture and how brands interact with candidates (as well as giving candidates more choice in where they work), employer branding will become even more pivotal in the coming months and years.
The benefits of employer branding
Being a holistic, all-encompassing process, an effective employer branding strategy has a plethora of upsides for a business.
- Stand out from competitors. By championing the unique qualities of working for your business and staying true to your values, you’ll differentiate yourself from other businesses that are competing for candidates from the same pool.
- Attract more informed candidates. Through consistent messaging directed at specific audience personas, you’ll attract receptive candidates who are well-researched and engaged with your company — as opposed to unconvinced candidates who have no idea what you do.
- Build credibility. By providing a genuine insider look into life at your business, your brand becomes more credible and trustworthy to all kinds of stakeholders — from current employees and prospective candidates to customers, clients, and potential investors.
- Boost retention. According to Glassdoor, 67% of employers believe retention rates would increase if candidates had an accurate picture of what to expect about working at the company before taking the job. Employer branding helps candidates choose the right cultural fit, meaning they’re more likely to stay in the role once accepting the job.
- Keep costs down. According to research by the Harvard Business Review, employers with a poor reputation had to offer a 10% higher salary. As the previous benefits show, a strong employer brand attracts a higher number of informed candidates who are likely to accept an offer and stay with the business. No wonder, then, that LinkedIn reports a 43% decrease in cost-per-hire for businesses with a strong employer brand.
10 steps for building an effective employer branding strategy
The elements of an employer branding strategy vary from business to business. However, following a process that addresses common pain points will help you create a rounded, holistic strategy that sends out a clear signal to candidates and employees alike: that your business is a fantastic place to work.
Here are 10 actionable steps to help you conquer your employer branding.
1) Run an audit to see how your brand is currently perceived
Creating an employer branding strategy is all well and good, but you’ll need something to measure your progress against.
Running an in-depth audit with current employees and external voices will help you outline what needs to be adjusted in your main strategy. Are your brand values being mistranslated or misrepresented? Are negative reviews being responded to?
When running an audit, you should check the following channels to gauge overall perception:
- Social media
- Employee review sites
- Employee feedback
Auditing your brand’s perception across these different channels will help you shed light on whether you are presenting a consistent, compelling, and inspiring message to your existing employees and prospective candidates.
2) Define your goals
The audit will help you identify which aspects of your employer brand need adapting and which aspects need changing. This will help you set clear goals for your employer branding strategy. What do you want to achieve in your employer branding?
Common employer branding goals include:
- Build a reputation as a top employer
- Attract more high-quality job applicants
- Increase candidate engagement
- Build trust with current employees and prospective candidates
- Attract more visitors to a careers page
- Capture more applicants from social media
- Increase referral rates
- Increase the offer-acceptance rate (OAR)
Though there are many methods for goal-setting, the SMART technique is among the most effective for outlining what you want to realistically achieve. SMART stands for:
For example, if one of your goals is to increase employee referral rates, the SMART version of this objective may look like this:
“Increase employee referral rates (specific) by 25% (measurable/attainable) in six months (time-based) by optimising the referral process and offering incentives for a successful referral (relevant).”
Pro tip: Make sure your goals align with business needs. Without fully understanding your business’ strategy and its short-term and long-term goals, your employer branding strategy will be firing blind and misrepresenting the business’ core truth. To ensure employer branding aligns with the business plan, your goals should reflect the types of competencies and skills the business needs.
3) Build accurate candidate personas
A candidate persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal employee, based on real data and informed speculation.
Who is your ideal candidate? What does your ideal employee look like? What motivates them day-to-day? Such questions should be central to your thinking throughout the employer branding process.
To create accurate candidate personas, you’ll need first-hand feedback from employees. Conduct interviews with at least ten employees to get a better picture of how employees fit into your company culture.
A good persona should consider not just skills and experience, but also personality traits and future aspirations. Your persona should include:
- Demographic data. Age, sex, position, title, salary, education, social background, experience, etc.
- Goals. Why is the candidate looking to change jobs?
- Skills. Which areas do they have the most knowledge and experience?
- Personality. What are their main personality traits? Maturity? Leadership? Intellection? Teamwork?
- Motivations. What motivates them? Is it a better salary, or is it a company’s reputation? Do they prioritise opportunities for innovation or joining a team of like-minded individuals?
- Channels. Which channels do they use to search for jobs? LinkedIn? Job boards?
- Influencers. Who influences their decisions? Family and friends? Colleagues? Their boss?
A word of warning: Be careful not to target too narrowly when it comes to demographic data. Doing so may unintentionally exclude entire swathes of viable candidates and reinforce harmful unconscious biases.
4) Develop your Employee Value Proposition (EVP)
The employee value proposition (EVP) is a list of all the reasons why your company is a great place to work, including the rewards and benefits that employees receive in return for their hard work and performance. This document is fundamental to the employer brand, and should be the foundation of all your internal and external communication with talent.
As stated in a Gartner report, when candidates view an EVP as attractive, a business can reduce the compensation premium by 50% and achieve a 50% deeper reach into the labour market. Businesses that effectively deliver on their EVP can also decrease annual employee turnover by just under 70% and increase new hire commitment by nearly 30%. Investing in an EVP makes business sense.
Given the importance of employer branding in the modern talent market, having a robust EVP makes it easier for businesses to attract and retain the best people. The EVP can also be known as the unique value proposition. Don’t just focus on the positives; focus on what makes your company unique. And make sure to constantly optimise your EVP — as the world of work changes, so too should the benefits offered to employees.
Think of an EVP as your elevator pitch for prospective employees. EVPs can include benefits such as:
- Opportunities for professional development (e.g. a training budget)
- A thriving culture
- A strong work-life balance
- Employee initiatives (e.g. a cycle-to-work scheme)
- The holiday allowance
- Perks such as weekly yoga or gym discounts
- Charity work
- Increase referral rates
- Increase the offer-acceptance rate (OAR)
When developing your EVP, there are several things worth considering. Firstly, understand what your business currently offers. Are employees happy with what’s on offer or are they disgruntled with the lack of benefits? Research existing and former employees to discover their true feelings.
Secondly, define the core components/pillars of your EVP. Examples of these pillars include financial rewards, employment benefits, career developments, and work environment/culture. Which best align with your organisational mission and values? Which of these pillars should be prioritised?
Don’t hesitate to get creative with your pillars. In 2017, the German multinational pharma company Merck outlined the four main pillars of its EVP as “exceptional reputation,” “a culture of applied inquiry,” “work that changes things,” and “a disciplined fearlessness.” By tapping into what inspires target candidates, Merck was able to develop an employer branding strategy that resonated with target candidates.
Finally, make sure to publicise your EVP through the right channels, whether through social media, job postings, careers pages, recruiting videos, or employee referral programmes.
5) Set relevant KPIs and develop a measurement plan
Once you have outlined your EVP and defined your target personas, you’re ready to launch your strategy. Before doing so, however, you need to loop back into your initial goals and set KPIs/objectives that are based on them.
When setting key performance indicators (KPIs), make sure they are relevant. Vanity metrics like page views may be appealing to follow — particularly when traffic is on an upward curve — but they do not give valuable insights into how candidates are engaging with your brand.
Important metrics you should measure include:
- Cost-per-hire. The average cost of recruiting a single employee into your business.
- Source of hire. The percentage of overall hires that has entered the pipeline from each recruitment channel (e.g. LinkedIn, job boards, referrals, etc.)
- Candidate quality.
- Offer acceptance rate. The percentage of candidates who accepted your job offer — giving you an insight into how attractive your job offers are.
- Number of open applications. These are applications that have been sent on the candidate’s own initiative (as opposed to a response to job opening).
- Hiring manager satisfaction. This metric is calculated by asking hiring managers to fill out surveys on the performance of new hires at different intervals (e.g. after six months and after a year).
- Employee retention rate. The percentage of employees who remain with the organisation over a defined period.
- Brand awareness. While not as tangible as the other metrics, brand awareness can be ascertained through social listening: monitoring social media for mentions of your brand.
Once you’ve decided your KPIs (though not set in stone — they should remain agile and iterative to adequately respond to any changes), it’s important to ascertain how you will track them.
By creating a measurement plan that outlines which data you need to collect, how frequently it needs to be measured, and how to report the findings to project stakeholders, monitoring and tracking your results down the line will become much easier.
6) Involve current employees and encourage organic storytelling
It’s common for companies to forget about the most important people to any business: current employees. Remember, any good employer branding strategy should treat current employees with the same importance as candidates.
When an employer branding strategy fully acknowledges the motivations of people currently at the business, employees will feel more energised and empowered to go out of their way as brand ambassadors. Employees build a brand from the inside-out.
When employees are engaged and feel valued, they’ll want to stay at your business longer. If employees are generating their own content, your brand will appear much more authentic and relatable to candidates. (If you have employees organically advocating your brand on social media, you’ll also save money that would otherwise have to go on paid marketing efforts).
Of course, you can’t simply force your employees to offer gushing testimonials and sing the brand’s praises. If anything, that would likely have the opposite effect. Instead, provide them with guidance, give them oversight of the larger strategy and clear idea of your objectives, and, most importantly, let them be themselves when posting content. There’s no substitute for genuine enthusiasm.
Make it easier for employees to become brand advocates on social by created curated content that they can share across different platforms. And listen to any feedback or advice whenever it arises.
Recap: Employees are the living, breathing embodiment of your organisation. They are your brand. Whether it’s posting a fun picture of the office on Instagram or resharing branded content on LinkedIn, being able to leverage employee stories in this way is a powerful tactic.
7) Establish your brand “voice”
A brand voice is the distinct “personality” that a brand adopts in its external communications. This voice should combine your business’ values with the language that your target persona speaks in.
In a crowded digital landscape and competitive talent market, creating memorable content with a clear, unmistakable voice will help your brand stand out from the crowd. This voice should be consistent across each channel and marketing collateral.
Amgen, one of the world’s largest biotech companies, used the augmented writing platform Textio to transform its employer brand language. By identifying what language Amgen employees used to describe their company’s culture — particularly language that could have a positive impact if included in job descriptions — Textio replaced certain words with more impactful alternatives.
The result? Job descriptions with the amended language led to an increased fill rate. The lesson in all of this? Words matter.
8) Promote your employer brand across the relevant channels
Having an audience persona is a vital step towards attracting the right people. But how do you plan to reach out to them? And how will you best engage with your existing employees?
Many companies often fall at this hurdle. According to research from EveryoneSocial, though LinkedIn is the platform of choice for 86% of job seekers, only 66% of firms are actively searching LinkedIn for job candidates.
To ensure you get your message across to the right people at the right time, you’ll need to define which channels or touchpoints will best connect with the candidates you require. Once the most effective channels are identified — be it careers pages on your website or paid campaigns on social media — you also need to ensure that your collateral remains authentic and consistent.
When deciding on which channels to use, give thought to the demographic angle. In the same EveryoneSocial research, Millennials were found to be four to five times more likely to attend job fairs than their Generation-X and Baby Boomer peers. As digital natives, younger employees are also more likely to use a wider range of digital channels. In other words, job search behaviours vary between different types of candidates — in this case, between generations.
9) Monitor and optimise
To gauge the ongoing success of your strategy, you’ll need to constantly track your results. The most important results to measure will be metrics that demonstrate ROI, including those related to the perceived quality of your workplace.
When monitoring, you may notice aspects of the strategy that need amending or adapting. If you’ve selected relevant KPIs and regularly update them in relation to business objectives, you’ll remain agile enough to correct and optimise your strategy when necessary.
Keep a keen eye on employer review sites such as Glassdoor, as such reviews will have a clear bearing on your employer brand. Using the same brand voice you use in employer branding collateral, you should interact with reviewers when necessary. After all, Glassdoor reported that 80% of users agree that their perception of a company improves after seeing an employer respond to a review.
If you find you are not getting the desired results during the monitoring process, don’t feel too disheartened. There’s no silver bullet for building a strong employer brand, and it takes time, patience, and plenty of perseverance. As times goes by, your employer branding will naturally improve and evolve as you foster brand advocacy among existing team members and continue to attract new employees to the fold.
10) And remember... employer branding is an ongoing, circular process
Once you’ve planned, implemented, and optimised your end-to-end strategy, it can be tempting to stop right there — particularly if you’ve met all of your immediate short-term objectives. However, not maintaining the momentum will do harm to your employer brand in the long term. As COVID-19 demonstrated, the economic outlook can change overnight, as can people’s working habits and career ambitions. What was appealing to candidates yesterday may be unattractive tomorrow.
Instead of calling it a day, you should start the process all over again. If the wider company strategy has changed direction, your employer branding strategy may no longer be relevant. Set goals that reflect new challenges or opportunities in your industry. Update your candidate personas or develop new ones if necessary. And redefine your EVP according to all the variables above.
Recap: Effective employer branding is a self-perpetuating, never-ending cycle. In today’s always-on, 24/7 economy, taking a real-time approach to employer branding will demonstrate that you’re a progressive company embracing the future.