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How to Build an Employer Branding Strategy for Talent Acquisition and Engagement

By Kathryn Hawkins. Content Strategy Employer Branding Newsletter
Employer Brand Marketing
Christina Morillo via Pexels

Employer brand marketing is crucial for recruiting and retaining top talent.

Trying to lure top talent to your company? In a hot economy, it’s a jobseeker’s market, and qualified candidates often have a handful of strong offers to choose from.

And even once you’ve hired a rock star, it can be a challenge to keep her from jumping ship to a new position.Getting to the top of your ideal candidate’s wishlist takes more than a glamorous office and generous benefits package, although those certainly don’t hurt.

Beyond the basics, it’s important to put in place a strong recruitment marketing program that will educate and inspire top talent about your company’s employee value proposition, helping draw them to your brand even before they’ve graduated from a degree program, and making your recruiters’ job much easier.

In this article, we’ll share how to create a winning employer branding strategy for better talent attraction and retention.

What is employer branding?

Most marketers think of branding in terms of appealing to their prospective customers. They’ll spend six or seven figures on research to determine the right color palette, iconography, logo, and imagery, and content to build a brand that resonates with their target market. And there’s no question that all of that is important—but it’s just as essential to focus on the other side of your branding efforts: employer branding.

Employer branding is more likely to be owned by Human Resources or Talent Acquisition than Marketing (though they may partner up here), and the goal here is to build the brand of your team culture. You want to ensure that jobseekers and employees have a strong positive connection with your brand and recognize your values. Recruitment-focused marketing efforts are a core part of your employer branding efforts, but it’s also important to build a plan that continually engages with existing employees and encourages them to advocate for your brand.

Employer branding encompasses a variety of communication types, including:

  • Careers site
  • Internal newsletter
  • Company intranet
  • Employee testimonials and spotlights
  • Recruiting-focused videos
  • Employee-bylined articles about their work

Regardless of the medium you take, employer branding is based around presenting a strong employee value proposition that showcases your values as an organization.

Why invest in employer branding?

Building a strong reputation ties closely to recruiting economics: LinkedIn found that companies with a strong employer brand were able to cut their per-hire cost in half, and reduce turnover among current employees by 28%.

Building a stellar brand reputation is also crucial to getting the best talent for your team. Three-quarters of job candidates spend time researching an organization before applying for a job, and a negative first impression could keep strong applicants from even considering your company.

Along with aiding talent acquisition, employer branding helps you reduce turnover. You need to focus on keeping your current employees engaged with your company and motivated to continue with your company for the long term. Highly engaged current employees can even aid your recruiting efforts, drawing their own talented peers to your company without the need to invest in recruiting efforts. Conversely, a bad reputation means that you’ll need to work much harder to overcome your poor reviews, and you may lose your best job candidates to other companies that have built a strong employer brand.

So how do you begin building a strong employer brand? Here’s where to start.

Audit your existing employer brand

Before you can focus on improving your employer brand, you need a baseline. If there’s very little insight about you as an employer available on the web, that’s an easy place to start from.

If there’s some damaging information out there, it could be a little trickier—but that’s when it’s even more essential to invest in building a positive employer brand as a form of reputation management. Here’s a cheat sheet for determining how your company’s reputation measures up:

  • What are people writing about you? Like it or not, many current employees and job seekers are making use of social media platforms and career sites like Glassdoor and Kununu, which offer insights on salaries, perks, the candidate experience, and overall work culture at millions of companies. Keep tabs on your reputation here—while you can’t delete negative reviews, you can typically respond to them express how you plan to address any legitimate criticism, and ask the poster to reach out to you personally. It can also help to ask your most engaged employees to review the company to counteract the negatives. (Though don’t flood the platform with fake positives for the sake of improving your score—job seekers can easily sniff out fraudulent reviews, and will be even more suspicious of your company.)
  • What’s your employer web presence like? Sure, you’ve invested in marketing to drive customers to your door—but how thoughtful have you been in terms of spotlighting your company culture? Do you have a detailed careers page on your website, and employee testimonials focused on what they love about your company? Does it spotlight your employee value proposition, your perks, your commitment to social values? Or do you simply link to a job portal site? Likewise, look at your employer page on social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram—does your page tell the story of your company, and are you regularly sharing updates that make it seem like a welcoming place to work?
  • How are new hires finding you? A company with a great culture is likely to get a lot of potential new hires via word of mouth—an applicant may already have a friend who’s worked for your company and raved about it. If your company culture isn’t as strong, you’re likely investing more money into ads or working with outside recruiters. Pay attention to interview notes to understand how jobseekers are learning about your opportunities, and what kind of attitude they have about your brand going in.
  • How do your employees really feel about your company? Send out an anonymous survey to your employees to get their input on your company culture and get a sense of where they stand. You can ask about elements such as inclusiveness, advancement opportunities, work-life balance, and other key criteria. You can also look at hard metrics, such as absenteeism and turnover rate to understand how engaged your employees truly are.

Take all of these details into account and take note of your baseline metrics, which you can measure against as you build and execute an employer branding strategy. These may vary based on your goals, but can include elements such as:

  • Number of company page social media followers
  • Employer reputation on reviews sites
  • Percent of referral-based job applicants
  • Employee sentiment from anonymous reviews
  • Annual attrition rate
  • Absenteeism rate
  • Anonymous sentiment score

Build your employer brand strategy

Now that you’ve gained a better understanding of your current brand sentiment, it’s time to look at ways to improve your market presence. My agency often helps clients build their content marketing strategies for their target buyers, and building an employer brand strategy takes a very similar approach—but rather than targeting buyers, you’re targeting talent. And they’re not just committing to a purchase; they’re committing to joining your team. That requires an intensely thoughtful approach to understanding who your audience is and how you can engage with them.

  • Build user personas of your potential candidates. First, understand who you’re trying to reach. Likely you already have a good understanding of the skill sets you need, and even which university programs your top talent are coming out of. But how much do you know of these applicants beyond what’s on their resumes? Take the time to interview your best current employees about what they value in a company culture and what informed their choice, and incorporate these types of questions into your interviewing process as well. For many applicants, it’s not just about the salary numbers—a commitment to cultural diversity, or social values, or a flexible work-from-home environment may be crucial selling points. Different types of team members may have different concerns, so work on building out detailed personas for the specific types of employees you’re seeking.
  • Create a compelling content strategy. Now that you know who you need to reach and what they’re looking for, build employer branding content strategy aimed at your target market of jobseekers and employees. This might include a mix of online and offline efforts, including job fairs, a careers-focused microsite, and career-focused blog content, such as employee profiles, deep dives on recent company projects, and content about your CSR efforts that you can promote through sponsored ads on LinkedIn and other relevant platforms. Think outside of the box: Forcura, a medtech company based in Jacksonville, Florida, recently launched a podcast called InnovateJax to spotlight all of the growth and innovation in the community, in an effort to lure new tech talent into the region. Don’t overlook third-party content placement too: A guest blog on Entrepreneur about why your company offers a year of maternity leave, for example, can serve as a strong enticement for new recruits who read the site, but may have never come across your company on their own.
  • Plan your distribution. While you know roughly how many people will likely see your booth at a trade show or job fair, when it comes to online content, you’ll need a plan for getting the right eyeballs on your employer branding content. One of the best strategies is to leverage your existing employees as a resource, asking them to share your content on their social media platforms such as LinkedIn, or even to byline the content that your team creates. This will help expand your content’s reach into their own personal networks, which are likely filled with top talent with similar resumes to their own. It can also be worth investing in paid ad distribution to promote your careers site, videos, and online content, making sure to optimize your landing pages to collect contact information from interested jobseekers with a mailing list or a lead-generating ebook or white paper.

Best in class employer branding case study: Atlassian

The Australian company Atlassian, which owns project management, communication, and software development products including Jira, Trello, Confluence, Hipchat, and others, is competing for the same top talent as larger companies like Google and Apple, and despite their smaller size, they’re often winning—because they have invested in building a truly extraordinary employee value proposition, and showcasing it in their employer branding initiatives.

We’ve worked with the Atlassian team on a number of their employer branding marketing initiatives, and what’s immediately clear is how strongly the entire team embraces their company values. Every piece of content the Talent Brand team develops focuses on showcasing how these values enhance the company culture and create a vibrant, welcoming work environment that offers limitless opportunities for career growth.

Atlassian has also focused heavily on growing the diversity of their potential candidates: After realizing that fewer than 10% of their technical talent were female, the company set out to fix that problem by updating their website employer branding and job descriptions with more diverse and female-friendly imagery and language, and increasing female representation at technology conferences and events. Additionally, they changed their interviewing style, focusing on “values alignment” rather than “cultural fit,” which can often alienate potential candidates who come from different backgrounds than the majority of applicants, including women and people of color.

As a result of these shifts to their employer branding strategy, Atlassian was able to immediately increase the diversity of its incoming “Gradlassian” class, growing it to a ratio of 57% female. (You can see more of the data and tactics behind this fascinating initiative in their case study at HROS.)

Employer branding starts with values

Employer branding is about more than marketing: First, focus on building a business that values its employees and provides them with a set of core values and a strong company culture that they’ll embrace and actively evangelize. Then, learn from your employees what it is that makes your business a great place for them to work—and channel their enthusiasm and insights into your recruiting materials.

By building an authentic and strong employer brand, you’ll be able to effortlessly recruit top talent who actively want to work at your business, and keep your existing employees engaged and excited about their future at your company. Your company’s reputation will grow authentically through building a positive workplace—but taking the steps to build a strong employer brand will help you spread the word far beyond your brand’s immediate network, and engage with top talent from far and wide.

Kathryn Hawkins

Kathryn Hawkins

Kathryn Hawkins is principal and chief content strategist of Eucalypt Media. She has worked as a freelance journalist for media publications and managed inbound marketing and content strategy for corporate and nonprofit clients for more than a decade.

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