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The future of employer branding is conversation. Here's why.
27 August 2020 11:13am
with Amazon’s Anca Pintilie
No matter how many times you state the case, some companies will never believe they have an employer brand. Most business leaders believe in good content, proof of ROI, and avoiding intangible measures of success. But for employer branding, it’s not that simple. Gone are the days of defining your employer brand by social media or a new careers website. Employer branding is about the entire employee experience – from their first interaction with your company to the last – and that makes it truly unavoidable, so long as your company has employees. Once you’ve finished hiring your friends and people you know and move to pitching yourself and your company to strangers, your pitch is part of your employer value proposition, your company’s EVP. Nurture your employer brand and you have a lot to gain. Ignore it and you’ll pay a lot later trying to fix it.
Anca Pintilie recently joined Amazon, leading the team responsible for all regional employer branding and recruitment marketing efforts for attracting the workforce right at the heart of the Amazon shopping experience – Amazon Operations. Prior to this, Anca set up Oracle’s employer branding function (EMEA and APAC) and recently built Revolut’s global employer branding function from the ground up. Anca isn’t one to shy away from the realities of employer branding – she once got a job with a company she loved after writing them a letter listing all the reasons why her friends thought joining was a terrible idea.
Measurement isn’t everything
Employer branding is a long-term game. Strategies can take years to fully imbed, and you can struggle to see the results of internal initiatives on your people. There are, of course, tools and ways of collecting data about your people’s satisfaction, connection to the mission and overall commitment to the company. But more often than not, a successful employer brand can be measured by the feeling in the office.
Measuring the success of your employer branding or recruitment marketing efforts completely depends on the problem you’re trying to solve or the objective you’re trying to achieve. If your objectives are related to your brand, then you can look at brand associations and brand perception. If it’s about hiring, you can look at metrics like quality of hire, cost per hire and tenure. Anca suggests that “any way you look at this, anything you add on top of this or interpret or combine, it always boils down to three things: quality, cost and time”. If you want to get the best possible hires out there, then you need to narrow your targeting and create a more granular campaign. That might be a bit more costly and might need more time, but you’re almost guaranteed a higher-quality hire. Employer branding always plays with this triangle.
The issue in employer branding comes when you prioritise time, willing results to come faster. When building your employer brand strategy, the temptation, says Anca, is to go external too quickly. Anca suggests the problem here is that “if employer branding is seen as a recruitment function, then you’ll never end up doing those big amazing projects that push your brand forward and secure your long-term recruitment needs. Instead, you’ll end up being aligned to short-term recruitment KPIs and discussing fill rates."
Small, strategic changes can have a big impact on your recruitment funnel. But you shouldn’t fall into the trap of fixing one element of the employee experience and thinking you’ve solved your employer branding woes. For Anca, the smallest initiative was rethinking all of the email templates Revolut used for candidates; making sure they had a strong narrative, tackled culture questions and made candidates feel like they were interacting with a human being. This proactive conversation improved the business’ storytelling but, crucially, was a tiny part of Anca’s overall strategy. Focusing your employer branding efforts around short-term goals prevents you from thinking more holistically about the reputation of your business and the experience of your people. Going to market with an aim of hiring 100 people by mid-October is recruitment marketing, not employer branding - “and that”, says Anca, “is kind of a different game.”
You can’t just do ‘a bit of employer branding’
To cultivate a successful, positive culture and an authentic employer brand, you can’t just put out some social media content, hope for the best and use it as a test for whether you ‘need’ employer branding. “Whether you like it or not,” says Anca, “you already have an employer brand, right now. Whether you care or not, and whether you nurture it or not. If you don’t do anything about it, it’s going to grow like weeds.”
Strong employer brand functions take marketing people, comms people, people who understand recruitment, and people who understand your leadership team’s motivations. To build a strong team, it’s not about HR. You need to go for the marketers, the brand strategists and the comms people who treat people as an asset. Only then can you create a strong pitch for decision-makers who hold the keys to the budgets that can make a serious impact on your employer brand.
“Especially now with startups, your brand is your employer brand. And your employer brand is your brand. You’re not getting the funding if you don’t manage to attract good talent and retain it. That’s it. Period. You’re not going to have a business without it.”
Not everyone can be an Apple or Facebook from day one. And maybe you shouldn’t want to – you need to understand who you are and what kind of people will buy into that. Why do they join? Why do they stay? Why do they leave? Only then can you create an authentic employer brand that truly gets to the heart of your business and attracts the right candidates, for the right reasons.
You also need to remember that your employer brand is constantly evolving, and people’s perceptions are constantly shifting. It’s a moving target. There will never be one campaign or initiative that makes you the ultimate employer – particularly in a start-up environment where things change almost weekly. “Everyone who gets seduced by the start-up world is aware of what they’re buying into”, says Anca. “When people join your company, they’re making a decision to forgo stability so that they get change, excitement and immediate impact. In the beginning, the employer brand is going to be driven by that foundation. Then, it’s going to be driven by the product. And then, the company behaviour. When new hires join, they are buying into the future – but they need to work with the present.”
Looking to the future
“Right now, it's about content. In the future, it needs to be about conversation.”
There has been a huge shift in the recognition of employer branding over the past five years. Business leaders are waking up to the fact that their success is a direct result of their people and their productivity. In any context, people thrive when they feel comfortable and able to connect their values to a greater purpose - there is nowhere this is more relevant than in the workplace. When Anca started in employer branding around six years ago, the industry was only just beginning to mature. “It was hilarious”, she laughs, “when I joined my first employer branding group on LinkedIn, people were having serious debates about which filters to use on Instagram. Now, the conversations are more complex. They’re about tools, tech stacks, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and all the things you might need to build and support a strong employer branding function”.
For Anca, the future of employer branding is all about conversation. Conversation with teams, with leadership, with your employees, and with your candidates. “Right now”, she says, “it’s more of a one-way street. People throw things out and ask for feedback and engagement. You tell candidates why they should love the business.
People will believe people – they will not believe you at face value as a company. First, fix your business, your culture, your behaviour. Then start communicating to the market. Only then can you bridge the gap between expectations (whatever the market is saying about you) and the reality. This is the constant conversation you have to have in employer branding. It’s a constant cycle.”
To make the most of employer branding, you need to throw open the gates and expose your business for what it truly is. Authentic employer branding starts from knowing your market, your reputation and understanding your genuine employee experience.
Before you hit send on your next sponsored Instagram post, think twice. Perhaps it’s time to look internally first - understanding your people and their priorities - before you bring a new wave of talent into the business and take a shiny campaign to market. Employer branding should be aspirational but it should also be realistic; relevant for candidates, impactful for the business and easily sustained by existing employees.