Executive Education

Employer Branding for the Digital Age

Most companies promote their products and services with a corporate branding strategy but far fewer realize the importance of promoting their employer brand. And as the U.S. economy picks up steam and the hiring market gets tighter, your employer brand is a crucial factor in your company’s ability to finding and keeping the best talent. A 2015 survey from consulting firm PWC found that nearly three-quarters of CEOs say they are concerned about the availability of key skills.

If your company’s reputation as a place to work isn’t particularly strong or well-publicized, it will be much harder to recruit the people you need and continue to grow and thrive.

You’ll be in a far better position to compete in the war for talent by building or strengthening your employer brand.  The way that’s done has changed over time, depending on the talent pool and how potential candidates receive and consume information. In 2016, the method can be summed up in one word: digital.

The vast amount of the information we consume today is digital and that has changed the way we make decisions, from what to buy and where to eat to job and career decisions. The ways in which companies engage with an audience on all digital channels makes an enormous difference in a company’s success, whether that means selling a product or attracting a job candidate. Two-thirds of the decisions consumers make are informed by the quality of their digital experiences along the way. According to the consulting firm McKinsey, consumers, no matter what they are looking for, have much more control than they’ve ever had over where they will focus their attention, so companies need to craft a compelling experience.

Today the web is ground zero for nearly everyone looking to make a switch to another company or another job. Research starts online and includes corporate websites, a brand’s Facebook page, the CEO’s Twitter account and anything else that helps a person form an opinion about potential employers. Yet if your employer branding strategy for social media is to simply talk about how great your products or services are, you’re not strengthening that brand. In fact, a survey last year by the employer branding firm Universum found that even though 74% of companies had an employer brand presence on social media, only one-third had employees dedicated to regularly posting content and responding to users on social media.  Half don’t even measure their social media activities.

Although it might seem to make sense that employer branding efforts should be handled by the HR department, more and more companies place primary responsibility for employer branding with the CEO or marketing department. That’s because employer branding has gained strategic importance for most companies; in Universum’s survey 60% of CEOs said the responsibility for employer branding lies with them (and 40% of their marketing leaders agreed).

Here are several ways CEOs should be tackling that responsibility:

Get HR and marketing working together.

The most important partnership for implementing an employer branding strategy is the marriage of marketing and human resources in order to align your branding and business strategies. Branding—especially employer branding—shouldn’t be driven solely by marketing. For your organization to live up to what it’s promising potential hires requires buy in from the entire company, and because HR’s primary audience is the company’s employees, it can be instrumental in creating a brand-based culture, one where employees are evangelists for the company’s employer brand.  HR can work with marketing to develop the kinds of communications—internal and external—that help with recruitment, especially through social media.

Define your company’s core values and differentiators.

One of the best ways to lead the employer branding effort in the most efficient way is to be very clear about the fundamental values of the business. Those values should be the foundational pillars of your company’s culture and brand. Without a clear understanding of the organization’s values it will be difficult to assess whether or not candidates are a good fit for the company. And as CEO, it’s up to you to make sure that every function in your organization understand the value of having a strong employer brand and its important role in the success and growth of the company.

Leverage Digital Channels to Communicate Your Employment Brand

Once you have defined your employment brand—the set of attributes and qualities that make your organization distinctive and appealing– it is critical to communicate that brand consistently across as many digital channels as possible. Those channels include your corporate website, social media channels, and the growing number of companies dedicated to providing employers a platform for showcasing their employment brand, like Glassdoor, Linkedin, and my company, Ivy Exec.

Embody the brand.

Your employer brand communicates to the world what it’s like to work at your company—the culture, work space, location, training, salary, benefits, development opportunities, nap rooms—whatever features illustrate why it’s a great place to work.  And as CEO you embody the brand. That means you have the ability to promote it to a wide audience. A couple of well-known examples of CEO-embodiment-of-brand is Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group and Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos. Branson’s reputation as hard-working, authentic and generous has made his company one of the most desirable employers in the U.K.

Tony Hsieh has created an attractive employer brand by pushing the boundaries of organizational culture. This year he instituted a new way of working at Zappos, known as Holacracy (which is a flattening of the traditional hierarchy where employees manage themselves), by offering a generous severance package to employees unwilling to make the switch, with an open door to come back in a year if they want. As CEO, Hsieh felt making generous offers to employees was ultimately essential for Zappos success. “We could have just as easily not given any offers and then just said, ‘This is what we’re doing.’ But we’ve always prioritized company culture and how we treat employees. We actually still do this for all our new hires: They go through a five-week training program and at the end of the five weeks, they can take $2,000 and quit. We want to make sure that employees aren’t here just for the paychecks,” says Hsieh, “and truly believe this is the right place for them.”

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Elena Bajic
Elena Bajic is the founder and CEO of Ivy Exec, a curated career community of the world’s most successful executives and professionals. Ivy Exec’s exclusive portfolio of career-focused experts & recruiters, curated job listings, mentors and proprietary company profiles helps their members continue achieving their biggest career objectives, for enduring professional success. Prior to founding Ivy Exec, Elena worked with global firms and brands, such as Nivea and Swatch Watch, in marketing, advertising and international brand development. She is a regular contributor to Forbes and US News, and has been featured in Bloomberg Businessweek, Crain’s New York Business, USA Today, and Inc. Magazine. She has appeared on CNBC’s ‘Squawk on the Street’ and Reuters’ Entrepreneur’s Edge. She earned her MBA from Columbia Business School and her B.A. from Brown University.