I am amazed every day at the new found relevance employment branding is seeing in the corporate world. Three years ago the very term “employment branding” would have elicited confused glares or marketing department snickers. Today, there is literally an entire industry sprouting up around it. Every day I am seeing articles and blog posts touting its importance. I am seeing tons of experts appearing out of the blue, conferences around the topic all around the world, software solutions designed to address it, large marketing agencies changing their focus to it, Google hangouts, Twitter chats – you name it. For Pete’s sake, there are even “industry awards” given now around employment branding. It is great to see the attention and spotlight shift to this very critical area, and as most of you know I am incredibly passionate about it. But what still leaves me scratching my head are these two points:
1. The “award winners” on the whole look really “vanilla” to me and feel more in the vain of “let’s do something, but be as safe and generic as possible”
2. The most effective and impactful employment branding piece is still being muted and censored at most companies – the companies own employees
Let’s get in to it – shall we?
First – on point #1. I understand that this is a new field to most, and that the fact that we are now recognizing employment branding at all is cool. That being said, without naming names, most of the ones that are being recognized as best in class are, at least in my opinion, missing the point of having an employment branding effort at all – to honestly, genuinely and purposefully show what it is like to work at your company – even with the understanding that if you are really honest that some people might not like it and not choose to apply or explore working there further. I go back to my favorite “Ted Talk” ever, by Simon Sinek http://bit.ly/1a1B6s6. In it, Mr. Sinek talks about, for example, why Apple has people literally sleeping on streets to buy a product that is only marginally better than the one they already have, or in some cases they don’t even know the difference of the product. Wow. What inspires this passion, when many would argue Samsung makes equally, if not better phones? Sinek argues it is because Apple markets “why” they do what they do, inspiring people who think alike and share the same ideology to become passionate fans, unlike a Samsung who markets what and how the product does what it does (feature based selling/marketing). When thinking of choosing a career, think about the emotion involved in that for any person. I often argue, outside of one’s family, there is no more emotional and impactful decision in one’s life. Why then, do employers still market the “what” and the “how” to prospective candidates? Companies tend to want to play this safe. They are afraid of perhaps alienating some of their prospective audience, the thinking being that it is better to have as deep a pool of candidates as possible, and then let their interview process whittle out bad “culture fits”. I argue that this is the real purpose of employment branding – to upfront in your branding efforts let people tap in or out on your culture, values and mission. Some of the imagery and video I have seen from these “best in class” efforts seems to me, at least, to be as safe and generic as you can get. If we are really going to push forward the world of employment branding, then let’s get real – no more of this nonsense:
Point #2: Even with Social media at a point today where, according to recent studies, almost 80% of the world is active on a daily basis on at least one social media platform, companies remain terrified of letting their employees speak and act in their own unique voices. A ton of companies still today flat out forbid it, and some of the ones that do allow it do it with a “big brother” mentality- do it – but we are watching. If you agree with me on the basis of point #1, then it is absolutely crucial to let your employees have their own voice and act as employment brand ambassadors. If your employees are actively talking and sharing in their own voice, it is actually the most powerful and genuine method there is to brand your company as an employer. I can see the legal and marketing departments now – angst ridden at the possibilities of what their employees could be saying or doing without guidance or monitoring. Give them guidelines – but by no means censor them. Today’s recruitment landscape has changed, and the candidate is most definitely in the driver’s seat. Sites like Glassdoor.com, social sites like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook give prospective candidates more than just a venue to be marketed to, they give them information. If you, as a company, put your head in the sand on this then you are missing out on the most crucial element to a successful employment brand. Think about it – what carries more weight to a prospective candidate – images and video, obviously corporate made and blessed like the above image, or seeing someone at the company who actually works there , talking and sharing unfiltered why they love working at your company. People can smell corporate marketing BS better than most think they can, and when you arm your employees with “pre-approved” templates and language it most definitely shows. It is a world today of networks. If your employees are proud and active in social media sharing in their own words the experiences of working at your company, it carries far more weight than any fancy new web site design or boring “talking heads’ video with the cheesy music behind it. To put it in very geeky terms, the companies that either mute or control their employees voice on social media are like an army of Agent Smiths from The Matrix. The same, bland suits, unrecognizable from each other. Let your people be Neo – prospective candidates will see and value the difference.