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What is Employer Branding?

Learn the elements that make up an employer brand, why you should cultivate one, and how you can optimize it for smarter, more efficient recruitment. 

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There are too many definitions of marketing to count, but one of our favorites comes from Dr. Philip Kotler, who says, “Marketing identifies unfulfilled needs and desires." 86% of HR professionals think that recruitment is becoming more like marketing, and given Dr. Kotler’s definition, it’s easy to see why. While in earlier eras recruiters might have gotten away with targeting only the 20% of candidates who are actively job-seeking at any given time, it’s become crucial in the modern era of recruitment to go after the other 80%, many of whom would gladly switch jobs if the right offer came around. For those people, the first thing you need to do as a recruitment marketer is to help them see a need that they don’t realize they have: the need to change jobs. 


This is part of what makes employer branding so powerful. Yes, it gives you the chance to tell a story about your company, but it also lets you tell each candidate a story about herself—about the kind of difference she could be making in her field, or the kind of life she could be leading at company that better respects her time. Perhaps this is why more than 90% of people would consider leaving their current job if they were offered a position at a company with a stellar reputation. 


But what is employer branding, really? How do you get started trying to create your own, and how can you measure your effectiveness once you've done so? These are just a few of the questions we'll try to answer in our guide to employer branding below:  


What Makes a Strong Employer Brand?  

Okay, let’s start with something that might seem obvious: your employer brand is, essentially, the image that you project both to employees within your company and potential employees outside your organization. Crucially, it is the image you project as a place to work, meaning that it should say something about your company’s mission and values, but also about what makes it a unique employment destination worth applying to or even changing jobs for. Think of this as a story that you tell to prospective and current employees alike—a story in which your target demographics see themselves reflected and from which they can draw inspiration.


One of the most important things to remember about your employer brand is that while it may complement your customer-facing brand, it is a distinct entity. For example, if you were a large, prestigious tech company, your outward facing brand might be focused on innovative products and solutions, but your employer brand would specifically focus on highlighting your business as a place for serious engineers to work on important challenges with the support of considerable institutional resources and internal tools. In this way, you begin to give prospective candidates a narrative that they can latch onto. If that narrative appeals to them, they may one day find themselves submitting a job application.


Crucially, employer branding isn’t a nebulous concept, but rather a discrete set of actions that you take on an ongoing basis. If you have an employer brand, but no one ever sees it, does it really exist? Not so much. Rather, it’s something that only becomes actualized as you craft and disseminate content that conveys your message on social media, your website, and elsewhere. If your employer brand is especially powerful, you may find that some of your employees will help spread it through word of mouth and via their own social media presence. Not only does your employer brand come to life through this type of content, but it also becomes the first touch on a recruitment funnel that will hopefully encourage qualified applicants to apply for positions with your company. 


But what makes for a vital and engaging employer brand? What kind of story should your employer brand tell potential applicants? To begin with, your employer brand should communicate as much information as possible about your company’s culture, mission, and values. Especially among younger job seekers, culture can be just as important as salary or perks when choosing where to work, and their first encounter with that culture will often be whatever piece of employer branding collateral they first happen upon.


When crafting your brand messaging, you should make absolutely certain your job ad, blog post, whitepaper, etc. answers these three questions:

  • Who are we?
  • Why do we do what we do?
  • How do we go about doing it?

In this way, potential applicants can begin to form a mental picture of what it would be like to work at your company (which, not coincidentally, is the number one hurdle that job seekers experience when deciding whether or not to accept an offer). If your company is trying to change the world with a new healthcare app, that should be immediately apparent to everyone who encounters your brand. Likewise, if your company makes work-life balance a priority, or prides itself on a highly diverse team, that should be obvious as well. Balancing all of these elements within your branding can be tricky, but it’s the best way to get otherwise-passive job seekers to begin imagining themselves in a new role at a new company. Not everyone will take the leap from their imagination to your application process, but those who do will do so with confidence that they’re choosing a company that fits with their values and work-style.


By contrast, if you fail to craft a brand that communicates these things, the rest of the internet will fill in the gaps. Candidates will wind up crafting their own brands for you in their heads based on Glassdoor reviews, word of mouth, and traditional marketing—potentially one that diverges greatly from how you see your company and how you would like to see it portrayed. Things like Glassdoor reviews will make up a part of how candidates see you regardless of how strong your brand is (meaning that you should work to make sure you’re earning positive reviews even in spaces that you don’t control), but if there is a branding vacuum you risk losing control of how applicants see you, which can have a deleterious effect on your talent pipeline.


Why Create an Employer Brand? 


Like we said, reputation matters. Research by the Harvard Business Review found that employers with a poor reputation had to offer a 10% higher salary than employers with a better reputation in order to get applicants to accept a position. Compound this over dozens or hundreds of hires and you could be looking at millions of dollars spent combatting the effects of a poor employer brand. By contrast, the added value of a good reputation (i.e. a strong employer brand) can be just as significant, making your business more competitive when it comes to attracting high quality talent in an increasingly cutthroat marketplace. 


On some level, this is the most compelling reason to cultivate and promote a strong employer brand. But let's dig a little deeper into the benefits of employer branding in modern recruitment. 


More Candidates Will Come to You


The value of your reputation as an employer begins with your ability to get high quality people into your talent pipeline. Mostly, this will happen through outreach and recruitment marketing, but one of the most marked benefits of successfully positioning your company as a desirable place to work is that more candidates will actively seek you out and apply for positions through your career site. In a job market in which the highest quality candidates can essentially sit down and decide which employers they’re interested in (rather than scrolling through job listings on traditional recruitment platforms in the hopes of finding a good fit), being top of mind for these applicants can be huge boon. Often, these candidates even move through the hiring process more quickly because they have a higher baseline of knowledge about your company and its unique values, mission, and employee value proposition (EVP).


Obviously, recruitment marketers shouldn’t count on a huge percentage of their talent pool fitting this description (in large part because it would exclude passive job seekers from the recruiting pipeline), but it is one of the most potent examples of the variety of ways in which your brand can speed up, smooth out, and reduce costs for the entire talent acquisition process.  


Candidates Will Be More Receptive


Another key way in which building awareness for your employer brand and successfully communicating your EVP can streamline recruitment is by bolstering the receptivity of candidates who are familiar with your company. What, exactly, do we mean by receptivity? Essentially, that potential applicants will be more willing to engage with your company and its messaging. For instance, LinkedIn recently found that businesses with a strong employer brand are 31% more likely to get a response from candidates they approached via LinkedIn’s messaging functionality. Though the study was specific to LinkedIn, it is suggestive of a larger truth: that when potential applicants already have a positive outlook on your company, they will be much more interested in hearing from you, and, ultimately, in working for you if your company proves to be a good fit. It’s for this reason, among others, that LinkedIn found a 43% decrease in cost per hire for businesses with a strong employer brand (again, using LinkedIn in particular as a platform).


To some of you, this will make intuitive sense, in part because you understand that a healthy talent pipeline (which is in many ways directly tied to the image you present to potential candidates) reduces recruiting costs overall. But let’s look at it another way: when spending money and time trying to hire a candidate, many of your resources are poured into educating each individual applicant about your company and what makes it a unique  place to work. If your reputation precedes you, you can reach people with this information on a much larger scale. Candidates with a preexisting interest in your company are much more likely to do their own research into your business model, opportunities for advancement, and company culture, just as they are more likely to come into a discussion predisposed towards your mission and values. The upshot is that your recruiters and hiring managers can spend less time providing information and convincing potential recruits of your EVP, and thus a general reduction in resource usage for any given hire. Instead of communicating with each potential hire one on one, your businesses can now communicate with engaged applicants en masse, reaching them more successfully on the strength of your image as an employer.


Your Candidates Will Be Higher Quality 


The process described above, in which a stronger recruitment brand leads to more engaged, well-informed candidates can also have the effect of giving poor culture fits the chance to self-select out of the recruitment process, directly increasing the proportion of applicants who are at least reasonably well suited to your company. That said, this element of self-selection shouldn’t lead to a downturn in total applicants. On the contrary, the same LinkedIn study cited above found that businesses with a strong employer brand typically receive more than double the number of applicants per job post compared with businesses whose brands were weaker. The exact nature of your applicant funnel will determine the precise ROI of this influx of interested, qualified candidates, but the end result will almost certainly be more efficient recruitment in terms of both time and resource usage. In this way, it makes sense to think of any investment in building and promoting your employer brand as just that: an investment—a down payment on the interest and attention of applicants who some day soon might be your team members.


How To Promote Your Employer Brand 


Like we said above, your employer brand isn't something static. Rather, it's something that exists only insofar as you put it out into the world and get it in front of qualified job candidates. This is partially a matter of using internal resources like your careers page, but it's also going to take place across the web, on social media sites and other niche platforms where your ideal job candidates are already spending their time. 


The question is, how can you best leverage these resources to promote your employer brand and start generating some buzz?  Here are a few tips. 


Choose Your Channels Carefully


In many ways, boosting your employer brand on social media isn’t terribly different from amplifying any other sort of brand. The first hurdle is defining your audience and picking the right channels. In both traditional and recruitment marketing, there is a pervading belief that you should try to develop a presence on as many social media platforms as possible, but given the significant differences in demographics that define these different sites (to say nothing of the differences in how they’re used), it’s unlikely that a business’ target buyers or ideal applicants would be equally present on all of them. If you were involved in traditional marketing activities for a business that sold industrial equipment, you might be wasting time and effort by amplifying your brand on Tumblr and Pinterest. While you might conceivably develop some leads on those platforms, doing so would likely be an inefficient use of time and resources given the results that could be had on more appropriate channels like LinkedIn.


We'll give a more thorough rundown below of some of the top venues you might choose for showcasing your employer brand, but the guiding principle here is to go where your employee personas already are, rather than trying to attract them on job boards and other traditional recruitment platforms (which reach only the 20% of workers who are actively job seeking at any given time). The more successfully you match the audience for your messaging and ads to the demographics of a given platform, the more likely you are to gain traction with the right kind of applicants. That said, aligning your key demographics with social media sites can be a tricky business. For instance, you might expect Facebook, which boasts a staggering 79% of internet users in the US as active members, to be a no-brainer for almost all demographics. In point of fact, however, that number is somewhat lower (75%) for men and women making more than $75,000 per year. The network also skews fairly young (with 18-29 year-olds using the site at a rate of 88%), meaning that if you’re hoping to attract older, more experienced candidates you might not have picked the most receptive audience.   


Get Creative


Once you have a strategy that encompasses not just a robust social media presence but paid ads promoting your employer brand across carefully chosen channels, it’s time to find a creative, engaging way to present that brand to the world. This will be not just a matter of coming up with a succinct way to state your employee value proposition (EVP, i.e. all of the monetary and non-monetary ways that your company provides value to its employees), but a chance to put your visual branding skills to use. You should work to create recognizable brand markers, whether that comes in the form of a logo, a custom font, or just a strong aesthetic style that is consistent from one ad or post to the next. This is also a prime opportunity to leverage any images or other visual collateral that your company might have. A recent Glassdoor study found that users are 44% percent more likely to engage with brands that post pictures or videos than brands that don't, so you can imagine the potential impact a well-chosen image or a well-crafted illustration can have on your efforts to amplify your employer brand in a dynamic, eye-catching, and memorable way.


Obviously, the direction your messaging and visual branding takes will be determined by your company’s overall brand and the type of talent you’re hoping to acquire, but you can and should think of this stage as a chance to put your creativity to the test. If your branding comes off as honest an authentic (two traits that social media users value highly), you’re more likely to make a lasting impression even on passive job seekers. In this way, you can attract candidates who already have a positive preconceived notion about your business, resulting in better culture fits and more cost-effective hiring processes. Not only that, but with a memorable employer brand it’s possible to establish yourself a potential landing place for high quality applicants long before they’re even ready to change jobs—meaning that when they are they’ll seek you out at the beginning of their searches. 


Be Consistent


We briefly alluded to the importance of a consistent brand aesthetic across platforms and media, and it’s true that it’s a crucial practice for maintaining brand coherence and gaining immediate recognition from viewers (just think of the power Coca-Cola’s signature font and coloring has on its audience). But that’s not the only type of consistency that’s required for getting the most out of your branding. Rather, it’s important to be consistent in the execution of whatever strategy you decide on. Brands that post on social media only sporadically tend to suffer in terms of reach compared to those that put out their messaging on a consistent basis, just as employers that only put out ads when they have a particular position to fill often struggle to create a robust talent pipeline. By contrast, a continuous, or even automated, stream of messaging can keep your employer brand in view of potential applicants, leading to a talent pool rich with engaged and enthusiastic job seekers.  


What are the Top Venues for Showcasing Your Employer Brand?




Like we noted above, the sheer number of users makes Facebook a solid venue choice if you want to reach the most people across demographics with your message and employer brand. Because Facebook supports posts using all types of media (photos, text, videos, live streaming, etc)—it’s also a great choice for mixed media content.


You might create a video highlighting your employer brand, and showcasing your company culture. Then, you can run that video as an ad, with targeting information that narrows down precisely who you want to see it. 




Twitter’s reach is not nearly as all-encompassing as Facebook's, yet it has definite advantages in certain areas. While prospective applicants can interact with you on Facebook and LinkedIn, Twitter is made for interacting. The interface on this platform assumes you are looking for people to reply to your posts, and that you will continue the conversation.


Twitter is a fast moving social media platform. When a person checks their timeline, they’re going to be looking for graphics that stand out. Short catchphrases work best, paired with a clean image of something you want to highlight about your company and employees. Say you offer break rooms with ping-pong tables: a picture of employees smiling while playing a round with appropriate brand collateral and logos might catch users' eyes and pique their interest in reaching out for more information.




Of all the venues under discussion, Instagram is the most specialized, in that it has a strong focus on image posts. Every post puts the picture front and center, with the ability to add text as a caption. The audience here also skews toward a younger demographic, with 71% of 18-24 year-olds saying they use it frequently. That number drops to approximately 40% in the 30-49 age range, and only 16% for 50+.

How to Choose the Right Venue for Your Employer Brand graphic-01-1


The idea behind using any of these social media outlets is to start a conversation with potential applicants, especially those who might not consider themselves as such. So you want to draw them in and prompt them to ask questions. This is what gives you the chance to respond with more information, i.e. examples of your employer brand and a sampling of your employee value proposition (EVP). On Instagram, this most often looks like an image conveying an aspect of your culture that you feel the audience will value.



Your Corporate Blog


The blog is not dead. In fact, recent studies are showing an uptick in their use and efficacy in helping companies increase their reach and grow their user base. There are several ways a company blog can be used to your advantage as you look to spread information about your employer brand to potential applicants.


First, and perhaps most obviously, it’s a platform where you can impart factual information about  your company, in long-form, mixed media posts. Run a series of posts, detailing each aspect of your EVP. Then you can combine those into an eBook and make that available for download in exchange for a potential applicants email address.


Now you can market opportunities directly to these people (just be careful not to spam them) with newsletters tailored to their department, interest level, or any other aspect of their demographic.


An in-house blog also makes a great target for click-throughs from your other social media posts. Maybe write a piece outlining the cutting edge research your firm is working on, then post an enticing picture of happy employees working on said research and make the call-to-action for that post a click-through to the blog entry. Now you’ve successfully shown these potential new hires that your company knows not only how to do cutting edge research, but you also know how to leverage social media to draw them in and start a conversation with them on their own terms.



How Do You Measure Your Employer Brand?


Once your employer brand is fairly well defined, it's important to track it over time and try to evaluate its impact in a concrete way. Many businesses have trouble with this aspect of employer branding, because they think that they're trying to measure an abstract concept. But, because we know that employer branding is a set of activities, rather than a nebulous idea, it stands to reason that tracking your employer brand is just a matter of getting data on those activities. Social media posts, job ads, and everything else that goes into the applicant experience you provide can all be used to measure your employer brand's effectiveness. Here are 5 specific metrics that you can track.


1. Social Engagement


This first metric for tracking your employer brand leans heavily on the idea that branding is an action, rather than a concept. If your brand has a presence on social media (and it really should), you can measure its health by keeping track of followers, impressions, likes, and shares over time. Don’t think that the only thing that matters here is earned impressions, either. Paid impressions are proof positive that your employer brand and EVP have been seen by a certain number of potential candidates—this may not seem like much of an accomplishment, but in point of fact it is proof that you’re putting in the type of work that eventually leads to improvements in other key hiring metrics.


If your social media followers are increasing month-over-month, and your posts are getting increasing rates of engagement, this is a sign that your employer brand is attractive and engaging. More than that, it’s a sign that more and more people have heard of and remain interested in your business, which is proof of successful branding in the same way that paid impressions can be.


2. Quality of Hire


The other side of the employer branding coin is its impact on the actual candidates who take jobs at your company. While social media can help you measure the growth of your employer brand, quality of hire can help you determine whether or not it's attracting the kinds of candidates that fit in nicely with your existing culture, mission, and values. Your employer brand may be communicating your EVP to large numbers of people, but if it’s not calibrated to attract the kind of talent that will drive continued business success, then all of your impressions and applications will translate into sub-par hires.


Different organizations have different ways of measuring quality of hire, but generally speaking it should account for how long the average hire remains a productive member of your organization, i.e. how long that hire goes without either leaving or encountering any serious performance problems. Sure, some attrition is a fact of life, and turnover rates will be higher in some industries, but if your new hires are all leaving after a month then you can be pretty sure that there is a disconnect between how you’re representing yourself and what the reality of your corporate life is.  


3. Employee Referrals


As we saw with the metric above, your employer brand’s strength is in part determined by its ability to accurate portray your company in such a way as to motivate not just applications from job-seekers but dedication from employees. A pattern of low quality hires can indicate a failure to do this, just as a generally high quality hire can suggest that your employer brand is doing its job. By the same token, the number of employee referrals that pass through your recruitment funnel can also be a good indication of whether your employer brand inspires a high level of engagement.


After all, no one knows better than your current employees what it’s like to work for your company. If they're excited enough about your mission or your work environment (two key elements of your employer brand) to try and bring their friends and acquaintances aboard, that speaks volumes about the health of your business in general and your employer brand in particular. In fact, one of the ways that your employer brand can spread from person to person is through the actions of your employees. If they’re talking about their great work experiences on Facebook or Twitter or bringing your business up in conversation with friends, they're helping to build your reputation in a conversational way that gets others interested in your company and the opportunities that it offers.


4. New Hire Salaries


By and large, the metrics that we’ve suggested above rely on you to track the differences in your numbers over time, meaning that your initial measurements won’t necessarily tell you that much. By examining your average salary for new hires, on the other hand, you can gain a fairly immediate snapshot of your employer branding. Why? Because companies with good reputations can get top talent to accept job offers for lower pay than employers with poor reputations. This means that by comparing your average new-hire salary to the industry median for the position, you can begin to gain a sense of whether you’re overpaying candidates to compensate for a poor reputation (i.e. a poor employer brand), or if you’re branding efforts have cemented you as a destination workplace worth taking comparatively less money for.


5. Cost-per-hire


At last we get to one of the most important and most talked about metrics in the world of recruitment: cost-per-hire. Businesses rely on cost-per-hire to tell them a lot about the success of their recruiting operations, but what does it tell you about your employer brand in particular? When it comes to your employer brand, a low cost per hire (or a reduction in cost per hire) is, as usual, a sign that something is going right. If people are responding to your brand, it will cost less to source them, they’ll move through your application process more quickly, and it will cost less to hire and retain them. Conversely, if you find that your cost-per-hire is high (or increasing) it may be a sign that your brand isn’t resonating with its intended audience, or that you’re failing to gain enough impressions with your messaging. In either case, it's only by continuing to measure your efforts that you can gain clear, actionable insights into the state of your hiring and how to improve it. 


Future Trends in Employer Branding


Employer branding is a relatively new area, but we're already beginning to see what future evolutions in this field might look like. As recruitment trends and evolve, people in the industry are considering the ways that consumer brand and employer brand might interact, the role of AI and recruitment automation, and the changing face of applicant experience. Let's take a closer look at some of these topics below: 


Integration into Recruiting and Applicant Experience


Right now, your employer brand is probably the brainchild of a marketing or HR executive, with a limited role in business functions outside the immediate purview of recruitment marketing. Over the next five to ten years, expect this to change dramatically. Soon, the entire recruitment process will be seen as a venue for manifesting your brand in dynamic ways. If, for instance, your company is positioning itself as a learning environment with the chance to work with smart, talented people, each step in your recruitment funnel should reflect that image. This might take the form of educational content and conference talks at the top of the funnel, and be bolstered by team lunches and collaborative exercises during the interview stages. This way, the unique employer value proposition (EVP) that you’ve been conveying to potential new recruits will be reinforced, and they’ll take your commitment to providing that EVP seriously.


By the same token, if your brand is all about innovation and creative thinking, your applicant experience could reflect that with unusual interview challenges and a fast-moving process. But applicant experience isn’t the only area that will call for more integration with employer branding—on the contrary, everyone at your company from the newest hire to the CEO should be aware of your EVP and working to make sure that it’s reflected in every aspect of the company, even the ones that have little to do with recruitment. Why? Because the average candidate will do two hours of research into your company before applying, and during those two hours she is likely to encounter not just your recruitment marketing, but your traditional marketing and your Glassdoor reviews. If you’re prioritizing your employer brand across your organization, then all of these elements will demonstrate your core values in a way that encourages applicants to take a chance on your company.


Creating a Dialogue through Social Media


Whatever else is true about the future of employer branding, one thing is almost certain: social media will play an ever more important role. In a recent study, 70% of those polled said that they expected to increase their use of social media in employer branding, many of them significantly so. A plurality of respondents also agreed that social media was the most important digital channel for employer branding. But what exactly is the nature of employer branding on social media, and how will it change going forward? Essentially, the value of these social media platforms for getting your EVP out into the world is twofold: they’re where virtually all candidates (not just active job seekers) spend at least some of their time; and they provide a venue for conversation and two-way communication—unlike traditional media, which is decidedly unidirectional. Right now, some businesses are taking advantage of this first value proposition with quality content and highly-targeted job ads.


As the use of these platforms evolves, though, the conversational element will become more and more crucial. Sites like Twitter, Facebook, and even Reddit will serve as venues for your business to have ongoing discussions with its talent pool, creating a sense of community that mimics the community of the company itself. Of course, paid job ads will still be the cornerstone of an effective online recruitment strategy, but a social media presence that feels organic and genuine can be an important complement, especially when it comes to attracting younger, digital native candidates. Your company’s ability to operate deftly in the digital world may be taken as a proxy for your ability to offer real value to your people.


Measuring Effectiveness


At SmartDreamers we're fairly confident that employer brand will continue to grow in importance over the course of the next several years. In a sense, however, it’s tough to say how important employer branding is right at this moment, because most businesses aren’t effectively measuring the impact that they it actually has on recruitment. This, we’re quite certain, is going to changeand soon. As businesses invest more resources into employer branding, expect a host of new KPIs and methods for measuring the effectiveness of these branding efforts on overall recruitment performance to arise.


Certainly, with the emergence of marketing automation within the past few years, we’ve seen the rise of new metrics and new attempts at quantification regarding traditional marketing. Now, especially with the rise of recruitment marketing automation, we’re beginning to see the same trend in hiring and talent acquisition. Soon, it will be a given that recruiters can tell you the effect of their employer brand on cost per hire, time to hire, cost per click, and other key measures of value. When this happens, it will be the recruiters and HR departments who have taken advantage of social media and other integration opportunities who not only see the best ROI, but have the tools to definitively demonstrate that ROI.    


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