Before falling in love with the art and craft of employer branding, James Ellis was a digital marketer with 15 years experience learning how audiences think and behave online. He has taken those skills and become one of employer brand’s leading voices, developing and activating dozens of brands of every size, running The Talent Cast podcast for more than four years, writing the Employer Brand Headlines newsletter and writing for a number of industry publications. His mission is to evolve the conversation around recruiting and hiring, and to support that mission, he has recently published two books: The Employer Brand Handbook and Talent Chooses You. Follow on Twitter @thewarfortalent, connect on LinkedIn at https://linkedin.com/in/thewarfortalent, and visit James on his website at www.talentchoosesyou.com.
QUESTION: What do you believe are the seven things every marketing leader/CMO - and in reality, the entire C-Suite team - should know about employer branding?
JAMES ELLIS: It really boils down to the idea that most marketing is "product" and "brand" driven. Heck, it still feels semi-revolutionary to say "the man doesn't need a half-inch drill bit, he needs a half-inch hole in his wall." (Or more accurately, he wants the satisfaction of having completed a task.) A focus on product and brand take up all the oxygen in the room, and it usually isn't until something really bad happens (CEO is an obvious racist, company who made a name for itself by calling itself "not evil" is firing anyone internally who disagrees with leadership, branch managers are pressured to open fraudulent accounts, etc) that we realize that the product and brand aren't everything. We've forgotten the people.
Employer brand is the human face of your brand. It is the people who think up, make, and support the product. It is the voice on the phone, the delivery person, the salesperson, and the product manager. In the next, the product and brand are by-products of their collective ambitions, effort, and execution. The people aren't the "most important asset of a company," they are the company. No people, no company.
The good news is that the people side of things augment and support the product and brand. The people are the go-to step in crisis management. The people make a mediocre product feel more honest and valuable. But that only comes when you stop treating employer brand as something that lives exclusively in the recruiting ghetto but should have a seat at the brand table.
(For more details, here's James' full article: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/cmos-guide-employer-brand-james-ellis )
TWEET THIS: Employer brand is the human face of your brand. It is the people who think up, make, and support the product. -@thewarfortalent #EmployerBranding
QUESTION: What is an “employer value proposition,” and do you know of any employers that have them written down and/or framed on the entrance wall and/or included in an employer handbook?
JAMES ELLIS: There is so much writing about EVPs, but in the end, it boils down to a simple idea: What should an employee expect while working here? What motivation will the company serve and reward? What is the working culture here? How do you get things done? How do decisions get made? How much impact can one person expect to make? How much of someone's waking life will they spend in the office? Will they walk away smarter, richer, more satisfied or all three?
These ideas aren't always written down. In fact, until recently, they were just the culture you were entering, something a deft interviewee would try to suss out in the interview process, but it mostly resulted in a "reading tea leaves" process.
Today, the pendulum has swung the other way: companies are more than eager to tell the world how amazing their culture is, but they do it in a very "marketing" way: they focus on being attractive to the widest possible audience rather than to the core audience of people they would actually want to hire (hiring is a game of quality over quantity, where marketing is the reverse). They put big awards on their career sites saying "Amazing Place To Work!" but never define to whom they are an amazing place to work.
Strong employer brands are simple. They distill what they offer and promise into a few simple ideas, ideas that are not only true, but differentiated from other companies. The best employer brands draw lines to define the shape of those ideas so that rather than say "we have lots of opportunity!" they say, "For people who are willing to put in the work, who are willing to embrace the discomfort of the new, who are willing to collaborate and share with other teams to make something happen, amazing things can be done." Same idea, one described as a fortune cookie, the other as a promise.
And the employee handbook is a place where companies narrow the brand, defining what can't and shouldn't be done. The employee handbook is often where good employer brand ideas go to die the death of a thousand well-intentioned cuts.
QUESTION: What recommendations do you have for personnel/hiring/staffing departments to work in tandem with marketing departments to develop and implement an “employer branding” strategy?
JAMES ELLIS: In an ideal situation, a company has one brand, and that brand is shared. Each team uses that brand to talk to their audience (investors, consumers, marketplace, employees, candidates, etc.) about the things that that audience cares about. Each team is expected to strengthen their part of the brand to support all other aspects.
But in reality, marketing and recruiting fight because they don't understand the fundamental differences in their own perception of what a brand is. No one has to teach marketing that the goal of marketing is always "more" any more than you need to teach a fish what water is. But when employer brand shows up and attempts to apply the tools and ideas of consumer marketing to their own audience, things fall apart and the result is mistrust and finger-pointing. If employer brand is willing to accept that their burden is to teach about a VERY different way of branding and marketing is willing to listen in the expectation that both parties become stronger for the effort, amazing things can happen.
TWEET THIS: Marketing and recruiting fight because they don't understand the fundamental differences in their own perception of what a brand is. -@thewarfortalent #EmployerBranding
QUESTION: What employer branding metrics should every organization track, and why?
JAMES ELLIS: This is a trick question. In marketing, the metrics are easy (more = good). But in employer brand, more = more and that's all. If you sell donuts and sell a million donuts, you're getting a raise. If you're selling jobs and get a million applicants, you're getting fired. Employer metrics are a function of quality, not quantity, which as discussed, is a sea change in thinking for consumer marketing.
Thus, the metrics employer brand selects are a function of its own goals, a step marketing doesn't worry about because...more. So what do you want your employer brand to do? Become a household name? To be a top-of-mind employer for nurses around the US? To be seen as the only choice for electricians who want to grow their technical and business skills? To be the place where everyone has fun at work?
Until you know your goal, your metrics aren't actually useful.
QUESTION: How does an organization know when its employer branding efforts have evolved into enthusiastic brand ambassadors?
JAMES ELLIS: That's mostly a function of centralized effort: are you doing less and still seeing decent Glassdoor and Comparably reviews? How bad is your Blind space (Blind is a place for complaining almost exclusively so it's not about "are people saying nice things" so much as it's about taking the pulse and seeing where friction might still exist)? How hard is it to get people to share LinkedIn posts? Are people wearing the t-shirts and asking for the new sticker?
QUESTION: Who are your favorite employer brands, and why?
JAMES ELLIS: I have two, and I like them because they are so very different.
The first and most obvious is Spotify. They know their brand. They have woven it into a metaphor about being in a band that makes perfect sense. Every external communication connects to that metaphor. Rather than have brand pillars, they simply extend the band metaphor. They answer questions as a band might. It's cohesive, rather comprehensive, and connects so easily to the consumer brand. You get the sense that Spotify founders are real music fans (evidence that Spotify doesn't actually do a great job of rewarding musicians notwithstanding), and that their employer brand is an organic extension of that passion.
The second may not be as obvious. Delta Airlines is one of the rare brands that has integrated consumer marketing, employer branding, and investor relations into a single idea of its own brand. When you see an ad, whether it's a commercial on TV or a poster on the jetway as you walk onto a plane, it's very hard to say that the message is specifically a consumer message, an employer brand message, or even an internal communications message. There seems to be zero siloization of the branding teams. There is simply a shared sense of the brand.
Where Spotify is deeply and obviously creative, Delta is more conservative. They express their brands very differently, but they are each very much themselves. (The Thelonious Monk quote, "A genius is the one most like himself," is the best way to see when a brand is doing great work.)
My gratitude to James for appearing on my Blog and for sharing his inspiring employer branding, employee experience, and brand experience insights.
Image Credit: Debbie Laskey.