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How to Balance Aspirations with Authenticity for a Strong Employer Brand

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Brand Authenticity, Employer Branding, Talent Attraction

So, you’ve conducted your Employer Brand research. You’ve powered through the qualitative and quantitative data and drawn out some solid insights. It’s bursting with authenticity and your stakeholders are humming with excitement. How could you possibly sweeten the deal?

We’d like to pay homage to a simple element of employer brand that’s often overlooked (but shouldn’t be.)

The humble aspiration.

Capturing an essence of aspiration in your branding is powerful because it shows your team not only where you are in your story, but what the next chapter holds.

Every organisation today is on a mission to become a stickier workplace. If you had the opportunity to give your employees something great to look forward to, and your future candidates something to expect, why wouldn’t you grab it with both hands?

The Benefits of Being Aspirational

Make a connection:

It’s perfectly acceptable to be a ‘work-in-progress’. If you show vulnerability and acknowledge your organisation has room to develop and plans to do so, far from deterring talent, it can help you to make a meaningful connection with candidates and employees.

Be forward-facing:

If you leave aspirations out of the equation, you're missing a trick by only capturing your current state. An employer brand should be something that also looks to the future, that has momentum, that's continually reviewed and refreshed. By adding a swirl of aspirational vision to employer brand, you position your company as realistic, self-aware and most importantly, open to change.

Stand out:

Being vulnerable can be profoundly effective – just ask Brené Brown. Including aspirations in your brand makes a statement that’s disarming to candidates who are well accustomed to the salesy tactics of your competitors. Focus on your positioning and it’ll make you stand out in the right way.

The key with aspirational vision is not to go overboard like a kid with a pot of glitter. We don’t ever want to compromise authenticity for the sake of aspiration.

Here are some tips to keep things balanced.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Strong Employer Branding

DO Exercise Due Diligence

At the research stage, it’s important to listen to a variety of perceptions so that you can successfully distinguish an anomaly from a recurring theme. Once you identify an interesting insight, make sure to validate it through other forms of research to ensure this a common observation rather than a singular perspective. As a result you’ll capture the most distilled truth of your working experience.

DO Factor in Tensions

Tensions occur when there’s an element of the working experience that people view differently, like two sides of the same coin.

For example,

Person A thinks your company provides the resources needed for progressing their career.

Person B thinks your company lacks advancement opportunities or growth plans.

Don’t automatically discount polarising views. When you see a trend, it’s an opportunity to explore the issue further during the distil phase of your process. Is this down to a communication issue? Or is this something your company is working on? Dig deeper to see if it can be worked into the employer brand in the form of aspiration.

DO Hear a Variety of Perspectives

It’s necessary to hear leadership’s perspective and objectives for employer brand. But remember, that being closer to the organizational goals sometimes means being further from the on-the-ground experience. it's important to gain insights across all different levels to identify what is actual versus what is aspirational.

DON’T Aim for Perfection

Many organisations get tangled up in trying to create a perfect employee experience across the board. After all, bragging about a perfect organisation is the ultimate talent attraction technique, right?

Nope. Perfection is untrustworthy. Think about Google or Amazon reviews. We tend to trust a 4.5 star product more than five star products because nothing is that perfect, and it makes us suspicious. We’re seeing more recognition of this in mainstream marketing, as brands increasingly embrace imperfection in their advertising, proudly declaring that their products aren’t for everyone or owning up to their mistakes. It takes a combination of authenticity and humility to admit, “We’re not perfect, but we’re working on it.”

Today’s talent is savvy. They’re used to having to read between the lines of branding, so don’t underestimate their ability to see through over-idealised messaging.

DON’T Fudge the Truth

When building the employer brand itself, avoid false or empty promises like the plague.

Don’t claim to be a company that encourages work-life balance if you know your working hours are long. The same goes for aspirations. Don’t state you’re looking to improve things your organisation has no intention of changing, just because you think it will appeal to talent.

For example: If your company has long working hours, instead of claiming that you’re working to reduce the hours, be honest.

Tell them:

“The people who thrive here are those that enjoy a high-intensity work environment that will challenge them.”

Will this scare off some candidates? Sure.

But the ones who are excited by the challenge are the ones you truly need. Ask yourself, what is the goal of a strong employer brand. Is it purely to increase the volume of applications, or is it to up the quality?

If your employer brand isn’t repelling unsuitable candidates, it’s not working hard enough for you.

How to test your employer brand

Once the foundations of your authentic and aspirational employer brand have been laid, you’re ready to test the waters.

The key is to dip a toe in and make sure your messaging resonates internally first.

Data shows that employee advocacy is still your best bet for bolstering your employer brand. Brand messages shared by employees on social media achieve 561 percent more reach than the same messages shared by the corporate social media profiles, but it’s unlikely employees will share messaging that they don’t identify with.

Conduct a test with employees through a survey or focus group to get a pulse on how they’re responding to it. Are they enthused or sceptical? Is there anything that feels inauthentic to them? Or aspirational to the point of inaccuracy? Welcome feedback with an open mind and make necessary tweaks. After that you can begin to road-test externally.

Oh and one more thing...

The perfect employer brand strikes a good balance between authenticity and aspiration. Positioning your organisation as forward-facing is a simple adjustment that will help you to stand out from your competitors, draw in new talent and motivate your current workforce.

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