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Authentic Designs on a Strategic Approach to Your Employer Brand

10 min read.

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Employer Branding

To attract the best talent today, it’s not enough to be a great workplace. Even if you have the right pieces in place, it might not matter if you don’t establish a strategic employer brand. 

Employer branding is the most powerful tool for talent attraction. While it’s a relatively new concept, it’s essential for showing prospective talent who you are — and you need them to know. Talent is the only competitive advantage in business left these days.

You can’t just hope that talent will organically find out about your company. A proactive approach is necessary; you must be relentless when telling the marketplace who you are and where they fit in that identity. You have to take strong ownership over your organization’s culture, sense of community and belonging, and opportunity.

When it comes to employer brand, many companies make the mistake of only thinking about it when a problem emerges and they’re seeking a solution. But that isn’t the way it works.

Think of it this way: The last time I took my son in for his dental visit, he asked, “Do I need to brush all of my teeth every day?” The dentist replied, “Only brush the teeth you want to keep.” That sums up how you must approach your employer branding strategy. “Do I need to work at this daily?” Yes. Otherwise, talent won’t be compelled to join your organization or stay once they’re on the team.

Naturally, this requires a shift in mindset for many employers. You have to move away from the mentality that your employer brand is a solution to a problem and embrace one where it’s an essential requirement of successfully running a business.

When great people build great businesses, it only stands to reason that keeping and attracting the right talent — other great people — should be core to their business strategy. Any conversations about employer branding strategy should focus on how to best leverage your employer brand to attract and retain those people you most want.

That said, there are a few ingredients necessary to make that happen.

Employer Branding Strategy Best Practices

Ingredient No. 1: Authenticity

Authenticity isn’t a new idea in branding; it’s also not complex. Being open and honest as a brand allows you to make stronger connections with your target audience. The same thing goes for employers, whose target audience just happens to be talent. The purpose of employer branding remains the same: describing the essence of your organization honestly and holistically and encapsulating your employee value proposition in the most truthful, transparent way possible.

Where companies tend to trip up comes in the creation and execution of that authentic messaging. When building your employer branding strategy, an aspirational element usually comes into play. You’re thinking about what you hope your company will become in the future and thinking of it in an idealized way at present. This can lead you to tell a story based on those perspectives and not rooted entirely in reality, because no one likes to be honest about the less glamorous or attractive parts of their realities.

It’s important to note that being aspirational doesn’t make you any less authentic. An employer brand provides a map for the future and keeps the business moving forward. You don’t want to lack direction. Both the employer brand and employee value proposition should be designed as a bridge to take operations from today into tomorrow — as well as what it’ll take to get you there. But your brand should not be solely aspirational. Take stock of yourself (the good, bad, and the ugly) and craft an employer brand that takes ownership of everything. Then, use that holistic picture to attract people who will get you where you want to be tomorrow.

Being upfront about what’s true today and what will be different tomorrow is the essence of authenticity in business. You’re giving talent a glimpse into your current shortcomings and exceptional qualities. You’re showing them what it would be like to be part of both and giving them a window into how they can help you achieve your aspirations.

Sage Therapeutics, a midsize organization out of Cambridge, Massachusetts, has done a phenomenal job of using its employer branding strategy as a tool for attracting the right talent. The whole thing is built on the phrase “enjoy the journey.” Not only is the organization enjoying its own journey, but it ensures all employees are doing the same.

This is one of the best employer brands our company has ever developed because the sentiment of the message can be found throughout the organization — it shows up in so many ways. The company encourages team members to enjoy life’s rich experiences and then come back to the office to do their best work, offering a truly balanced workplace that supports health, well-being, and personal and professional fulfilment. It promises talent an accurate picture of what working there will be like, inviting them to join the journey toward a better tomorrow.

Bridging the gap between today’s realities and tomorrow’s aspirations isn’t always easy. Even top-performing companies struggle to craft and solidify their employer brands. While the task isn’t easy, it’s also not impossible.

The future of employer branding requires asking yourself some tough questions and knowing that what got you “here” won’t get you “there.” You must answer questions like:

  • Where is the business going?
  • What will it take to bring this new reality to fruition?
  • What assets need to be in place before you can start
  • What activities need to cease that could be holding back business?
  • What activities need to continue to maintain that passion and pride in the business?

By answering these questions, you’ll begin to develop a tangible framework for employer branding and talent acquisition initiatives that align with the essential “Give and Get” proposition. This approach gives employees what they need to thrive as individuals and professionals while still contributing to the organization as a whole.

That said, creating this framework is just half the battle. The next step requires putting everything into action — this is where leadership vision comes in.

Ingredient No. 2: The Vision of Your Leadership

Sharing your leadership vision is essential if your employer brand is going to get off the ground and make a difference. When an organization’s leaders have a passion for their employer brand and strategically craft a cohesive employer brand story, they set the tone.

For this vision to become a reality, employers must show talent how they will fit into that vision and contribute to its execution. Make clear the role they will play in your organization and the role your organization will play in their career path. Share how they fit into your company’s path to growth and success. Clearly articulate exactly how they’ll move your organization closer to your leadership vision. Show them their opportunity to make an impact.

In high-performance cultures with high-calibre talent, people want to see that their contributions matter. When deciding how to best shape a conversation with talent about their contributions and impacts, you’ll want to do three things:

1. Highlight the gaps.

It’s instinctual to hone in on the benefits and opportunities of working at your company, but you’ll also want to lean into any adversities. Candidates are making career path decisions, and you want to be open and honest about any tough parts of the road ahead. Doing anything otherwise could leave you with a roster of employees who might technically be up to the task but not possess the grit, perseverance, or determination to see things through to the end and contribute to your vision.

2. Share the action plan.

Explaining your ultimate goals does nothing to provide any real perspective without also sharing exactly how you plan to bring this new reality to life and what role each person will play in that. Talking through both the present practicalities and future ideas helps to show the value of contributing to your leadership vision and how everyone can be essential to that effort.

3. Build talent into the narrative.

The opportunity to be part of your organization must compel people emotionally. It must resonate on a personal level. If you get that, it leads to passion, pride, loyalty, and incredibly powerful, productive, and effective employees. That’s where the narrative comes in. But all narratives need heroes, so be sure to build them into the story. This isn’t just about you or your organization — it’s about the people making your operations and vision possible. Showcase that in the employer brand you build.

The purpose of employer branding should be to attract more people who relish the opportunity to work for your organization specifically rather than shy away from it. You can create a lot of magic by honestly portraying who you are, what you want to be, and the role of talent in that.

The Future of Employer Branding

In today’s world, even top-performing companies are struggling to attract the right talent. It’s a buyer’s market, and talent will go elsewhere unless you have a clear employer brand and value proposition. People are waking up to the fact they have choices about where they work. They’re no longer content to stay in jobs that left them dissatisfied or on career paths that made them feel like they lacked control.

This powerful moment in the market — officially coined the Great Resignation — will dictate an organization’s success in attracting the right talent moving forward. Your operation must learn to adapt. Resistance, as they say, is futile. Since the start of the pandemic, people have found the gym. They’ve found religion. They’ve found a different social life. Of course, they’ve also found the desire for a career change.

Unfortunately, there’s no playbook for how organizations can respond rapidly and well. Every business is different and will require different tactics to stay on a candidate’s radar. It all comes down to choice, though. The illusion of control sits squarely with talent, and you must show them how you can fulfil their needs and desires if you hope they’ll become part of your team and help you bring your vision to life.

The future of employer branding will reflect this reality. Businesses have changed radically, and so have people. Having a strategic brand and a strong employee value proposition is the key to setting your organization apart and attracting the talent you want the most. Understand your employer brand and define your employee value proposition. And then? Share it with the world with the full confidence of an employer that knows its own identity and vision and the kind of people it wants to make those things stronger over time.

Sign up for our Employer Brand Sprint Course to find out how we can help you bring your employer brand to life.

We work with organizations all over the world on everything from their developing their employer brand story to defining their unique value proposition to improving their candidate and employee experience. 

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