Everyone in talent acquisition understands the importance of employer branding, but creating an effective employer branding strategy is something many organizations still struggle to get right. There is no one right way to create an employer branding strategy, but there are some best practices to keep in mind, so we created this comprehensive collection of actionable tips. We’ve broken things down into three categories — planning, execution and optimization.
The Importance of Employer Branding Strategy
Before we get started, let’s review the basics. Your employer brand impacts just about every facet of your business, from recruiting and retention to performance and profitability. We all know the proof is in the pudding, so consider the following statistics:
- 95% of candidates identify reputation as a key factor when considering a new job.
- A strong employer brand can reduce your cost per hire by 50% and increase the number of qualified applicants by another 50%.
- Companies with strong employer brands average 28% less turnover.
- 60% of job seekers have had a poor candidate experience, and 72% of them went on to share their experience online.
- To make up for poor employer brand, companies must offer a 10% pay increase to attract top job seekers.
Given all that, ask yourself one question: Is your employer brand something you want to leave to chance? Taking the time to develop a documented employer branding strategy will streamline the development process and ensure everyone is working toward the same goal. Okay, on to the tips.
Planning Your Employer Branding Strategy
Step 1: Align your strategy with organizational needs. An effective strategy will be shaped by the business’s short- and long-term needs, taking into account everything the organization wants to accomplish and the skillset it will require to do so. Fortunately, aligning your employer branding strategy with organizational needs is fairly straightforward. Start by answering a few basic questions:
- What objectives will the business pursue over the next 12-36 months?
- What new products and services are in the pipeline?
- What talent gaps exist that could prevent us from meeting our obligations?
Example: Within the next three years, Acme Co. plans to launch a new mobile app. To meet this goal, the organization will need to hire an additional five developers within the next 12 months.
Step 2: Set actionable objectives. An employer branding strategy must help the organization solve a problem or accomplish a goal, and setting actionable objectives is the best way to ensure this happens. While every business must define its own recruitment goals, well-crafted objectives will always share some common traits. They will be:
- Target: Identify a specific and reasonable goal the company needs met.
- Measure: Establish metrics and adjust along the way.
- Plan: Establish resources, create a content calendar and set a timeline.
- Assign: Divide, conquer and meet deadlines.
Example: Acme Co.’s internal recruiters will be responsible for sourcing and hiring three app developers within the next six months and an additional two app developers over the following six months when budgets are refreshed.
Notice how our sample objective meets the criteria. Target: hiring app developers under a budget, Measure: five of them in total, Plan: 12 month timeline/deadline, Assign: internal recruiting team.
Step 3: Define relevant KPIs. Key performance indicators (KPIs) are metrics used to evaluate the success of an objective.
If your goal is to reduce total recruiting costs by 20% over a six-month period, cost-per-hire would be an essential KPI. The KPIs you define will vary based upon your objectives, but there are some best practices when it comes to selection:
- Consider objectives. Like our example above, the KPIs you select must relate to your stated objectives.
- Attainable and accurate. If KPI data can’t be readily obtained or isn’t 100% accurate, the information will do you no good.
- Actionable. When selecting your KPIs, ask yourself one question: “Can the business influence these metrics, or are they out of our control?” If you can’t influence the KPI, tracking the metric will be futile.
If you need a hand identifying the right KPIs, Greenhouse has a robust library of content focused on recruiting metrics that will be useful during this phase.
Step 4: Develop a measurement plan. A measurement plan will ensure you’re equipped to collect and analyze the data you need to make informed decisions. Those unfamiliar with measurement may feel a little intimidated, but developing a plan is a straightforward process that consists of answering a few questions:
- What data will we be tracking (i.e., KPIs)?
- How will we collect this data?
- How frequently will we measure?
- How will we analyze the data for insights and opportunities?
- How will we report our findings to project stakeholders?
It’s likely your business already has access to a plethora of tools and resources that can help you obtain the needed information.
- Recruiting metric. Your Applicant Tracking Software (ATS platform) should be your first stop. This will provide a trove of valuable data pertaining to your recruitment efforts.
- Web analytics. Tools like Google Analytics, Kissmetrics and CrazyEgg can help unlock insights from your careers page and other digital properties.
- Business metrics. When in doubt, finance and operations will likely be able to provide you with the business-related metrics you need.
Step 5: Allocate resources upfront. Defining roles and responsibilities up front will minimize roadblocks later in the process and help ensure deadlines are met. One of the biggest questions you’ll face when allocating resources to develop employer branding strategy is whether to keep things in-house or enlist the assistance of an outside expert. Both options have advantages:
- External agencies. While not as common as their counterparts in advertising, a host of employer branding agencies have sprung up in recent years. These service providers may be the best option for organizations lacking internal expertise or looking to supplement existing resources.
- Internal teams. Creating an internal employer branding team will be the most economical path for many organizations. While this option may not involve dedicated consultants or agencies, it can be every bit as effective if properly implemented.
Step 6: Create target candidate personas. A candidate persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal candidate, developed to help recruiters better understand the candidates they’re pursuing. It provides insight into the factors that motivate candidates to seek out and accept — or deny — a new position.
Candidate personas require first-hand feedback from prospective employees, so you’ll have to conduct some interviews to get the information you need. We recommend a minimum of 10, but the more the merrier. Recent hires can also provide valuable insight, so make sure to include them in your interview schedule. You’ll want to collect as much information as possible, so it can help to break down your interview template into segments. Here are few criteria to consider:
- The basics: job title, salary requirement, qualifying criteria
- The background: education, work history, specific skill-sets
- The person: personal goals, motivation, personal interests
Demographics are important factors to consider and can be extremely helpful when targeting candidates. However, be careful not to target too narrow thus unintentionally excluding populations and reinforcing unconscious biases. Not only is it unethical but it’s illegal, so watch out.
Step 7: Develop a compelling employee value proposition. The employee value proposition (EVP) clarifies the expectations of both the candidate and company when a new hire is made. Creating a meaningful EVP is arguably the most important thing you can do when developing your employer branding strategy. It will serve as the foundation for your communications materials, influencing everything you say and do when recruiting talent.
Step 8: Examine your application process. In many ways, the application process embodies your employer brand so make sure you understand what it’s like from the applicant’s point of view. Talk with candidates and recent hires about their experience applying for a role at your company. Doing so will provide your team with an outsider's perspective on the process to determine areas for improvement. Here are some questions to consider:
- How did they find you? Referral, Google, job board, etc.
- Where and when did they apply? Careers page, LinkedIn, social media, etc.
- How did they learn about the company? Careers page, About Us page, blog articles, etc.
- What resources would have been beneficial? Recruitment video, networking event, improved careers page, insight to company culture, etc.
- Were candidates kept informed about their application throughout the process? What are key points of communication? Email, phone call, decision deadline etc.
The careers page is an essential element in every company recruiting process. See what these 15 companies are doing to make their careers page stand out.
Step 9: Don’t forget about retention. Each lost employee can cost an organization anywhere from 30% to 400% of their annual salary, depending on seniority level, which makes a recent study that found only 30% of businesses are using their employer brand to boost retention even more surprising. Taking the time to account for employee retention when creating your employer branding strategy can pay some very tangible dividends:
- Engagement. Seeking feedback from your existing employees will demonstrate the organization values their input and is dedicated to creating the environment they want.
- Profitability. An engaged workforce is a profitable workforce. Companies that report high levels of employee engagement experience 22% higher profitability and 21% higher productivity.
- Advocacy. When your employees understand your employer brand and the factors that make the organization a desirable place to work, they’ll be equipped to share this information with their personal networks.
Step 10: Determine your distribution mix. It’s important to determine which channels you’ll use to communicate with candidates before developing employer branding materials. Not every channel is right for every business, so you’ll want to identify where your ideal candidates spend their time and take your message to them.
This is one area where you’ll definitely want to involve your marketing team, but recruiters should still understand the basics of owned, earned and paid media before communicating with candidates.
Owned channels, like your careers page or social media profiles, will likely be your primary resource, but don’t be afraid to explore the realms of paid and earned media. Paying to run display ads on industry websites or posting listings on job boards can guarantee people see your messaging, and investing in great content can increase the odds users share your material with their personal networks.
Executing Your Employer Branding Strategy
Step 11: Tailor employer branding materials to your candidate personas. Developing your employer branding materials (careers page, social media campaigns, job descriptions, etc.) can be the most exciting part of the process, but it can be easy to lose sight of the hard work you’ve already done.
If properly executed, your candidate personas will provide the insight you need to tell a compelling story to specific candidates, so make sure to leverage them by segmenting your materials by audience. Below are a few examples of candidate segmentation in action.
RetailMeNot has created a dedicated page to recruit software engineers, complete with a 360 degree video and an overview of what the organization offers this category of job seekers.
Step 12: Create a content calendar. Whether you’re publishing a recruiting blog, running targeted ads on social media or rolling out new features on your careers page, creating a content calendar can simplify the process and hold people accountable for deadlines.
- Brainstorm ideas. Get a team together and brainstorm big-picture ideas for blog titles, recruitment marketing campaigns, video production and careers page improvements. These 41 examples that we’ve gathered are a great place to start.
- Consider budget. Creating compelling content takes time and money, but the investment will pay off in the long run. Focus on driving success for one project at a time. If you take on too much too quick, your strategy may lose credibility and funding.
- Distribute tasks. Now that you’ve established a master plan, divvy up the work to appropriate managers who will further delegate as needed.
- Set deadlines. Make sure everyone’s calendars are synced and people are held accountable for their content deadlines.
- Adjust as needed. Are you catching on to this theme? Employer branding strategy is not stable. It is forever in flux, and by staying ahead of the trends you’ll find the best people before they even start looking for jobs.
Step 13: Watch for common implementation roadblocks. Up to 75% of organizations struggle to effectively implement strategies. The same study identified some of the most common sticking points during the implementation process, so watch out for these roadblocks:
- Distrust between teams. The majority of managers feel they can rely on their supervisors and direct reports all or most of the time, but only 9% said the same thing about colleagues in other functions. An employer branding strategy will require contributions from multiple disciplines, so it’s crucial to develop a process that will let cross-functional teams work together in a transparent and productive manner.
- Relying on top-down execution. A strong CEO may be able to drive an efficient strategic process in the short-term, but over time this reliance will dilute the ability of team leaders to make hard decisions and execute plans. Mid-level managers should be equipped to drive strategic implementation, so get these stakeholders involved during strategic development and ensure they understand their responsibilities.
- A refusal to adapt. A well-crafted strategy must be given an opportunity to succeed, but refusing to pivot when necessary will only lead to missed opportunities and unaddressed challenges. This one is important, so we’ll cover it in further detail in just a minute.
Step 14: Make sure your employees understand the strategy. Employee referrals account for more than 45% of internal hires. Turn your team into an army of ambassadors and you’ll be able to cast a wider net in your recruitment efforts. Start with the basics:
- Keep them in the loop. Equip employees to be effective ambassadors by ensuring every member of the organization understands the employer branding strategy and how to communicate it to their personal networks.
- Empower them to communicate. Some firms may feel a little uneasy allowing their employees to communicate on the company’s behalf, but you have to get past it. We live in a connected world, and your employees’ networks are likely an untapped talent pool.
- Provide some guidance. Whether it’s a few talking points or a formal social media policy, providing your employees with a little guidance will help ensure they remain on message.
Optimizing Your Employer Branding Strategy
Step 15: Test your message. Your employer branding strategy will shape your recruitment messaging, and if your messaging isn’t up to par, it will be almost impossible to meet your objectives. Routine testing is the simplest way to gauge the efficacy of your approach. This may seem a little intimidating, but utilizing a structured methodology will make the process much easier.
Example: 12 months ago, in the midst of a developer hiring blitz, Acme Co. overhauled its careers page to target this audience. Now the organization is looking to staff up its marketing department, but the careers page is no longer speaking to the right candidates.
Solution: Acme needs to refine the careers page copy to better align with its current needs. Let’s take a look at a few techniques Acme Co. can use to test and optimize its messaging:
- A/B Testing. A/B testing is a simple approach that compares two versions of a piece to determine which performs better. Variables are tested one at a time to ensure the tester understands which change was responsible for influencing user behavior. The 1:1 nature of A/B testing makes it simple to see which version is driving optimal results.
- Multivariate Testing. With multivariate testing, multiple variables are modified and tested with the goal of determining which combination of variations performs best. Multivariate testing can be useful when your communications materials have multiple elements you wish to test, but you’ll need a larger audience for your results to be statistically significant.
Step 16: Don’t be afraid to course correct. There will come a time when you’ll need to make some changes to your employer branding strategy to address a weakness or capitalize on a new opportunity. How do you know when it’s time to course correct? By this point, you’ll have done the necessary legwork and collected all the data you need to make an informed decision. Now it’s just a matter of examining what you have:
- Examine your needs. Does your strategy still meet the needs of the organization? If not, it’s time to rethink your approach.
- Examine your KPIs. If your results are falling short, you’ll want to do some digging to determine what’s not working and how you’re going to fix it. On the flip side, if you’ve accomplished all your objectives, set new priorities and begin again.
- Examine your resources. Budgets are finite, and committees are often pulled apart to address other needs. If your resources are no longer capable of accomplishing your goals, it may be time to streamline your strategy. If you find yourself with access to a larger budget or team, however, consider increasing your employer branding investment.
Step 17: Repeat, repeat, repeat. There’s no get-rich-quick scheme when it comes to employer branding, but there is one surefire formula for success: Test, measure and repeat.
Once you’ve planned, implemented and optimized your employer branding strategy, start over. Reassess the organization’s needs and determine if your strategy is still relevant. Set objectives to address new challenges or opportunities. Develop new candidate personas and refine your employee value proposition accordingly. Top-performing companies treat their employer branding strategy as a work in progress, never missing an opportunity to refine their approach and improve results.
Remember, employer branding is a circular process, so once you’ve optimized, head back up to step one and prove to stakeholders and team members that employer branding is well worth the investment.