Employer branding strategy: build one that works in 21 steps (and 3 phases)

Last updated:
March 16, 2022
January 30, 2023
min read
Brendan McConnell
employer branding strategy
Table of contents

If there’s one thing that virtually every recruiter can agree on, it’s that working for a company with a strong reputation makes it much easier to recruit top talent.

Some companies are just talent magnets. Have you ever looked at certain corporations - perhaps even your competitors - and thought “how on earth are they doing this?” It can feel frustrating because from the outside looking in, it often appears effortless. And you’re struggling to comprehend why the top talent in the industry isn’t flowing towards your company.

But take a breath. You’ll be pleased to know that it’s not just luck. And, if they can do it, so can you. You need to understand how they’ve become talent magnets in the first place and draw inspiration from it to apply it to your own methodologies.

Often, top talent is attracted to those companies because they have a strong employer branding strategy in place that helps them put their best foot forward, and makes them appealing to the best applicants.

Employment branding is the recipe that helps your company beat the competition for top talent. And your employer branding strategy is the filling of your pie. The spaghetti to your Alfredo. Essentially, your employer branding strategy is the key ingredient to making that happen.

In this article, we’ll explore how to build and develop a winning employer branding process. But first, let’s step back and examine the definition of employer branding.

What is employer branding?

Employer branding, at a high level, refers to your company’s reputation as a place to work. This takes two forms:

  • How others view you as an employer.
  • How you present yourself as an employer.

When you hear the word ‘brand’, your mind instantly travels to establishments like Nike, McDonald's, and Starbucks. The main association runs towards companies that sell their products. Recruitment and brands aimed at workers aren’t ordinarily the first thing that springs to mind.

However, employer branding is just that. A brand - built around the same key elements as the big brands you know and love - but centered around the employees and working life. 

Employer branding is both built and earned based on the types of strategies, messaging, and internal processes you have in place. How you speak to applicants, how you treat employees, and how they talk about you all contribute to your employment brand.

Ideally, your employer brand will be a shared story told to the public by your company and your employees. It should offer insights into what it’s like to work at your company, what your values are, and how you treat people.

What factors contribute to your employer brand story?

This story will be molded by the following 5 factors:

  1. Personality
    Your employer brand’s personality is found by personifying your establishment. Think: if your company was a person, what would they be like? Unleash your inner writer or actor, and dig deep to discover the person behind the logo.

  2. Voice and tone
    Your company’s voice and tone are all about the way we use language and structure. Does your employer brand use emojis? Does it use slang? Is the tone formal or informal? All of these attributes will feed into your employer brand’s personality, so don’t be afraid to use a branding avatar.

  3. Mission
    Your employer brand’s mission statement will differ from the company’s mission. Remember, this brand has been created with the target audience of employees in mind. What does your business aim to do for your employees? A mission needs to be clear to attract like-minded candidates. Employees work considerably harder if they feel they’re working towards something they care about.

  4. Values
    Your employer brand’s values should be documented because they will attract candidates with the same values. Say, for example, one of your brand’s values was creativity, you’d be expected to nurture a creative space where ideas are valued. Consider what values and attributes your company finds most important, and use them to form your values.

  5. Experience
    What experience has your brand had in terms of recruitment and job satisfaction? How has your company adjusted to suit the needs of your employees? And what was the result of doing so? 

Your company has an employer reputation, whether you actively participate in it or not. For better or worse, employees and candidates talk to their connections about your company. Considering many employees spend their working day, every day, with your company, they’re absolutely going to be talking about it to their friends, family, and associates.

So, the choice is yours. You can choose to do nothing and hope that what’s being said is positive. Or, you can manage that conversation, and steer it in the direction you want.

It’s a no-brainer, really. So, let’s get to work on forming a strong employer branding strategy.

Why is it important to have an employer branding strategy?

95% of candidates say that the reputation of the company they’re applying for is a key consideration when applying for a new job. That stat alone should give you pause if you’re not actively managing your employer brand at this moment.

Candidates value reputation, and they want to know that your company has a good one. This is a core benefit and important for a solid employer branding strategy. Of course, this takes time, effort, and other resources. However, implementing your strategy one step at a time makes it easier for your brand to stand out in the career marketplace.

But on top of that, strong employer branding has been known to improve performance and efficiency metrics across an organization, including in:

  1. Recruiting
  2. Retention
  3. Performance
  4. Engagement
  5. Profitability

A good employer reputation can reduce cost per hire by as much as 50%, and can also lead to 28% less turnover. In other words, your recruiters need to spend less time and resources finding talent, and your top employers leave at a lower rate if your employer brand is strong.

So, now that we’ve established what employer branding is and why it’s so important, you may be wondering how to start taking control of your company’s reputation. Let’s dig in.

How to build an employer branding strategy

Before you begin, you should be aware that “improving employer branding” doesn’t have a clear start and finish. It is, by nature, somewhat abstract and fluid. The non-linear set of results can be offputting to many, but it doesn’t need to be so vague. Much of your employment brand can be controlled. Just remember that it will always be impacted by external variables.

To account for that risk, it’s helpful to think of an employer branding strategy in cyclical phases, which include:

  1. Planning
  2. Execution
  3. Refinement

You’ll likely find yourself going through these stages on a rolling basis, which will help you continuously analyze, refine, and pivot your employer brand messaging to reflect those external variables. If you maintain an identical method, there’s something wrong. You should be adjusting and pivoting as you gain more traction. 

So, what happens in each phase? How do you build an employer branding strategy? We’ve got the answers. Here’s an overview of the types of tasks that are often involved in each phase of building an employer branding strategy.

Phase 1: Planning

The planning phase is where you take stock of your current employer brand and messaging strategy, and develop an improvement plan.

Step 1:
Align with your company's needs.

Meet with the executive team to get a clear picture of your future strategic goals, and to establish how your recruitment activity can contribute.

Step 2:
Assess and develop a solid company culture.

Company culture is a massive motivator when jobseekers apply for roles. In fact, 47% of active job-seekers state that company culture is fundamental. Before you start forming your employer branding message and tone, you need to understand the dynamics of your company culture. These can be infused into your employer branding strategy.

Step 3:
Set clear goals.

Based on that conversation, set short and long-term goals related to recruitment, performance, retention, and employer branding. Establish KPIs that you can measure against your goals. You’ll need to be able to measure statistics rather than nodding or shaking your head based on how you feel it’s going.

Step 4:
Get top-down buy-in.

Ensure that your executive team buys into the value of a recruitment branding strategy. You’ll need their support for resources and budget. Your CEO and other leaders are also some of your best employment brand ambassadors.

Step 5:
Allocate resources and roles.

Once you have your goals in place, establish a core team to work on your employee branding strategy, and lay out what resources you’ll need.

Step 6:
Create target candidate personas.

Dig into the types of people you want to hire. Who are they? What do they value? How can you speak to them? Talk to managers and team members throughout the organization and conduct competitive research to establish a set of ideal candidate personas.

Step 7:
Develop an Employer Value Proposition.

Based on those personas, write a unique Employer Value Proposition (EVP) that clearly states why and how you’re an ideal employer for your target candidates. This will be your roadmap for the rest of your employer branding strategy.

Step 8:
Determine your advertising/marketing focus.

Once you have the above groundwork in place, you can start to think of the best techniques and platforms to use to get your employer branding message out to the world. Where do your target candidates congregate? What do they want to hear? This will help guide your chosen advertising and recruitment marketing tactics.

Phase 2: Execution

The execution phase is where you put your plan into action.

Step 9:
Audit your existing employer material.

Analyze your existing employer branding material versus your new targets and goals. Does it still hold true and tell the story you need it to? Perform a detailed content and web presence audit to see if (and how much) your current messaging aligns with your desired brand.

Step 10:
Audit your application process.

Do the same thing for your application process. Is your target persona more interested in a shorter, mobile application process? If so, are your current platforms set up for that? Analyze each phase of your existing process through that lens.

Step 11:
Make sure both of the above reflect the needs and wants of your target candidates.

Take your findings from step 8 and implement changes that will appeal to your target candidates.

Step 12:
Create content that appeals to your personas.

Once your infrastructure is in place, start creating new content that will resonate with your target personas. Update your careers site, alter your social media messaging, create employer branding videos. New content, tailored to your target audience, will help tell your new story.

Step 13:
Involve your entire team.

Don’t forget that everyone on your team has a story to tell. Engage everyone in the branding journey. Encourage staff to share their stories and sentiments online.

Step 14:
Encourage sharing.

As stated, employees have a story to tell. Encourage them to share updates, photos, and opinions about your company online. Many companies impose strict social media policies on their employees, which can stifle these authentic stories.

Step 15:
Ask for testimonials.

Employee testimonials are some of the most authentic and engaging ways you can tell your employment branding story. These can be short video interviews, written answers, social media posts, or audio recordings. Share these testimonials on your careers site, and let your employees help create your employer branding image.

Step 16:
Use a mix of media.
People consume information in many different ways. To effectively tell your story, you should be actively engaging in a variety of media. This can include photos, video, social media, blog posts, career sites, podcasts, or even in-person events. The more ways you can showcase your employer brand, the better.

Phase 3: Refinement

The refinement phases are where you test different techniques, review results, and refine your strategy.

Step 17:
Test, test, test.

As you roll out your employer branding tactics, actively test and measure what works and what doesn’t. Where possible, A/B test different web layouts and employer branding messaging to see what works best. The more you test, the better you’ll be able to understand what your audience likes and what it doesn’t.

Step 18:
Measure KPIs vs. goals.

Set up a reporting system that allows you to track KPIs versus your original goals. Monitor these KPIs and adapt as necessary.

Step 19:
Review the results quarterly, pivot if necessary.

Schedule quarterly reviews with your employer branding team to review results, and change your trajectory if they stray from your goals.

Step 20:
Get continued input from the team and candidates.

As your employer brand evolves, continue to engage your team and candidates to get new insights into ways to improve your employer branding messaging.

Step 21:
Revisit your plan yearly.

Circle back to the start of the employer branding process at the start of each year to get a clear picture of how far you’ve come. Doing another round of audits and reviews each year will help you stay aligned with your organization’s evolving strategic goals, and will help you focus your attention on what works best.

Employer branding, when deliberately controlled and nurtured, can be a powerful recruitment and business tool for your company. A strong reputation as a company can have wide-reaching benefits that will more than make up for the effort of developing and executing an employer branding strategy.

That said, it’s important to keep measuring and exploring what works with your employer branding strategy. Experimenting - especially in the early days - is fundamental. Understand that, at the start, you’ll discover things that work and things that don’t. Embrace the methods that don’t work, as you can put them to bed.

The best employer brands have achieved a solid brand reputation due to massive effort and a whole lot of experimentation. Do so with strategy underpinning everything, and embrace it!

Related reading: check out how to create a sustainable employer branding strategy.

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