Employer Branding: Definition and strategy

Last updated:
July 21, 2021
December 21, 2021
min read
Brendan McConnell
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. Often, that’s 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 key ingredient to make 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 what employer branding means.

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.

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.

This story will be molded by the following factors:

  • Personality
  • Voice and tone
  • Mission
  • Values
  • Experience

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. Managing that conversation, and steering it in the direction you want, is aided by 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.

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

  • Recruiting
  • Retention
  • Performance
  • Engagement
  • 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” does not have a clear start and finish. It is, by nature, somewhat abstract and fluid. Much of your employment brand can be controlled, but 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:

  • Planning
  • Execution
  • 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.

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

  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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Allocate resources and roles. Once you have your goals in place, establish a core team to work on your employee branding strategy, and layout what resources you’ll need.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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 messaging 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.

  1. Audit your existing employer material. Analyze your existing employer branding material versus your new targets and goals. Does it still hold water 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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,
  4. 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.
  5. 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 makeup for the effort of developing and executing an employer branding strategy.

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