Another week, another experiment…

On Thursday I have a session with a potential client looking at the concept of building an employer brand. The question that we will be looking at is whether a programme of helping their staff to become better networkers could achieve their aim to attract and retain good technical talent.

The company has only existed since the autumn of 2014, but the organisation has been around much longer; at the end of the year it was divested from its parent. You might have heard of the parent, you almost certainly won’t have heard of the new company. And they are a software company  in a market where tech skills are hard to come by, even more so if you are a long way away from the bright lights and breakfast cereal bars of Shoreditch.

Employer brands, a relatively new concept, are a somewhat dubious concoction of HR and marketing. Traditional approaches will usually focus on a glitzy (or invariably cheesy) corporate video, full of soft-focus shots of the offices and incisive interviews with current employees who have “made their lives at…” company x. In a world where B2C is the glamorous cousin, B2B is the dowdy one, B2Employee can be the banjo-playing one from hicksville.

The challenge with these top-down, broadcast models for marketing into such a precise target audience (potential employees) is that you put in a fair bit of effort to not reach that many people and not have too much of an impact. Sure a company page on LinkedIn can be a useful tool, but getting the penetration that’s necessary to reach the people you might want to employ (combining skills and capabilities with cultural fit and general suitability) – well, you’re in needle-in-haystack territory.

Further, for all the corporate gloss, with sites like Glassdoor increasingly lifting the lid on what employers are really like, a mythological employer brand is fairly pointless. And “Work for us. You’ll get a desk! (most days)” isn’t necessarily the most compelling of authentic branding exercises.

So how might networking help? Well, say for example, you wanted to attract developers to work for your company. Why not get your existing developers out there, talking with their peers, sharing ideas, tips, asking advice… Just generally being out there and being part of their community? It’s a longer game on paper: but building reputation in a marketplace is never going to be something that has quick fixes. But how more like are you to attract a potential employee if they know Jess, who helped them out in a forum with a problem they were having, rather than because they watched a fairly unconvincing corporate brand-building presentation?

The broadcasting stuff has its place, but if you want to build a credible employer brand you’d be much better to focus on giving potential employees something that has intrinsic value to them, rather than just talking about yourself. Take Spotify’s recent videos on how they organise themselves for developing software: those videos have been really useful, and I’ve no doubt have had a big positive impact in people thinking “Hey, I’d like to work for Spotify one day.” Combine that with getting more of your people to engage with their broader professional community and, well, I reckon then you’re on the way to building an employer brand for which potential employees will have some time…

5 thoughts on “Building an employer brand

  1. Investing in the personnel would help too. And I don’t mean giving them bean bags to sit on or a free pizza on Friday, but investing in them, their development and so on. There’s such a sclerotic fear that you’ll spend money on people only for them to jump ship at the first opportunity, but I’m not sure that has ever been the case (providing you give some good career progression opportunities).

    Get to the root of the problem, then get employees out saying how cool their employer is.

    1. I’ve always been of the view that you should invest in your people so that they can jump ship. That means the ones who are with you aren’t just there because they feel trapped…

      1. Exactly right. If you think about it, you kind of want employees that are desirable to other companies don’t you? It’s when no one wants your staff you need to worry.

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