My first blog entry was February 6th of this year. I began with a sense of enthusiasm and optimism. Enthusiasm, because this felt like a natural outlet for expressing opinion and providing some small degree of learning around an area that may be limited in its universality, but still seemed to have the ability to have actual impact. Optimism, because I bought into the blog hype - that quasi-interesting publishing would result in frequent and intelligent discourse. Well, three months later, my enthusiasm has waned and my optimism is non-existent. The only person I seem to be talking to is myself (and while I do admit to a certain level of schizophrenia, it’s not what I was hoping for). This despite the fact that the site has received lots of visits, even though Mr. Pauletich suspects they are all from my wife and a Taoist monk. Hey, I can accept criticism. I can accept abject humiliation. Hell, I can even accept being put on hold while the person on the other end of the phone watches reruns of “Boy Meets World.” But simply being ignored? That’s tough to take. And I don’t want to hear any nonsense about embracing linking strategies, developing a network, or any other blogophile nonsense. You’re here. You’re reading. And then you’re quietly exiting. So until that changes, and beginning today, I am boycotting my own blog. It will be a semi-active boycott, replete with boycott updates. You can join me in my boycott by noting your support (the layers of irony are infinite) or join with others to convince me to end my boycott by contributing the kind of dialogue I was hoping for. And just so you know how serious I am, over the weekend I went to BJ’s Wholesale Club and bought boxes of provisions. I have canned goods. I have batteries. I have candles. And I have a determination that is limited only by my need to get an occasional haircut (just a trim, rounded in the back). My boycott begins now. r
Ads, commercials, billboards, radio spots, events, direct mail, web sites, banners, transit posters, and even bumper stickers all have two things in common. One, they are various forms of media. Two, they have to be deliberately created, and therefore lack spontaneity and the believability that accompanies that trait. In effect, these media and their corresponding content represent manufactured messaging. Person to person communication can certainly be as planned and contrived as any of the outlets listed above, but has the potential to be natural, and therefore in some respects, more insightful. At its best, this form of communication is organic, occurring out of compelling need (either need to tell or need to hear). So, who cares? Anyone trying to convey an employer brand should. Why? Because the majority of active and latent candidates in the employment market form their opinions about an employer based on personal interaction with brand representatives and the brand experience. Again, so? It means that your manufactured messaging (for those with short memories, see paragraph one) is going to have limited impact. Can anyone stop me from this assault of serial questioning? Probably not. The following diagram shows how organic messaging reaches candidates. Sometimes the content and/or experience will be direct, but often it is filtered through social and professional networks. In all cases, however, it offers a higher degree of perceived transparency than manufactured messaging, and therefore, a higher potential to be trusted. Embracing organic messaging as a fundamental part of your employer brand building strategy will enable you to achieve your goals in a more effective manner. It also puts the concept of re-recruiting at the forefront, which in turn, gives me yet another mildly intriguing topic to write about in the future. r
We like to draw lots of parallels between consumer advertising and employment advertising. Mostly, because we have broader awareness of product messages than we do of recruitment messages, but also, I suspect, because it somehow creates an equivalence in our minds regarding how important employment advertising is, or should be. This is all very comforting, but lately I’ve been thinking it’s actually quite counterproductive. The decision to join a particular company can be driven by many reasons, but the changes that take place are significant. We leave one set of relationships for another, we move from a level of comfort to an entirely new frontier, and we alter our lives outside of work, sometimes to the point of relocation. All of this has to make you wonder if persuasion through advertising is sufficient to influence career decisions. Actually, we already know the answer to that – it’s not. So what is? Information. We know that more than anything, candidates are looking for transparency into an organization – transparency that leads to the attainment of a level of trust. And trust is best attained through an abundance of information. That doesn’t mean you can’t advertise your information in traditional media venues, it just means that your message needs to be less about persuasion and more about education. In an age when news is entertainment and entertainment is news, this may seem like a difficult thing to achieve. But it’s the only approach that will cut through an abundance of undifferentiated, me-too, positioning to reach an understandably cynical audience.
In our desire to embrace employer branding, we have forgotten that for most candidates, the first and foremost consideration is the job. Now, hard is it may be to believe, I could blather on and on about what it takes to engage in successful job marketing. But in a rare moment of restraint, I will instead share the best example I have ever come across – an example that was created in 1920. Brown’s Job by Robley Feland, c. 1920 Brown is gone, and many men in the trade are wondering who will get Brown’s job. There has been considerable speculation about this. Brown’s job was reputed to be a good job. Brown’s former employers, wise, grey-eyed men, have had to sit still and repress amazement, as they listened to bright, ambitious young men and dignified older ones seriously apply for Brown’s job. Brown had a big chair and a wide, flat-topped desk covered with a sheet of glass. Under the glass was a map of the United States. Brown had a salary of thirty thousand dollars a year. And twice a year, Brown made a “trip to the coast” and called on every one of the firm’s distributors. He never tried to sell anything. Brown wasn’t exactly in the sales department. He visited with the distributors, called on a few dealers, and once in a while made a little talk to salesmen. Back at the office, he answered most of the important complaints, although Brown’s job wasn’t to handle complaints. Brown wasn’t in the credit department either, but vital questions of credit got to Brown, somehow or other, and Brown would smoke, talk, and tell a joke, untwist the telephone cord and tell the credit manager what to do. Whenever Mr. Wythe, the impulsive little president, working like a beaver, would pick up a bunch of papers and peer into a particularly troublesome or messy subject, he had a way of saying, “What does Brown say? What does Brown say? What the hell does Brown say? – Well, why don’t you do it, then?” And that was disposed. Or when there was a difficulty that required quick action and lots of it, together with tact, and lots of that, Mr. Wythe would say, “Brown, you handle that.” And then one day the directors met unofficially and decided to fire the superintendent of No. 2 mill. Brown didn’t hear of this until the day after the letter had gone. “What do you think of it, Brown?” asked Mr. Wythe. Brown said, “That’s all right. The letter won’t be delivered until tomorrow morning, and I’ll get him on the wire and have him start East tonight. Then I’ll have his stenographer send the letter back here, and I’ll destroy it before he sees it.” The others agreed, “That’s the thing to do.” Brown knew the business he was in. He knew the men he worked with. He had a whole lot of sense, which he apparently used without consciously summoning his judgment to his assistance. He seemed to think good sense. Brown is gone, and men are applying for Brown’s job. Others are asking who is going to get Brown’s job – bright, ambitious young men, dignified older men. Men who are not the son of Brown’s mother, nor the husband of Brown’s wife, nor the product of Brown’s childhood – men who never suffered Brown’s sorrows nor felt his joys, men who never loved things that Brown loved nor feared the things he feared – are asking for Brown’s job. Don’t they know that Brown’s chair and his desk, with the map under the glass top, and his pay envelope, are not Brown’s job? Don’t they know they might as well apply to the Methodist Church for John Wesley’s job? Brown’s former employers know it. Brown’s job is where Brown is. Brown’s Job first appeared in The Wedge, an internal newsletter of the George H. Batten advertising agency. r
One of the most fascinating cultural panoramas takes place with the arrival of every new generation of teenagers. I’m referring to the driving need of adolescents to be seen as different from the previous generation, and even more importantly, from each other. Yet within that context, millions of teenagers actually become increasingly homogenous in both language and appearance. In striving to be different, they become more similar. The first pair of bell-bottom jeans, the first head of spiked hair, the first nose piercing – all arrestingly different. The one-millionth version of each – not so much. It is a marvel that is consistently replicated in the world of employment marketing. If I were to advise companies that they should invest in advertising that looks and sounds just like everyone else’s, I would quickly be shown the door (not to say that I’m not shown the door for other reasons, none of which has anything to do with my penchant for using sock puppets in presentations). Yet, this is where so many companies end up, despite significant investments in market research and creative development. Sometimes it’s the misapplication of graphic standards, sometimes it’s a low level of comfort with standing out from the crowd, and sometimes it’s just driven by personal preference. But regardless of the reason, it is always bad strategy. THE PURPOSE OF ADVERTISING IS TO BE SEEN, TO BE NOTICED, TO BE REMEMBERED. On the other hand, the purpose of camouflage is to keep something from being seen. Based on these arbitrary, yet appropriate, definitions, I have come to the conclusion that most employment marketers are in the camouflage business. (If you think I am exaggerating, take your own inventory of various company advertising campaigns, and determine what percentage really, and I do mean really, stand out.) Now, to get out of the camouflage business, all one has to remember is that advertising is the tool for getting the message out, not the message itself. Let it do its job and your job will become much easier. It’s a simple idea. As simple as remembering there are other colors in the spectrum other than blue. r Random rant Shouldn’t the television show “24” be called “72” by now?
Next time you’re in the market for a car, pay attention to the information that is presented to you – all of it, from the manufacturer and dealership television advertising to the model brochures to the personally delivered sales pitch. If your experience is like most of ours, what you will primarily hear about are the features and benefits of the automobile, and maybe just a little bit about the dealership and the manufacturer. No big surprise here - it’s what you would expect. Now imagine that it was just the opposite. Imagine that most of what you heard about was how successful the dealership was, who founded it, how many locations it had, how many employees worked there, how many cars it sold, and so on. All of this supplemented by how the manufacturer went about making its cars, the range of cars it makes, and its corporate philosophy, with only a slight bit of information about the features and benefits of the car you were interested in. More than likely this second scenario would not result in a sale, because the conversation didn’t center on what you were primarily interested in. Again, no big surprise here. So here’s the surprise: most companies use the majority of their employment marketing dollars to talk about themselves – with little information that is focused on the candidate. Don’t take my word for it, look for yourself. And while you’re looking, consider that there are four primary content areas in employment marketing: the work the company does, the success the company has, the work experience the candidate can expect, and the success the candidate can expect. In study after study that I’ve ever been part of, potential employees are most interested in the work experience they can expect, followed by the success they can expect. Lagging with an approximate combined 25% response rate are the work the company does and the success of the company. All of this is exactly what you would expect (that candidates want to know more about the features and benefits of the work experience), and yet most companies are doing just the opposite. I suspect it is because that is what they are most comfortable with – telling “their story.” But that particular story should only be supplementary. Next time out, try going with what 75% of the marketplace is requesting – information that is directly related to the features and benefits of the work experience. It’s a novel idea. r
As we gather together to worship at the employer brand temple, a heretic makes his way into our midst. The upstart tells us that while there is a place in the world for the employer brand, it is not a panacea for all staffing challenges, and that, in fact, it is only one part of the employment marketing strategy. Unyielding in his criticism, the recruitment advertising iconoclast chides us for not leveraging the research we conduct in the development of employer brands in a more comprehensive manner. He scolds us. “What of lead generation? What of relationship marketing?” We sit in silence with no response, thinking about the role of each of these endeavors. Lead generation generates candidates, and potentially, hires. It is driven by historical success and best practices. Relationship marketing connects with candidates who did not become hires, and existing and past employees. It is determined by decision, interest, and loyalty drivers. Brand positioning and realization creates positive associations and heightened awareness with potential candidates. It ensures delivery of the brand promise to employees and is informed by aspirations, realities, and perceptions. Each is different. Each is essential. Each is interrelated. And each can be determined with a single strategy development effort. But that’s not what happens. Organizations approach each of these in isolation, if at all. In doing so, companies lose the opportunity to optimize the utility of the market research that has been conducted during employer brand development exercises. Sure, the brand positioning will be robust and will lead to excellent positioning. But with 10% to 25% more effort, the same organization can realize a complete employment marketing strategy. That’s worth preaching about. r Random rave: I hit the nostalgia circuit recently and caught a concert by Richie Havens, one of the original Woodstock prodigies. He was simply amazing. It may be 2006, but he still sings like its 1969.
If you secured a ladder in order to reach a higher vantage point, which rung would you start from? Perhaps if you had really long arms and legs, were confident in the foundation under the ladder, and didn’t have the paralyzing fear of heights that I have, you might skip the first rung, but certainly no more than that. And as you ascended, you would probably be less likely to skip a rung. After all, it would really hurt more than your dignity if you were to slip. Let’s apply that distinctly reinforced-aluminum metaphor to employer brand strategy. Ascertaining the strength of your brand plays a big part in determining how to determine and execute against your determined positioning. And the ladder you want to climb goes something like this: * First rung: Awareness * Second rung: Relevance * Third rung: Differentiation * Fourth rung: Esteem Okay, it’s a short ladder, but the rungs are very far apart. And where you are dictates how you approach the market. The first rung speaks to employer brand awareness, which is very different from name recognition, although that is certainly a part of it. The second rung is about the brand making a connection with your target market so that prospective candidates start thinking they should pay attention. The third rung is differentiation, which is about articulating the advantages you offer in context with all the other choices that the market has. The last rung is about achieving a level of status that could best be classified as the employer of choice. Esteem is a lofty goal, and tends to be out of the immediate reach of most employers, despite that fact it tends to be a common objective. Now ask yourself (but not out loud because people will start to wonder about you), is your brand at the same rung of the ladder for all segments in your target market? Is it the same for all job categories, all locations, or all divisions? Doubtful, isn’t it? So now that you understand the function and importance of the employer brand ladder, go ahead and apply the principles to your marketing efforts. Once you get that right, we can move on to the employer brand garden weasel. r
A lot of conversations around employer brands tend to be laced with jargon - I know because I'm guilty of that myself. One person's brand pillars are another person's brand attributes (not to be confused with one man's trash is another man's treasure to the more obscure one man's budgie is another man's parrot). But in the midst of the battle of nomenclature, I have encountered some basic confusion that is worth discussing, at least for a few paragraphs. What I'm referring to is the difference between a positioning statement and a tag line. We are all familiar with tag lines. They're the clever little appendages that pop up at the end of advertisements, from The New York Times' "All the news that's fit to print" to Cingular's "Raising the bar," crying out to consumers in a last-ditch attempt to be impactful. Even cities and states get into the act with themes and mottos that act as tag lines. Las Vegas informs us that "What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas" while New Hampshire commands that we "Live free or die." (Rumor has it that Wisconsin once tested "Eat cheese or die," but passed it up for the less militant "Try some cheddar if you feel like it.") While tag lines play a less prominent role in employment marketing, they still have a place. Enterprise Rent-A-Car's "My personal enterprise" and the Naval Reserves' "Stay strong" are two excellent examples. In each case, the purpose of the tag line is to encapsulate the emotional context of the brand position in a memorable way, whether that be a product brand or an employer brand. In essence, they are jingles minus the music. Positioning statements are something entirely different. They take value propositions and put them in marketing context, articulating relevance and differentiation in a way that lays out a road map for advertising and communications (there's that jargon again). They do not appear as headlines, tag lines, or copy. But without the positioning statement, headlines, tag lines, and copy would be nothing more than a wild guess, a hope that whatever is being said actually matters to someone, somewhere. Kind of like this blog. r Random Rant Dear Post Cereals, Please recall all boxes of your latest version of Alphabits. By eliminating all sugar from the cereal, you have significantly damaged my nostalgic recollections of breakfast as a child. I may sue.
You would think that with the thousands of companies that exist in this country alone, there would be infinite variety in the attributes, perceptions, and strength of the corresponding employer brands. But alas, that is not the case. As a veteran of hundreds of focus groups, scores of surveys, and dozens of brand strategies, I can tell you that the universe is finite indeed, and that unlike the physical universe we live in, this one exists in a steady state. In fact we've actually developed twelve employer brand models and eight candidate archetypes that, in one combination or another, could serve as the umbrella for 100% of what currently exists in the world of employer brands (that's 56/100ths better than Ivory Soap, which is a mere 99 44/100ths pure). (I have now successfully set up the second paragraph of today's discourse. As you wait for this paragraph to begin, the questions arise: What the hell is he yammering about? And what's with the soap reference?) When presenting research findings to organizations, it is not unusual to hear someone comment that there was nothing new uncovered, followed in short order with a question regarding the purpose of the entire exercise. There are two responses to that. The first is that if you are in a role that requires you to position your organization in the employment marketplace, you should not be surprised. For my second response, go back to the preceding paragraph. But the real response (yes, I know that makes three responses) comes down to one thing, our viewpoints are guided by a shared culture, a culture that has ceased being regional, that in many ways is still national, but that has become increasingly global with every passing day. This cultural melding results in attributes and perceptions that tend to be intuitively understood by those who play in the employer brand sandbox, regardless if they are client-side or consultancy-side. So does that eliminate the need for research? Of course not. (I'll bet you're stunned by that response.) Research may provide us with an affirmation of what we thought we knew, but in doing so, it moves us from supposition to certainty, from generality to specificity. And certainty combined with specificity is where the action is, because what we're really talking about now is the ability to differentiate. For a market in which most candidates believe they have more than enough choice, differentiation is what moves you from the consideration set to the decision set. But then, you probably already knew that. r