First of all, my apologies for not publishing in a while. I’ve been on the road with the folks from the Human Capital Institute and Best Places to Work®, spreading the word about the employer brand to millions in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., New York, Boston, and Dallas. It was a great experience and one I hope to repeat again soon. Anyway, since its inception way back in February, this blog has focused exclusively on the employer brand (although focus is too strong - perhaps “flitted about in an occasionally deliberate manner” is more appropriate). Oh, the topics we have covered – from how to build an employer brand to job marketing to some people’s obsession with certain movie starlets (wait – that’s a different blog that I’m not supposed to talk about - you know, court order and all). What we haven’t discussed is the antithesis of the employer brand, which is the employer as a commodity. What’s the difference between a commodity and a brand? A commodity is undifferentiated and lacking in any psychological or self-expressive attributes. A commodity serves a desired function and it competes in the market almost exclusively on price. Often commodities are bought and sold based on speculation. Gold is a commodity. But so is tin. Oil is a commodity. But so are hogs. A commodity is not what you want to be if you are an employer. Commodity employers have no identity in the marketplace. They compete entirely on price-point and functional attributes. Candidates who consider commodity employers want to know: What is the compensation? What are the benefits? How far is the commute? What are the hours? Candidates who consider commodity employers are not concerned with engaging in the organization’s mission because the organization does little to create an atmosphere conducive to engagement. The frightening thing is that the market is still dominated by commodity employers. In fact, included in this undifferentiated group are some organizations that believe they have an employer brand. That is primarily because they have paid no attention to developing a branded experience. Commodity employers have little interest in culture. In these organizations, there is no shared purpose. There are only tasks to be completed. Commodity employers have even less interest in their environment. They feature little of distinction, punctuated by the occasional motivational poster framed in polished aluminum (another commodity, by the way – oh, the irony abounds). What could be worse than being a commodity employer? Being a commodity employee. But we’ll save that discussion until the next time. r Random rant The U.S. national soccer team did not under-perform in 2006. They overachieved in 2002. The expectations for this team were ridiculously high, and made worse by absurd FIFA rankings that had the U.S. as #5 in the world. 5?!? Are you kidding me? Does anyone really believe that our national team is better than Argentina, Italy, and England? The only thing more ridiculous than the expectations for this World Cup was the officiating. My prediction for the finals: Argentina 2, Spain 1.
One is known for unfiltered enthusiasm. Another is known for directness. And yet another is gaining recognition for flexibility and strategy. These aren’t the employer brand attributes of leading companies. They are the attributes of three World Cup teams: Brazil, England, and the United States. Whether these attributes are reflective of national cultures or not can be debated. But the fact that these, and just about all of the 32 teams participating in the 2006 World Cup, can have their own brand of soccer gives hope to the idea that any team can. Including a team of employees. There is a lesson here (besides that I will stretch any analogy until it snaps). And that is that any group of people gathered together for a common purpose will naturally coalesce around distinct attributes. You may want to alter some of those attributes or amplify others, but they are there nonetheless, growing organically, just like an employer brand. So, if your organization chose its top 25 performers, would those players embody the best attributes of your employer brand? Or perhaps, even more important, would they innately understand what your organization’s employer value proposition was? Your answer could determine how far your organization goes before it is eliminated from competition. (Okay, that was either a really good close or really lame.) r Random rave The first goal of the 2006 World Cup was incredible, and fittingly, scored by Germany, this year’s host nation.
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