On Tuesday, I heard two top Chief Human Capital Officers (CHCOs) confirm what we have been sharing with our clients as the way ahead in 2012: Even amidst budget issues, agencies and their workforce need to get the story out about their value. In fact, with government employees being slammed as under-worked and over-paid, the present is the best time to show taxpayers the ROI on their taxes and government leaders the ROI they receive from investing in employees. Employees can then genuinely believe their own management finds them worthy of enhancing skills through education and training.
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
I don't know about where you work, but in our company we receive a yearly employee satisfaction survey. It asks a lot of questions about what I think of my career prospects, management, coworkers, and the direction of the company. Based on my responses, it appears that I'm a pretty happy guy, albeit with serious underlying issues regarding desk clutter and the tendency of our office plant vendor to rely too heavily on dracaena. In other companies, employees are subjected to engagement surveys and culture surveys. Each of these provides valuable information to management. Some organizations even supplement these surveys with focus groups and other studies. What does this have to do with developing an employer brand? Very little. And that is precisely the point I'm coming to (about two paragraphs ahead of schedule I might add). When developing an employer brand, we rely heavily on research, both qualitative and quantitative. Invariably and understandably, companies want to reduce the scope of their employer brand projects in order to reduce both time and cost. In their efforts to do so, some organizations insist on force-fitting data into places it just doesn't belong. ("I really don't understand why we can't use our 'Bring Your Pet to Work' survey results as a basis for our brand position!") The problem with this is that the aforementioned research doesn't address the primary points that need to be understood when creating an employer brand strategy. Some of these are: - Company attribute performance and importance - Job attribute performance and importance - Candidate propensity to change jobs - Candidate motivation - Consideration criteria - Decision criteria There are lots of ways to get to this information - as long as your research methodology is actually designed for it. It's also important to understand the role of qualitative research, quantitative research, and how these support each other. Quantitative research is about breadth and prevalence. It is the outline for the picture you are trying to create. Qualitative research provides depth and context. It is the color that goes within the lines. Try creating an employer brand position without quantitative research and you end up with a sprawling mess of poorly defined tones and voices. Try it without qualitative research and all you have is an outline absent of any vitality. But research isn't the entire solution. There is also analysis and strategy development - at least that's what 78% of respondents in our latest survey stated. r Random Rant: What's with elevating mobile phones to romantic gift status?!? The introduction of Motorola's new pink Razr phone was positioned as "just in time for Valentine's Day!" I'm incredulous. I can just imagine presenting a phone to my wife as a sign of my unending devotion. ("You got me a phone for Valentine's Day - what, were they out of toasters?") No wonder the divorce rate is high.
Yogi Bera, New York Yankee of days gone by, has a book out entitled "When You Come To A Fork In The Road, Take It." It's one of his most famous aphorisms, and from what I've seen, the guiding light for a lot of organizations when it comes to determining what their employer brand strategy should be. What's that you say? All employer brand strategies are the same? Determine the value proposition, how to couch it, and go home for an evening of Must See TV? Well my friends, I beg to differ (although why one needs to beg in order to differ is beyond me). There are two distinct approaches that an organization must grapple with when it comes to determining the path to take for its employer brand strategy. Is it seeking to attract candidates to a culture that is properly aligned with its mission and business objective, or is it seeking to alter the culture from the outside in, driving change through the attributes of an employee population more in tune with its business objectives? The answer to this has a dramatic and immediate effect on crafting the approach to the development of employer brand strategies. In the first instance, the organization would seek to find a balance between its aspirations for the employer brand and the realities of the employment experience. In the latter case, the entirety of the strategy is driven almost solely by the aspirations. The implications of an aspiration-only approach usually means that the strategy can be developed and brought to market faster, but the organization must be prepared for the ensuing dynamic tension that results when a new set of employee attributes are brought into the organization en masse. ("Set up a perimeter - the newbies are preparing to storm the cafeteria!") The more typical approach of matching market drivers with existing cultural attributes takes a bit longer to bring to market. This is because, as stated in a previous posting, there are three distinct perspectives to understand: employer aspirations, employment experience realities, and market perceptions. However, the organization can look forward to focusing its efforts on amplifying the culture, which is much easier on the organizational psyche. One approach is not superior to the other, it's just a matter of making the correct determination prior to beginning the development of an employer brand strategy. Or if you'd like, you can do it the hard way, and simply come to the fork in the road and take it. r Random Rave: I actually prefer Woody Allen's variation on coming to a fork in the road. It can be found in the opening of a speech he once gave to college graduates. "More than at any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly."
I thought that the best possible way to start this running dialogue on the state of employer brand development would be with at least one somewhat obscure, seemingly unrelated reference, thereby assuring all that our conversations will seldom be one-dimensional, and if they are, at least they will offer the possibility of semi-rational randomness. So on to Rene Magritte, one of my favorite artists, whose Surrealist body of work includes "Ceci n'est pas une pipe," a fantastic juxtaposition of words and image. Many have taken the approach that Magritte's painting of a pipe accompanied by the caption, "This is not a pipe," simply points out that the artist is emphasizing he has created a picture of a pipe, not an actual pipe, and that representation of a thing is quite different than the thing itself. This takes us to the relationship between employer branding and the employer brand. (No, really, it does.) Most organizations would like to believe they have established an employer brand. But most organizations believe that all they have to do to accomplish this is develop and execute some colorful, descriptive employer branding materials - typically ads, brochures, and web sites, and get those materials in front of candidates. ("Glad we got that done, now let's move on to matrix management!") However, all that these companies have created is the representation of a pipe - they have not created the pipe itself. The real effort should begin with determining what kind of pipe a company should create, or whether it should be a pipe at all. This requires an understanding of an organization's aspirations for its employer brand, the realities of the employment experience, and the perceptions of that experience. But most of all, it requires an understanding that a working employer brand is a set of strong, positive associations that employees and candidates have about an organization as an employer, that it is more than advertising, and, that it is rare. Okay, that's it for this first time out. I've got some ideas for the weeks ahead that will get into specific aspects of employer brand development. But IвЂ™d also like to know what areas you would like to examine, however random they are. r