Better than tofu

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. 13-graph.gif 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

A call for a new kind of information age

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.

Blogging can cure rhetoric

Hill | Holliday hill.jpg Hill Holiday demonstrates their intellect by allowing the audience to dive directly into their brain trust right from the home page. Instead of the typical marketing buzzwords and slick flash intros, they place their blogging forum right up front. I think this is fresh and appealing to be able to get right into their heads and past the rhetoric. And especially the ability to contribute dialog with their subject matter, and link to their employees who are behind the thoughts. A great way to communicate who they are in conversation mode instead of the company marketing line. Not to forget mentioning that Hill Holiday is a great shop too. Well done.

Click through the roids

BILLY HARVEY MUSIC billy.jpg One of the brilliant works of Jordan Stone, here he has developed a wonderful site for a singer songwriter from Austin Texas, Billy Harvey. What is so unique about this website is not only the navigation through polaroid pictures,, but the techniques used to create spatial dimensions. As an example, when you click on a radio in one polaroid, and you navigate to another polaroid to the left, the sound stays to your left. I'm not sure what I like best, the navigation, the video treatment or the dead pan delivery of his narration. Imagine designing a section on the career site where people could click through employee cubicles, and desktops revealing the unique cultures of companies. Or....maybe not. Some of our employees especially me would probably get arrested. :^0

Sometimes, the job’s the thing …

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

Now you see it, now you don’t.

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?

Tell ‘em what they want to hear

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