The Right Height

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

The trouble with perky

Imagine you’re in the market for a real estate agent (okay, first imagine that you can actually afford real estate). You’ve narrowed it down to three agents who all have roughly the same amount of experience, access to listings, and cost structure. One is stoic to the point of being devoid of any expression – positive or negative, another is ridiculously perky about everything, and the last seems to have a balance of enthusiasm and determination. Which do you choose to work with? This is just one example of the way in which something is communicated becomes as important as what is communicated. And that leads us to today’s topic – the role of personality in employer brand positioning. Personality can be the single biggest differentiator in an employment market filled with parity offerings. Correctly infused, it can make a similar offer stand out as if it were singular in nature. Ignored, it can guarantee that an exceptional offer is mired in the muck (and we wouldn’t want that, no matter how good the alliteration is). So what is your company’s approach to its employer brand personality? More than likely, you’re unsure, because most of the attention is focused on the development of a value proposition, positioning statement, brand attributes, or some other component of your strategy. If your response is something general and non-specific like “professional,” then you’re in trouble. Brand personalities should be multi-dimensional and specific. Confident, inclusive, exclusive, and enterprising are all good examples of employer brand personality components. Determining personality is not simply a matter of choosing from a list of traits that you think are positive, however. Your employer brand personality has to be complementary to both your overarching position and the tone that organically emanates (it took me three tries to spell that correctly) from your organization. Once you’ve identified the correct personality traits for your employer brand, make sure that they are infused in all communications, from advertising to collateral materials, from career sites to job postings, from screening tools to interview questions, from … okay, I think you get the point. r

Living in a “C” clamp world

So where do most career web sites live? Well, for the most part, they all live inside a corporate house. A playground inside the safe, secure walls of the corporate global architecture. Sometimes referred to as inside the "C" clamp. Ouch. That kinda hurts saying that. Sounds a bit medieval. The term C clamp refers to the area that is usually made up of the top global corporate navigation bar, the left hand sub navigation bar, and the footer at the bottom thus the shape makes a C. The area inside these navigation sections is the content playground for the careers site. Or shall we say the careers section. But when should and when shouldn't the career site live within the corporate clamp? Let's start with the objectives and the audience of most corporate web sites. For the most part, their objectives are geared towards the business market as a whole. They have many target users, from customers to investors and, yes, new potential candidates as well. In some cases, the site is a crucial part of business transactions via e-commerce. The corporate site's basic architecture and information design is built for these multiple audiences. The global navigation scheme is usually topical. You know – About Us, Our Products, Careers, etc. Those sections on the global navigation have their own individual navigation scheme. That navigation appears and reacts consistently throughout the entire site. The site experience is holistic and consistent within the corporate global navigation, whether you're in the careers section or the products and services section. However, many companies that have two co-existing brands, (the corporate brand and the employer brand), may have conflicting attributes that a holistic site cannot address. There are many situations in which the employment proposition is hard to align with the corporate brand. The features and tone of the career section may need to be very different than the tone sent to the corporate audience base. For example, say you're a major technology brand that promises to their customer base to make the Internet extremely easy to use, easy to understand, friendly and accessible. Now try selling that to the hotshot engineers you're looking for who want to work on bleeding-edge, challenging, exciting, fast-paced and progressive technology. Or another situation may be that the dynamic energy of the culture needs to be demonstrated in ways that would not be appropriate for the general corporate site audience. Here lies the paradox. What usually happens is a carefully planned out microsite approach to the career section in which the career section's navigation becomes the dominant global navigation scheme with a link back to corporate. In fact, sometimes the global search field conflicts with the job search field. The target candidate is trying to answer some very basic questions such as: Why should I work here? Show me the jobs/Where do I fit? Where are the jobs? What's it like to work here? Instant relevancy. Here are some checkpoints that may help identify whether or not to consider a career site vs. a career section. First, evaluate the objectives and goals: • Evaluate the business goals. How is the talent acquisition strategy going to be benchmarked against it? Quantity of hires, or quality of hires? Quality of talent pool? • Evaluate your interactive strategy against these goals. How integrated is it to all offline media that drives to it? Does the site need to be a standalone with its own memorable URL? • Evaluate your career site objectives. What are you trying to achieve, and for whom specifically? How are you going to benchmark for success? The quality of the profile database or quantity of resumes? Then evaluate more specifics to the site information architecture: • Do the features and content of your career section need to be more robust and detailed towards the working culture than the general "About us" section on the global corporate nav? • Will the global site search conflict with the job search? • Is there an abundance of irrelevant navigation options on the global nav that a job seeker does not need? (If I were looking for a job, why would I need a link to buy parts for my car?) • Is your applicant tracking system going to have a major role in customizing the job seeker's experience based upon their profile? • Does your offline employment campaign that is driving to the career site have different attributes than the corporate online brand? These are some of the questions to look into when developing your strategy.

Viva la difference!

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.

Tell me something I don’t know

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

“Survey says …”

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.

When you come to a fork in the blog …

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."

Ceci n’est pas une blog

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 I’d also like to know what areas you would like to examine, however random they are. r

Video is just one TMP tool that helps D.C.’s police recruit the most qualified and inspired candidates.

One of the most effective ways to attract recruits is to encourage interested prospects to see and hear current employees describe their jobs and what their work means to them. The internet—because it can transmit short videos hitch-free to most online job seekers--makes this a relatively straightforward recruitment outreach strategy for any organization, size notwithstanding. Our Government Solutions Group recently incorporated this feature into a new employment site for the District of Columbia’s Metropolitan Police Force (MPD). You’ll find a dozen video vignettes there . Among the MPD employees featured are Chief Cathy Lanier and a wide ranging assortment of DC cops, from SWAT to Homicide to Mounted and Harbor Patrol personnel. Each describes his or her work and discusses the personal charge their jobs give them. DC is a tough market for law enforcement recruiting, with several nearby, well-paying suburban jurisdictions—plus half a dozen Federal police agencies--vying for committed applicants. So the MPD’s video segments were created to inspire law enforcement job seekers, as well as passive candidates, to apply. Hearing real people, not “talking heads”, describe their work enthusiastically can make a big difference in triggering interest. We want serious candidates to have no doubt, as the campaign theme puts it, that “It’s a great time to be MPD.” Of course we’re promoting MPD career opportunities through a multitude of other channels, including online job postings and print ads. We’ve also created a radio spot that’s running widely in the DC area, and are “wrapping” public buses with MPD’s recruitment call-to-action. As the program hit its stride with CY07 drawing to a close, the department was reporting goals had been achieved.

Show Me Your Cookies

Behavioral targeting has become a recent target of Congressional scrutiny and public awareness. Personally, I believe behavioral targeting is a beautiful thing. It allows companies to allocate their resources to an audience that is much more likely to be interested in their job openings and avoid wasting money on impressions from likely uninterested job seekers. Why wouldn't companies want to drill down and buy impressions from a targeted group? And on the flip side, I don't mind seeing ads for products that I might actually be interested in - like scuba diving gear or local concert tickets. And it doesn't bother me that I'm slotted into sub-categories based on my searches for "Roatan", "Thai Restaurants, 30022" and "Tablescapes for the budget conscious". In my opinion, targeted ads are less intrusive to the user. However, many people are afraid of Big Broogle and want to surf under the radar. Largely because of legislative attention, Google and Yahoo recently starting allowing their users to opt out of targeting for both their network and DoubleClick's network of ads. All it takes is one click. If there is a silver lining according to advertisers, it would be that allowing users to opt out is much better than asking users to opt in. I am predicting that the average internet user is not only unaware that they can opt out of targeted ads but also won't know how to if given the chance. But maybe I underestimate the masses... only time will tell. Google also just released Incognito, a new Google Chrome feature. In this surfing mode, all of a user's history and cookies will be deleted once they close the window. This isn't necessarily great news from a Campaign Management perspective. If someone sees an ad while using an Incognito window and then is served the same ad in a different surfing session, it counts them as a new unique user. Essentially, it will count them as two different people. I find it hard to believe though that Google would let Incognito interfere with their recent acquisition of DoubleClick. That just wouldn't make much business sense. In terms of a stealth mode feature, Google is a little slow on the draw. Both Firefox and Safari already have stealth modes. Private Browsing is built into Safari, taking just one click to activate. Firefox allows users to use an extension to mask their footprints on the web. Internet Explorer doesn't currently offer a privacy mode, but it soon will. InPrivate Browsing will be an added feature for IE8, launching "sometime this year" (that's seriously the closest launch date I could find). Don't hit the panic button yet. The bottom line is stealth modes will only slightly skew the data for both the TMP Worldwide Campaign Management Team and the analytics crews for the advertising sites. However, my intuition is that tracking for most recruitment campaigns will not be greatly affected. But if you're trying to target paranoid job seekers, you might run into a problem. (But they've already been deleting their cookies manually for years). So remember when you're looking at numbers, tracking is extremely beneficial, but it's not an exact science.