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

Immersive media

Fuel Games Blog One of the leaders of immersive media and advergaming is done out of a company called Fuelindustries. These guys have taken advergaming to the next level by pushing through browser boundaries and bringing console quality games to the web. The work that they did for the Gap with Crispin Porter is priceless...and...well....will definitely keep you watching! What's so wonderful about these guys is that they created their own ROI engine that is basically built into their games. Watch out world...I see a global virtual employment simulation game coming soon!

The brand is not enough

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.

The best way to engage people, is to listen to them.

The Discovery process is the process where all the challenges and key information is uncovered in order for solutions to be developed. We have all done about a bazillion of these in-take meetings where we arrive with our pads of paper, and start discussing those typical briefing questions that produce those typical answers. In result often times no unique attributes are discovered, and no emotional connection is established with the company at all. Therefore making it more challenging to produce great creative work, that works. Work that stands out and actually has something to say, in a unique persuasive and smart way. With more emphasis on the quality of the discovery sessions, you could truly dig deeper into undiscovered ideas and approaches to some pretty common challenges. Basically you could inject ideation methodologies into discovery. There are numerous methods to retrieve the vital insight into organizations. They all have a highly immersive audience participatory style that produces several benefits. 1. It involves the client into the process 2. It uncovers a deeper understanding of the company 3. It gives the creatives more inspiration points Try Role-Playing It is one thing to ask companies what they feel their differentiating points are. It’s another to put them on the spot to communicate it. Sometimes the passion they want to communicate is not transferred properly through direct questions. With role-playing we become their ultimate candidate. They must persuade us to work for them in a mock up interview. They must pull out all the stops to persuade us to say, "sign me up". In doing this, we must put our mind inside the target audience. We must put on our acting shoes, and really feel as though we are in an interview. Record everything the recruiter says, and does. All the way to their body posture. Their tone of voice. What do they accentuate? Are they believable? What was most compelling? Test them by having tough questions. Develop Character Profiles The more we understand the target audience, the better we can connect with them. But if we understand them as a character in a story, we become more involved with who they are. Instead of typical lists of statistical data and values, use scenario base profiling. Short little bios of the target profile. For web development, they are referred to as personas. We want to paint a picture in our minds of the individual as if we know them personally. When the individual is profiled through a mini story, it makes it easier to grasp. Profiles are written out so that both agency and client can connect and agree on who we are trying to persuade. This is very important down the line when we need to benchmark the work. Start by identifying the key disciplines you would like to cover. Then build a scenario around an individual that would fit in that discipline. Ironically, you build your short profile scenario with the aid of a list of attributes, values and statistics. The difference is, you’re bringing those statistics to life in a story. Build a Collage Some people are just visually driven. That is, they cannot express themselves in words alone. What is innovative or exciting to one may be interpreted completely different to others. This also pertains to tone, feeling and style. A series of images are revealed and analyzed against questions such as: What image best describes your company? What image best represents your culture? What image best represents how you want people to think about your company as a place to work? Don’t Sell Me As you try to find out what truly makes your company unique to it’s competitors, you may end up getting the familiar yet painful clich?s. Here is a great way to uncover the true definitions to those lofty contrived words like “opportunity for growth” or innovation or empowerment. People do not want the things themselves like opportunity; they want what it will give them. Example: Don’t sell me perfume, sell me hope. Don’t sell me a sports car, sell me popularity. Don’t sell me a career, sell me a dynamic lifestyle. First we start off with all those wonderful words we have come to love. We will get those by simply asking the questions: What are the company’s unique selling points? Why here and not there? Then gather up all those wonderful words and start the don’t sell me technique. Example: Don’t sell me a fun culture, sell me… Don’t sell me high technology, sell me…

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.