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Employer Branding: The Complete Guide for Innovative Companies & Startups


So you want to define your employer brand.

Here’s the good news: you already have an employer brand.

Every company does.

But not every company is honest with themselves — or with candidates and employees, for that matter — about what exactly their employer brand is. And that’s a big problem, because the most critical aspect of an employer brand is its authenticity.

Why? We’ll get into that.

We’ll also address every other pressing question about employer branding that you might have. Such as…

  • What is employer branding? (This one’s fairly important.)
  • Why does employer branding matter?
  • How can we communicate our employer brand?
  • What happened to DB Cooper?

OK… we’ll at least attempt to answer all of these questions, and many, many more.

So let’s dive in to our Ultimate Guide to Employer Branding.

What Is Employer Branding?

Let’s go ahead and define employer branding in simple terms: employer branding is the process of establishing and promoting a company’s identity to candidates and employees.

As is the case with any kind of branding, the ultimate goal of employer branding is a sale — but in this case, you are selling someone on why, or why not, they should come work for your company.

If employer branding properly educates a candidate about what it’s like to work at your company, then that candidate will either opt in or opt out of joining your team. In both cases, this is the desired result, because you’ll only end up hiring genuinely good fits.

With that in mind, let’s re-define employer branding in its optimal form: Employer branding is the process of establishing and promoting a company’s authentic identity to candidates and employees.

By establishing a strong, authentic employer brand, you’ll ensure that:

  • Every one of your new employees knows why they’re coming into work
  • Understands the impact of their work
  • Is invested in the direction of the company
  • Abides by and believes in the company’s stated values

Sounds like an ideal work environment, right?

Whether your company is a socially conscious B-Corp aiming to tackle world hunger or a hedge fund that prioritizes profit over all else, your company will be infinitely better positioned to reach its ultimate goals if each new hire is fully aligned with those goals from day one.

There is zero long-term benefit in communicating a vague or dishonest employer brand. Today’s workforce has a finely-tuned BS filter. Leaning on hackneyed phrases like “We’re changing the world!” or “Come work with the smartest people you’ve ever met!” tells an applicant absolutely nothing, besides “Hey, we don’t know or believe in our actual employee value proposition enough to tell you anything meaningful.”

Be meaningful. Be intentional. Be specific.

With that said, let’s dive into the most essential elements of an employer brand.

Raise your hand if you use the words “culture” and “employer brand” interchangeably.

(Well, don’t actually raise your hand. We can’t see you, but your coworkers can, and they’re concerned.)

But our point stands: culture and employer brand are not one and the same. However, your company culture is in fact one of the most crucial components of your employer brand.

Think about how current or past employees describe working at your company to their friends and professional connections. You can post as many Instagram photos of team happy hours as you want, but ultimately your actual daily working culture is going to play a significant role in your company’s reputation amongst potential candidates. Take the time to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your company culture, and ensure that this culture is reflected honestly in any employer branding content.

Of course, culture starts at the top. How your company’s leadership carries themselves both behind closed doors and in the public eye will make a profound impact on your employer brand — for better or worse.

Similarly, a candidate’s perception of your company’s product is going to influence their view of your employer brand before they even get to your careers page. Of course, some products are going to play a bigger role in an employer brand than others — after all, candidates tend to feel more strongly about crude oil than they do about bath towels — which is why it’s paramount that you clearly communicate your company’s missionWhy are you making what you’re making? What motivates your team to perform well? What is the ultimate impact your company is making on the world?

And of course, your employer brand depends partly on your compensation and benefits reputation. Do you pay your employees a competitive wage? What types of growth opportunities do you offer your employees? Do you offer stock options, contribute to retirement funds, or support employees’ longterm financial prospects in any other way?

What is an Employee Value Proposition (EVP) and how does it fit within an employer brand?

A job offer, at its core, is a sale.

As is the case with any sale, a customer’s ultimate decision is going to determined by one question: “What’s in it for me?”

Of course, the “it” that a candidate is seeking can vary: “It” can be anything from compensation to career growth to community to a feeling of purpose and beyond. As an employer, you’ll only be able to land top talent if your answer to that question is clear and — just as importantly — authentic.

In other words: a well-defined EVP, or Employee Value Proposition, is paramount.

But what exactly is an Employee Value Proposition? An employee value proposition is an all-encompassing set of core values and benefits that a company offers to employees.

A strong employer brand cannot be built until you understand your company’s genuine employee value proposition. Once you know what attracts candidates to join and stay at your company, you can leverage that knowledge to create a targeted and effective employer branding campaign.

What are the benefits of a strong (well-defined) employer brand?

Over time a strong employer brand will almost certainly reduce your cost-per-hire, improve your candidate flow, and improve your candidate retention — while also benefiting your company in many other ways. 

The bottom line benefit of an employer brand investment may not immediately become apparent, but as is the case with any branding effort, the work you do now to bolster your employer reputation will bring better — and better fitting — candidates to your doorstep. This will flow through to actual, measurable improvement to the most critical success metrics for any HR and talent organization. And by humanizing your employer brand, there’s a good chance your consumer brand will also receive more positive attention.

How do you establish and promote an employer brand?

As we mentioned at the outset of this article, your company already has an employer brand. Every company does, whether they know it or not. But by understanding the public perception of your employer brand, you can better target and hire the candidates who’d best fit your company, while also aligning your current team members and gaining a greater understanding of where as an employer you need to improve.

So, your first step is to take time to think deeply about the reality of working at your company. Survey your employees, and if possible, ask candidates about their candidate experience. An employer brand is by definition is authentic. You can project a false brand, but in the long run you’ll lose employees and gain a negative reputation.

Once you’ve taken the time to fully understand your most authentic employer brand, you can focus on disseminating that message.

Employer Branding Through Video

When aiming to reach a talent pool that’s more digitally savvy and averse to artifice than ever before, your employer branding team needs to ensure that all messaging and outreach provides a genuine look at what it means to work at your company.

Today’s best employer brands are pushing beyond the traditional, cookie-cutter recruiting video, and producing imaginative and insightful video content to attract (and hold) the attention of the most talented and relevant candidates.

It’s also entirely versatile and very high-leverage. One short video can be used on your careers page, blogs, candidate engagement emails, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, SMS, and more.

We’ve put together a list of employer branding video examples to show just how powerful the medium can be. And if you’re already eager to get started on an employer branding video campaign, you’re in luck — Uncubed’s employer branding video services have you covered.

(And if you don’t quite feel like opening a new page, don’t fret — here’s an example of an employer branding video we produced for our friends at Oden Technologies.)

Employer Branding on Careers Pages and Job Boards

Assume you have less than a minute of a candidate’s attention. (OK, maybe two.)

Does your career page answer the questions that the candidate is going to have about your company in a digestible, authentic way? After the candidate spends hours browsing various job boards and career pages, will yours leave enough an impression to stand out from the pack?

If you view candidates as customers, does your career page effectively sell the idea of working at your company? Remember: before you view a cover letter or resume, they’re viewing your cover letter and resume — your career page.

But what goes into an effective career page? Take a look at our rundown of the best career pages for employer branding.

Similarly, your listings on job boards might be a candidate’s first glimpse at your employer brand. So, think about your opening like any other product, and ensure that you make your value proposition (yes, in this case, your employee value proposition) abundantly clear from the outset.

Keep the copy short and lively, and if possible, embed video. As you’ll see on Uncubed’s jobs board, the most dynamic listings don’t get too weighed down by the specifics of a role. Think deeply about what information a candidate really needs to know to get them to click through and apply.

Employer Branding in CRM Campaigns and Candidate Engagement Flows

Most innovative companies are now leveraging specialized Candidate Relationship Management (CRM) systems to track candidates and keep them engaged with content, event announcements, and new job listings. 

This is a high-stakes place for thoughtful employer branding placement. And certainly an ideal avenue for video. Which would you rather receive as a candidate: an email with few chunky, droll paragraphs? Or a 30 second, insightful video? Uh-huh. Us, too. 

Employer Branding at Events and on Campus

Yes, a well-aligned employer branding effort even extends to face-to-face interactions. Authenticity is key at hiring events and on campus visits — avoid the usual handshake and resume exchange, especially with younger candidates, who are increasingly conditioned to expect a strong employer brand.

Each candidate’s values will differ — some might value a company with legacy and stability, while others might value cutting-edge technology. Some might prioritize financial security, whereas others are more interested in career growth. By being honest and communicating your authentic employer brand in every interaction, you can find candidates who’ll fit your team perfectly.

(And if you’re going on campus, bring pizza. Always bring pizza.)

 

Who should own employer branding in an organization?

As is the case with any company-wide initiative, identifying a point person to lead an employer branding effort is an essential step towards ensuring a successful campaign. However, who that person is will depend on the size and stage of your company.

If your company is an early stage startup with roughly 10 or fewer employees, congratulations — you’re ahead of the curve and have a golden opportunity to set the tone for strong employer branding practices for years to come. At this stage, your founder(s) will likely need to take charge.

If your startup is beginning to grow into a mid-sized company — let’s say anywhere between 15 and 50 employees — then you’ll want to put together a cross-functional team of your first people hire and your best marketing employees.

Once your company has exceeded 50 employees, your budget and growth demands will likely justify hiring a dedicated employer branding specialist. 

Of course, these are simply guideposts and every company’s growth priorities will vary. But in any case, it’s especially important that a C-level executive overseeing this process views the effort through a marketing lens. Because ROI can be difficult to prove in the early stages of an employer branding campaign, a chief financial officer will likely be more motivated to invest in revenue-producing projects.

Remember: the goal here is sustainable growth, not short term wins. But fear not: the payoff will be rich. The impact of your employer branding campaign will last for the full life-cycle of your company. But because a lack of resources and high risk can discourage talent divisions from adapting and innovating, gathering company-wide support for an employer branding campaign can often be an uphill battle. Therefore, establishing a point person who intimately understands the benefits of employer branding is paramount.

How do you develop an employer branding strategy?

To jump-start your team’s employer branding efforts, we advocate immediate action. Yes, develop your strategy carefully. But at the same time, jump right in to one aspect. Maybe it’s starting a blog to get more content in front of prospective candidates – or seeing if you can make one employer branding video. Maybe it’s simply improving the Instagram content that candidates see. Getting to that one thing quickly will make your whole employer brand better and rally your entire company to make employer branding a larger priority going forward.

Once you’ve gotten the ball rolling on your employer branding efforts, you’ll be ready to scale up as resources allow. You’ll want to set your goals, pick a point person, gather feedback from both candidates and current employees, reconsider and publicly define your employee value proposition, and of course, execute your campaign.

(Then, you can measure your results, and use those insights to inform your next employer branding campaign. Who said employer branding is a one-time exercise?)

So, how can you get started? We believe video is the most impactful medium for reaching top candidates. Take a look at Uncubed’s employer branding video services, and get in touch.