What Is Employer Branding and How Can It Grow Your Business?

March 1, 2018

Every company has a reputation. It could include thoughts about your products, services, leaders, team members, history, and more. And your company’s reputation can also go beyond to inspire a specific perception — emotional, instinctive, intellectual — in the people who see your ads, use your products, and eventually, speak to others about you. That reputation is known as your brand, and it can be a powerful, mysterious, and synergistic force — far more than just what you sell or office.

Your company also has a second brand related to its primary brand about how you’re viewed as an employer. This is your employer brand, and it lives and breathes in the minds and hearts of your former, current, and future employees.

In today’s increasingly competitive job market, a positive employer brand is critical. Without one, hiring and retaining the best employees becomes challenging — and costly. You need talented, leadership-bound workers to drive your business forward, and the best way to find them is to cast the impression that your company is a great place to work. Everything from the salary and benefit packages you offer to advancement opportunities to weekly happy hours, the culture of an organization and the treatment of its employees can greatly impact the impression you’re trying to make on potential candidates.

As with all branding, crafting a strong employer brand is about good storytelling. It’s about how you want your organization to be perceived in the marketplace, using specific messaging to help attract the kind of prospects you’re looking for. But also, it’s about living out that story. Satisfied employees are your loudest speakerbox, particularly in an age of social media and user-generated feedback where employers aren’t always completely in control of their own reputation.

The good news is that with even small, simple tweaks, companies can improve their employer branding strategies in order to attract, recruit, and retain the best employees. Below you’ll find questions, answers, and tips on how you can turn your employer brand into your company’s competitive advantage.

What is an employer brand?

Similar to the way a corporate brand works (which offers a value proposition to customers, defining products or services in the marketplace), an employer brand includes the market’s perception of your company as an employer, but also describes your promise (or employee value proposition) to employees in exchange for their experience, talents, contacts, or skills.

Employer branding, then, is simply how you market your company to desired job seekers. You can do this by showcasing your organization’s unique cultural differentiators, and then working to amplify them so you can position yourself as a top place to work.

An employer brand — or what is also known as your “talent,” or “people” brand — that resonates is about defining the essence of your company, both how it’s unique and what it stands for, and then crafting and aligning those aspirations with the people you’re looking to attract. It communicates that your organization is a good employer and a great place to work, which boosts recruitment efforts and the engagement and retention of your current employees.

Done well, employer branding will spark buzz around your company, and this buzz will attract motivated job seekers and an army of happy employees. And then those people will turn around and broadcast their positive experience to other open talent, clients, customers, and stakeholders — further broadening the scope of your employer brand.

What is an employer value proposition (EVP)?

An employer value proposition encompasses your organization’s mission, values, and culture, and gives employees a powerful reason to work for you. It’s everything your company can offer as an employer, in exchange for all the skills and experience your employees bring to the table.

An organization benefits from a well-designed EVP, communicated often to both potential and current employees. A strong EVP can attract and retain the best people, help prioritize goals and agendas company-wide (especially in HR and workforce planning), help re-engage a dispassionate workforce, and reduce hiring costs. Most of all, it contributes to a favorable and robust employer brand.

The messaging you use to broadcast your employer brand and value proposition shouldn’t just be a list of the perks and benefits you offer, but these are an undeniable part of the story. An EVP is considered an employee-centered approach because it’s a proposition that’s been discovered, defined, and tested using existing employees. Before you craft your employer brand proposition, your company’s benefits should be well-established, well-defined, and a proven hit with your current employees. And if they’re not, and you’re looking to revamp things, consider what influences a person’s decision whether to accept a job offer or not, including:

  • Company values and culture
  • Company location(s) and facilities, including accessibility and convenience
  • Overall compensation
  • Career development
  • Management style
  • Team caliber and quality
  • Quality of work
  • Ongoing employee recognition
  • Work-life balance, or proportion of work to time off
  • Benefits, such as dental insurance and vacation time
  • On-the-job perks like lunch, on-site childcare, flextime, and telecommuting
  • Non-salary financial perks like commuter credits, bonuses, housing subsidies, relocation, and assistance
  • Opportunities for travel and client exposure
  • Opportunities to perform community service
  • Job security

What is the value of a strong employer brand?

Not investing in your employer brand is costly, and we don’t mean in a general sort of way. We mean it in a no-doubt-about-it, direct-line sort of way, on things like recruiting costs-per-employee, your HR budget, and overall bottom line.

To start, companies with positive employer brands (as in, their reputation as an employer is favorable in the marketplace) can get up to twice as many applications as companies with negative brands (an unfavorable reputation for being not-so-great to their employees). Considering that HR managers are finding it more difficult to hire the talent they need due to skills gaps and other factors, this is a huge difference in how efficient a recruiter or talent manager can be.  

We also looked at what it costs companies when they fail to invest in their reputation as an employer — and it’s an average of a whopping $5,000 per employee. One poll from CR Magazine and Cielo Talent showed that almost 50% of workers said they wouldn't work for a company with a bad reputation, even with a big increase in compensation. This all adds up: With a negative, or non-existent employer brand, organizations are likely spending 10% more per employee hired. That means working much harder for longer just to get quality employees through the door.

But, when top candidates want to work for you, it has the opposite effect. Recruiting costs not only drop, they plummet — by roughly 43%. In other words, when your employer brand is strong, your recruiters experience less friction introducing your company to top talent and getting them to the offer stage. Your company becomes a talent magnet, and your reputation soars.

Who does employer branding?

There can often be confusion about who owns the organizational task of employer branding. At smaller shops, it could be the CEO controlling the messaging or, more traditionally, talent or HR leads. At larger businesses, recruiters might lean on their HR, communications, or marketing departments to help them craft and hone an employer brand.

What’s most exciting is that your employer brand is no longer just what your company website says it is. Like it or not, employer branding starts and ends with your employees.

Sure, leadership and/or recruitment marketing might inform the words used or the way they’re said. But your employer brand is primarily tied to the experiences of your workers and what they have to say about your organization. Social media posts, job reviews and testimonials, direct network conversations, and face-to-face referrals are all ways your current, former, and even prospective employees can impact your company’s reputation. This can work to your advantage when those workers turn out to be cheerleaders. But if your employee or candidate experience doesn’t mirror what you're communicating via your brand, it can work against you, too.

No matter who owns the duties of developing and growing your employer brand, it’s imperative to remember that employees are doing most of this branding work for you. If your company work environment and culture aren’t healthy, your job is work on that first. If you already have a great company culture, then you’re in a good spot to amplify it.

Read on for some tips and tricks.

The employer branding process

Step 1. Get familiar with your company

When you’re able to define your company’s unique attributes, it’s easier to hone an EVP. Get to know your organization’s core business, vision, mission, values, and culture. Understand what your company objectives are, and what sort of talent is needed to accomplish those objectives.

Step 2. Do an audit of your employer brand

You probably already know exactly where your product or service stands in the marketplace, but you may not be as aware of how your company is viewed in the market or how it’s perceived by your current employees. Conduct research both internally and externally with applicant surveys, internet and social media searches, and/or firms that conduct reputation monitoring. See what’s working at your company so you can keep doing it, and what areas need improvement — both when it comes to company operations and morale, but specifically with the talent acquisition process in order to discover ways to improve it.

Step 3. Define an employer value proposition

Now comes the part when you can make your corporate messaging sing. Draft an EVP that clearly communicates the values of your corporate brand, while reflecting what’s special about working at your organization. It should align with your customer brand, but also speak directly to your employees.

Step 4. Use recruitment marketing

When designing an EVP or other employer brand messaging, consider enlisting the talents of the creative wordsmiths in your own marketing or communications department (or outsourcing this and other brand work to an agency). By borrowing a few marketing techniques — such as starting every branding endeavor with the questions, “WHO are we trying to reach? And WHAT do they want?” — you’ll be in the best  position to craft an employer brand that speaks to your exact target audience.

Step 5. Build engagement among current employees

To help you become a trusted employer, look no further than your own workforce. For finding out what it’s like to work for your company, employees are 3x more likely to be trusted by leads than your CEO. Your employees also shape your company’s culture, live your values, achieve your objectives, and manifest your company’s mission. Without their participation, your employer brand would be nothing. Here are a few ways to get your workers more engaged with your employer brand:

  • Hone the message. Use a set of words or phrases that become a part of the company’s vernacular, as a way to describe your company’s values and what the experience of working for your company is all about. Keep it simple, clear, informative, and unique. Use this language in HR or recruiting meetings, and focus this language for your career pages, recruiting sites, social media accounts, and anywhere else your employer brand can be leveraged.

  • Show off your employees (by having them show off themselves). Did you know that one in four candidates view other employee profiles immediately after finding out about a job opportunity? Encourage your workers to update their online profiles so they’re current, professional, and attention-worthy. Your People or HR department can send out helpful email reminders, no-hassle links, and tutorials on how to do this. You can also leverage the experiences, expertise, and personalities of your employees by having them tell their stories on panels and become subject-matter experts or mentors on topics they’re qualified to write or speak about in their field. Any time your former or current star employees bring positive attention to your customer or employer brand, you’re putting your best recruiting foot forward.

  • Turn your employees into a social recruiting army. As your employees update their personal and professional profiles, ask them to write (honest, but ideally favorable) reviews of your company on job listing sites, to post company news and updates, and to share job opportunities to their personal networks as they come up. The average network size of a company’s employees is 10x larger than its own. Since your employees are your unofficial recruiters and marketers, the first step of a good employer brand strategy is to help employees use LinkedIn and other social media networks to represent themselves and spread the word about your company. Ask your social media manager to send guidelines on where and what to post and send links to make it easy.   

  • Nail the onboarding process. The first 90 days of employment are critical to turning a new team member into a productive employee. Your company can make a deep and lasting first impression by offering a smooth onboarding process. Arm new hires with the tools, introductions, and orientations they need to hit the ground running and start thriving in their new roles.

  • Offer skills training and advancement opportunities. Nothing saves recruiting costs more than promoting from within, so give your workers opportunities for personal growth and professional development. Offer management and leadership training, special certifications, and plenty of avenues for career advancement to capture job candidate interest and commitment from your employees.  

Step 6. Write snazzy job descriptions

Job posts are often the first contact candidates have with your company, so they’re a perfect way to promote your employer brand. If you’re going for a brand voice that stands out, instead of, “must demonstrate excellent communication skills” you might try, “You’re the type who’d just as soon pick up the phone than wait for an email; the phrase ‘cold call’ doesn’t give you the shivers,” as a more descriptive, attention-getting way of bringing your organization’s personality to life. Then, optimize your search engine results using — but not overusing — words and phrases you know your ideal candidates are searching for.

How to improve your employer brand

To increase the number of quality, enthusiastic applicants vying for positions at your company, your CEO, leadership, marketing team, and recruiters can all help develop and growth your employer brand. Whether you have a big budget or small, whether you’re a large company or a start-up, there are plenty of strategies you can use to think like a marketer, build deep and meaningful relationships with your staff, and boost your employer brand like a boss.

1. Don’t focus on compensation

Your employer value proposition will be the strongest if you can talk about how a role will be meaningful (personally fulfilling or about a global good) or a superior work experience, over compensation, especially if you want to attract younger candidates. Your EVP should be unique, compelling, and tuned into the deeper motivations of why a person might want to join your team.

2. Start a company blog

If you’re a recruiter with a marketing mindset, you know that content — and lots of it — can be a great strategy for competing in a noisy marketplace. Job seekers often check out a company’s blog to get to know an organization on a more human level. You can post company news, culture updates, and articles written by your employees or company leaders, all in a personable voice. A blog can also be used to highlight the unique people policies, processes, and programs that show your organization’s commitment to employee happiness.

3. Use rich media

Use high-quality videos, photos, and slideshows to tell your company story, celebrate your diverse employees, and show off beautiful workspaces. A welcome video from your CEO or hiring manager is a great way to make an introduction, as are staff interviews talking about their experiences working for your organization. Plan and budget for these and other marketing costs at the start of each quarter.

4. Hire for diversity

It’s no surprise that who you hire says something about your brand. Having unique thinkers from a diverse range of backgrounds shows you're not only walking the walk as an equal-opportunity employer, but also extending your brand’s reach (both customer, and employer) into new groups — a sound business move, and a key strategy when building a powerful employer brand.

Employer branding using Linkedin

LinkedIn is the a great place to reach and engage potential candidates — both active and passive — at every stage of their career path. Though launching an employer brand from scratch can be hard, the good news is that nearly 90% of LinkedIn members say they’re are open and interested in new job opportunities. All it takes is getting in front of potential candidates in compelling ways. Here are a few ways to do that:

1. Interact online

The more your employees join conversations on LinkedIn, the bigger the opportunity for your employer brand to grow. Anyone can follow LinkedIn Influencers, join Groups, and publish long-form blog posts. And when your employees comment, like, or share news and opinions, they increase your company’s virtual presence.

2. Your free Company Page is your official business presence on LinkedIn

This is where 59% of candidates go after hearing about a job opportunity, and learn details about your organization.

3. Career Pages are an extension of your Company Page; they’re where your jobs and your employer brand shine

Here, you can tell your company story and drive quality applicants to your jobs by customizing your company’s landing pages. Tailor the job messaging, use rich media like photos and videos, and write creative job descriptions that show off your culture.

4. Recruiter gives you unique access to Linkedin’s members

I makes it easy to collaborate with your recruiting team and reach out to candidates. A bonus: Recruiters who use InMail, LinkedIn’s messaging, have a 31% higher response rate than those who don’t.

5. LinkedIn Jobs

We deliver your job postings to the most relevant candidates. When you post a job on LinkedIn, you give potential candidates a curated window into who you are as a company, and when candidates get to know you as an employer, they’re more likely to want to come aboard. To help your posts stand out, be honest. Do coworkers get together for lunch every Friday afternoon? Do you have a ‘no meetings more than an hour’ policy in your office? Describe what it’s really like to work at your company through your open roles.

6. LinkedIn Learning

When employees see that you’re invested in their careers, they become more invested in your organization. By having access to a learning platform that enables employees to make development an easy habit, you can encourage new hires to stay and grow.

When you carefully define and develop your employer brand, employer value proposition, and the messaging that goes with it, you can introduce your company to the people you’d love to join your team.

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