Dropbox’s Brand Strategist Explains How to Find Your Company’s “Edge” and Attract the Right People

June 10, 2019

When Eddie Ibarra first started as Dropbox’s global brand strategist, he was told that the company — and its employer brand — had an awareness problem. Top talent, it was explained to him, simply didn’t know that the company was a great place to work and it was a struggle to find the right candidates in the hyper competitive tech world.

“But the truth is,” he says, “I could spend $1 million in media, increase awareness 500%, and it won’t solve a damn thing. Sure, we would probably see a surge in applications, but at what cost? At what strain on our recruiters and our interviewers?”

Eddie couldn’t believe that awareness was Dropbox’s big, overarching problem. So he decided to dig deeper, because for him, anyone planning an employer brand strategy is a truth-seeker. Their role is to find the “meaning in the mess” — getting to the core of the company’s unique identity to find an edge that will attract the best candidates.

Recently, Eddie sat down with us and shared the four steps he took to find Dropbox’s edge and build a successful strategy to recruit and retain top talent. You can listen to the full webcast or read the key takeaways below.

1. Identify and define the problem that’s affecting your employer brand (hint: your first guess may be wrong)

This step starts with gaining a clear picture of how others currently perceive your company. Asking leaders isn’t enough. Their perspective and experience may be very different from the average employee’s.

“Talk to everyone,” Eddie says. “If you’re unsure if you should speak to a specific segment, do it anyway. When I joined [Dropbox], we spoke to more than half our employees, in a group setting or individually. We spoke to potential candidates, leveraging the help of our sourcers and recruiters to send out surveys. We spoke to past Dropboxers — several hundred of them.”

It’s crucial to ask difficult questions. During Eddie’s one-on-one interviews with employees, he would ask questions like “How many days do you wake up asking if you could just stay home?” or “How often do you think, ‘I can’t wait for the weekend’?” or “How many times in the last 30 days have you said to yourself, ‘This place sucks’?”

“We asked tough questions,” he says. “Most people’s eyes widened. They expected me to ask, ‘What brought you to Dropbox?’ or ‘Why is Dropbox a great place to work?’ Those are softball questions. You have to dig deeper. If you’re not making people uncomfortable, you’re not asking tough enough questions.”

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Related: Expert Ed Nathanson’s 8 Tips for Building Your Employer Brand — Without Investing Big Bucks

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Beyond talking directly to current, former, and prospective employees, you can also learn a lot by researching your employer brand online.

“Some of my favorite places to dig are Reddit, Blind, and Twitter, as well as local blogs in the space that you’re in — and, obviously, LinkedIn,” Eddie says. “People are willing to share so much externally and it’s right at your fingertips.”

Then once you understand your company a little better, it’s time to hone in on the underlying problems that you want your brand strategy to solve. Although he had been told that awareness was the problem, through his interviews and research, Eddie discovered the issue was more complicated.

For one, Dropbox hadn’t clearly first defined the kind of talent that they were looking for. It was a matter of distinguishing, Eddie says, between who we want and who we don’t want.

Secondly, they hadn’t been successful in showing the world outside the company why Dropbox was a great place to work. “How do we showcase why Dropbox is different than any other place [candidates are] considering?” he asks.

By taking the time to fully understand the real issues before crafting the brand’s strategy and story, Eddie saved himself and Dropbox a lot of time, money, and effort. If he had tried to tackle the so-called awareness problem, the result would likely have been a surge in applications that just put more strain on the recruiting team — without actually fixing what was broken.

2. Articulate your edge: Identify the particular advantages of your company

With a clearly defined problem in place, the next step is figuring out the specific advantages or “edge” your company has that will attract candidates. This edge will be the cornerstone of your overarching brand story, so it plays a key role in solving all present and future employer brand challenges, big and small.

“At the heart of brand planning is figuring out what sets you apart and makes you special,” Eddie says. As examples, he pointed to three companies, Netflix, Zappos, and Buffer, that have a clear sense of what differentiates them from everyone else — and that are easily identifiable for potential employees. “Netflix is unapologetic about looking for A players,” he says. “They’re relentless about picking the cream of the crop and aren’t afraid to say it.”

Meanwhile, Zappos has an extreme commitment to customer service. “That says they value customer experience over process,” he says. “They value decision-making, autonomy, and creativity.” As for Buffer, he admires their dedication to radical transparency in publishing all of their employees’ salaries and even sharing emails between team members. “That’s their differentiator,” Eddie says.

Don’t be fooled, though — this step is not as simple as it appears at first glance. Eddie points out that just because you think something is a big advantage at your company, that doesn’t mean everybody else does.

“One of the things we’ve found time and time again at Dropbox is that what is often perceived as a universal truth rarely is,” Eddie says. “It might sound something like, ‘Well, everyone loves our benefits’ or ‘Oh, people love our offices.’ The truth is, there’s probably a segment of our audience that doesn’t, and you have to find out why.”

Ultimately, neither the office nor the benefits were Dropbox’s universal truth or its particular edge. Eddie realized that the company’s actual advantage is its position as the “Goldilocks of tech” — neither an exhausting corporate grinding wheel nor a shaky start-up. For the kind of people Dropbox wanted to attract, the company is a happy medium like Goldilock’s third bowl of porridge — just right.

“A lot of our great talent came from places where, as they put it, they were just another cog in the wheel,” Eddie says. “Or they were from a start-up that was vying to survive every day. The stress faced daily did not induce great work or quality of life.”

Armed with this edge, next Eddie had to find a way to share and leverage its benefits with potential candidates.

3. Find your implicit truth: Leverage your unique edge to attract top talent

Compensation and perks aren’t enough to attract and keep the best candidates anymore. “In tech, boredom happens fast and opportunity is knocking everywhere,” Eddie says. “We can no longer exchange great benefits and compensation for loyalty.”

So now more than ever, finding your unique edge — like Dropbox’s Goldilocks status or Buffer’s radical transparency — and leveraging it to prospective employees is vital. Eddie suggests thinking of salary and benefits as a baseline, since what top employees really want is an opportunity to realize their potential and do big things. Let them take on a problem or a meaty project and give them the space to work — which can be a frustratingly rare opportunity for employees in the tech industry.

“We provide the space that allows individuals to see what they’re capable of,” Eddie says, “and when they’re successful, to make a dent in the world.”

What this means is that Dropbox offers its employees plenty of “white space growth.” If a Dropboxer finds a problem to solve and is passionate about solving it, they’re given the resources and bandwidth to go and do it, regardless of what department they work in.

“What we heard over and over was that these mini-experiments were happening all the time across the entire company,” Eddie says. “It was the thing people loved most and got the most amount of energy from when they talked to us.”

Put this together with Dropbox’s “Goldilocks of tech” status and Eddie had a powerful message to share with candidates. Not only could it give employees stability and the resources and space to try new things, but the results of those experiments could impact the lives of Dropbox’s 500 million users.

Also look at wider trends in your industry to see why people are leaving jobs and what they want from their work. This will give you a strong insight into what your employer brand story — and the messaging around it — should look like.

4. Make it happen: Use everything you’ve learned to put your story together — and then test it out

With your problem, edge, and insights in hand, you’re ready to put it all together and to tell your brand’s story. This story will clearly illustrate which problems you’re solving for candidates and how your company’s specific advantages allow you to solve those problems — all based on real, honest insights, not just aspirations.

The story Eddie and his team outlined for Dropbox was to show candidates that, by joining the company, they could help design and build a better way of working — for both employees and the hundreds of millions of people who use Dropbox every day. This would be achievable because the job would help candidates to grow and push themselves, tapping into the restless energy and innovative mindset of tech professionals.

Admittedly, you won’t always land on the most resonant messaging the first time around. Brand planning and storytelling is an ongoing process, and it’s important to keep testing and exploring new ideas as the talent market evolves.

“When you start to have something that feels right, get it in front of people,” Eddie says. “Don’t wait for perfection. Nobody ever writes a book on the first try.”

Get the story and the strategy behind it on paper, then test and iterate until you’ve perfected it.

Final thoughts: Tell stories that stick with people to create an irresistible brand plan

In today’s changing talent landscape, employer brand stories will be what separates the key players from everyone else when it comes to attracting great candidates.

“The consumers — aka candidates — are becoming pickier about where they work and more informed about the process,” Eddie points out. “They’re getting smarter around compensation ranges and shopping for jobs competitively as if they were buying a new car, pitting dealerships against each other. The idea of a lifer is just non-existent.”

So find your truths and tell your story. Because if you tell it well enough and show how your company is unique, finding the best candidates will become that much easier.

Learn how you can build your employer brand on LinkedIn with Recruitment Marketing.

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*Photo by Dropbox

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