Instacart’s 7 Tactics for Cooking Up a Great Employer Brand

November 21, 2019

In Gallup’s most recent State of the American Workplace Report, 67% of U.S. workers reported being either actively disengaged (16%) or simply not engaged (51%). More than half were actively looking for a new job.

Some find those numbers dispiriting. But not Marta Riggins, the head of employer brand for Instacart, the online grocery shopping and delivery service.

“I guess what that means,” Marta told a breakout session audience at Talent Connect 2019, “is it’s open season. Anybody can be recruited, taken, poached. So, I would argue that it’s time now to have a really strong employer brand.” Marta and her small-but-mighty team think of employer brand as the sum of the company’s vision, values, culture, and personality.

Instacart brought Marta in nearly a year ago to create the employer brand team, and one of the first things she did was hire Colleen Finnegan as the senior manager of employer brand and recruitment marketing. The two had worked together to develop Pandora’s employer brand.

The employer brand team at Instacart is part of the communications org. They believe this is an advantage but stressed the importance, no matter where you fall, of having strong relationships with HR, recruiting, marketing, and comms. Their charter is, Marta said, “to set up Instacart as a top employer of choice by tapping into our unique cultural competitive — which we believe is food, family, and nourishment — and telling that story.”

Here are seven of the tactics they’ve used to tell their story and begin building a robust employer brand:

1. Identify your unique cultural competitive advantage

Marta and Colleen said that the indispensable first step in employer brand work is figuring out what your company’s cultural competitive advantage is.

“Determine what makes you special,” Marta said. “Why is doing finance or legal or engineering or any function at your company different than anywhere else in the marketplace.”


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


For Instacart, they see their edge anchored in this intersection of nourishment, food, and family. Marta and Colleen’s team created boilerplate copy that captured their culture and could be used across channels. “At Instacart,” Marta said, “we believe that great people are the ingredients for success. We like to think we are like a potluck where everyone brings something new, different, and flavorful to the table.”

Well, it’s certainly food for thought.

2. Develop and share tools to leverage your advantage

Marta and Colleen went around the company asking their colleagues what Instacarters are like. There were about 10 descriptors that repeatedly popped up, including “playful” and “eaters.”

“We’re not snobby about food,” Marta said. “We all love it. So, what is the best way to convey playful eating? Food puns?”

Marta and Colleen started a library of food puns — “you’re one in a melon,” “kumquat may,” “save a little thyme,” everything from, well, soup to nuts. 

This food-centric wordplay infuses a lot of what they write at Instacart, particularly on their social feed. And it’s hardly a surprise that their Talent Connect session was entitled “Let’s Give ’Em Something to Taco ’Bout.”

Their “puntry” now runs over 10 pages, and Instacarters are adding to it regularly. Colleen laughed: “It’s out of control.” This ongoing effort also continues to bolster the company’s esprit de corn.

3. Equip the recruiting team with the right stories — and the right storytelling skills

At the very beginning of their Instacart work, Marta and Colleen helped the recruiting team define what it is to work at the company. “They asked us to help them refine their pitch,” Colleen said, “and help with the storytelling around what Instacart is, how Instacart came to be, where Instacart is going, what the people are like.”

Storytelling is an enormous opportunity for recruiters to differentiate themselves. Sitting in comms, Marta and Colleen know where all the stories are and what information should and should not be shared. They developed a concise origins story for the recruiting team as well as key data points: At the time of the presentation, Instacart had over 800 employees, 300 retailers, and 130,000 shoppers who procure groceries and other items at nearly 20,000 stores across 5,500 cities in Canada and the United States. “We also have the largest online grocery catalog anywhere,” Colleen said, “with over half a billion listing.”

But having good stories is only half the battle. Like groceries themselves, stories have to be well delivered. So, Instacart brought in the San Francisco improv troupe Speechless to teach the recruiting team how to be better storytellers. “They gave our recruiters a really great training about how to react to situations in real time,” Colleen said, “and how to have fun and how to get loose with everything too.”

4. Create candidate personas to help shape your messaging

To fine-tune the recruiting storytelling, Instacart is also developing candidate personas that serve a purpose similar to what a buyer persona does for consumer marketing. A candidate persona can help make sure you communicate in language that resonates with your intended audience and address your candidates’ pain points and concerns.

“Candidate personas,” Colleen said, “really help you identify the areas with which you want to bring in candidates, the areas to focus on, the areas that you really need to develop messaging for. This is actually a great opportunity for you to work with your leaders internally as well as to get clear on what they’re looking for.”

The employer brand team at Instacart uses LinkedIn Talent Insights to understand what the principal motivators are for people in different roles. They can look at a talent pool and see what employee value propositions resonate the most — is it challenging work, good work-life balance, or comp and benefits?

“Someone who’s in marketing,” Colleen said, “might have a different motivator than someone who’s in engineering in terms of what they want to build and what they want to develop and create.”  

Instacart uses the personas to get its messaging right and shares them with outside creative agencies so they can get the messaging right too.

5. Get your target messages in front of the right candidates

Colleen is a big fan of LinkedIn Pipeline Builder for recruitment marketing. “It’s a great tool,” Colleen said, “and it really allows you to target based on title, company, and skill set.”

Companies can use Pipeline Builder to target LinkedIn members who meet their criteria with ads in their feeds. People who click on the ads are taken to a custom landing page and, if their curiosity is piqued, they can click on an “I’m interested” button to share their LinkedIn profile and contact info with the company.

Recently, Instacart needed to hire product designers for its Toronto office. Using LinkedIn Talent Insights it determined that there were a lot of people in the Bay Area looking to move back to Toronto. So Instacart targeted Bay Area alumni of Toronto-based schools with a maple-leafed message that asked, “Ever find yourself missing Canada? We’ve got some roles open on our Product Design team in Toronto. Just poutine it out there.”

  • Screenshot of post from Instacart’s LinkedIn page.  Social copy above link (link title: “Instacart is hiring Product Designers in Toronto!) and photo of 3 people working on laptops:   “Ever find yourself missing Canada? We’ve got some roles open on our Product Design team in Toronto. Just poutine it out there (see what we did there?).  Click below to learn more and get in touch!”

That campaign surfaced a number of interested and qualified candidates who are open to moving back to Ontario.

O Canada indeed.

6. Use your blogs and speaking opportunities to provide thought leadership

Marta said the consumer marketing Rule of Seven — that you need seven touchpoints with a consumer before they’ll buy your product — holds true for employer branding as well.

Marta suggested that one of those touchpoints should be your thought leadership efforts, in the form of speaking engagements, long-form reports, or blogs. She noted that Hired’s 2019 Global Brand Health Report on tech talent found that company blogs were the No. 3 source for information about company announcements and initiatives, behind LinkedIn and news outlets.

Instacart also invests in longer reports. For example, their consumer comms team partnered with the catalog team to develop The Ripe Report: A Toast to Avocados, which it rolled out in time for National Avocado Day (July 31). Instacart customers order 43,000 avocados a day, and the report touched on everything from the best shape for an avocado (“The oblong ones have smaller pits,” wrote one customer) to how they should feel (“Touch [the] end of your nose,” wrote another customer, “that is how an avocado should feel when ready to eat”).

“We were able to push this report out,” Marta said, “as thought leadership to interested candidates.”

7. Speak with one voice — in many channels

Marta encouraged the audience to develop messaging, tone, and voice guidelines as well as visual and written brand standards. “Make sure,” she said, “you’re telling the same narrative, you’re talking about things the same way. You want to be communicating the messaging the same way internally and externally. That’s super-imperative while you’re building this work.”

Final thought: Capture metrics that will showcase your successes — and keep you going

Marta and Colleen stressed the importance of measuring your work. “It’s important,” Colleen said, “to be able to prove the work that you do so that you can keep doing it.” For Instacart, employee survey data is huge — they track the answers to questions like would you recommend that someone works here, do you feel like it’s an inclusive culture, and do you think you’ll stay here for the next five years.

Instacart is also paying close attention to its social engagement rates on LinkedIn. “For an engagement rate,” Colleen said, “it’s anything like a click, a share, any sort of interaction that you have with that specific ad on LinkedIn. You can also track company page views, job views, applications — in fact, there’s a whole analytic section that tracks all of this for you.”

Finally, the Instacart team is pulling data from its ATS, keeping tabs on how many people reach different stages of their recruiting funnel.

They own a lot of numbers, but as Colleen cautioned, you don’t want to own everything. “Make sure you get really clear,” Colleen said, “with what you’re tracking in terms of recruitment marketing and employer branding versus what your recruiting team is tracking. You can deliver the warm leads, but when it comes to actually operationalizing those leads, making the offers, how much comp you’re giving them, you don’t have much control of that on the employer branding side of the house.”

Collectively, the data from your employee surveys, your LinkedIn Page, and your ATS will give you a picture of the health and strength of your employer brand.

But Marta and Colleen like to throw one more metric into their carts before they check out. “And then, for us,” Colleen said, “one of our measurements of success is employees adding to the pantry.”

When they see that, they know they’re well on their way to a one-in-a-melon employer brand.

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