May 13, 2011
In the world of consumer branding, advertising and marketing professionals have learnt how to differentiate their products from their competitors and generate brand equity. Everyone in the professions knows that consumers will pay a premium price for a product that is strongly affiliated to an image or emotion instead of the mundane generic product that doesn’t have one. Yet in the employer branding world, it seems like there is much to learn, as all employers say the same things, especially those in the same industry. It’s like everyone is speaking at the same time and giving you the same selling points – because of this, you don’t know who to listen to!
As the war for talent becomes more intense, employers will need to be better at differentiating themselves. To understand what it means, why it’s important and to get an understanding of how it can be done, among other things, we interviewed Claes Peyron, head of Nordic and East Europe and senior communications consultant at Universum, on this very timely subject.
1. What does Employer Brand differentiation mean?
It means finding your own sweet spot that’s distinctive in comparison to your recruitment competitors, i.e. an optimal positioning that makes you an employer-of-choice among your target group. It involves finding a focus and not saying too much.
2. Why is it important to differentiate your employer brand?
In the war for talent and in an environment cluttered and saturated by information, communicating a clear, distinctive and consistent message becomes increasingly important – it’s what makes you stand-out, be understood and be remembered. Moreover, finding your optimal positioning allows you to attract candidates with a good cultural fit and filter out applicants who may not be suitable.
3. How can it be done?
Via quantitative research, you can identify the drivers and attributes of your brand that positively affect your target group’s preference of employer. You can then define an Employer Value Proposition, if not done already, or make adjustments to your current EVP to build appeal. Your EVP is your distinctive offering, the reason why employees want to work for you instead of a competitor. My explanation takes into account only the external perception of your organization. You will then, of course, need to consider the internal perception and the organization’s core values to define a truly differentiated employer brand.
4. What’s to prevent other employers from copying your employer brand positioning?
Nothing! If it’s appealing, there’s certainly a high risk of it being copied. Companies can and do have similar EVPs, specifically those in the same industry. Yet employers can differentiate themselves by the way they execute their marketing and communications – it should give them a distinctive look and feel. Moreover, what will give you a competitive advantage, especially if your competitors say too many things, is ownership of a particular attribute, an offering you wish to be highly associated with.
5. Is an employer brand position eternal or can it be redefined?
The core of the EVP should stay the same. What we can learn from the most successful companies is that they have been consistent with their communications. As every professional knows, it takes a great deal of marketing and communication budget to hammer in one idea among your target group – once you’ve identified your distinctive position, it’s best to stick to it. If you don’t have an EVP, or optimal position, we say it’s a three year journey to reach the sweet spot. Annual evaluations need to be done, to see if you’re reaching the optimal position, and decisions need to be made to fine-tune messaging or put emphasis on different parts of the EVP if needed, i.e. depending on your current position in the market and where you would like to be. Overall, one can and should stay unique, however, in the execution of the marketing and communications. The brand idea should stay the same, but the style and tone of your communication will change according to the times. You’ll want to stay fresh and modern.
6. Are there risks that with a new employer brand position you alienate potential employees?
If you do your market research properly, the risk is minimal. The most important is to ensure that your EVP is authentic and true. On the one hand, if the external image is out of sync with the internal reality, it could be detrimental to your employer brand, by disillusioning potential talents and creating bad PR. On the other hand, your EVP needs to be aspirational to achieve optimal appeal – you’ll need to work hard in being a better employer, as nothing comes easily.
7. Are career-seekers the same and look for common traits in employers? If so, shouldn’t it then be hard to differentiate the employer brand without going to extremes?
On a very general level, we can see that career-seekers have common desires. However, when we start to segment them according to their gender, field of study, personality traits, etc. we see that they have in fact different needs and wants. From an employer branding perspective, one should dare to be different – one definitely doesn’t want to appeal to everybody. Opposites don’t attract! You’ll need a diversity of people and skills, but you’ll want everyone to share your corporate values and vision.
8. What are your final words of advice to employer branding professionals?
Find the sweet spot – that distinctive and unique place that will make you an attractive employer. Work hard to keep it! Be consistent! Stay true to it!
An example of Employer Brand positioning
An excellent way to visualise how a company can differentiate itself is by looking at the illustration below (click on image to see full size). Company X would like to attract UK business students who are high achievers. Research indicates that the target group finds a number of characteristics appealing, but the employer attributes that they find the most attractive are in the range of a company offering high responsibility and career progression as well as a prestigious and highly paid environment.
Currently company X is positioned with other employers in the area of being perceived as having inspirational leadership. Yet in this area the company doesn’t really stand out and it’s also a place that doesn’t drive employer preference.
If company X wants to differentiate itself from the competition, it is therefore best for it to move to the orange spot, the place that will increase the number of applications it receives. Although a hypothetical case, it’s a good example of how a company can position itself in such a way to make it unique, more attractive to its target group, and consequently more successful in its recruitment and retention of high achievers.