Using branding to recruit talent

Guy Cooper looks at the relationship between company branding and talent management.

It’s a given that branding is an effective tool for success. In the US, 42 per cent of ad spend is dedicated to branding1. Generally, companies see it as a good way to convey what they’re about while creating trust in consumers. However, what many overlook is the role it can play in the recruitment process by helping businesses attract and hire high quality talent.

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Adam Shay, director of Consulting Services at Alexander Mann Solutions, argues there’s a clear link between branding and recruitment. “Effective branding is absolutely crucial to reputation management and, consequently, talent attraction. As such, investing time and resources in brand messaging should be an integral part of any talent acquisition strategy.”

It makes sense. Any candidate worth their salt is going to be researching a company before they apply. If they discover that a business has a terrible reputation, be it for how they treat their customers or their staff, then the best prospective employees will be put off. After all, who wants their CV tarnished by associations with poor business practices or wants to work somewhere they suspect they will be treated badly?

Of course, the best or scarcest talent is looking for a lot more than a company that isn’t terrible. They want to work somewhere that they perceive as being aligned with their own goals, aspirations and views. When it’s done well, branding helps people choose the companies that fit them properly and this benefits both parties. No one wants to have an employee leave after three months when they realise their job or working environment isn’t what they expected.

According to Shay, this means that branding should be leveraged throughout the recruitment process. A big part of this should be “a strong, compelling and distinctive Employer Value Proposition”. An Employer Value Proposition, or EVP, is simply what a business offers that will attract candidates to them. He cites Urban Outfitters, who put their “core value at the centre of” their careers page, a prime example of this.

Pull it together
Using branding for recruitment is a no-brainer, but what are the most effective ways to do it? Sarah Palmer, the HR director for Gerald Eve, a chartered surveying and property management company, sees branding as a big part of their graduate trainee campaign. “We felt it was very important to develop specific branding, language and visual assets to support our recruitment and training processes.” This led them to creating an entire microsite to support their BeSomebody campaign.

Baxter Freight, a logistics company, are also dedicated to involving their brand with the recruitment process. Lorraine Sutcliffe, their HR manager, notes that previously the very corporate outside image of their company conflicted with the reality, an enjoyable and fun culture they have cultivated for employees. To this end they make use of employee referrals and a website that “shows we like to get to know people and care about relationships.”

They also use company open days so prospective employees can see inside the company and how it works. Sutcliffe says, “Our open days help to set expectations on both sides of the table, showing what we can give them, and they can give us.”

She also mentions employment agencies and how a different approach is integral to keeping branding part of the process. All agencies have to come in and visit Baxter Freight before agreeing to work on a vacancy. Sutcliffe says that it’s “important that you feel your agency can work in line with your brand” and that they “have to be excited about a vacancy”. When so many companies use agencies, incorporating Baxter Freight’s approach can take the risk out of an agency alienating ideal candidates. 

Appeal to millennials
Workforce demographics are changing too, yet another reason to reassess recruitment methods. Millennials now make up a significant part of the workforce and, according to a recent survey, they are approaching their careers in a very different way.

This group of employees between 18 and 34 say that the biggest difference between themselves and older generations is that they expect more training and faster career progression, while a willingness to job hop comes in second. This means companies need to adjust their approach to fit.

Gamification is one way to do this. Referring to Marriott International’s attempt to bring in more millennials with a hotel-themed online game, Shay says gamification is a “powerful approach to engaging candidates in a meaningful way.” He also suggests that “when the talent acquisition process itself is enjoyable, even non-successful candidates can become a brand’s biggest advocates.”

Traditional PR shouldn’t be underestimated either. Positive stories about workplace culture, employee opportunities and business success are an excellent way to attract talent and get them set on finding a way to work for you.

According to Steve Thompson, MD of Forward Role Recruitment, “fierce competition” makes these tactics necessary.

When analysing how they succeed, he said “the overriding reason given for joining us, over our competitors, was our brand; both in terms of how it was viewed by our clients, but most importantly our values by which we do business”. Everything from microsites to open days plays a part in this.

Create an enviable environment
Attracting employees is just the first step. Top candidates need to turn into standout employees. For this to happen, the hiring process needs to set them up fully for their new role. Shay says that your branding plays a big part in achieving this.

“Attracting jobseekers who are pre-disposed to believe in an organisation’s brand ethos is integral to building an engaged, future-fit workforce. Employees who buy into the brand they are representing are proven to be more motivated, more committed, and better brand ambassadors.”

Businesses must be aware of what really drives employee engagement to use branding effectively for recruitment, too. Clearly, training and progression opportunities are important for millennial employees, but our survey shows that 29 per cent see limited or no progression opportunities and just a third receive progression-focused training. 

For companies who can offer excellent progression, development and training, this is a major branding opportunity. Yet somewhat surprisingly opportunities to innovate are perceived as less valuable by this age group, meaning that this might need to feature less prominently in recruitment branding.

Prepare for pitfalls
Any big shift in processes or a new campaign brings issues to overcome along with it. Branding itself isn’t easy and making sweeping changes to the recruitment process, plus the website and print material, can be daunting. 

Thompson says that “time and expense” is an issue. “It’s not cheap or simple to create a strong employee brand” although he points out that “just starting to think why candidates would join you before a competitor” can be a valuable place to start. 

Open days can be a relatively easy way to showcase your brand, but there’s an inevitable downside. Sutcliffe points out that because anyone can come along, you “end up with a mixture of skill and attributes which aren’t necessary suited to the vacancy”. It’s a matter of the rough with the smooth in this case. It might waste some of your time and resources but, done effectively, it will be balanced out with some great jobseekers.

Finding the right recruitment agency isn’t simple either. “It takes time to develop a relationship with an agency to ensure quality of candidates and time to monitor and track agency performance,” says Sutcliffe. This is food for thought for anyone considering using an agency – it will be harder if you want to put your brand at the forefront of recruitment.

Consistency is also vital and, according to Shay, “it can be a challenge to maintain consistency throughout the candidate lifecycle”. The impression created by branding must stand up to candidates’ real-life experiences as their application progresses. If there’s a mismatch, top talent will suspect a facade, potentially alienating them from process. This could be the deciding point when it comes to deciding to accept an offer.

Robust processes need everyone on the same page from a jobseeker’s interview to their first day. Shay suggests that if you’re consistent “your employer brand will be seen as authentic, not artificial”. Even more importantly, branding must resonate with the reality of what can be offered. 

There’s little point emphasising fast progression if any entry or mid-level employees will tell a candidate it takes five years to get promoted or to show opportunities for personal development if employees have no say in their own development and training budgets are non-existent.

It’s clear that branding and recruitment is working well for some companies, but only for those who are willing to invest the time and effort to do it properly. Palmer says that “our HR team and senior management is committed to investing time and money to ensure training and development of our people is continuous.”

Whole company buy-in is vital, particularly when it comes to senior management setting the tone. A Twitter account, which speaks right to those ideal candidates and interviewers who understand how to highlight employee opportunities is all for nothing if a new employee walks in to find the reality is very different from what they were sold.

A brand needs to be lived, even if this is inevitably imperfect, rather than staged in carefully planned instances.

This is probably the major issue with using branding to drive recruitment. Time and money can usually be found if needs be, but if branding doesn’t extend to the core of a business then failure is almost guaranteed. 

Less control means more control
In the end, branding is only going to become more important for recruitment simply because of the world we live in. Shay points out there is “greater transparency and access to information in the digital age.”

Nowadays, businesses have less control over their brand. Anyone can damage it with a few taps on a phone. Look at what happened to HMV when they mass-fired some of their employees. Websites like Glassdoor allow candidates to find out info on companies that they would have struggled to find just a few years ago. In tight-knit industries, reputation still spreads quickly by word-of-mouth.

This means that branding lets you influence the narrative when candidates are doing their research, while also helping to downplay any previous mishaps or less than flattering feedback elsewhere. 

Consider a candidate who sees a job advert for one of your vacancies. They research you and your website looks great, the company seems like just the place they’re looking for. But then they stumble across feedback on Glassdoor which shows the business in a less than favourable light.

While they might still come in for an interview, some doubts will have been sown. 

With consistent branding, from advertising vacancies to their first day, it is easier to cast off those doubts. You can’t get rid of an article on someone else’s website or a secondhand story about the company, but you can fight back against it. And the investment can lead to a self-perpetuating positive cycle.

Palmer has noted an improvement in the candidates they have attracted from putting branding at the centre of recruitment. “Our focus on branding…has resulted in us attracting higher quality lateral hires that will help raise the reputation of the firm.” Also, in line with drawing in candidates who are a good fit, she notes that candidates have “selected us as much as we’ve selected them.”
Branding is far from simple, but its impact cannot be underestimated. Do it thoroughly, make it a long-term strategy that reflects employee experience, and recruitment will soon become far more effective and successful. Attracting these just-right new employees also means that, in the long-term, higher employee retention will lead to lower recruitment costs. 



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