Branding for influence aims to “persuade the best and deflect the rest” by giving applicants the trusted guidance they need to make better decisions about whether to apply to a particular organization
Talent acquisition is increasingly becoming difficult and organizations are under increasing pressure to attract new types of talent. As organizations globalize and diversify at an unprecedented rate, they enter labor markets where they are unknown or perceived differently than in their core markets. Recruiters must hire people with skills their brands were never meant to attract, in geographies they are unfamiliar with. In this state of flux, many employment brands are struggling to keep up. Even when talent needs remain the same, recruiting must still evolve its employment brand to attract new generations or people who can help drive and adapt to change.
Most organizations focus employment branding efforts on promoting the company as a great place to work, applying marketing principles to make themselves as appealing as possible. The typical organization creates a core brand with universally appealing messages that sell the most compelling aspects of the firm and communicate those messages through the most popular channels. To maximize awareness, companies are investing in different social and offline platforms to increase their reach. Collectively, these elements lead to a ‘branding for appeal’ strategy, which is an approach that the majority of firms globally have adopted.
Potential applicants have access to an unprecedented amount of information for decision-making. According to findings from CEB’s Employment Branding Effectiveness Survey, organizational communications, which includes the careers website, social media accounts and job postings, has just 20 per cent influence on the applicants’ decision to apply for a role with a company.
About 80 per cent of the drivers of application decisions comes from sources that are not controlled by the company. Over the last decade, the number of contacts available to an average candidate has increased by 130 per cent and LinkedIn users have increased 35 times along with a number of other influencers. Due to this, universally appealing branding themes go unnoticed when experienced en masse and employer selling points have become indistinguishable from one another for the average applicant. Also, whilst companies have broadened their presence across multiple channels, they have just made the same unhelpful information available for applicants. Worryingly CEB’s research shows that 53 per cent of employees admit to lying about their experience of the companies they work for on social media, which only adds to the amount of misleading data to the information overload.
However, more information across more channels does not mean a more informed candidate. Applicants struggle to make the right decisions based on the information available to them about the potential employers. As the information becomes overwhelming, applicants are more skeptical about the things employers say about themselves. Applicants in high-demand segments like STEM talent and millennials are even more skeptical of employers. Yet, they are more likely to know which employers to consider applying for and hence are being heavily targeted by recruiters.
The goal of employment branding has moved on and is no longer about maximizing the awareness of the talent brand; it is about attracting the right candidate to the organization. Despite applicant volumes rising by a third, just 28 per cent of the applicant pool is considered high quality. Household brands have 43 per cent higher application volume than those with lesser known brands, but applicant quality is virtually identical. The implications of two-thirds of the applicant pool being of a lesser quality is great; employers experience poor quality of shortlist, low quality of hire, greater new hire turnover, reduced new hire productivity and ultimately lower business unit profitability.
With skills urgently needed, positions left unfilled for significant time periods and high churn, the current approach to appeal to applicants is wasting valuable time and resources. A new, more strategic approach to employer branding is needed.
Changing the Approach
Employers need to help applicants make the decision to want to come and work for them. Supporting this shift in the candidate’s decision making, CEB research suggests a better strategy is to brand for influence rather than branding for mass appeal. Branding for influence aims to “persuade the best and deflect the rest” by giving applicants the trusted guidance they need to make better decisions about whether to apply rather than just proclaiming the organization as a great place to work.
There will be trade-offs in moving from ‘branding for appeal’ to ‘branding for influence’ the first of which is focusing attention, rather than increasing awareness, in an environment where it is easy to identify potential employers. The second trade-off is driving consideration of fit instead of improving perceptions, because employers want to attract the highest quality candidates to apply while dissuading poor-quality from applying. Organizations making the shift can expect to quadruple the strength of their applicant pool.
The Three Steps to Branding for Influence
Step 1: Moving away from blanket core messages to customized brand messaging to target the right employee segments and in the right geographies. A ‘one size fits all’ approach will not help get the right employees who are truly the right fit for the company and role. Specific messages should be used to reach talent segments. Organizations that customize their brands for critical talent segments see higher-quality applicants in those segments, without affecting the applicant quality of other segments.
Step 2: Shift focus from messages that sell to messages that consult. This will help change the perspective of others, even if it means sharing information that might dissuade certain kinds of people. Use messages that challenge applicants’ thinking rather than highlight the organization’s selling points. Competitively positioned and emotionally resonant messages increase the quality of applicant pool by 19 per cent. And messages that drive reflection about company fit increase the quality of applicant pool by 17 per cent.
Step 3: Messengers are more influential than channels. In fact, they have more than twice the impact on the quality of the applicant pool. Rather than investing in the platforms and managing a channel strategy, organizations need to focus on equipping internal and external influencers to share customized branding messages. Companies shouldn’t just rely on recruiters to do this, their maximum impact as an influential messenger is 8 per cent compared to the 33 per cent impact other messengers have.
Business Implications of Branding for Influence
Looking at the research from CEB, those companies that do brand for influence report that 43 per cent of their applicants are high quality, compared to just 28 per cent at organizations that brand for appeal and 24 per cent that do not manage their brands.
Applicant quality is virtually identical regardless of how well known the corporate brand is. Therefore, branding for influence is the optimal strategy for organizations with unknown and well-known corporate brands alike. Businesses with influential brands realize almost 4 times the improvement in applicant quality than those who move from unmanaged brands to appealing brands.
The downstream and monetary returns from branding for influence are significant. By moving from branding for appeal, the percentage of applicants who are high quality can increase by up to 54 per cent. This increase in applicant quality translates into 22 per cent higher quality of shortlist and 9 per cent higher quality of hire, holding everything else constant. Higher-quality hires are higher performing and less likely to leave, leading to returns from business unit profitability and turnover cost savings, which can reach millions of dollars for a typical organization.