Everyone wants talented employees. Businesses are getting more and more creative with their recruiting and retaining practices. But part of me believes employers are working harder than necessary to attract and keep the people that fit their businesses.
Instead of fighting hard for short-term wins, you should be setting up long-term success for your employer brand.
The effects of your employer brand are really no different from the effects of your brand at the consumer level. In both cases, a brand is what causes us to make snap judgments: this is for me or this isn’t for me. A consumer brand encourages like-minded consumers to find you and stay loyal to you. Your employer brand does the same thing, but for current and potential future employees instead of customers.
As a marketing leader inside an HR consulting company, I’m in a unique position. Not only have I spent time refining Xenium’s consumer-facing brand in my primary marketing role, I’ve also worked closely with our HR team and understand their needs related to workplace culture. Plus, I have been part of XCITE, Xenium’s culture team, for over nine years.
I’ve seen so many things employers can do to enhance their employer brands. Some improvements are rather easy to implement, while others may pose bigger challenges because of time or technical needs. But if you’re bothering to tackle some of the more challenging activities, you’re more likely to become an employer of choice over your industry competitors. That’s because you will be attracting and retaining the people that fit your business.
And notice I said fit. The goal of an employer brand—just like with a consumer brand—is to find the people who see the world the way you do and repel the rest. Not everyone will be a fit, and that’s okay. In fact, when you try to appeal to everyone, you can end up appealing to no one. Your employer brand should leverage your uniqueness, your specific features. This filters the misfits faster, saving you time and money in the long run.
So how do you actually create a strong employer brand? Here are 11 activities to get you started.
1. Define your organization’s mission, vision, and values.
This is the first and most important step, hopefully for obvious reasons. If you don’t know who you are, what you value, and where you’re going as a company, how do you expect others to get on the bus?
If you need help refining your mission, vision, and values, you can look up to many people doing great work in this area. I recommend getting started by reading Start with Why by Simon Sinek. This will help you articulate why you do what you do for your customers and your people. For more insight, check out Xenium’s HR for Small Business podcast, which I host. I have interviewed several people on this very subject for the podcast, including Wendy Maynard and Shawn Busse, cofounders of Kinesis, a marketing firm based in Portland, Oregon, and Lacey Partipilo, a senior HR business partner at Xenium. In these episodes, we discuss why defining your mission, vision, and values is so crucial and how you can find the correct language for these once you’ve defined them.
If you have defined your mission, vision, and values and are having a hard time with the visual component of your brand, I highly recommend digging into Kinesis’s work for inspiration.
2. Integrate your mission, vision, and values into your people practices.
Congratulations! You’ve defined your mission, vision, and values, and now you’re done. You can put all that hard work in a binder on your shelf and refer to it someday in the future. Right?
Many employers don’t think to integrate this language into people practices, and that’s a huge missed opportunity. Think of how many areas of your business your employees touch, and see each as a chance to reaffirm your brand. You should be integrating your mission, vision, and values into language at all employee-related touch points—job descriptions, job postings, recognition programs, internal newsletters, team meetings, your employee handbook. Basically, if words are involved, you can use it as a tool to solidify your brand identity.
You can add this language to these materials without it being overkill or invasive. If you’re stuck, or all your attempts have felt stilted, work with your marketing team. They can help! The goal of integration is to get your current employees speaking a common language and aligning with the greater purpose of the organization.
Seth Godin put it brilliantly in his book Tribes. “A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea… A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”
Build your tribe at your company by first making sure everyone can identify your shared mission, vision, and values, and then by communicating them consistently at every opportunity.
3. Tell the story of the organization and its people.
Every organization has a story, and the people within those organizations have stories, too. We all love stories because they captivate us. They allow us to see so many different ideas of what it means to be human. Why not find those interesting stories and tell them publicly, internally and externally? All your collective stories from all your people create your organization’s broader story about how you serve your clients, your community, and each other.
I heard a new perspective on marketing and sales recently that really resonated with me. In marketing and sales, we often label ourselves as business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C). It’s time to throw that nonsense out. We’re all really just marketing on a human-to-human (H2H) level. Let’s start proving that point by sharing stories about our people and the good they do.
The organization’s story can be told in so many mediums, and I recommend using them all: blog posts, social media posts, videos, in-person conversations and speeches, and any other marketing channels you use.
In late 2015, we created a Xenium culture video that tells the story of what we do and why our people love our culture. It’s a realistic portrait of our company that depicts our actual employees.
I recently came across another amazing recruiting/culture video created by a police department in New Zealand. I’ll let the video speak for itself for the most part, because it’s so effective, but it’s important to note that the police department could have taken the easy route and done whatever other police departments do for recruiting. But because of this unique video, they likely have many more fans and people who want to work for them. Other police departments probably think and feel the same about their work, but this particular department was able to articulate it strongly, in simple terms, and they were able to do so with their real people. Not to mention they had a clear call to action: “Do you care enough to be a cop? Go to newcops.co.nz.” Genius!
4. Give your brand guide to every employee.
I am so thankful we created a brand guide for Xenium a few years ago. At first, it just included best practices for using our logo, our vision statement, and our color palette. Over the years, we’ve continued to enhance it. It now includes the following:
- Mission: Your company’s mission is your overarching goal. At Xenium, our mission is to bring HR best practices to well-intentioned employers.
- Brand values. Your brand values are the principles by which every employee in your organization works. Xenium values responsibility, authenticity, inspiration, and relationships. When we stay true to our values, we make the Xenium brand stronger, and the same goes for your organization and your values.
- Brand promise. Your brand promises are the smaller-scale commitments you make toward achieving your mission, and they should reflect your values. Yours, like Xenium’s, may be multifaceted. For example, our external promise is to help employers become great by keeping service, expertise, and integration throughout every customer interaction. We also have an internal promise, the Xenium Promise. Like our values, it sets the tone for how we work internally. It has four parts: 1) Take ownership for my success. 2) Speak openly and sincerely. 3) Be a source of inspiration. 4) Develop and foster relationships.
- Brand essence. This is what your clients, partners, and employees feel when they connect and work with you. It’s what exists at the core of every interaction you have. At Xenium, our brand essence has three parts: 1) We are easy to do business with. 2) We are real people solving real problems. 3) We are committed to growing and developing people and businesses.
- Brand position. Your brand position refers to the very specific ways you do business and why. Our brand position is what makes Xenium stand out within the HR space. When we make decisions, we always refer to our brand position of being local, high-touch thought leaders, as this helps us foster trusting relationships with our clients. By constantly reminding ourselves of this position, we ensure we’re staying true to what makes us unique.
- Yours should be catchy and memorable. We have a few: It’s about people. Developing great employers. Transforming the workplace.
- Elevator pitch for each service. Work with your product teams to get the language correct here.
- Best practices for logo use.
- Best practices for using your color palette.
Here is an example of a placemat version of our brand guidelines that we give to employees on their first day at Xenium.
The purpose of this document is to reinforce our brand internally and externally, verbally and in writing, so the brand is consistent at every touch point. I have to say, it’s so rewarding to see people use the exact same Xenium yellow in all client deliverables, and it saves time for the marketing team when everyone knows how to find the correct logo!
5. Encourage your people to become thought leaders on social media.
Just a few years ago, this wouldn’t have made my list, but times are changing. The tools now available to us present all sorts of opportunities (and challenges) for reaching audiences. In a lot of ways, it’s easier than ever to reach people. But it’s also hard to stand out amidst so much noise.
I would never suggest requiring employees to be active on social media or to talk about your organization on social media, and I know Xenium would never say that to us, either. But I do want to share some of the helpful social media behaviors I’m seeing nowadays and why this kind of interaction is good for your peoples’ personal brands and for the company’s.
Social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn allow you to create company pages people can follow, but these are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Facebook recently announced they are now prioritizing friends’ posts over brand pages. It’s a move that reflects our changing social media reality: interruption marketing just isn’t as effective as it once was. People hate ads and certainly would rather hear from a person than a brand. So after losing lots of users, Facebook is trying to reduce the noise brands tend to make on our feeds.
So that means we need to adapt. Think about it this way: if you have 50 people in your organization, that’s 50 potential marketers on your team who can boost your brand on various platforms to their own networks.
If you are active on Twitter or LinkedIn, you probably started by following company accounts. When those companies started rolling out articles, videos, and podcasts, they likely tagged the authors in their posts. If you liked the content, maybe you followed the authors, too. And now you look forward to the authors’ new posts. But remember, those are still employees working for a brand, and now those individual people are influencing how you think about that brand.
Honestly, this is the most challenging point I’m making in this entire post. You’re probably thinking, But what would my people write? It’s a valid question, and I’m afraid I don’t have the answer, because the real answer is: It depends. Take Xenium as an example. In a perfect world, all our HR people would post about something HR-related on LinkedIn daily, they would all come on the Xenium podcast to tell a story or share their expertise, all would conduct live webinars, and they would all post pictures on Instagram about our company events so people outside the company could see what it’s like from their perspective.
Your people are your best marketers and recruiters, plain and simple. So encourage this kind of engagement, but don’t require it.
6. Create a culture committee made up of employees.
Creating a culture committee of company leadership and employees from various departments is a great idea for three main reasons: 1) The committee becomes the voice of the people, 2) Group members become advocates for the mission, vision, and values of the organization, and 3) They work hard to develop innovative ideas that reinforce company culture.
At Xenium, our culture committee is called XCITE, which stands for Xenium Culture Integration and Team Enhancement. This team has implemented the Xenium book group, organized events and outings, helped support and launch a mentorship program, and influenced the creation of the Xenium Promise statements. They’ve also had their hands in many other activities that make up our culture and help our company walk the talk when it comes to our values.
The culture committee is an extension of your leadership team and is meant to be closely tied to the rest of your employees. Because of this, committee members should be drawn from all areas of the company so every department feels represented.
7. Take the “zero moment of truth” very seriously.
Because of the internet, both consumer and job-seeker behavior have shifted significantly. Now, people can do most of the buying process without you. They can read articles, product comparisons, and reviews to evaluate and form an opinion of your brand before they ever interact with it directly.
Years ago, I read a short e-book by Google [PDF] called Zero Moment of Truth that really put this shift into perspective for me. The book states that traditionally, the moment of truth in the buying process is when someone walks into a store, picks up a product, and decides to buy it or not. Or in the case of a service business, the moment of truth is when someone meets a service provider for the first time and decides whether or not to move forward. This can be applied to the recruitment process, too; it’s the moment someone encounters your culture firsthand and decides to work for you or not. But because of the internet, there’s now a “zero moment of truth,” which occurs with everything that comes before that first human or in-person interaction can take place. It’s your website content, it’s your social media channels, it’s client testimonials, it’s your Google reviews, and it’s your Glassdoor page.
People are doing research on your organization before they ever buy from you or apply for a job. They’re reading everything about you and making informed decisions about whether or not your organization is right for them before they even meet you personally. Glassdoor is one of the most powerful tools for job seekers out there right now, so don’t ignore the influence it has on candidates. That goes for all your other digital assets, too. Your internet presence is your public face. Wear it proudly.
8. Use real photos of your people, and get them on video, too!
Remember earlier when I said businesses sell on a human-to-human basis? This point reinforces that idea. Showcasing real photos and videos of your people is one of the best ways to humanize your brand for customers, prospects, employees, and candidates. It can make the difference between attracting the right people and attracting the wrong people.
This is pretty simple to implement, too. It just means adding photos of your people to your staff page and/or home page; using real photos in your content every once in a while, instead of stock photos; and producing videos that show your employees. These give external people an idea of who is inside your organization, what those people are like, and what they believe in. But keep in mind you need to ask permission first!
Since thought leadership is a key brand position at Xenium, we put our people on audio podcasts so others can gain insight from them, hear how they sound, and get to know them; we highlight images of our people on our home page, across our website, and in our content; and we have featured our people in numerous videos. This year, my goal is to get people more involved on LinkedIn and other social media channels so that when clients and job candidates are bouncing around the internet, they may run across our people and get to know them before actually meeting them.
Again, the goal is to showcase your people and culture authentically so onlookers can decide whether or not you’re right for them.
9. Create unique programs and benefits that connect to your values.
If you want to have a great culture, you need to create programs and benefits that reinforce what makes you great. Unique programs and benefits develop your organization’s culture from within and make your employees happy. Happy employees will talk about you and those benefits with their friends and family organically. Not only that, but when you have success with these programs, you can present case studies so people from the outside can get a feel for your culture.
For example, at Xenium, we believe in developing and fostering relationships and taking ownership of our own success. To support these values, we’ve implemented a few different initiatives, including a book group and a mentoring program. And we take any chance we get to talk about the success of these programs.
See what I did there?
10. Create a work environment that represents who you are—and who you want to be.
I love walking into a workplace and seeing how the employer designed and organized the space. And I love seeing how closely these spaces tie into their brands. At many of the leading tech companies in Silicon Valley, there’s no way around this point—these workplaces must be inspirational, fun, and comfortable in order for these companies to attract the type of talent they need.
Ask your people what they like about your current space and what they wish was different. Some people may want inspirational art or colors, some people may want common spaces for easier collaboration, and others may want access to quiet, private spaces. You should also look for inspiration outside your company to determine what kind of workplace is desired by the talent you seek. Don’t let something as trivial and changeable as a workplace convince someone talented to walk away!
11. Implement a recognition and rewards program.
It doesn’t matter who you are—everyone loves to be recognized. We all want to know our work is meaningful and is impacting the greater good in some way. Recognition programs have the power to transform cultures by motivating people, aligning them with business objectives, and spreading the love among team members.
At Xenium, we have a featured employee of the month program we’ve used for years. We ask for nominations for people whose hard work aligns with a core company value, and we read these nominations during an all-team meeting. We also offer spot bonuses; anyone, for any reason, can give $50 in cash to someone who went above and beyond the call of duty.
Now that web-based tools for recognition are becoming ubiquitous and inexpensive, we’re testing out a few of them, such as Kudos. These can keep all your recognition and rewards programs in one easy-to-access space online. Best of all, with tools like this, you can customize recognition programs so they connect to your culture and values. For example, at Xenium, we could create a recognition badge called the Xenium Promise badge that recognizes employees when they are living the Xenium Promise through and through. Digital recognition tools like Kudos are especially helpful if you have a fragmented or remote workforce, but regardless, you should find ways to thank your employees on a regular basis for the great work they do.