Employer Brand … and why your foosball table doesn’t matter

Lots of people are talking about employer branding these days. While I agree that all companies should be conscious of how they are viewed by employees and prospective employees, I think many branding efforts are misdirected and a plain waste of money and effort.

It’s not about how many people think you’re great. It’s who, and why.

Brains over beans

I work with young tech companies who, by their very nature, are selective in who they employ. Most really are great places to work. Some have foosball tables.

But if any of these companies wanted to invest in a marketing campaign to make sure everyone knew about their ‘hip environment’ and the bean bag chairs in their office, I would think that they had lost it.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that a company’s employer brand – its reputation with employees and prospective employees – is absolutely critical. I just have to look at the tech companies in my own backyard to see how employer reputation directly impacts their success and ROI.

Marketing to future employees is a lot like marketing to future customers, it is all in the targeting.

Let me give you two real-world examples:

Company X is well known in the region and across the country. They get a lot of great press and are generally well regarded as a company with a good product idea and a bright future. I would even go so far as to say that a decent percentage of the population would think it is a good place to work – they probably have little trouble finding loads of people to apply for their jobs.

Yet I would argue that they do not in fact have a great employment brand. Sounds crazy, I know, but while they may win the popularity contest with the general public, the opinion of the people the company really needs to hire may be different.

When Company X comes up in conversations with great technical, marketing or leadership talent, the reaction is a rolling of eyes and a sad shaking of the head. “Neat product idea, but I hear that place is full of mediocre people. I wouldn’t want to be on the B team” they say.

They don’t care about the beer in the fridge or the company camping trips, they want to solve hard problems with a bunch of the exceptional people, and they want to be on a team that will only accept the best.

Company Y on the other hand has a very low profile. I can safely say that the general population is largely unaware that they exist at all.

But if you were to talk to the very best software professionals in their field, they would not only know the company, they would seriously consider leaving their current job to work for them. Company Y has an incredible employer brand. They have a solid reputation for hiring only the most talented people, and working to solve highly complex and important problems. The leaders within this company have exceptional backgrounds and great track records.

Employer branding is not a popularity contest. It’s about making sure that top-tier talent knows what you do, how you do it, and who you have doing it. It never hurts to offer cool perks, but the best people want more.

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