Short on time? Get key takeaways in the infographic version of this article.
A few years ago, Randstad published research that indicated 86% of workers would not apply for, or continue to work for, a company that has a bad reputation with former employees or the general public. This was pre-pandemic, before whispers of the Great Resignation, before employers were forced to reconcile with remote and hybrid work and for some, even before proactive DEI and ESG efforts became less a perk and more a requirement. It’s remarkable how quickly things can change.
At the time, PR professionals were glad to see our work making an impact in the difficult world of employee recruitment and retention. What we did not yet see was that the outlets we took to be barometers of trust — Glassdoor, Comparably, “Best Places to Work” awards — were becoming the brand. Having the best service or product was no longer enough — businesses are judged by the opinions of the people who make them.
It’s been years in the making, but the worlds of recruitment and HR and PR and marketing are finally converging with historic pace. CHROs need to act like marketers, and marketing leaders must think like HR professionals. A changing workforce is looking to leadership for stability and direction, but also for a meaningful, purposeful work experience.
A core challenge of employer branding is that the brand takes shape with or without the help of the business. These stories have natural points of intersection — they must be told simultaneously, with regard for and influence from one another. Strategic storytelling helps businesses align and communicate both sides of the equation.
So, where to start?
Every business is built with common foundations, and the employer brand reflects each of them and the ways they work together. Still, that doesn’t mean brands will weigh each component the same way — a healthcare technology startup will present itself quite differently from a business automation platform that has just been through an IPO.
Having the best service or product was no longer enough — businesses are judged by the opinions of the people who make them.
Since an employer brand can only work for you if it is authentic, identifying the parts of it that you want to emphasize should start with the source of truth: your employees. Use a combination of employee surveys, social media research and review sites — as well as other outreach methods you choose — to develop a core set of values and brand components that connects the employee experience to one another and to the meaning and purpose of the business.
Questions to consider asking might include:
Establishing the authentic building blocks of your employer brand is only part of the battle, though. To really hone your messaging and positioning in the industry, you still need a sense of how you stack up to the competition. Again, review sites are a good place to start to learn more about what is and is not resonating with competitor employees. Look beyond compensation, to aspects like:
Your employer brand is critical, but it’s also a means to an end. To ensure that it’s effective, think about how it fits into your larger business goals.
At this stage, it’s also critical to audit your competitors, as they represent the top challenge when it comes to recruiting and retaining talent in your industry. To cut through the noise and differentiate your brand, you first have to commit to listening to that noise.
It’s worth noting here that a business can have a strong employer brand without first determining how that brand will help support a business strategy for growth and development. But failing to align the two early on could create undue trouble down the road. The last thing a business wants is to find itself forced to pivot from a brand that no longer fits its needs or forced to retrofit goals into a brand that it can’t abandon. And when it comes to prioritizing purposeful work, both for employees and clients, that alignment is even more critical. People find purpose in different work — your strategic goals and employer brand need to be in sync to ensure the talent you recruit and retain believes in the mission of the business.
With brand elements in place and aligned with your strategic goals, it’s time to connect those components with the correct audiences. This is where the strategic storytelling begins in earnest — there can be no storytelling without an audience and determining who you’re looking to reach at this stage will also change the way you tell your brand story.
If you’re looking to build up a particular practice area, you’ll need new employees with the expertise to support that organic growth. If the business is working toward an IPO, you’ll need to think about how you position that with your existing talent. And you won’t communicate with those two groups in the same way. Beyond adjusting the way that you speak to them, the business will also need to consider how messages are communicated, who they come from and what the process is for receiving feedback.
The last thing a business wants is to find itself forced to pivot from a brand that no longer fits its needs or forced to retrofit goals into a brand that it can’t abandon.
68% of Millennials, 54% of Gen-Xers, and 48% of Boomers indicated they visit employer social media specifically to evaluate the employer’s brand. Think about the role of social in helping to distribute your employer brand and communicate the connection to your strategic goals.
The action of employer branding and strategic storytelling lives here — the stories you tell must be true to the employee experience, whether current or prospective. With so much overlap between the audiences and the subjects of your stories, inauthenticity will be immediately clear.
Fortunately, prospective employees want to hear from current ones. It’s their best look behind the curtain at the work and culture they’re considering, and it feels more honest than getting the information from HR or recruiters. You can lean on current employees to share content like:
Of course, ensuring that the authentic experience employees share is one that’s compelling for prospects starts with truly investing in that experience. Beyond work-life balance, businesses should focus on training and development, DEI efforts, purposeful work and building a robust culture.
Employer branding and strategic storytelling are not one-and-done activities. If executed well, they will be a constant work in progress — tools for the business to refine and leverage as it continues to change and grow. Part of that process is listening to how people respond to your brand and story and adjusting parts of your brand, your message and your positioning accordingly. Remember, it’s only a mistake if you never try to fix it.
In the next installment of our strategic storytelling series, we’ll cover the intersection of strategic storytelling and ESG initiatives.