In its 2016 report, How Millennials Want to Work and Live, Gallup found that 60% of millennials were open to a different job opportunity. With reputations as serial job-hoppers, millennials are likely to change jobs an average of 4 times before the age of 32 – but Gallup argues part of the blame lies with employers. Millennials want a job that feels worthwhile: and they will keep looking until they find it. The answer to attracting and retaining this slippery demographic, it seems, may lie in employer branding.

Employer branding vs. employer brand

The concept of employer branding has risen in the B2B sphere since the 1990s, with 59% of organizations planning to invest more in their employer brand in 2016 compared to 2015, according to LinkedIn. At the simplest level, an employer brand is an organization’s reputation as an employer – as distinct from their brand as a corporate entity.

However, employer brand – the way an organization is perceived as an employer – is different to employer branding – that is, the strategy and actions an organization takes to influence internal and external perceptions. Unlike a company brand, which is defined and controlled internally, an employer brand doesn’t strictly belong to the employer: it is shaped and driven by its employees and other stakeholders. For this reason, every employer has a ‘brand’: regardless of whether they have consciously developed it or not.

What’s more, while a strong overall company brand can support organizations in attracting talent, that alone is not enough – employer brand is a stand-alone driver that can prove a great deal more effective, as LinkedIn research found:

“A strong employer brand – as indicated by an individual having a positive impression of your company as a place to work – is twice as likely to be linked to job consideration as a strong company brand.”

Despite the apparent lack of control over its brand as an employer, an organization can define the perception it wishes to project and in doing so, influence the quantity and quality of talent it attracts.

Employer branding begins with the process of researching and building an understanding of its target employee profile: identifying their needs and wants, their pain points and drivers. Next, these need aligning to the existing company values, culture and business needs. Questions often include, “what can we offer? What makes working for us different? How can we make the lives of our employees better?” Given that your employer brand already exists in the minds of employees, they can provide a particularly valuable resource at this stage – providing insights and feedback that can help define and modify an employer’s approach.

The resulting Employer Value Proposition (EVP), like any value proposition, is designed to define the unique offerings of the business that will make it appealing to its desired demographic of talent.

Communication is central to employer branding strategy

Defining an Employer Value Proposition alone is not enough: in order to translate and embed this as part of the employer brand, it must be effectively communicated and continually evolved.

In a technology-driven age where information is widely accessible and reviews freely offered, would-be employees are able to scrutinize and vet their future employers in all areas of reputation; from interviewing and hiring practices via platforms such as Glassdoor or LinkedIn, through to their values, demonstration of corporate social responsibility or even internal culture.

Transparency is valued in the same way consumers seek out companies that are shown to be ethical, and shun those reported to have poor business practices. According to Careerealism, 80% of jobseekers will research an employer online before deciding to apply; if there isn’t enough information to convince them, they’ll simply pass on the opportunity.

The resulting perceptions can make or break an employer in terms of its ability to attract and retain top talent: making employer branding a long-term strategy that is rising on the management agenda. However, investment into the process of not only establishing a Millennial-friendly culture but communicating and embedding it into the digital landscape continues to lag.

Growing recognition of the role of social media, mobile apps or responsive sites, a variety of media and personalization of messaging are all increasing in consumer branding and marketing. The same approach should be applied when communicating employer branding. Of those campaigns that are the most successful, there are a few key themes:

  1. They utilize a multitude of channels and mediums to engage their audience: from videos on YouTube to photos on Instagram, great content on purpose-built Careers sites through to employee reviews and testimonials on third-party sites
  2. They draw on their own employees as brand ambassadors, showcasing ‘on the ground’ experiences through case studies, testimonials, videos and encouraging employees to promote their lives at work on social media
  3. They connect directly to the pain points, wants, attitudes and concerns of the target demographic, answering questions and providing solutions
  4. They are “employee centric”; following a trend towards “consumer-centric” marketing, these brands include a notable focus on “You” (Your training and development; your career) as opposed to exclusively focusing on “Our” (Our business, our success)
  5. They go beyond the job, including insights into social events and culture, CSR, values and areas in which they can offer work-life balance, flexibility or investment into employee development outside their core role responsibilities

The following organizations have maximized on the strategies above to produce strong employer brands that ensure they both attract and retain leading Millennial talent.

1. PwC: Addressing ‘wants’ using first-hand testimonials and brand ambassadors

As a global brand, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) arguably has the resource and backing to produce a first-rate employer branding campaign. However, it isn’t the investment so much as the approach that makes PWC rank as a leader in the field. The careers pages of the professional services giant are innovative and comprehensive in their approach, building a 365-degree overview of the Employer Value Proposition.

According to research, Millennials outrank training and development over financial remuneration as a workplace benefit; PwC place this at the heart of their employer ethos, defined on the careers site as follows:

employer branding career growth

This employee-centric approach connects with the millennial desire to shape their own futures; empowering the individual with purpose and development, a key desire highlighted by Gallup.

Capitalizing on the trend of reviews and first-hand experiences as a trusted source, every stage of the employer branding process is underpinned by employee reviews, case studies or videos. The “Our People” section explores individuals in more detail, with a focus on their progression and development through use of timelines – showing the potential career paths of would-be employees.

employer branding pwc our people

Pages on Corporate Responsibility and Our Culture explore life working for the organization, presenting values with which its prospective employees can identify and measure themselves against. In doing so, PwC not only succeeds in communicating its brand as an employer, but ensures it attracts talent in line with its vision – reducing employee churn due to a lack of integration with the culture.

2. E.on: understanding candidate concerns and values

Shortlisted in two different categories at the Employer Brand Management Awards (2016), E.on – as an energy supplier – may seem a controversial choice as an employer for the “CSR-conscious” Millennial generation. However, it is exactly their recognition and understanding of the stigma surrounding their industry, and their approach to overcome prejudice, that marks the brand out for recognition.

Partnering with brand consultants Blackbridge, E.on produced an on-campus campaign to attract graduate talent for its 2014 intake that sought to shift perceptions and prejudices. The employer branding positioned with would-be candidates that they would play an important role in the solution to growing concerns over energy use and global warming.

The “If not you, then who?” campaign presented two alternative scenarios; one in which global warming went unchecked, resulting in civil unrest, panic buying and climate change issues; the second, an alternate reality in which energy saving initiatives produced a better climate. The messaging was clear: innovation, sustainability and a focus on corporate responsibility to address issues of global importance.

A reported increase of applications by 25% YoY demonstrated the value of the campaign. By taking the time to understand the underlying concerns and conceptions of their target audience, E.on were able to address concerns head-on and communicate their role in resolving these.

eon candidate employer branding

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3. Deloitte, Adobe, Salesforce: Use of social media

Use of social media as part of employer branding strategy, particularly for graduate or Millennial demographic candidates, is no longer a novel concept. However, there are a few notable examples of organizations who have truly capitalized on this medium and set themselves apart; for that reason, we have a few names falling into this particular category.

Deloitte’s @LifeatDeloitte campaign is a prime example of the role social media can play in communicating real-life employee experiences. This dedicated Twitter account shows the need to establish a distinct brand as an employer, separate from a corporate image that the organization may project to consumers. This is echoed by the Life at Deloitte careers site, which sits independently of its corporate site.

Access to the account shifts to different employees, leaning the account to a personable, friendly and multi-personality approach. The feed is a combination of updates, events, roles, retweets, polls and pushing out of content – making for a continually engaging feed for both existing and prospective candidates.

Adobe’s #AdobeLife hashtag takes the concept one step further; placing the role of brand advocacy right into the hands of its employees, who can tweet from their independent accounts and afford the brand authenticity. The resulting tweets speak for themselves.

adobe life tweet employer branding

The spectrum of feedback is vast; including indications of investment in training and development, recognition for loyalty or success, and a strong social, integrated culture.

employer branding adobe engagement

Cloud computing company Salesforce currently ranks 23rd on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For – and as part of its employer branding campaign, has taken strongly to Instagram and Snapchat, two mediums growing in popularity amongst millennials and Gen Y. Originally utilizing the hashtag #dreamjob, the account showcases the 365-degree experience of life as a Salesforce employee – including views of the offices, events, charity initiatives and its values and culture.

salesforce employer branding smiles

employer branding salesforce pride

4. Qualcomm: Focusing on “You” and going above and beyond

As a ‘telecommunications equipment’ organization, Qualcomm’s industry doesn’t immediately present an exciting image for would-be employees. However, its standing on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For in recent years shows there’s more to this tech organization than first meets the eye.

A visit to its careers site immediately shows considerable investment and a millennial-pleasing approach with clean-cut, interactive and engaging design. The site is highly visual and easy to navigate. However, the key stand-out approach to this employer branding strategy is the focus on the “consumer”: in this instance, it’s employees.

employer branding qualcomm consumer focus

Direct use of “you”, “your” in its language addresses the target audience. There is in-depth consideration given to the well-being, work-life balance and needs of employees, with Qualcomm going above and beyond its role as an employer to become a facilitator of a complete lifestyle; matching a concept identified by Gallup: “For millennials, a job is no longer just a job – it’s their life as well”.

What’s more, the Qualcomm Employee Value Proposition (EVP) is clearly and comprehensively defined, utilizing it’s ‘Qualcomm Total Rewards’ microsite; broken into the sections ‘Health’, ‘Wealth’, ‘Living’ and ‘Achieving’, the site offers a holistic approach to answering the desires of employees for purpose, development and well-being.

employer branding qualcomm total rewards

Why invest in employer branding?

The research and reasoning behind the value of employer branding is extensive, covered in reports by the likes of Gallup, LinkedIn, Glassdoor and many more. The key returns for those organizations who invest in employer branding include:

  • Attraction of more talent: organizations that prioritize employer brand are 250% more likely to rate their overall talent acquisition efforts as highly effective, according to Glassdoor
  • Attract better quality candidates: in its 2014 report, CEB states that employers that invested in employer branding for influence reported a 54% increase in the quality of the candidate pool
  • Higher levels of employee engagement: those who invest are 130% more likely to see increases in employee engagement
  • 67% of Job seekers said they’d accept a lower salary if the company had exceptionally positive reviews online. (Careerbuilder)
  • Lower cost per hire: Employers with strong employment brands see a 43% decrease in cost per hire
  • Strong employer brand discourages early departures: New hires are 40% less likely to leave after the first 6 months

 …and many more!

As Gallup reports that just 41% of employees feel they know what their company stands for, it’s clear the communication of employer brand requires as much focus internally as externally. Deploying an intranet and using that as a communication platform to define values, obtain employee feedback and set out the Employee Value Proposition with information about benefits, events and initiatives can prove tremendously valuable – particularly when striving to build brand ambassadors within your existing staff.

The value of employer branding: not just for employees

Employer branding has traditionally been positioned and valued for supporting the attraction and retention of employees. However, conscious consumers are now looking to an organization’s treatment of its stakeholders – including suppliers, distributers and employees – as a demonstration of its ethical and socially responsible standing.

For this reason, employer branding is increasingly recognized as part of the total value proposition for consumers – and a key differential or ‘USP’ that can help organizations stand out in a crowded marketplace. Those holding a bad reputation or subject to scandals around working conditions, ill-treatment, unfair dismissal or inequality will quickly find themselves shunned by would-be customers, at a potentially huge cost to the company bottom line.

Employer branding, therefore, is not simply a HR initiative in the drive to attract talent. It should be recognized as a business-wide strategy to support long-term growth, improve employee retention and build upon the overall company brand – and can offer tremendous returns for those who invest.