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How CMO’s Can Build Strong Employer Brands

Your employer brand is a sum of your company’s image and reputation in the market. It also includes every human association, feeling, and perception combined. The employer brand is your company’s “total truth” – good or bad.

Employer branding includes all the different things you can do to tell others why your company is a great place to work.

“I want to know this company”, “I want to be associated with this company”, “I want to work inside this company, and “I love this company.”

Salience, Cues and Frames of Reference

Strong employer brands break through and get noticed. They come to mind and have great salience. What do you think about when you hear “Just Do It” or “Don’t leave home without it”? Most of us will think about Nike and MasterCard.

Strong employer brands have “category-cued salience”. This means that whenever someone brings up a category like “search” most people think of Google. When people think of “chicken sandwich for lunch”, most will think about Chick-fil-A. When people think of the best new place to work building electric cars or rockets, what comes to mind? Tesla? SpaceX?

Our “frame of reference” is what comes to mind because of our past experiences. When people think of a company, most can’t help bringing up past experiences (and emotions) with that company. Some of us, when we think of Starbucks, imagine a great cup of coffee or that they provide great benefits to temporary workers. Others think about their low wages, burnt coffee and long lines. Our frame of reference plays a huge part in how we view a company.

Triggers and Perspective

Brands trigger positive and negative reactions. What do you think of when you think “Apple”? Some of us process it like this: Jobs, computer, iPhone, iPad, easy-to-use, expensive, useful, feel good, beautiful, California, new round office building, “which I could work there”. Other people might process it differently and think: too expensive, elitist, silly, fake, would never work there – and so on. Our perspectives matter. It’s important for employers to understand these positive and negative reactions, fix what they can, and then and do all they can to define and promote positive attributes to their brand.

Employer Brand Attributes

Consumer brand attributes might include: color, quality, origin, flavor. Employer brands are no different. Our employer brand attributes might include: fun, safe, professional, hard-working, career opportunity, exclusivity, unpretentious, ego, respect and so on. Employers should be in tune with their most salient attributes and work to promote them and keep them top of mind.

Consistency and Signals

Employer brands are most believable when there is a consistency between two ideas. Our minds go to work examining the situation when we think about a company and there are two different messages or signals. It’s important to understand the good and bad about our brands so we can fix the bad and promote the good.

Brand Audit and Positive Truths

The best employers do employer brand audits to understand the positive and negative associates with their company. They take the time to ask top employees what they like most about the company, why they joined, and why they continue to stay committed. They work to uncover the right employer value propositions (EVPs) and attributes to share with the market. They understand the triggers and frames of reference. They take the time to fix negative characteristics – and work to turn real (and perceived) negatives into “positive truths”. And they speak and relate to the market in a way that helps to attract and keep the right talent. When they do this, voice and reality is consistent and people see and hear more clearly – and can relate more readily.

Creating a strong employer brand is not about pulling the wool over “gullible” peoples’ eyes. It’s about finding your true nature and doing all you can to improve the company. It’s about understanding your company and it’s value propositions, fixing what you can, and pushing it’s positive attributes to attract and keep more of the right people in the organization.

A good part of marketing – as it relates to employer branding – is to unchain or fix the negative associations, and then to promote the positive (associations and attributes) – and to make sure the right people take notice, maintain an affinity for your brand, and keep the company top of mind.

As a marketer, you can go as deep and wide as you want to build out your employer brand. Some keep it real simple. Others go deep and consider bandwagon effects, positive reinforcers, cuing, and more. The important thing to remember is that your employer brand is your employer “truth”. It’s not something you can simple write and say to the market and have them believe it. It’s an ongoing relationship between your company and everyone else – good or bad. Take the time to fix the bad as best as you can. Work to understand and promote the good. It requires that you listen carefully and are able to connect in a powerful and truthful way.

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