Adventures in employer branding: Part 1. The costly mistake of overselling

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The thing with employer branding is that the more effective it becomes, often the less effective it becomes. 

“Huh!?”  You exclaim.

Well let me explain.  Employer branding is all about making your internal culture external.  There are many new channels open to employer branding and many of these channels were once the exclusive domain of marketing; Instagram, facebook, linkedin, infographics, fancy web pages, content marketing. All of these are effective tools for getting your message out there.  And many of these are run, if not by Marketing per se, then at least by someone with a marketing background or training.

So here’s the problem: marketing is about selling a product.  Its about creating attachment, desire, image.  Products and services rarely live up to these expectations.  I never became a good looking cool kid in the 80’s when I drank coke, I dont become an athlete when I eat nutri grain.  But we accept this. We know we’re being sold to and we accept it. Sometimes we even like it.  When we are disappointed, when the outside doesn’t match the inside – when our funky, customer oriented telco turns out to be a 70’s soviet block style beurocracy the minute we’ve signed the paperwork for instance – its too late anyway.  The organsations that have sold to us rely on the old adage that, ‘its easier to ask for forgiveness than permission’.  After all, they’ve got our money.

But if you carry this ethos into the marketing involved in your employer branding, if the outsides of your company – everything looks easy and modern and unbureacratic and the website has pictures of people bringing dogs to work and dooner days galore – don’t match the insides – you get a warning letter if you get in at 9.03, you don’t get a computer login for the first 3 weeks, you’ve been completely oversold the training opportunities – your shiny new employee just leaves.   Or worse, they stay.

Nothing kills company culture quite like a bunch of cynical, disillusioned employees. And nothing creates a bunch of cynical, disillusioned employees quite like joining a company and realizing they’ve been duped.

And they will eventually leave and will destroy your employer brand elsewhere, but only after they have driven out your few A players, only after they have cost you thousands in real costs and opportunity costs and only after you’ve paid them for the pleasure.  The cost of a mis-hire is immense (that’s a whole article for another day) but in this instance who is to blame?  Them for believing you or you for putting out Coca Cola style lifestyle advertising?  With employment branding, if you’re just fizzy sugar water its often best to say you’re just fizzy sugar water.

So, creating an ‘effective’ marketing campaign that makes you look really great and cool and presents a product that people want to buy, can be really ineffective if it lands you employees who are a mismatch with your actual culture.  So be careful of the monster you are creating with strong employer branding. If the outsides don’t match the insides then you could be doing more harm than good.

So this brings about a few questions that we’ll try to answer in this blog series

  1. How do you match your employer branding (your ‘outsides’) with your genuine company culture (your ‘insides’)
  2. What if your true culture is what you are trying to change? How do you match your employer brand with your aspirational culture without creating a disillusioned workforce?
  3. How do you use the powerful marketing tools at your disposal but tailor them for employer branding.

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