Employer Branding: How to market your organization under the new paradigm – Part 2: Learning from failed approaches to employer branding

Global HR services provider Randstad, in its article “Employer Brand Is Still Critical to Winning Great Talent,”1 notes that, amid the ongoing digital transformation, an employer’s reputation is critical in attracting talent, and companies that have lost focus on their employer brand may find themselves left behind in the race for the best talent.

Employer branding refers to activities aimed at communicating a company’s attractiveness as a place to work to both job seekers and existing employees. In the previous article we explained what employer branding is and provided a case study highlighting Heineken’s brand-building efforts.

In this article we will present some failed attempts at employer branding and employee value propositions (EVPs). We hope you will be able to make use of these examples as a checklist for your organization’s efforts as we delve into the essence of employer branding.

When employer branding goes wrong

According to the Randstad article “6 Mistakes to Avoid When Developing Your Employer Branding Strategy,”2 companies should avoid the following six mistakes when engaging in their employer branding efforts.

1. The “Quick Fixer”
“Companies are too quick to think a new flashy branding position will fix a poor company culture.”2 As such, “there needs to be a strong message behind the brand: an emotional experience attached to it that springboards the brand into recognizability.”2

Rather than leaping to superficial, “quick-fix” stopgap measures, companies must put in the deep, diligent work necessary to fundamentally reexamine their corporate culture, as Heineken did in the case study discussed in the previous article.

2. The “Fly-By Brander”
“Changing a logo with the aim of appealing to a new talent demographic will not, by itself, achieve the business goal of change.”2 Additionally, “a branding strategy must, above all else, be well thought out. Ensure that you have a clear and concise plan that sets out marketing goals for the brand and tangible, realistic and measurable ways that you will achieve them.”2

In other words, a cursory branding effort will not lead to any meaningful or lasting change.

3. The “Half-Brand”
“It’s not uncommon for a company to fail to invest properly and fully into a branding strategy – whether it’s skimping on time, money or energy.”2 Accordingly, “Doing the job halfway will only yield half the results.”2

In “Employer Brand Is Still Critical in Winning Great Talent,”1 Randstad highlighted the challenge that many companies face because, during the pandemic, they stopped investing in their employer brand, believing it wasn’t necessary during a period of rising unemployment. This backdrop can be cited as a factor directly linked to the behavior leading to the creation of such “half-brands.”

4. The “Spam Brander”
Some companies view branding strategy as nothing more than attempting to get as much exposure for the company’s name within the market as possible. Such an approach, which focuses on quantity over quality, produces little in the way of lasting results while running the risk that the company’s message rings false and lacking in credibility.2

While raising awareness may be an important first step in branding, if your efforts go no further than such activity, it may serve no function beyond telling people your name.

5. The “Time-Traveler”
If your employer branding activities are also expected to contribute to future business strategies, then the focus should not just be on where your business is positioned now, but should also anticipate what the market will look like in the future.2

Since brand-strategy initiatives combine both a problem-solving approach aimed at current circumstances and a deductive approach working backward from the future, it is essential to strike a balance between the two.

6. The “Follower”
While it seems objectively reasonable to focus on the target demographic for the talent you’re aiming to attract, you should instead pay attention to your competitors with brands similar to yours. This is because it’s important to analyze the differences between your company and your competitors in terms of what appeals to job seekers, and create your own unique identity that enables you to move ahead of them.2

Based on the above, we can see that the key components to avoiding employer branding mistakes are, first of all, not being too superficial, not overestimating the amount of communication that’s required, and understanding that getting results isn’t easy and takes time.

It’s also necessary to settle down and build on insights about your company, and consider how to accommodate future conditions while proactively differentiating yourself from the competition.

Employee Value Propositions (EVPs) that fail

The EVP is considered to be one of the key components of the employer brand.1

About the EVP, HR Exchange Network, in its article “Best Practices for Developing Your Employer Brand,”3 has this to say: “It refers to the specific reasons someone might want to work for you.”

But the McKinsey & Company article “Attracting and Retaining the Right Talent”4 notes that, for the following three reasons, few companies have EVPs that help them to win the battle to acquire talent.

Not distinctive
In attempting to create an all-around EVP, many companies end up with one that resembles every other company’s EVP.  That’s why they should focus on other aspects of their business and choose one to distinguish themselves from everyone else.4

Not targeted
Although there’s nothing wrong with having an overall EVP, it’s essential to have a “winning EVP,” one that targets roles in the fields that are most important to the company.4

An EVP designed to look good will, in the long run, become a losing EVP in the race to acquire talent. This is because if the company doesn’t live up to what it claims to be, top talent will soon realize the discrepancy and become disillusioned.4

Based on these observations, we can see the same mistakes companies make with their employer branding efforts can also undermine their EVPs.

In order to avoid these employer branding and EVP mistakes, it’s important to realize that such efforts are not simply fads or superficial gestures that can be quickly and easily executed. Additionally, they should not be viewed as a list of attractive qualities that bear little resemblance to reality or based solely on the company’s own preconceptions.

The process requires companies to sit back and put in the necessary time, effort, and budget. They need to truthfully ask themselves who they are as a company, identify and focus on their unique strengths compared with the competition, and aim to achieve branding that goes beyond simply adapting to current circumstances, instead looking to create conditions for the future.

Consequently, you could say that employer branding is an activity designed to take stock of one’s own corporate culture, reexamine it from the ground up, and create a vision for the future.

1 Randstad, “Employer brand is still critical to winning great talent (referenced on July 19, 2022)

2 Randstad, “6 mistakes to avoid when developing your employer branding strategy”  (referenced on July 19, 2022)

3 HR Exchange Network, “Best Practices for Developing Your Employer Brand (referenced on July 19, 2022)

4 McKinsey & Company, “Attracting and retaining the right talent” (referenced on July 19, 2022)