The Flip Side of Authentic Employer Branding

As employer branding has become mainstream an important element gets overlooked in the brand discussion: authenticity. This brand messaging may be the most important element of brand strategy, but likely the most often ignored. As recruitment professionals, we believe our job is to create messaging and advertising that will get people to apply to our organization. What gets ignored is that this messaging and advertising must be based on a real quality or feature of the organization. Real means that a current employee would not give the "bitter beer face" if you asked him about it.

When I became the director of talent acquisition at a debt collection agency, the team was using a recruitment advertising campaign labeled "The Flip Side." This campaign’s basic premise was, "Working for us would be different than what you expect." The industry wasn’t well respected, and because of that, people weren’t lining up to come work for us. The campaign showed some current employees doing "fun" things with quotes about what it’s like working at our company. We were illustrating "The Flip Side" of our industry. Our print advertising, our online advertising and our Web site were all designed around this campaign.

At first glance, this seemed like an intriguing idea—until I started asking questions to test its authenticity. I asked some of the current employees about "The Flip Side." In most cases, I was greeted with the aforementioned bitter beer face. Upon further investigation, I found that "The Flip Side" didn’t really exist. The campaign was designed by the recruiting team in an effort to attract candidates, but it wasn’t authentic to the actual employment experience at the company. This was the recruitment bait and switch. And it wasn’t taking new employees long to figure it out. In excess of 50 percent of our new hires were quitting the company within 30 days.

Truly effective employment branding is built on an authentic understanding of what motivates employees in your company to keep coming back each day. Authentic brand development starts with research on employee perceptions of working for your company. This can happen through surveys, focus groups or other interactive sessions. Good research will ensure that your brand messaging will connect to what your employees would actually say is great about working at your company.

In our case, we terminated "The Flip Side" campaign immediately and began doing research. We found that our employees didn’t come to work for the fun "Flip Side," but they did like working for the company because of its professionalism and commitment to people. A new era in recruitment messaging was born for us, this time based on reality. The results followed. Within two years of the launch of our authentic brand messaging, the number of new hires quitting within 30 days was less than 10 percent, and our employee referrals had increased to account for over 30 percent of our total hires.

As recruiters, it’s tempting to sell what you think will attract applicants regardless of its basis in reality. Don’t fall into this trap—it gives recruiters a bad name and hurts your company’s image.

First Published on Human Resources IQ.