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March 28, 2007

There is no such thing as an employer brand

Very often, companies spend thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in pursuit of the impossible: coming up with a single employer brand value proposition.

Why is this impossible? Because the differences between what makes one person work at a company vs. another are typically greater than the similarities. In addition, an employer value proposition is much more than the actions of a company (such as HR policies, pay, benefits) - it's really more about the individual and what motivates them than anything the company does.

Think about a software engineer, who wants to work with the coolest, latest programming languages to advance their skillset; who wants to build the most cutting edge consumer applications that will reach and potentially change the lives of millions or even billions of people; and just wants to come to work barefoot and with dog in tow. Now think about a top salesperson, who wants a product that's easy to sell once you get in the door with the buyer; wants an aggressive compensation plan; and wants nothing more than to purchase those maple cabinets for his or her house. And there are countless other examples of this in action, from accountants and lawyers to customer service and senior management professionals. And all of these people work under one roof. This is why I was glad to see provocateur-in-residence Dr. John Sullivan's article on Employment Products on ERE, one of the rare pieces I've seen on audience and career segmentation in employer branding. Approaching the challenge like a product management function is truly a novel but needed approach - nice going, John.

Recruitment advertising agencies - most of whom are currently engaged in large-scale research and employer branding initiatives designed to uncover something that I don't believe really exists - might not be happy to hear all of this. But underneath it all, this is actually an opportunity for them rather than a threat. Rather than just focusing on one broad swath at creating a value proposition, this actually gives them the opportunity to work on several and increases their opportunity to add strategic value for their customers.

I welcome your thoughts.


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I agree with this to a certain degree Dave. I think that branding does do something to at least attract the candidate to take a further look at your company. Although the final step in convincing them you are the employer of choice will almost certainly come from pay/benefits/candidate experience, (personally, I feel, with candidate experience weighing heavier than we think) I think there is something to be said for having a true "google" or other type brand name attached. As an employee for a company working to continuously build it's brand name, I cannot tell you how many times people have turned us down for a "consulting firm" (This is far more common among college recruits though), because they have a brand name. I think it's a mixed bag, but both you and Dr. Sullivan make compelling points, that it's a mixed bag. Great article, keep up to provocative ideas.

By that logic, are you also implying that there is no such thing as a consumer brand? 100 people may choose Pepsi over Coke for 100 different reasons. Does that then imply that since a product can mean so many things to its target audience, that there is also no single comsumer brand? From an employer perspective, I'd challenge that. Every employer has an employer brand. And, different facets of it may appeal to different segments. Defining that common element from which all other facets are derived should be possible.

Joe -

Thanks for the comments.

I definitely didn't mean to imply that there's no such thing as a consumer brand.

Companies like Coke spend hundreds of millions of dollars on branding initiatives - and there can be a high return for this investment. But this is a much different ballgame from recruiting. First of all, heir product line is similar enough that one brand can extend across multiple product lines. And when they diverge from their core, what do they do? They build a separate brand identity. Just look at Powerade, Gatorade, etc. - all different identities that you wouldn't know unless you looked on the label's fine print that they're manufactured and owned by Coke and Pepsi.

I just think that recruiting's a different animal - there are less commonalities than differences and companies have less choices about the types of people they need to make the corporate machine work. There's not some marketing or HR person sitting there thinking about whether or not they need an IT department and whether the employer brand will extend well to this audience - it's just a business necessity.

Which is why I think that looking for one brand identity and value proposition that speaks to all people within a company is a waste of time. More often than not, I believe it ends up hurting a company to do do this by putting off certain audiences that have no interest in your brand value proposition because it has no relevance to them.


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