Understanding Employer Branding: Reputation vs. Image

Lagunas 11-13Earlier this week, I published my first major piece of research for Brandon Hall Group – the Talent Acquisition Answerbook 2013. In it, I tackle some of the bigger questions that are shaping up in the space, as well as some of the trends driving major changes in talent acquisition. One topic that has been top of mind for many employers (and myself) has been recruitment marketing – and employer brand in particular.

Employer brand is one of those concepts that is fairly simple at its core, but can get very complex very quickly. In my experience, the organizations having the hardest time finding new talent are the Lagunas 11-13ones that have the hardest time understanding employer brand. Operating under false assumptions, their talent acquisition process is doomed to fail.

As part of forthcoming research from Brandon Hall Group on recruitment marketing principles, I thought it would be important to discuss some of the nuances of employer brand – and how solution providers are delivering tools to manage employer brand effectively.

Employer Brand: Reputation Versus Image

As defined in my Answerbook, “Employer brand is the reputation and image of an organization as it relates to its ability to consistently deliver a positive employee value proposition and attract, engage, and retain talented candidates and employees.” While most employers understand the image component – that is, the image presented in recruiting language – only the savviest know that reputation rules supreme in brand.

For the rest, their best efforts at creating an attractive value proposition fail to bring in top talent. While they may have a media-rich career page and enticing job descriptions, their brand doesn’t hold up to candidate scrutiny. Meanwhile, the best candidates are doing their homework when prospecting potential opportunities. And with the growing popularity of sites like Glassdoor – which feature reviews of employers and offer insights into both candidate experience and actual workplace environment – the importance of managing employer reputation is more critical than ever.

A Need for Education and Demand for Brand Management Tools

Peer reviews pose a relatively new business challenge for hiring organizations. While organizations with consumer-facing company brands dealt with brand alignment complications, relatively few talent acquisition leaders have experience in this type of marketing initiative. As such, many are ill-equipped to deal with the marketing issues that arise when candidates share negative opinions of employer brand in a public forum.

This is creating issues for a large number of employers – highlighting a serious need for education across the industry.  The good news is, it’s also driving demand for tools that hiring organizations can use to monitor and manage employer brand – and this is where I think we’ll see some real innovation in 2014.

In fact, one of the most compelling conversations I had at the HR Technology Conference and Expo in Las Vegas last month was with Glassdoor representatives about their employer brand offerings – specifically in reputation management. They are doing some very meaningful work with some very simple tools.

For example, employers can generate visual representations of both the positive and negative things people are saying about their brand using word clouds. By cross-comparing these pros and cons, talent acquisition leaders can better understand how their employer brand is perceived. From there, it’s up to them to take necessary action – whether it’s to reinforce strengths or address weaknesses.

It’s only the tip of the iceberg, but I think Glassdoor will be pleasantly surprised to see how well this type of functionality takes off. I’m curious to see what other solution providers start to play in this space – and how.

As talent acquisition continues to mature as a strategic business function, I expect the most effective hiring organizations will have the strongest grasp on marketing principles. Looking ahead, the knowledge gap in employer brand offers great opportunity for research firms like Brandon Hall Group to investigate key practices.

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