How to Build an Employer Brand When Nobody Knows Who You Are

By on June 3, 2019

Building a brand is about putting a stake in the ground. You’re telling the world who you are, what you stand for and where you stand in your positioning. And the best part about brands is that they can be created whether your product(s) or service(s) have high awareness, or your company has little or very niche awareness. Today we’ll be talking about how to succeed when you fall in the latter of those two categories.

We recently heard a client give her take on how she can quickly identify strong employer brands. She looks at the Fortune Top Employers list and skims through the top 20 to see which companies are ranked highest despite having zero idea about who they are or what they do. Seems like a great place to start, right? Yep. But what if you want to create an employer brand that isn’t on the top employers list and that’s unknown, but still has a strong story to tell? The answer, in short, is: find and also understand your target audience. Sounds obvious, but I’m trying to emphasize the ‘find’ part of that statement. When you have low or niche awareness, your job is to start small (strategically) without attempting to boil the ocean.

We’ve all heard or seen employer brand campaigns that build their brand on being the ‘best-kept secret’ within their industry. And oftentimes, that can work great — but it’s not sustainable. Because once a brand is no longer a secret, you’ll need to overhaul your EVP.

So, back to being strategic. Think of a brand (it could be your own) that has low awareness. You may have heard of them, but they aren’t a part of the world’s everyday lexicon. Now, if you were standing on the top of a hill with a very loud megaphone and speaking directly to your target audience, what is the single thing you’d want to tell them about this brand? This is one of the key questions we typically start with in our research. It’s all about understanding how internal stakeholders and current employees feel about this company/brand. Why did they join, and more importantly, how did they find out about this company? This helps us significantly. That way, we can be sure to have strong proof points to support why a company is more than just an ‘industry best-kept secret.’

More often than not, we have prospects that come to us from unknown companies. This could be because it’s a start-up, a large holding company (with well-known brands within their organization) or even a tech company that invisibly influences our everyday lives. This can also mean we get clients who have a strong well-known employer brand, but they need to hire a certain target group who is completely unaware whether this company hires their job role. Think of Target or Walmart needing to hire Data Scientists, for example. When we do get high-awareness prospects, they typically want to refine their existing positioning or create an employer brand that needs to speak in a completely different tone than their consumer brand. But, as I said, most of the time it’s companies who have significantly low marketplace awareness.

Okay, now back to the approach: starting with our target audience. This means we need to use your current employees as the key to unlock any chance of us telling a strong and compelling story. They are the key! They found out about their employer somehow, and they stay at their employer for a specific reason. Our job is to find out why they stay, but also hear/understand their own hypotheses on external candidate perceptions. Our creative brief is structured to be solely focused on the target audience. We strive to succinctly articulate what the target audience currently thinks about your company, but then also what do we want them to be thinking about your organization? If we can’t do external research among qualified candidates who have heard of your company (highly expensive and nearly impossible), then talking to current employees is our next best option. It’s likely those employees have communicated with external candidates, in the hiring process, but they were also an external candidate at some point (unless they founded the company!).

And, I hate to say it (because it’s something that comes after the brand has been created) but the best way to build employer brand awareness is through strong and strategic activations after the brand has been created. But this blog is about creating and building brands for low awareness clients, so let’s get back to that.

In short, here are the steps we can take with you, to start this initiative. Please note, these steps may look very similar to the steps for creating any employer brand, but there are nuances in who and how we leverage our audiences in certain steps.

  1. Come up with your own hypotheses about what makes your organization unique, special, and compelling to a candidate. And try to poke holes in your answer (i.e., don’t stop at “it’s our people!” or “it’s our technology!” or “it’s our culture!” or “It’s our start-up feel with the resources of a large company!”). Keep asking yourself ‘why does that matter?’ and then again, ‘why does that matter’ and then yet again, ‘why does that matter?’ until you ladder up to something single-minded and unique to your company.
  2. Employee Research. Ask this same question from above, among many other questions, of your cheerleader employees within your organization. Do this also among employees who aren’t as ‘passionate’ about the organization and ensure you understand their flight-risk and the skeletons in your company’s closet. Any employer brand needs to be rooted in positivity, but can’t be built by turning a blind eye to the negative parts of the employment experience.
  3. Collect those findings and do the same laddering exercise that you did originally. Begin to compare your hypotheses and the research findings. What stood out as the same between #1 and #2? What didn’t come up in #1 that came out loud and clear in #2?
  4. Write your EVP and single-minded creative strategy. Ensure this is compelling to your target audience. Although, we know it will be because we will have asked the right questions in step #2.
  5. Write and create outward-facing ideas that hook your audiences. Re-read this. Your audiences, not all audiences (i.e., the low-hanging fruit, (apologies for the buzzword)). This means we need to understand the key unifiers about this audience: Why are they in this field of work? How do others describe their personality? What about their personality needs to jive well with their next employer? When we uncover all of these insights, you will be primed to succeed as a low-awareness brand, all while building your awareness — so you don’t stay in the same position forever.

CKR Interactive has the ability and experience to specialize in helping low-awareness brands articulate their employment story. Reach out so we can celebrate and uncover what’s so special about your company, too!

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