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The Soft Underbelly of Employer Branding

By Peter Weddle, CEO TAtech

Later this year, TAtech will hold a Leadership Summit on Recruitment Marketing, and of course, one of the key topics we will explore is employer branding. The primary goal of recruitment marketing is the establishment of a vibrant pool of diverse talent, and it’s long been recognized that a company’s ability to do so is dependent on its development of a strong employer brand. That’s especially true in today’s tight labor market. But what exactly makes a brand strong and no less important, how is the strength of such a brand maintained?

Now, to begin at the beginning, Wikipedia defines an employer brand as “an employer's reputation as a place to work, and their employee value proposition, as opposed to the more general corporate brand reputation and value proposition to customers.” Yes, I know that’s common knowledge – anyone who’s been in HR or recruiting for more than 15 minutes understands what an employer brand is – but it’s important to acknowledge it upfront because it includes a very important and often unappreciated word. Reputation. Or more precisely, “reputation as a place to work.”

Using that phrase to explain an employer brand makes it clear that there’s a soft underbelly to the essence of a brand, one that must be as well protected as … well as one’s midsection in a boxing match. I learned that lesson during my Plebe year at West Point, where every cadet takes a course in boxing. Leave your stomach open to a battering, and you’re likely to find yourself too weary and worn out to finish the match.

How does that lesson apply to talent acquisition?

While it may not be obvious in the way we think about employer branding, we all understand that reputations are established bi-directionally. Our personal reputation is the sum of both our own words and deeds as we interact with our contacts and how others interpret those words and deeds and depict them to their contacts. Similarly, there’s what an employer says its brand is and the way it implements its employee value proposition day-to-day, and then there’s what others say about it as a place to work. And, there’s the rub. An employer can control how it articulates its brand, but not how current and former employees depict it on review sites and social media.

The facts! In a talent market that is more competitive and less understood than at any other time in history, it’s the facts that matter most. And TAtech’s biweekly podcast Start Smart focuses on the facts. Join me and my cohost, Shelia Gray, VP of Global Talent Acquisition at Quadient, as we examine the findings from the latest talent acquisition research and explore their implications for recruiters and job seekers. This week’s show looks at a Microsoft report entitled “Work Trend Index 2022.”

Do a browser search on the term “employer branding” and many if not most of the identified documents say it’s done in a multi-step process. Indeed, for example, describes it as a 10-step exercise:
• Understand your organization
• Conduct an internal employer brand audit
• Operate an external brand audit
• Define an employee value proposition
• Leverage your employees
• Provide learning opportunities
• Promote diversity and inclusion
• Monitor the employer brand
• Use rich media
• Write engaging job descriptions

As complete as that list is, there’s something missing. According to a Randstadt survey, a whopping 95 percent of workers say that gaining insight into a company’s reputation as an employer would either be extremely important (62 percent) or somewhat important (33 percent) when considering a new job. For an employer, that means it’s not enough to simply monitor the external status of its reputation, it must proactively respond to what’s being said.

In effect, developing and executing an effective external brand management strategy is now an integral part of recruitment marketing. That strategy should have both an offensive and defensive component. Offensively, a company’s goal is to acknowledge and, wherever possible and appropriate, promote positive comments as part of its brand articulation effort. Defensively, the goal is not to get into a “they said-we say” debate, but rather to learn from and, where possible and appropriate, address legitimate criticisms through reforms that are then promoted in job ads, on the company’s career page and on social media.

In addition, as Public Insight points out in its white paper, “Winning the War for Talent with Employer Branding,” it’s also important to monitor what it calls “context.” In other words, how does an employer’s brand as defined by external reviews measure up to the brands/reviews of its competitors in its industry and key talent markets? And, how is it trending over time?

More so now than ever, an employer brand is a living picture of a company that is continuously reshaped, at least in part, by its external reputation as expressed by outside reviewers. A robust recruitment marketing strategy, therefore, must now include the proactive management of that shifting shape so that, as much as possible, its external reputation is aligned with the employee value proposition it has developed internally.

Food for Thought,

Peter Weddle is the author or editor of over two dozen books and a former columnist for The Wall Street Journal. He is also the founder and CEO of TAtech: The Association for Talent Acquisition Solutions. You can download his latest book – The Neonaissance – FOR FREE at And, if you don't have time to read the entire book, just download a short excerpt of his inspirational message.