Talent unlimited

Do employers really care about employer branding?

If talent professionals are truly committed to employer branding, why do they spend so little money on it?

This year’s LinkedIn Global Recruiting Trends report is a few months old now, but it’s still a rich mine of talking points. Among the slew of stats are a few we keep coming back to with increasingly furrowed brows.

They’re to do with employer branding; more specifically the gap between talent leaders’ stated beliefs about employer branding and their financial commitment to it.

The first concerns the perceived value of employer branding (EB) in talent attraction:

This is supported by a ‘fantasy budget wishlist’ figure:

Then we get to the reality of the situation:

For us, the size of this gap is startling and puzzling in equal measure. How can there be so much strategic goodwill towards something so financially undervalued? Why isn’t more time and money allocated by hiring teams to putting the employer brand at the heart of their strategies?

Ultimately, do employers actually believe in their employer brand in the way they say they do?

Inevitably, the answers to these questions come with some caveats and considerations. Here are the main ones.

The shifting landscape of employer branding

The roots of the employer brand may lie in recruitment but it has grown branches into other areas of HR, plus marketing and corporate comms. Today, it is its very own fiefdom in many large organisations. EB has changed course and now drains from different fiscal pools. And while this doesn’t explain away the yawning chasm between perceived value and actual spending, it may account for some diminution of EB within recruiting budgets.

An HR hot potato

There is another consequence of EB’s shape-shifting intangibility. In effect, it’s hard to make a compelling and consistent business case for a strategic tool that somehow still seems to evade definition to the point where nobody in the organisation is entirely sure who’s responsible for it. Resources are tight as it is. Why would you allocate and fight for more budget now for something that may not be in your purview this time next year?

Resources on the rack

That brings us neatly onto another critical factor. The LinkedIn report confirmed what most recruiters already knew: resources are stretched. Hiring volumes are growing but hiring teams aren't. You have to do more with what you have to put bums on seats. And what you have are tried-and-trusted tactical tools: job boards, agencies, recruiting tech and, if you’re smart, employee referral.

An immeasurable device

When you’re under pressure to deliver results, it’s natural to fall back on what you know. Just as importantly, you need to be able to prove you’re delivering those results. And measurement is another area where employer branding has historically struggled to assert itself.

So where does all of this chin-stroking leave employer branding as a recruiting tool right now? Compromised, certainly. But are all of these circumstantial factors legitimate reasons for talent leaders’ lip-service-and-long-grass approach to their own employer brands?

‘Probably not,’ is the honest answer. EB experts such as Dr John Sullivan are exasperated by the myth that employer branding is beyond measurement, proposing a swath of metrics to gauge EB strength and impact, from productivity gains to quality of hire assessment. And if you can measure it, you can build a business case for it.

Similarly, many commentators think that the cost barrier is a red herring. Here’s recruitment strategist Mark Stephens:

“I find [it] very interesting that there is a perceived high/prohibitive cost to employer branding in relation to recruitment. After all, we are not talking about trying to establish a global corporate brand [...] Your company brand is quite simply what your current and past employees say about you. If you don’t know, then ask them.”

It’s a simplified view pointing to a simple truth. There are EB activities that recruiters can undertake without busting their budget, whether by themselves or in league with other employer branding stakeholders. The task of exploring and mapping out what defines and distinguishes you as an employer, then putting that at the heart of your talent acquisition… Isn’t that what every recruiter worth their salt should be doing anyway?

It’s ultimately a question of will. If talent leaders really want employer branding at the heart of their hiring strategies, they have to make the case from the ground up. If they want more budget to invest in EB, first they must give business leaders something to invest in.

The answer is there. But ironically the question remains the same: Do employers care enough about their employer brand?

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