The ROI of Employer Branding and Why It Matters More than Ever

September 21, 2016

“Your employer brand is what people say about you as an employer when you’re not in the room,” says Dustin Clinard, Managing Director of the Americas for Universum, a global leader in employer branding data and strategy. But, don’t be fooled by that simple definition. Your employer brand – and how you choose to manage it – can have a big, bottom-line impact on your business’ success and profitability. After all, companies are made of people, so what people say about your company matters.

A strong employer brand can also give your company an edge in competitive employment markets and play an important role in retention. “If you have the right employer value proposition, then when push comes to shove your employees will work harder to get the job done and ride out the rough times because they value their position at the firm,” says Clinard.

Clearly, a strong employer brand is a huge asset to any company. But what exactly does it take to build a brand that attracts and retains top talent? Based on his experience working with companies around the globe, Clinard has some specific tips and tactics that will help any company get started on the right foot.

Getting Started with Employer Branding – When and How

When it comes to employer branding, size doesn’t really matter. Clinard notes that even if you’re a startup with only five people, you still technically have an employer brand. It may not be widely known, but it exists. But, just because it exists doesn’t mean it’s the right time to spend a lot of money on it. “The scope is probably limited,” Clinard explains. “At that stage, the cost of managing your employer brand — if you’re going to invest in social media and branding campaigns, etc. — Probably exceeds the value of a hire or two.”

That said, research shows that there’s a lot of value in finding the right employee/employer fit. “The right person can be 25%, 50%, or even 200% more productive, so that has to be part of the decision of whether it’s worth it to invest in employer branding,” Clinard says. “This usually applies when you need a highly skilled person to fill a role where productivity really matters to your business.”

If you decide that it’s time to move ahead with an employer branding initiative, Clinard has these tips to offer:

Don’t assume you have to spend a lot of money.

“Managing your employer brand doesn’t have to be expensive,” Clinard says. “You don’t have to do media campaigns like the TV ad series that GE ran to appeal to computer science graduates. That’s a pretty expensive way to go, but for GE it was worth the expense since computer science grads are a critical link for them in the future.”

Do pay attention to the career component of your website.

“For smaller companies — like a startup looking to hire twenty people — you can do a lot through your web presence,” Clinard says. “The career page is arguably one of the biggest lost employer branding opportunities. Many career pages are just a listing of job openings, when they should be a place for companies to talk about the components of their employer value proposition and how they want people to remember them.” Increasingly, people and culture are critical differentiators in the employment markets, so make sure that you’re highlighting those elements appropriately.

Do consider paid social media.

While Clinard acknowledges that you can, for instance, start a Facebook Careers page for your company for free, he doesn’t think that’s always the right way to go. “The most effective social media efforts we see do include a sponsored component that is paid,” he says. “That’s really the best way to cut through the clutter.” Cutting through the clutter is key if you want to reach your target audience and be able to test social content based on your research.

Do focus on delivering a consistent message.

“One of the key things that we see come up, especially for candidates who are interested in smaller companies, is that these people really care about consistency,” says Clinard. Similar to consistency in brand messaging, it’s important for your company’s credibility to have a consistent employer brand message across all your media and channels: the career section on your website, your Facebook page, your LinkedIn page, Twitter, Snapchat…wherever you are talking to your audience. “Imagine you’re a candidate and you have a brief conversation with a recruiter about a job. Later, when you look at the Glassdoor page and the career site, and then you have an interview with the founder about the employer proposition — are there four or five consistent themes coming through?”

“What we find is that it doesn’t matter who you talk to, people just want to have honest conversations,” Clinard says. “Aligning your content and entire team around a consistent message about why your company is a great place to work represents a big opportunity and something you need to get right. You need to know what you’re going to focus on and talk about. You need to know your priorities, or you’ll end up talking about everything. Stick to the smaller subset of things that are true to your core and intensely differentiating.”

Getting Your Employees Involved

Employer branding is, by its nature, a collaborative activity — whether you want it to be, or not. Many companies take advantage of this aspect of the process by intentionally engaging their employees in their employer brand efforts. “The first thing to remember when engaging employees is that employer branding is not a sleight of hand trick or marketing concept,” says Clinard. “It’s not a project, something you do once and see what happens. It is designed to be a reflection of who you are as an employer and requires a long-term commitment.”

With that context in mind, Clinard does recommend encouraging employees to talk about what it’s like to work at your company, whether through Glassdoor or some other channel. Just know that you’re not always going to hear what you expected or what you hoped for. “Sometimes, you’ll see things you don’t want to see,” Clinard says. “You’ll see that people don’t like certain things or value different things than we, as leaders, think they should value.” Clinard recommends that companies allow their employees to comment and encourage honest input that they can then use to prioritize their employer brand efforts. “We find that the companies that are looking to create happy employees are the ones where the employees feel like their voices are being heard,” Clinard says. “It’s not about leadership creating a message and then demanding that everyone fall in line. It’s about encouraging employee participation, but not forcing it.”

At the end of the day, the potential benefit of direct employee participation far outweighs the risk. “Sometimes we have to reframe a conversation, but sometimes we have an employee jump in when a prospective candidate asks a question. For instance, someone might ask about whether the company’s system is really cutting edge, and an employee might respond by sharing their experience working at other firms and why this system really is cutting edge. That kind of response is more powerful than any kind of paid media you could buy because it’s authentic.”

Measuring the ROI of Your Employer Brand

There’s no getting around the fact that measuring the ROI of your employer brand is hard. Instead, Clinard recommends focusing on a recruitment-focused, cost-per-hire type of metric and looking at the satisfaction of the person doing the hiring.

“One piece to look at is whether it was cheaper, faster, and/or easier to recruit someone,” Clinard says. “So, for example, if my typical recruiting cycle is 45 days, but a tweak I made to make my employer brand more internally and externally relevant reduced the cycle to 35 days, that means we had to spend less time convincing someone to come on board.” And, because recruiting exercises have very real time and money resources behind them, this is one way to measure ROI.

Measuring the satisfaction of the manager who made the hire is another way to track long-term ROI. “You can survey your managers three, six, or nine months after someone has joined the firm and ask if they would hire that person again if they had the choice,” Clinard says. “This simple exercise can help you establish a benchmark quickly and easily, and then you could do some calculations to try and further define the ROI.” Usually, however, Clinard points out that because most of the employer branding work doesn’t cost much, the ROI will be there.

Employer Branding In the Future – Trends to Watch

“Employer branding is becoming more important,” Clinard says without hesitation. “It’s increasingly difficult to see what a company is really like on the inside, and given the increased number of startups and interest in entrepreneurial careers, it’s even more important that people are able to understand a company’s culture. The talent market used to be thrilled just to be working for a startup, but now they want to make sure they’re working for the right one.”

Driven by the talent market’s interest in startups, there’s a trend of large companies trying to replicate the startup experience. “In general, the world is becoming more entrepreneurial,” Clinard says. “And big companies are fighting back by offering entrepreneurial environments within the protection of a larger firm. Our data shows that stability is actually a fairly valued driver for someone who’s graduating from college with a whole lot of debt. For these people, the combination of entrepreneurial environment and corporate stability can feel like a safer place to start.”

Another trend Clinard sees is an increased level of authenticity in employer branding. “Employer branding is becoming more real and is more about the people,” he says. “This is important to remember with both messaging and imagery. If you’re using pictures on a website or social channel, for instance, try to make the imagery reflective of the actual people. And don’t be afraid of an employee posting an iPhone selfie of the team doing something like random balloons on a Friday. That kind of thing might not help people understand a great deal about your employer brand, but it’s human. It’s about people.”

Ultimately, Clinard urges companies to be purposeful about their employer branding. “Employment choices are largely about people, about asking whether these are the people you want to slug through the mud with every day, the people you want to celebrate with,” he says. “The companies with the strongest employer brands combine data with human authenticity to purposefully drive their employer brand. They make sure every word, every piece of content has a specific purpose, whether that purpose is to reinforce, test, or change an idea. Nothing about the process is random.”

Sarah Duffy

Director of Talent

Sarah partners with OpenView’s portfolio companies to consult on recruitment strategy and to source and hire the top talent they need to scale their teams. Before joining OpenView, Sarah was Director of Recruiting at Betts Recruiting – a talent agency that specializes in pairing sales and marketing talent with software startups.