The No. 1 Thing Employers Miss When They Build A Brand, According to a Branding Expert

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Crystal Miller Lay

Adobe Stock

May 25, 2024 at 8:46AM UTC
While fax machines and voicemail are becoming obsolete in the workplace, employer branding is moving in the opposite direction. Now, more than ever, employer branding is a crucial part of companies’ growth and survival. Not only does it play a key role in how consumers view companies, but it also largely dictates how companies will fare in the recruiting process.  
While most employers are well-aware of the importance of employer branding (...and if they’re not, they may be in for a rude awakening), many can’t quite figure out what their strategy — if they even have on at all — should be. 
That’s why we’ve checked in with Crystal Miller Lay, whose job it is to help employers develop a brand that resonates. As an employer branding strategist, she knows what’s up — and she’s been kind enough to share her insight on what companies need to focus on most when building a brand, what employer branding might look like in 5 years, and the #1 thing employers miss when they build a brand. 
Fairygodboss: Why is employer branding more important now than ever?
Crystal Miller Lay: Branding is psychology. It's science and art woven together to embody reputation and promise. Frequently we read articles that position branding being more important now than times past, be it consumer or employer branding. I'm not sure I fully agree with that. 
I think what's really happening is the marketing of brands, both employer and consumer, are becoming more sophisticated and prevalent. As it does, people become more aware of brand identity and the reputations tied to them. It certainly reduces the 'grace' and margin for error those managing brand have, but I'm not really sure it makes it any more important to ensure your brand is meticulously maintained, relatable and accurately represented.  
We buy brands. Rarely do you hear people say they're buying bandages, they buy band-aids. Same with tissues; we more often hear Kleenex. Those are brands.  But it's not the name people care about, it's the promise that's been created behind them and instilled into the public. We don't care about what things and companies are called, per-say; we care about what they're supposed to do for us — the impact they're able to have in our lives and the extent to which we believe in a brand's promise to fulfill our needs, to make the desired impact, dictates their reputation and subsequent brand strength. 
Which leads into the #1 thing employers miss when they build an employer brand: building a strong, reputable brand depends on sound employee/candidate psychology. Employer Branding is psychology... focused on those that currently work for an employer, and those that want to (candidates).  Yet employers most often focus on themselves, what the employer wants, what the employer needs when they need to be focused on how they can improve the lives and address the needs of their employees. 
FGB: What forms of communication do you think are most important for employer brands? 
CML: When it comes to forms of communication by employer brands, your audience should be your guide.  How do they like to communicate? Where do they spend time? EB managers and teams should be putting together a strong mix of messages in the mediums embraced by their audiences, on the channels they frequent (i.e. social media, publications, email, etc).  In terms of rich media, a well designed video can be incredibly impactful and a nice augment to written copy.
For companies that have limited resources, what is the first / most important thing to think about?
CML: The most important thing to think about is actually something that can be done regardless of the size of your budget: what IS your brand identity? What can you actually promise candidates and deliver on once they're employees?  How will working for you impact their lives, their career development, relationships and sense of social responsibility?  
Do not answer these questions aspirationally. What are the answers based on who you are now — today.  If they're not where they need to be, you can acknowledge that and let the world know your plan to improve it — but you have to act on whatever you share or your reputation in the market will suffer.   
Employer brand communication should be reflective of your overarching organization - the promises you make as an employer on this level should be generally applicable across the organization. Tweaks and adjustments to EB messages should be made to address cultural differences across regions.  Some organizations do segment by age group and/or gender, to address differences in each of these groups in conversational tone and style.  
Otherwise, the majority of segmentation is done at the recruitment marketing level, where separation can and should be done by job family, locations and level.  Be careful of creating a special segments for diversity groups - too often it's only one segment that's created, lumping "diversity initiatives" into one communication group, creating further division rather than the inclusion that should be the goal. 
FGB: How — at all — do you think employer brand communication needs to be segmented? Is there a different way to communicate with women than with men?
CML: When it comes to communicating with women, it's not just what is said, but what is seen.  Too often, EB teams put a slew of women on their career sites, in stock photography or in group employee photos - but when you look at the bios shared... it's quite often about men. Men in leadership ranks shared on the "about us" or "meet our team" pages, men in press releases about promotions, men in impactful employee highlights.  
Mix it up.  Share photos and stories of people at various ranks.  Make equal representation a goal, if not a commitment... so women have an equal opportunity to see themselves reflected in the images and stories about employees in your company.   
FGB: Which companies do EB really well? 
CML: I might be a touch biased having worked with them, but I love AT&T's employer branding.  It's reflective of who they are as an organization, has a fantastic dedication to inclusion, they communicate to candidates using their own technologies (you can search for jobs right from your TV as a U-Verse customer!), share stories across rank and job families and #LifeatATT was, and still is, one of the pioneers in the social space. It's fully adopted and embraced by employees because they tell stories of who they are not who they want people to believe they could be.  
GE is another great example of amazing employer brand storytelling and for an example of what can be done on a very modest EB budget, look at American Heart Association.  Their employees have fully embraced their messages, are huge advocates of the brand and they have built a very effective grassroots program. 
FGB: What will EB look like in 5 years? 
CML: I really enjoy the "see the future" questions... mostly because we're so often wrong!  I jest, but in all seriousness, five years from now I expect to see more sophistication in employer branding: a better grasp on the metrics needed to measure EB efficacy and impact, richer storytelling and some headway into predictive analytics in employer branding.  
And that's just for starters. We are still decades (plural) behind our consumer brand counterparts; there's a lot of ground to cover and explore.  That's exciting for people like me who have focused their career in this fascinating intersection of HR/TA and marketing... and it's a fantastic opportunity for all companies committed to building their employer brands.

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