November 10, 2021

Is Employer Branding Just A Bunch Of BS?

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Episode Highlights

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What if best practices are anything but? They’re not only overrated, but counterproductive?

We won’t mince words. We’re talking about mainstream Employer Branding. 

Employee Value Propositions, employee profiles, “culture” posts…there’s a long list of traditional EB content that takes time away from stuff that actually drives interest from job seekers.

So out with the old and in with the new. Nate Guggia and James Hornick covered exactly what you should stop worrying about in the latest episode of The Employer Content Show,  Episode 25 “Is Employer Branding Just A Bunch Of BS?” 

Episode Transcript

All right everybody, welcome to the Employer Content show, part of the Talent Insights series brought to you by Hirewell and Before You Apply. I’m your host James Hornick, joining me is my co-host from Before You Apply Nate, the employer brand bridge burner, Guggia. Hey. I feel like it’s been a while. I know. So before we start, check out all of our episodes on Hirewell Talent Insights: talentinsights.hirewell.com.

So I guess I used to always announce what we’re talking about today because I had like a title already kind of created, but we’re kind of doing these starting with our last show, we’re doing this a little different. Make it a little more freeform. So we know what we’re going to talk about, but we’re not exactly sure where we’re going to land.

I don’t know if I want to title it, but this is the episode where- why don’t I just kick off with why I wanted you to talk today. Maybe that’s a good way to starting it. I’ve noticed you’ve been thrown a little shade at the employer brand industry. A little bit. Maybe for the past year or two years, but it seems like it’s intensified a bit and it kinda got me thinking because you know that I agree there’s- again, there’s a reason why we call this the employer content show and not the employer brand show because I think well created content for any reason whether it’s hiring or anything else, has tremendous value versus- Everything I’ve always seen out of the employer brand industry just seems like a bunch of nonsense. But more specifically, I’ve never worked in it myself though. I see people throwing out like employer value propositions and all kinds of just mumbo jumbo

that to me seems like nonsense. Yeah. I wanted you to break down for our audience, what are the key four or five things that the traditionalist and employer brand push that are mostly bullshit? Okay. Yeah. I think in a recent post, I referred to the employer branding industry as smoke and mirrors. It can feel that way,

I think especially to people who aren’t in the industry. It does. It kind of feels like, what is this? Like what are we talking about here? There’s a lot of words that sound really good and things that people can applaud and get behind. But when you look at like, what does that translate into, especially to an external audience, it’s always kind of like, what is this stuff?

A lot of talking over people’s heads and using more words than you need to. Yeah, right to just explain a simple concept. I guess for the record, I said this to my company long time ago. And I said, employer branding, because we didn’t really like the term either.

And I said, I use it because it’s relatable. It has some like built-in marketing, like credit recognition. And so I use it because if I use the terminology employer branding, whoever the audience is, goes like, okay, it registers. I know what he’s going to be talking about. And then it kind of like opens up a conversation to look at all this stuff differently.

All right, so let’s start. I guess the biggest place to start is like with employer value propositions, EVPs. They are the one thing that employer branding traditionalists, as I like to call them, preach. Before you do anything at all company, you need to invest the time into discovering or uncovering or servicing your employer value proposition,

right? It’s like, who are you? What value are you bringing to your internal, your employees and your external audience, which is your candidates. You have to do that before you can do anything at all. And as you and I have both talked about pretty extensively, it’s just like, why? I don’t understand why. That’s the thing.

And there isn’t really this explanation as to why. It’s more like, that’s what you do and then everybody has tended to just agree with it but- go ahead. I was going to say, I, strangely enough got an email today as- if you remember that meme that came out a couple of months back, it was like, you can spend one second deleting spam or two seconds unsubscribing it and not getting it forever, but everyone keeps it.

I started unsubscribing for everything and it was like fine. Then all of a sudden last week I was getting inundated with like employer brand or other things like that. So I must’ve made somebody list, but I got one today that was talking to me, talking to me of all people about like what I should know about employer value propositions and why you can’t have a proper brand without one and you’ll come across as very ordinary and just like everyone else.

I’m just like, I couldn’t tell if this was someone fucking with me because they knew my feelings on it or if it’s just some spammers list for his blog. Yeah. I think you just got on the list, man. But okay. So here’s the thing. I had a conversation yesterday that gave me some hope because startups, scrappy companies tend to understand what I’m talking about. But I was actually talking to somebody who leads global TA at a over 10,000 person company.

Definitely like a more traditional company, like not a tech company, whatever. And we were just talking shop and we talked about EVPs and she is on board with what we’re talking about here. She’s like, “I don’t understand. Like, I don’t understand why we’d have to do any of that kind of stuff.”

And she actually came on board there. They basically handed her a flash drive and said, “Here. We did an EVP a couple of years ago, they hired an agency. It costs $200,000 to do. And like nobody’s ever done anything with it.” So we started talking about what’s an alternative approach. And so I go, well

imagine this, imagine you just started doing like different kinds of content. So we started talking about that and I go, that content is created now with them. They have like many departments and things like that. So imagine you have department level content being created in all forms. After you have some time and things are being produced and there’s feedback from the outside world, you are going to surface what matters at your company. It’s just going to naturally come as a result of you doing things and executing and putting things out there. And she’s like, you’re right. I go, that’s the process is you just reverse it. Instead of like going in and saying, we need to do like all this discovery and invest all this time and money and focus groups and things like that

just to get to like the core value that we bring as a company, just start asking the right questions of producing the right things. And those things will just naturally surface and all along the way you’ve been producing at a scale that nobody else does. Or another simple way of saying this, all these questions you would have in your EVP process, just ask your employees those things, but record it, and actually put it out there

and forget the rest of it. Yeah. I mean, yeah. You just like summed it up in like five words. But I mean that’s really it. Yeah. Okay. Yeah. I’m on board. I think this is the one that I’m most lockstep with because this idea that- and anytime I would see someone try to defend why an EVP is a necessary thing,

it’s always some like, “Well if you don’t show how unified your organization with in a concise manner, then candidates are going to sniff.” I’m like what the fuck are you talking about? No candidate cares about any of this shit. They want to know how much you’re going to get paid and who they’re working with

and what you guys are doing. That’s- anyways continue. But the thing with the EVPs is usually the next deliverable after this EVP project is completed, is a career site. So it’s like, okay in order to inform the career site, we needed to do all of this laborious drawn out strategy work to put words on a page.

That’s what it comes down to because for some reason there’s this perception that when a candidate takes this like journey that they take, which is all over the place and then they land on your careersite, they’re going to see these value props or they call them like pillars and they’re going to go like, “Holy shit, I want to work at this company because of that.”

It’s just odd. It’s everything I’ve always wanted in a company, it’s right there on a webpage. Yeah. And so while we’re on career sites, I mean, that’s one of the other things too is there’s this like, do I think a career site is important? I do, because it gives the optics that you have your shit together.

It’s like you got a nice looking career site. It’s the same as having a nice looking website. It’s the storefront of your talent acquisition function. Like it’s fair, you know? And it should be functional and it’s a great- it should be a content hub. I mean kind of like what you guys are doing, with your content hub. It’s a great place to have the information but it’s not the Mecca of talent acquisition that people make it out to be. And people invest tens of thousands of dollars to making the sexiest career site because they think it’s what converts candidates and it doesn’t. They land there and they might apply there, but that’s not what converted them. You want to know what people do when they go to a careersite?

They look for the thing you can click on that says, “Show me the jobs, review the openings.” That’s all they care- they skip past all the stuff you’ve written about your company. Just disregard that. What are the actual jobs? Guaranteed. So career sites are like one of the other myths.

I talked to talent leaders who come in and they’ll work at like a high growth startup and they’re just they’re inheriting the function. And they’re like, “Oh, we don’t even have a career site and we’re not doing all this stuff.”

And they get like very overwhelmed and nervous about this. And I like put them at ease and I’m like, you don’t need to worry about it as much as you do. There’s other things that are really important that are much lower lifts than you trying to find the perfect agency to invest like 20 or 30 or $50,000 into developing your career site before you can do anything.

What I was going to say is that whatever brought like- the thing is getting people to your careers page, right? That’s the thing, not actually what’s on the careers page. Meaning that if the success is that if for whatever reason someone decided to check you out and go to your careers page, whatever got them there is the thing that matters.

Right. Right? Not the fact that, okay, now that they’re here, we need to really like- of course yeah you need to say the right things and whatnot but I think this idea that you need to- it’s branding and marketing is more about awareness. If you’re just some random small company that no one’s ever heard of before, no one’s coming to your damn career site, period.

That’s the problem. Yeah and I don’t even think there’s much of the conversation of like- okay so you and I are both sales people too. Yeah. Well, you’re a recruiter, I’m just a salesperson. But whenever I’m talking to somebody for the first time, one of the things I always ask them is how did you find out about us?

Because I want to know but I don’t think that conversation is happening enough. Instead there’s like, “Oh, we had this many people apply through our career site. It must be working. Yeah. As opposed to talking to the candidates who applied your career site, “How did you find our career site? What did you learn about us?

I think we’re saying the same thing here but the idea that for some reason your career site, if it’s well written is going to attract candidates- like no it’s not. This is what happens in the employer branding space, you have employer brand people applauding other employer brand people for the work that they’ve done.

Yeah. So in the employer brand industry, there are some career sites that are iconic in their own way, right? I remember when Stripe introduced their new careersite. They did that design. It was just like holy shit, Stripes’ careersite is incredible. That’s industry people applauding other industry people.

Has nothing to do with the actual market that it’s trying to impact. So it’s like the Oscars. It is, no, it is. It’s that kind of a thing, man. It’s just, I don’t know. It’s funny, but okay. So moving on, sorry. Career sites, employee profile stories, employee spotlights, they’re referred to as those things. I’ve had issue with these for a long time.

I’m now just starting to really speak out about them. I think that they are, as far as the piece of content goes, they’ve been like this gold standard of content. So gold standard of strategy is the EVP, content, employee profiles. If you can produce employee profiles, even at a small scale, you are in the top few percent of companies, as far as like employer branding goes.

The problem is, is that they’re just boring or uninteresting. They’re just like run of the mill, showcasing an employee, asking them a short list of like surface level questions that don’t uncover any information that really anybody cares about. And if the argument that somebody wants to give me is “Well, they’re an internal culture building tool.”

My answer to them is, well your employees don’t care about this shit either because-

Nia clip that. No, no, but there’s a lot to be said about doing things that remind employees or get employees talking about why they’re at your company. But asking them a short series of surface level questions so you can get a piece of content to put on your career site to make you feel good is not accomplishing that.

Get them talking about the cool things they’re doing, they’re building, growth opportunities, why they joined your company, why they’re still at your company. Get to the heart of it. I would agree with, I agree with all that. And the extra step is either getting them to talk in their own voice or getting them to talk about things that are, like you said, relevant to their function.

One or the other. So talk in their own voice, actually like a video like we’re doing here or get them to write a blog, or if you’re going to do interviews, get some really granular- like if you’re talking to a developer, really get in the weeds on some developer stuff, right. That extra step is what makes it the difference between valuable and garbage.

Yeah. Yes. If you can’t take that extra step, you’re completely wasting your time. You are. This is where I don’t, I don’t know man. I need to remind myself that I’ve just been doing this stuff for a long time like this. So maybe it just seems obvious to me? But I scratch my head and go, why are companies taking the laziest possible approach to creating this stuff?

Why are they seeing it this way? Because they got, I mean, we were kind of answering the questions cause all the people who are supposedly the experts in this field that are running the talent brand conference, whatever the fuck it’s called- they talk about the wrong things, but continue. What’s next

after that? I gotta go to an example real quick. I recently saw a post from somebody who I know she’s the head of people and I loved what she’s doing. She’s starting to do these, I forget if it’s weekly, monthly, it’s probably not weekly, but anyway. Some regular cadence, these like internal AMAs. Ask me anything about what we’re doing in my department, whatever. I thought it was awesome.

Great. We’re all like disconnected. We all work in our little silos. That’s a great idea-

but not capturing it. And I’m just like, this could be genius content. It’s an AMA with your entire company where you were talking about your department. Yes. Why are you not recording that and clipping it and just sharing it? Why is that not on your careers page? You know what I mean? So there’s this- people are not thinking in terms of content,

which I guess like you and I, probably our brains work like 75% of the time in terms of content. But anyway. These conversations, the valuable conversations like the AMA you talked about, or the dev talking more granularly about development or these conversations literally happen every single day at these companies.

All they have to do is hit the record button and you have everything you need. You just say someone to edit it and put it out there. Okay. And all the tools are either like free or so cheap. Anyway, okay. So we covered employee profiles. I’m going to go general here, I’m going to say all culture posts. And what I mean by that- what I mean by that are, if anybody just wants to see this, just scroll your feed for not even a minute and you’ll find one. It is these pictures of teams or people doing wacky stuff or they’re like desks with their schwag or like any of that kind of stuff is like fucking nonsense.

It’s seriously is doing nothing but like applauding yourself. Yeah. I’m sorry. It’s just like, I don’t understand. I don’t see any value at all into anybody who is thinking about working at this company. People like pictures Nate. That’s it. That’s literally it. Is that it? People like pictures.

Okay. That’s it. Okay. That’s all I got for that one. All right. And the last one, I’m just going to go with it, new hire posts. I understand why somebody would do it. It doesn’t align with the things that like we’re talking about here, which is like recruiting outcomes. But I get it though from like a company standpoint where you want to celebrate that you’ve made a new hire.

So maybe there’s some credit there. I’m not going to go as hard on new hire posts, but whenever I see them, I’m just like, oh geez, can we move on to something a little bit more creative here? So anyway, that’s my list. Okay. Oh no, actually shit, one more. One more, one more, employee generated content in the employer branding sense.

It is up there. Seriously. I think it’s next actually behind an EVP as the most ridiculous idea in employer branding. This idea that you are seriously going to buy a piece of technology and that you’re going to get employees to record themselves talking about how great it is to be at your company

and you’re going to share that on social and that it’s going to have an impact- one, for that entire process to happen is so unlikely that you’re just spending money on software that you’ll never use. And two, if it does the outcome of that content is going to be just like so lame that it’s not, it’s just a complete waste of time.

And I think it just needs to be like, I think that entire part of the industry should would go away. But that is not the same as what we talk about, which is employees being like subject matter experts and sharing their insights and industry opinions and putting themselves out there. That is completely different.

And that type of employee generated content is extremely valuable. But I’m talking about the traditional kind. Got it. Perfect. This is excellent illustration. Was that six things? All right. Yeah I think six. All right. So thank you for that. Now I’m more locked in when I see it. I’ll have more things to troll whenever I’m on LinkedIn or anywhere else.

Yeah. I had some thoughts along this, and this was just kind of my take. It’s classic consulting nonsense. I think that all of these things are things that skew towards large organizations. Yeah. And it’s only because those are the companies that have money to spend on this stuff, you know?

So if you’re an EB consultancy, you going to want to sell something to a large company because they have money and to sell them anything, you have to create something that’s going to expensive that justifies the spend, that’s it. Or similarly, places that can actually afford to build out like a fully fledged employee brand apartment. The people who are working at these organizations have to justify their job and what they do and why it’s big and important and complex, and you need them for it.

And that’s why these things get so big and bloated, to justify their own existence. But at no point is anyone questioning like is any of this necessary or does any of it work? And that’s not to say that there isn’t value in doing things in a good way, that I’m not saying anybody who works as a dedicated practitioner at these organizations that they don’t have a real job. But I am saying that it’s not as complicated as some of these places with bloated budgets will make you to believe. And I think that instead of model where you’re just more closely integrating it with the actual recruiting teams/ the marketing departments, because those are really the things that, if you have a good marketing department you already have 90% of this. You just need to talk about something different.

I mean, I have a story about that so I’ll drop this one on her- hope she doesn’t get mad. So one of my top three favorite companies and our number one favorite content creator, Chris Walker, Refined Labs. I was talking with Megan Bowen over there and she was, I think actually sent her your way after this conversation. But they’d been pretty aggressively scaling up their team and the conversation I was

having with her was just, she’s asking me about like employer brand. Like do you guys provide anything with that or whatever. I was taken back because everything that you and I do literally copied off Chris Walker and Refined Labs, what to do from a product standpoint.

Yes, I have a lot I can tell you about it. In fact, you’re the ones who taught me everything we need to be doing. But it was kind of funny because I think companies are so much closer to realizing to being good at this than they realize, if they’re doing marketing well. If they’re doing product marketing, demand gen, all of these types of things, take the exact same process you’re already doing

and just talk about yourselves and talk about what you’re hiring for. And you know what, a lot of times great marketing will just take care of it. Anyway. I mean, the association is incredible. Yeah. I mean, because that’s the thing is like if you’re great at marketing and you’re great at talking about like in Refined Labs’ case, they have a massive following of people who want to work there based upon them being a thought leader, right. And you could say this about literally any other company out there. Any engineering company, I guess we’ve probably talked this to death in the past, but that’s why I was saying kind of earlier in the podcast here, your engineers have conversations about this kind of stuff every day. You just aren’t capturing it. Right. So the work is already being done. So that was one thing. Anything else you want to get off your chest here?

I think there’s two things. I mean, one is I think most of the employer branding industry is made up of very new employer brand leaders, people who are just coming into this role for the first time, maybe they come from a recruiting background. They might, who knows, but they’re new and they’re looking for help because most of the time they are a team of one, even if they’re at a very large company. It’s kind of like they’ve been handed the keys and the company’s going “Okay, now you go drive this.”

And they’re like, because the company doesn’t know what the hell they want either, but they just know they kind of need this stuff. And this person is going like, okay, I need resources. I need. Where do I go? So they go to the communities that exist, right? They go to these Facebook communities. I don’t know if there’s probably Slack communities, whatever.

I avoid them. But they go there and they ask a lot of questions and I get this feedback from people who are in these communities. They just tell me, man the questions that are being asked are from people who are really looking for help. And then you have these like legacy EB people who are at these

big ass companies who have been doing it for like 10 years or whatever, who are dropping advice in there. And it’s just same old school, like antiquated shit that is polluting the minds of this new generation of EB leaders. And I’m like, this is not good, right? And so I get on calls with people,

I do it a lot. All the people reach out to me and just say like, “Can you talk? I’m feeling lost or whatever.” And the first thing I do is I give them permission to like, ignore that shit. I’m just like, “No, here’s how to think about it in like the simplest terms.” And they’re like, “Oh, thank you.”

Even just giving them permission to go, okay, you’re not working with like a bunch of budget here and you don’t have to worry about this stuff. Here’s the things that matter is just like, it’s really helpful. And I think we need more of that. And the other thing too is that it reminded me of like hiring practices or the expectations put on these roles.

So if it’s not like an internal promotion, if they’re hiring externally, I had somebody reach out to me today to see if I could make an intro joke for them, because they were looking at an EB role at a company that wanted seven plus years of experience. Okay. I don’t even know if that exists. Sure it does on some level, but

requiring anyone to have seven years of employer branding experience to step into an employer branding role is ludicrous for one. And two, in my opinion, they shouldn’t even necessarily have any employer branding experience to begin with. I think they should be looking for people who have like marketing background experience.

Yeah. Yeah. Get me an actual marketer who wants a new challenge because that’s the thing is too, it’s just marketing with different incentive kickers and different goals and you’re marketing a different product, but it’s the exact same thing. Man, if I look at like the smartest people that I know in this industry, Anthony Jones is like one of the top, top ones.

They poached him from marketing. The dude runs, set up his own little agency inside of this huge company and he thinks like a creative agency because he’s a marketer- the only way he thinks. He doesn’t think in terms of fluff or anything, he’s just like straightest point between A and B, you know?

And I love it. So I was thinking, I mean, I had two other kind of things I wanted to throw into this. As we’re kind of planning on some takes I had. Some relatively, maybe their rehash takes, I don’t know, but I think they’re kind of on topic here. I think that there’s so little downside.

If we’re taking this under the realm of why it pays to be more iterative, why it pays just to get stuff out, just start having conversations, start recording them, start talking to employees, and just go with it, right. It’s because on any one piece of employee brand content, there’s so little downside.

Oh, yeah. I mean, have you ever seen a piece of content or anything employer brand that made people not want to join a company? Maybe one.

I mean, you have to really, really screw it up. Yeah. But realistically, if you do something from an employer marketing, employer brand, like a piece of content that misses the mark, it just doesn’t have an impact, right? And so you just try it again. So that’s also why the idea that you would spend all this time and effort trying to get your perfect idea and concept and stuff down

it’s just dumb because you have to fail fast when you’re doing this kind of stuff until you find something that’s actually gonna work. The second thing I wanted to mention too, is I think that no matter what your content approach is or what you’re trying to market with it,

conversations are what work. And what I mean by that more specifically, because I think that’s an easy thing to say is like people having real conversations, but I literally do mean two people talking to each other. When you and I are talking about- the reason why you and I use this format versus like so many people just like sit in front of the camera and just kind of pontificate about whatever is because we’re phrasing things to each other the way we would for- like it’s natural

and that I’m explaining something to you, you’re explaining something to me. We’re having a back and forth. The things that we say are going to come across exactly as they would in the real world, which to a listener sounds normal and natural, as opposed to you’re onstage giving a monologue, you’re giving a speech, you’re sounding like the president reading off a teleprompter.

It just always sound canned whenever you’re writing content or doing video content or whatever in a vacuum, Right. Even if you’re turning your camera off, you know what I mean? Even if it’s just one person, but you’re actually addressing an audience or something like that, you will do more to attract people by, because there’s a certain question to answer element to it.

This is why you’re talking about AMAs earlier. That’s why those things work so well. Frequently asked questions, like a frequently asked question on a blog that somebody was asking you a question because they actually want to know. If you don’t have a frequently asked question right, you’re actually writing down questions

you keep repeatedly getting, you know. That’s kind of the basis of what valuable content is. And like I said, probably the third, maybe it’s the fourth time I’ll say it. These conversations happen every single day at companies. They have all the content they need to help get employees on board,

they just need to hit the record button. Yeah. Oh, well said man. I’ll kind of end my peace with this. We’re not talking to legacy EB folks. We’re not talking to people who have big companies. We’re talking to people who are like likely in a recruiting org, likely recruiting themselves, who work at companies that have a marketing team, but don’t have marketing support themselves.

And so I think I kind of got on this from like writing my posts for today. This idea that like recruiters need to start thinking about how they can market for themselves because nobody else is going to do it for them. As much as I want marketing teams to care about helping recruiting teams do their jobs better

and as much as I want companies to build out departments to oversee that, all that kind of stuff. The reality of it is, is like none of that’s going to happen. If it does happen, it’s not going to be fast. And so recruiters need to start thinking about recruiting teams, how can they become content teams as well?

And like the things that you and I talk about over and over and over again, is how two people here with backend support of one person- who’s on your team, luckily- but turns this stuff into one scale, but like the other stuff that you guys are doing to Hirewell is like crazy

the amount of content that you’re putting out, that you, as one person puts out. It’s like, this stuff is totally doable. And at the same time, you’re not just sitting around making content all day like you have a job. And so it’s completely doable. Yeah. That’s kind of the biggest takeaway. I would say as well, is that everyone is closer to being good at this and having- like everyone’s closer to being good at this

than they realize. I think fear holds people back more than anything because it’s not lack of tools and it’s not lack of knowledge. It’s probably fear.

And I mean, you and I are like numb to it now. We do it. We put stuff out so often and realize that a post that flops versus a post that goes viral are like both no big deal whatsoever. And you just wake up and you do this, you do it again tomorrow. And it’s not scary, like whatever. People disagree with you, people agree with you, whatever. It’s like who cares?

It’s all valuable. It doesn’t matter. I’m right every time so I don’t- if someone else wants to be wrong, you know… All right, man. Anything else? Cool. I think we’re good. That’s a wrap for the Employer Content show. If you want to hear more of what Nate and I have to say, you can view all of our episodes at Hirewell Talent Insights.

That’s talentinsights.hirewell.com, where you can also subscribe to the Hirewell channel on YouTube and the Talent Insights podcast on Apple, Google, Amazon, and Spotify. Nate, pleasure as always. All right, man. Good to see you Everyone out there. We’ll see. you soon.

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