The ultimate guide to employer branding strategy



Read time
9 mins

We explore everything HR needs to know about employer brands – from how yours might be harming your organisation, to how to improve it and communicate it to staff and candidates

Plenty of recruitment ‘experts’ and hiring platforms talk about a better employer brand being the secret to attracting and retaining great people in an increasingly competitive hiring market. But what exactly is an ‘employer brand’? How do you know what your organisation’s is? What impact does it have on you as an employer? And how can you work to refine and enhance your branding? We explore all this and more in our ultimate guide to employer branding.

What is an ‘employer brand’?

Let’s start by getting everyone on the same page, and clearly defining what we’re discussing here. The CIPD, the professional body for HR in the UK, defines employer brand as “the way in which organisations differentiate themselves in the labour market, enabling them to recruit, retain and engage the right people.”

Every organisation has an employer brand, whether they’re aware of it or not. For it to be effective, the employer brand should link closely with an organisation’s values, and must be consistently applied to the organisation’s approach to people management – from the candidate experience through to onboarding, reward, performance management, learning and development, and everything in between.

Is it a new concept?

The idea of branding in relation to the public image of an organisation and its products and services, is nothing new. But it’s only since the 1990s that the concept of branding has been linked with how staff and candidates perceive an employer. Arguably, it’s only in the past 15 years that it’s become a common concern among HR professionals. Concrete data about the proportion of HR teams focusing on their employer brand as a priority is hard to come by, but take a look at LinkedIn, Twitter, or HR blogs and you’ll see plenty of people discussing their strategies for improving it.

Is it something that I really need to be worried about?

If you want to be able to hire and retain the people you need for your organisation to be successful, then yes. And don’t just take our word for it: there’s plenty of data out there which quantifies the cost of a poor employer brand. A 2016 study by LinkedIn estimates that an employer will have to raise wages by 10% to compensate for the impact of a bad employer brand, and that the annual  cost of poor branding to UK employers is £4.1 million.

The study also found that organisations which exhibit at least three of the five positive employer brand traits it identified (job security, development opportunities, the chance to work on a better team, shared values, and positive feedback from current employees and alumni) could attract 41% of full-time US workers without needing to offer a pay increase.

Another 2016 study, featured in Harvard Business Review, found that nearly half of people would not take a job with a company that exhibited the top three negative employer brand factors (job insecurity, dysfunctional teams, and poor leadership), even if they were offered a pay increase. Only 28% of respondents said that a 10% pay rise would tempt them to join such a company.

Why might my employer branding efforts be failing?

Because employer branding is so closely linked to organisational culture, there might be some systemic reasons why your brand isn’t resonating with staff and job hunters. These could include:

  • Failing to reward and recognise employees’ hard work, especially when they go the extra mile. Simple efforts to thank workers will make a significant difference
  • Leaders are setting a bad example. Desired behaviours – such as collaboration, respect and recognition – need to be modelled from the top down
  • Managers are not up to the job. In many organisations, gaining management responsibilities is a default part of career progress – but many new managers aren’t given the right support and training to enable them to manage their teams properly. Invest in your line managers and watch your culture improve
  • Onboarding is an afterthought. If you don’t plan a supportive, helpful and engaging induction (or onboarding) process, new starters won’t engage with your organisation from the outset and might seek employment elsewhere – meaning the time and money you’ve invested in hiring will go to waste
  • People aren’t being listened to. If there are no internal mechanisms for staff to tell HR, managers and leaders what they honestly feel about how and where they work, they won’t feel valued. They might even take to public forums such as Glassdoor to vent about what they don’t like about your organisation. Instead, create safe, anonymous spaces within your organisation through which workers’ views, hopes and fears can be discussed and addressed
  • Your working environment is uninspiring. It’s estimated that the average American spends 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime – and the average Brit probably isn’t far behind. Neglecting to consider how office design affects productivity is a sure-fire way to cause employees to disengage at work
  • You don’t offer job security. Temperamental line managers who hire and fire will create a toxic atmosphere, and staff will leave

What are the negative results of poor employer branding?

A poor employer brand can affect an organisation in a number of ways, primarily:

  • Difficulty hiring the right people for the right roles: it might take a long time, or you will hire the wrong people
  • Existing employees may feel disengaged and productivity may fall
  • Staff may leave your organisation
  • Internal communication and collaboration may be stifled
  • Health and wellbeing may be on the decline, and instances of stress and/or absence may rise
  • Customers may be put off purchasing your products or services if they have heard negative stories about you as an employer

How can I create a great employer brand?

The CIPD recommends that organisations seeking to develop their employer brand do so through four distinct stages:

  1. Discover – understand how the employer brand is perceived by various groups of stakeholders (these might include senior leaders, HR, line managers, employees, alumni and applicants). A staff survey, and social media analysis, might be helpful here
  2. Analysis, interpretation and creation – build a clear picture of what the organisation stands for, offers to staff and requires as an employer. This will become your ‘employer value proposition’
  3. Implementation and communication – apply the employer brand for the first time. If you are making changes in response to feedback, be open with staff about what you are doing and why
  4. Measurement, maintenance and optimisation – review how the employer brand was received and make any necessary adjustments

It’s important to recognise that your developing your employer brand isn’t a one-off process; it’s something that will need continual review and attention from stakeholders throughout your organisation. It’s certainly not a task that should be left to an HR or marketing team to own: making your organisation a great place to work, and communicating that culture, is something that everyone in your organisation has a vested interest in, and should be responsible for.

What should I talk to prospective candidates about to improve their impression of my organisation?

One of the key techniques for improving your employer brand is telling stories about your organisation. Themes and formats might include:

  • Workers’ stories and testimonials. Hotel chain Marriott, for example, has an Instagram page dedicated to sharing employee stories. Be sure to use genuine photos, videos and testimonials, from real people
  • Your working environment. If you’ve invested in fantastic facilities for your staff, make sure people know about them. Media coverage of Apple Park is a great example – but even if your office design budget is smaller than Apple’s, there’s still value in talking about your workplace
  • Perks and benefits. Design a package that makes your organisation stand out from the crowd and make sure staff and candidates know about the benefits you provide
  • Organisational culture. LinkedIn is very open about it’s culture, with employees regularly sharing public updates about why they feel it’s a special place to work
  • Recognition and awards. Whether you’re dishing out ‘employee of the month’ trophies or encouraging staff to thank their colleagues on social networks such as Yammer, sharing stories of success and collaboration goes a long way to create a positive organisational culture
  • Recruitment-focused content. Large organisations are investing big in hiring campaigns; take, for instance, Heineken’s interactive ‘Go places’ initiative, launched in 2016, which is an interactive personality test that enables people to find out more about the company in a fun and engaging way. If you’re on a smaller budget, think about what blogs or videos you could create for your website, and how you could tailor the content of your organisation’s LinkedIn profile to appeal more to potential applicants

How do I know if my updated employer brand is working?

It’s crucial that you measure the effectiveness and return on investment (ROI) of your employer branding efforts. An employer branding guide by recommends measuring:

  • Feedback from new starters, recruiters and managers
  • The volume and quality of applicants for vacancies
  • Job acceptance rates
  • Speed and cost of hire
  • Employee performance
  • Volume and quality of internal referrals
  • Changes in responses to your employee survey
  • Absence rates
  • Feedback from exit interviews
  • External surveys about people’s perceptions of your organisation and its attractiveness as an employer
  • Social media posts and ratings on platforms such as Glassdoor

Delivering a fantastic candidate experience is a critical part of getting your employer brand right. Discover how our recruitment software can help