The State of Employer Branding in 2016: More Important Than Ever, But Far From Perfected

Features Recruiter.com

In June, Universum released Employer Branding Now, a wide-ranging report that surveys the state of employer branding in 2016. Over the course of the next few weeks, we'll be diving into report in depth to explore some of the conclusions it draws and the prescriptions it issues. Today, we start with a general overview of the report's findings.

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It looks like all that talking about the importance of employer branding has finally turned into some walking: According to Universum's latest report, 59 percent of global leaders are spending more money on employer branding initiatives this year compared to 2015. Furthermore, 62 percent of leaders say employer branding is a "top priority" for 2016.

According to Jonna Sjövall, senior vice president of talent attraction and employer branding at Universum, increasing interest in employer branding among global talent leaders is due to the fact that employer branding has proven itself to be a key competitive differentiator in the recruitment arena.

"The world is changing fast, and companies need to adapt their strategies," Sjövall says. "As it gets more and more critical to get the right people to join them, companies are realizing that talent ​is a critical aspect of business success."

EVPs: They're Not Just for HR Anymore

Given that more business leaders see employer branding as a key strategic advantage instead of a fun little HR project, it should come as no surprise that employer value propositions (EVPs) have also gained importance in the eyes of the C-suite. EVPs define the value that an employer can offer prospective candidates should they become employees. As such, an organization's EVP can be the difference between attracting the best amd settling for whoever happens to apply.

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Whereas EVPs used to be viewed as isolated recruiting tools, many organizations now see them as pieces of the larger organizational puzzle:

- 83 percent of companies say their EVP is strongly linked to their core vision/mission;

- 72 percent say the EVP is strongly linked the the company's values;

- 75 percent say the EVP is strongly linked to the company's talent strategy;

- 60 percent say the EVP is associated with the company's business strategy;

- and 59 percent say the EVP is linked to the company's corporate brand.

According to Universum's report, this level of alignment between the EVP and the overall corporate strategy represents a significant positive change from just a few years ago.

"Companies are pressured to succeed in an ever-changing environment, consequently competing more and more for top talent," Sjövall explains. "In order for organizations to really be successful at this, employer branding needs to be tied to the overall business objectives and priorities. Employer branding activities should always tie into the bigger picture of the brand, the strategy, and the execution of the strategy."

While Sjövall says that many companies still have a lot of work to do when it comes to aligning their talent strategies with their business objectives, she notes that most organizations are "certainly moving in the right direction."

"Instead of just doing employer branding activities, there is always the question of why are we doing what we are doing; what is the result we want to achieve in the end?" Sjövall says.

Employer Branding as Powerful Retention Tool

Despite employer branding's increasing prominence, things aren't all sunshine and roses just yet. Universum found that most organizations use their employer branding initiatives to boost awareness – which is good, of course, but it's not enough to attract the right talent.

Employers should also adopt more sophisticated uses for their employer brands, including differentiating themselves among critical talent groups and in key markets.

Furthermore, only 3o percent of organizations use employer branding for employee retention purposes – which may not come as a shock to you. Most discussions of employer branding focus on attracting new talent; very rarely do they dwell on the subject of retaining existing talent.

And yet, Sjövall says, employer branding is just as important for current employees.

"It is all about delivering on the people promise," Sjövall says. "A company's people are the best ambassadors and often the most trusted sources to the external world. The people representing the company – i.e., the employees – will shape how external stakeholders view the company, both as a service provider and as an employer. No company can maintain a strong employer brand when the reality of the organization does not match up with candidate expectations, because not delivering on expectations will result in high turnover."

According to Sjövall, retention is a matter of aligning the skills, personalities, and traits of current and future employees with the organizational culture. There is where employer branding comes in: Culture is "formed through constantly monitoring the internal success of the intended employer brand message."

In other words: It's just as important to deliver on your employer branding promises once candidates become employees as it is to make the right promises in the first place. Now that should come as a shock to no one.

Employer Branding May Be a Top Priority, but Not Everyone Agrees on What It Is

Another wrench many companies are facing in their employer branding strategies is that despite widespread consensus on the importance of employer branding, there's less consensus on what, exactly, employer branding is.

While 90 percent of recruitment managers and talent executives agree that employer branding is "people's perceptions of your brand as an employer (distinct from your organization's reputation as a business or product/service provider)," only 66 percent of senior managers agree with the definition.

Sjövall says that this might be because senior managers define employer branding slightly differently.

"To them, it is usually the actions and the results they see based on the employer branding efforts that matter," Sjövall says. "Talent and recruitment professionals have a broader view on the implications of a strong employer brand [and] are usually slightly more familiar with the people-related questions and initiatives in the company. Senior management usually focuses on the impact their teams [have] for the business. Consequently, they do not always look at the bigger, long-term implications of employer branding."

According to Universum's report, this disconnect between talent/recruitment professionals and senior managers will be "an important area of focus" going forward. Talent and recruitment professionals must "find ways to educate and activate senior management" if they want to bring about more effective employer branding initiatives in their organizations.