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 past few months, we've been diving into the report in depth to explore some of the conclusions it draws and the prescriptions it issues. This is the third installment in the series. Part one is available here. Part two is available here.
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As with all branding efforts, employer branding is a matter of differentiation. The goal of an organization's employer branding strategy should be to set it apart from the competition in such a way as to attract the right kinds of candidates to the company. In order for companies to truly differentiate themselves, they need to construct powerful employer value propositions (EVPs).
"At its core, an EVP describes a combined set of workplace qualities that an organization would like to own. It is a unique set of offerings, associations, and values that will positively influence the most suitable target candidates and the internal target groups," says Jonna Sjövall, senior vice president of talent strategy and employer branding at Universum. "These associations are then used as a long-term foundation and framework for an organization's people touchpoints."
The State of EVPs Today
Universum's survey found that 58 percent of top employers designate their EVPs as their primary points of reference for their employer brand promises and activities – which means that by and large, the best employers take their EVPs seriously and actually use them to drive their talent strategies.
But while 89 percent of "the world's most attractive employers" believe that the purpose of an EVP is "to define the qualities an organization would most like to be associated with as an employer," comparatively few of them actually focus on differentiation in their EVPs. According to Universum, only 36 percent of top employers said their EVPs included "key differentiators." Given how critical differentiation is to any employer branding strategy, organizations would do well to ensure that their EVPs clearly define the differences between themselves and their competitors.
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Furthermore, 65 percent of top employers said their EVPs included a "short, single-minded statement or tagline capturing the essence of [their] proposition." It's important to note, however, that EVPs are more than just taglines. They are essentially mission statements that govern how an organization approaches, engages with, and retains talent.
"[An EVP] involves the systemic management of elements that shape how people experience you as an employer," Sjövall says. "In addition to tangible elements like messaging or recruitment collateral, an EVP also guides a company's communication strategy and candidate and employment experience."
It's fine to include a tagline in your EVP – but you shouldn't stop there.
Universum also found that only 25 percent of top employers said their EVPs were clearly linked to their customer brands. The lack of a clear link could pose some problems for the other 75 percent.
"While a company's EVP and customer/consumer brands should not be mirror images of one another, they should be aligned," Sjövall says. "What a company represents – its offering, values, activities, messaging – should be streamlined to deliver a consistent experience to both customers and potential employees. If there are major contradictions, the overall brand and employer brand perception won't be strong enough."
Strong EVPs should act as "bridges between what talent expects of a company as an employer and the qualities that the company needs to deliver customer value," Sjövall explains.
What Makes for a Great EVP?
Sjövall believes that truly great EVPs are those that stand up to the following five "stress tests":
The EVP is true. It doesn't overpromise or underdeliver.
The EVP is attractive. It appeals to the critical target groups externally and internally.
The EVP is credible. Statements are backed up with facts so that people believe the message.
The EVP is distinct. It differentiates the company from other employers.
The EVP is sustainable. As the business moves forward, the connection between its aspirations and its realities is clear.
Organizations should really listen to their employees and their target talent groups if they want to craft powerful EVPs that resonate. Employees can give insights into the realities of working at the company, which will help ensure the EVP is true. Furthermore, the EVP can only be attractive if it genuinely addresses the needs of internal and external audiences. Employers can't uncover those needs unless they actually communicate with employees and target talent.
"Strong employer brands are built from within," Sjövall says. "The overall experience – candidate, employee, and alumni – will determine the success of your value proposition. Walk the talk, but don't be afraid of having stretch goals as long as you are transparent about the journey to get there!"
In terms of differentiation, Sjövall cautions against choosing a theme or focus area just because it is not very common among other competitors.
"It all has to come down to what competitive edge you have as an employer and how you talk about it in a compelling way," Sjövall says.
If your EVP survives these stress tests, then Sjövall says it will "not be a tagline; it will be a combination of themes that the company will make its own by telling the audiences what it means concretely."
And that's exactly what you want your EVP to be.