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The Green Sheet Online Edition

June 09, 2008 • Issue 08:06:01

Great branding on zero budget

By Curt Hensley
CSH Consulting

I've been intrigued lately by one of the hottest topics in recruiting: employer branding. It is prominent in the payments industry, as well as in the credit card issuing, petroleum, discount retail and automobile industries, among others.

The concept goes like this: Each employer has a brand for the product or service it offers, but a company can also develop a brand as a place to work. Everyone in the recruitment advertising world stands ready to help us build employer brands, including job boards like Monster.com and Careerbuilder.com (delivery vehicles for electronic employment advertising).

Some companies have even devised ways to measure employer brand awareness and incorporate these results into targeted branding campaigns. There's only one catch: Most employers don't really have employer brands. At least not in the way the term is meant to be used.

The branding illusion

I recently spoke with a recruiting manager of a prominent payments company who proudly told me about her new branding campaign. The company needed to promote its employer brand, she explained, because it was a solid place to work but a well-kept industry secret. This was hindering employee recruitment at a time when the company was growing rapidly.

Her advertising firm created a set of ads with a new message, new artwork, a new internal referral program, and new external media placement. The campaign cost was well over $100,000.

This recruiting manager was pleased to report that as a result of her campaign, résumé intake had risen, and the company's brand awareness was on the rise. Her applicant tracking system was loaded with newfound talent.

I found this hard to believe. So, for fun, the following week I asked 30 candidates searching for employment in the payments industry three questions about the recruiting manager's company:

  1. Do you know what the company does?
  2. Do you know about this company's products and services?
  3. Do you have any idea what it's like to work there?

Only a few of the candidates had anything close to the correct answers. Most respondents answered with, "I don't know." And remember, this unscientific survey was taken directly from candidates looking for a job in the payments industry.

The million dollar question (or should I just say $100,000-plus question): Where's the brand?

A real brand

To understand the power of a brand, let's look at a product or service that rates high on anyone's brand awareness chart: MasterCard Worldwide. Here's a simple way to rate the power of that brand:

  • What colors comprise this brand's logo?
  • What are the main products or services the company provides?
  • What is this brand's advertising theme, tagline or jingle?
  • Where can you get this company's product or service?

Chances are almost everyone you know will answer these questions correctly. And chances are you could ask these questions of anyone in any developed country (and some underdeveloped ones, too) and nearly everyone would get them right.

That's a brand: universal recognition fueled by persistent promotion; strong consumer opinion created by first-hand customer experience; the promise of something to meet a consumer's need; and the consistent, predictable delivery of that something.

MasterCard spends millions of dollars every day to let you know that its service is "priceless." Coca-Cola is also one of the best-known brands on earth. The Coca-Cola Co. reportedly spends more than $1 billion annually on advertising and even more on overall marketing activities. That's about $115,000 per hour - all day, every day - to maintain a brand that is already one of the strongest in the world.

How much branding mileage do you think the rookie recruiting manager really received from her $100,000-plus campaign?

The real employment brand

In recruitment, we don't have the budget to turn any brand into a household name. However, all businesses already have a company brand: their earned reputation for how they treat employees. This "brand" is not built through witty ads on job recruitment sites, multichannel branding campaigns or any other promotional method. A corporate brand is created primarily by three things:

  1. How an organization actually treats its employees
  2. What those employees tell other people about how they are being treated
  3. What the organization's former workers say about how they were treated as employees

Your organization's brand is also shaped by your reputation with vendors, partners and clients. But if you don't take care of your own employees, you've earned a negative reputation.

Our recruitment firm speaks with roughly 250 to 300 candidates in the payments industry every day. These candidates freely share with us what their previous employers' brands really are.

They will most likely tell several people at the new payments firms they will go to work for, as well as spread the word to all of the companies they interview with. This is powerful branding within the industry, whether it's positive or negative.

A small number of larger employers (Google, Microsoft Corp., Oracle Corp., PepsiCo Inc. and so forth) can have employer brands shaped by national media coverage, but this is a rare class.

For most merchant acquiring businesses, employer brands are simply earned reputations. These spread quickly and are well-known within the industry.

The push by online recruiting sites to champion employer branding campaigns is just another angle for them to market their product.

The effectiveness of finding truly talented employees through online recruitment sites is limited, so they try to find value add-ons to justify the price they charge.

The most effective way to transform your brand is to improve your practices involving all people who are affected by your company. The answer to the question of how to get a reputation as a great employer is simple: Be a great employer. Word will spread quickly. And it doesn't cost a dime. end of article

Curt Hensley is the founder, Chief Executive Officer and President of CSH Consulting (www.cshconsulting.com), a recruiting firm exclusively focused on the payments industry. He and his leadership team have over 50 years of combined experience in recruiting and merchant acquiring. This niche focus and deeply-rooted expertise have made it possible for CSH to have placed more than 1,000 professionals over the past seven years. Contact Curt at 480-315-8800 or curth@cshconsulting.com.

Notice to readers: These are archived articles. Contact names or information may be out of date. We regret any inconvenience.

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