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Outsmart Your Competitors:
Employer Branding for Strategic Advantage

A multicolored background shows a centripete force and a magnet attracting the earth.
Hacking HR Team

Posted on March 07, 2024

Companies invest a lot of money in ads, recruiters, and signing bonuses. They do this to attract the best talent.

But is this an effective, long-term strategy?

There's only so much the budget can do. You want to do more than move the hiring pipeline and hit metrics. You'd like to own the brand narrative that matches you with the right talent.

Moreover, clarity on a brand strategy that genuinely aligns with your company's core values will give you the edge. It will save you money on hiring. Companies with solid brands see up to 50% lower hiring costs. It will also help you outsmart the competition and attract workers. If you're not actively shaping how you're perceived as an employer, you're handing your dream hires to your rivals.

What Is an Employer Branding Strategy?

You may think of a great employer brand strategy as tied to the "best workplace" awards. You may see it as tied to the feel-good things on your company's social media. Still, employee satisfaction is crucial. But, an authentic employer brand is your secret weapon in the talent war.

Think of it like this: Would you rather be well-liked but always scrambling to fill roles, or have top candidates seeking you out—even if your ping-pong table isn't the fanciest? An employer branding strategy is how you become the company talent fights to join. It gives you an advantage that your less savvy competitors can't copy with a bigger recruiting budget alone.

Why Strategic Employer Branding Matters?

It's tempting to want complex numbers proving the ROI of employer branding, but the truth is, it's a complex issue to measure. Yet, any savvy HR leader can understand the strategic logic: a strong employer brand gives you an edge that competitors can't buy their way into. Here's why:

  • Think Like Your Dream Hire: Put yourself in the shoes of a top candidate in your field. They have options, and compensation packages are likely similar. What makes them choose Company A over Company B? If the answer is your company's reputation for innovation, growth, and a sense of purpose, that's your employer brand in action. And, it is more complicated for less strategic competitors to replicate.

  • The Talent Funnel: Imagine the hiring process as a funnel. A strong employer brand widens the top, bringing in more qualified applicants. This means shorter time-to-hire, lower agency costs, and getting first dibs on the best people. It also makes poaching talent from you harder for competitors, protecting your investment in your employees.

  • The Long Game - Talent as a Competitive Weapon: Consider something other than employer branding a short-term hiring fix. Companies known as "the place to be" in their industry don't attract better hires. They disrupt their entire market.

  • Making it Real - A Cautionary Tale: A company with a negative employer brand faced challenges in attracting and retaining talent due to reports of a toxic work culture. This led to high turnover rates and recruitment difficulties, which damaged the reputation. It showed the critical need for a positive employer brand in talent management.

The bottom line is that if you're not shaping your employer's brand, your competitors will.

How to Build a Strategic Employer Branding Plan

1. Know Your Edge

Defining Your Competitive Advantage – What makes you different?

  • What kind of experience can people ONLY get at your company? (project scope, problem-solving approach, etc.)

  • Who thrives in your culture, and where would they struggle elsewhere? (ex: fast-paced vs. structured environments)

  • What do your top performers praise that your competitors likely lack? (This might be your secret weapon)

  • Recommended Strategy: Have 3-5 high-performing employees write brief lists answering "Why I love working here, and why someone from [competitor] would too." Look for common themes!

2. Intel Gathering

Uncovering Competitor Weaknesses – Turn their negatives into your recruitment pitch.

  • Social Media Deep Dive: Track competitor accounts and search for hashtags and keywords relevant to their industry. Employee gripes or frustrated customer comments can reveal pain points.

  • Job Postings as Clues: Their word choices reveal what they value. Do they lead with salary? That's a vulnerability if your culture is your selling point. Are their descriptions vague? That's an opening for you to be specific about what you offer.

  • Listen Between the Lines: Use tools to analyze sentiment around online mentions. This helps you see where competitors.

  • Recommended Strategy: Choose your top 2 competitors. Set up Google alerts for their company names + keywords like "work" or "culture" to get ongoing insights.

3. Crafting The Poach

Messaging That Attracts Top Talent – How to stand out in a way competitors can't copy.

  • Specificity is Key: Instead of saying, "We offer growth opportunities," describe people's career paths. This feels tangible, not generic.

  • Highlight Your UVP: Weave the core elements of what makes you different (from the first section) into everything from job postings to your careers page.

  • Target Their Weakness: If you know competitor employees are frustrated by X, emphasize the opposite. Beware of being petty, but be strategic in using those insights to your advantage.

  • Recommended Strategy: Draft 3 social media posts that address your competitors' pain points without naming them directly. For example, are your competitors all about rigid schedules? You highlight flexible hours excitingly, not just as a policy.

4. Advocacy as Lead Gen

Turning Employees into Your Talent Scouts – Finding candidates where competitors aren't looking.

  • Targeted, Not Generic: Don't just tell them to share stories. Give employees language tailored to where they hang out (LinkedIn vs. niche forums, etc.)

  • Track What Works: Whether it's simple links or platform tools, track which kinds of employee advocacy get the most engagement and double down on that!

  • Incentivize Intel: Encourage employees to report back on what they see happening with competitors (new hires, disgruntled comments, etc.). This helps you stay a step ahead.

  • Recommended strategy: Hold a brainstorming session and ask employees, "Where do people like you discuss work stuff online, outside company channels?"

Build A Solid Employer Brand

Ultimately, the purpose of shaping a unique identity for your brand will always be to become the best choice in your talent market. Through these strategies, you will attract top candidates, protect your best people from competitors, and build a reputation that disrupts your entire industry. Considering employer branding as an afterthought can lead to falling behind because the best companies don't wait to be disrupted before taking their reputation seriously.

Building a solid employer brand takes more than feel-good initiatives. If you're ready to get strategic and gain a competitive advantage in the talent market, our Certificate Program, "Fundamentals of HR," is your roadmap.

A picture of some building blocks and the title of the certificate program for Human Resources professionals titled "Fundamentals of HR," launched by the People and Culture Strategy Institute powered by Hacking HR.

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