I tried to make a point at the recent #SRCONF that, when it comes to the employer brand, size no longer matters.  Big is not longer beautiful.  Money no longer talks - people do. Judging by the looks on the faces of the audience I failed miserably.

Ultimately I was trying to make the point that the new social order completely democratises the brand landscape and in the context of attracting people to work for you as an organisation, investing piles of cash into building an 'employer brand' no longer guarantees you share of voice out there.  Indeed, it might even be a waste of time.  Beware large corporate thinkers, the small guy could be about to out do you on the talent acquisition stage without spending a penny.

As an example of how things are changing across industries, and how the routes to market share, reach and ultimately success are changing radically, I read a couple of interesting articles recently - almost carbon copies in fact - about the enterprise software market.  Bear with me...

In this article, and this one too, the point is made that historically, the enterprise software vendors focussed their attention on the buyers, not the users (Or real customers).  As a result, software was designed to be feature rich and to meet the requirements of the RFP - often crafted by the CTO.  The unfortunate side effect of this approach is that the software that is peddled to save our souls is, in fact, largely unusable in terms of its full feature set and, in short, sucks from a user perspective.  Consequently, domination in this sector required a number of core attributes:

  • Aggressive sales team - to chase down and stay on top of opportunities
  • Lots of money - to invest in building the complex product features
  • Pandering to the buyer - the CTO or project implementation lead for example

Historically, this has kept the little guy out of the enterprise software market.  Until now.  The combination of the SAAS (Software As A Service) model, offering the product in a 'freemium' format and, most importantly, marketing to and focusing almost entirely on, the needs of the end user (The real customer - did I say that already?!) has meant small software start up businesses have in recent years begun to cannibalise the enterprise software market at a phenomenal rate.  The cost to the small guy has also been a lot less - focussing on digital, and increasingly social, channels aimed almost exclusively at the user.

I'll end the software analysis there, but its not hard to see the parrales with employer branding.  Everyone seems to be besotted with pointing out to the big guys how a bit of employee or customer indigestion can spread around the world in a nanosecond on the social highway with disastrous consequences (Prompting them to buy in yet more 'digital' help) yet very few people seem to acknowledge the same can work the other way around in a positive way for the small guy.

It is now so much more about the way you behave and interact. Brands no longer control the conversation, or the communication technology it sits on.  Spend no longer correlates to reach on the social platform and so it's much easier for a small growing business to outpace a big one in this environment.  On the customer side that means rapid market share growth simply though some clever 'word of mouth' activity on the social web; on the employer side that means the small guy snatching the top talent from under the nose of the big corporate recruitment teams.

So, given that the customer/employee/potential employee boundaries have been blurred, and that nothing less than transparency will do for these groups (the promise has to be consistent right through from the customer experience on the outside, to the employee experience on the inside) how relevant is it to have an 'employer brand' anymore anyway?

We still talk about the employer brand in separation and I dont think we can any more.  Employer brands came of age at a time when pretty much all you could see of an organisation was its 'consumer' brand.  But things have changed - the inner workings of an organisation - including issues that affect its attractiveness/stickiness or not as an employer - are increasingly becoming more visible.  With more and more organisations realising that candidates are customers, and harping on about how important it is to deliver a great experience across both groups, surely the way forward is to make sure you have a compelling proposition as a brand, full stop.

What does this mean? Well, if you are a small business I would say its never been a greater opportunity for you.  Get your overall compelling brand proposition right - forget splitting the two - and you can just as easily compete for key talent in a market where you were previously squeezed out by the big spending, larger corporations.

For larger organisations I'd ay start thinking more broadly than the employer brand and again focus on that great proposition.  I would absolutely say that the interested parties - HR and Marketing - should be working together to create a seamless, joined up proposition that resonates consistently with customers, employees and candidates.  Marketers have to be aware that they can no longer just look at their audience as customers and recruiters can no longer look at their audience as just candidates - they are one and the same.

Sure, there needs to be elements of the overall brand message that appeal to those that might want to work there, but the days of employing one agency to develop your employer brand and another for your consumer brand are over.  Or they will be in the future.  It just doesn't make sense to have them managed separately anymore.  And if you follow the thinking on crowd-sourcing outlined by Matt Jeffery in his recent blog post - Recruitment 4.0 then you could ask yourself if there is a need for agencies at all.

Whether you are a large company or small, ask yourself this - "who is going to go openly talk in warm and glowing terms about working with and for us on social channels?  And mean it?"  If you cant say, hand on heart, that the majority of your employees would, then stop spending money on your employer proposition right now - its a waste of money.   You clearly have an engagement problem you need to sort out first.  fix that and, if you open up your organisation socially, you might just find the 'employer brand' issue takes care of itself.  Because the employees - and customers - might just take care of it for you...

Size doesn't matter.  It's what you do with it that counts ;)

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