Leveraging Your Product Brand to Improve Recruiting

Like It or Not, You Have an Employment Brand

Every firm has an employment brand because current and former employees, the media, bloggers, and others are constantly commenting on and spreading stories about what it's like to work at "your" firm. And, with the growth of the Internet, finding either positive or negative information about what it's like to work at any firm is becoming ridiculously easy. Obviously, you can't avoid having an employment brand, but you can certainly take steps to sculpt or strengthen your brand image as an employer.

It's important to note that just as strong product brands have a powerful impact on sales, strong employment branding may be the most powerful strategic tool available to recruiting managers. Employment brands dramatically impact both the quality and the volume of the applicants that your firm receives. If that power can be bolstered by linking an employment brand with your firm's already strong product brand, you can dramatically reduce most recruiting and retention problems.

There Is Frequently a Weak Link Between Product Brands and Employment Brands

Many firms are well-known for their products and that product "reputation" is known as your product brand. Firms like Google, GE, and Microsoft all have product brands valued at over $50 billion apiece. Some firms have great product brands like Post-its notes (3M), Smucker's, Pledge (S.C. Johnson), and Clorox. Unfortunately, few individuals automatically make the connection that if these firms make such great products these companies are also probably excellent places to work!

Let's take a firm like Smucker's. Almost everyone knows and even likes their products and their advertising, but how many people think of Smucker's as an employer? Now you might be thinking to yourself, "I don't have any skills or interest in crushing fruit, so why should I consider a jam manufacturer as an employer?" But obviously, a large firm like Smucker's also needs thousands of professionals in finance, HR, marketing, supply chain, etc. And, in addition, you and most of Smucker's customers probably have no clue that they are headquartered on Strawberry Lane in Orrville, Ohio (if they did, many would consider it a desirable place to live and work?).

What this example illustrates is that a firm like Smucker's has successfully built a strong product brand, but it has failed at doing an equally good job at building its image as a place that most Americans would consider as their next employer. If Smucker's (or your firm) could successfully link having a great product with being an excellent place to work, it (and your firm) could easily and inexpensively improve recruiting results.

How to Take Advantage of Your Firm's Strong Product Brand

There are many ways to link a strong product brand with a firm's employment brand image, including:

  • Get Added to "Best Companies to Work For" Lists. Firms that successfully land on "best places to work" lists receive a great deal of media exposure. Everyone that is named on one of these major lists also gets a boost in applications, but that bump is even bigger for firms with great product brands but weak employment brands. The reason for this significant bump is that there is an almost-instant mental connection when someone sees a well-recognized product brand on these lists. That reaction is usually something along the lines of "Well, that makes sense. They produce a great product, so why wouldn't they also be a great place to work?" Because that firm's product reputation is already strong, it's easy for individuals to quickly make the positive connection between the firm having a great product and the firm being a great place to work.
  • Run "Connected" Ads. An employment brand can be easily strengthened just by including a simple mention in regular TV or print ads about how the firm is also an excellent place to work. Wal-Mart, for example, successfully alternated "great place to work" TV commercials with their traditional product ads. Ads with an employment related slogan include "At Seattle's Best Coffee, you can make a difference in someone's day and in your career!" Or, just note that your firm has been recognized by Fortune magazine as one of the 100 best places to work.
  • Employee Dress. You can ask employees to wear clothing that let individuals know you are an excellent employer. For example Wegmans markets had employees wear T-shirts once a week noting that they were one of the 100 best places to work (they have been number one on the list). Other firms ask employees to wear buttons related to their employment brand (e.g., "Ask me what it's like to work here!").
  • Signage. If you're a retail organization, you should make it clear to everyone who passes through your doors that you are a great employer (Starbucks puts the "100 Best Companies to Work For" decal on their front doors, and Continental Airlines painted the fact that they were a Fortune 100 best-place winner on one side of their airplanes). If you're not a retail operation, consider replacing your current external "we are hiring" sign with a "people just love working here" or equivalent sign to send the message that you are a top employer.
  • Recruit Your Customers. If you are a retail operation, consider putting small, freestanding cardboard signs by your cash registers to let your customers know that you are looking for people with exceptional sales or customer service skills. (Starbucks excels at educating its customers at the cash register, and McDonald's once replaced its traditional "would you like fries with that" note on its paper tray covers with a message that conveyed "would you like a job with that".)

    If you're not a retail operation, consider including a small employment branding/recruiting brochure in your product packaging, since these customers are A+ potential recruits because they already love your product. Or highlight what makes you a great employer somewhere in the product instruction materials. If you keep a mailing list of your customers (or send out billing statements), consider sending your best customers a subtle recruiting message inferring that if they love the product so much, they, like others before them, would probably love working there. As part of your message to customers, also make sure that they are also aware that you hire people in areas not directly related to the well-known product itself, like finance, HR, marketing, etc.

  • Allow Customer Referrals. Although your customers may love you, some might not be able to physically work for your firm. However, they might enjoy helping your firm by referring other qualified individuals. You can reward these referrers with cash or offer them gift cards or product discounts for successful hires.
  • Ask Partner Firms to Help Out. Some firms are reluctant to brag about winning top employer awards. Nevertheless, you can ask or encourage major, strategic partners to take out ads congratulating you, their close partner, for being recognized as such a great employer.
  • Your Product Website. Even though product-branding people are notoriously territorial, it's a good idea to try to get them to at least put a short employment branding slogan (i.e., "working here is an adventure") or the Fortune "100 Best Company to Work For" logo on your firm's product website.
  • PR and Product Events. Work with PR and marketing to set up a table or distribute information about jobs at public events that are put on by your firm's PR or product divisions. Employment branding or recruiting information should also be visible at company trade show booths.
  • Make it Easy for Applicants to Know Your Employment Brand. Don't forget to include information about why your firm is a top place to work on your employment application form, on your corporate website, and even within your position descriptions/job announcements.
  • Change Your Firm's Name. Obviously, changing the firm's name is a radical step, but several companies have found that having a product name that's different from the firm name has negative impacts on recruiting and stock sales.

Excellence in Retail Point-Of-Purchase Employment Branding

I was in Seattle the other day, and I noticed an example of where a retail firm did an excellent job of spreading its employment brand to its customers. The firm, Seattle's Best Coffee, which has a strong local product brand, effectively used an in-store sign (next to the cash register) to encourage applicants, while at the same time reminding everyone who read it precisely how the company is different from its better-known mega coffee chain competitor. The powerful point-of-purchase employment-branding card included:

At Seattle's Best Coffee, you can make a difference in someone's day and in your career!

We are world known for our personable outstanding guest service!

Our guests are not "just another person in line"! We want to get to know each guest by name!

We are looking for great people who are energetic, self-motivated, engaging, have the look of the leader, and enjoy working with coffee and connecting with people!

We are looking for team members who can live our values and share our vision as well!

Do the right thing
Have fun
Take ownership
Deliver the Best

Final Thoughts

The foundation element of linking product branding and employment branding is that every executive already knows the incredible power and economic value that their product brand has. Rather than having to start from scratch, recruiting just has to convince executives that their firm's employment brand would also increase significantly in value if it was linked with the firm's product brand. You might even be able to show your executives that having a great employment brand will actually strengthen their product brand because many individuals naturally equate a firm being an excellent place to work with the idea that well treated workers produce excellent products. Makes sense, doesn't it?

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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