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7 reasons why HR managers struggle with employer branding – and a new way forward

With all the capabilities possessed by a modern corporation, and the decisive importance of employees as a success factor for more than 90 percent (my own estimate) of medium-sized to large companies, why is employer branding so neglected?

1. Not enough know-how

If there’s one thing I often hear from HR managers, it’s that they would like to be able to do a better job of their general employer branding activities. Especially when it comes to the use the power of social media in their recruitment efforts. But they’re not sure exactly how – and engaging in conversations with outside agencies can leave them with the feeling that they know less than when they started. Then, if the decision is made to go with a particular online platform, there’s the need to be able to work with visual and verbal aspects of any branding task. You need access to art directors, copywriters and perhaps strategic planners. Pretty soon, it starts to look like a major project – and projects like that tend to get approved for HR once a decade at best. The idea that this type of activity may, in fact, be an on-going requirement is most often foreign to the thinking of those who determine the annual HR budget.

2. Not enough money

Traditional HR spend levels for B2B companies range greatly. Some have ample funds for recruitment and evaluation, others are starved of the necessary wherewithall, leaving them scraping and begging to live up to the continually more complex demands of increasingly global organizations.

For most, there’s a significant gap to close. According to a 2011 survey of American HR managers by Employer Brand International, 71% of respondents said that obtaining an adequate budget is their number 1 challenge in managing an employer brand. So finding faster, more affordable ways to design and implement employer branding platforms is a must for the vast majority of HR departments.

3. Not enough time

HR isn’t the marketing department, equipped to handle branding and the long list of tasks that follows any branding or tactical campaign. Employer branding, therefore, is typically a side issue rather than a focal point for its activities. Yet doing a good job of employer branding takes a great deal of time and energy – much like the key success factor for an Olympic high jumper, everything that doesn’t get you to the right level can just make you look, well, like a loser. And few HR departments can set aside enough time to embark on and follow up on a well planned and executed employer branding strategy. Just think about the effort required to arrive at a good employer value proposition (EVP)!

4. The IT department’s job queue

Let’s get this straight: we need the IT department for all sorts of excellent reasons. And that’s at least one of the reasons why it’s so hard to get things done through that hard-working group. The IT department is usually involved in major projects such as bringing in a new ERP or CRM system – or performing smaller, related projects to augment and integrate such systems. Contrast that with the more nimble (I carefully avoid the word “agile” to avoid complicating things) needs of a good online employer branding platform that can be quickly adapted from one day to the next. Something like that is tough for most HR managers to get their IT departments to help with. So an online platform is needed that can easily be managed – and re-designed as needs change – without involving technical administrators or software developers.

5. Poor alternatives to the IT department

If your IT department can’t provide the flexibility and responsive solutions you need, then you can look outside the company to a wide variety of suppliers – most of whom don’t specialize in employer branding, but whose online solutions can be adjusted to do much of what you need.

Let’s start with proprietary content management systems or web solutions built by smaller software developers. The first couple of years running your employer branding platform on these can be very pleasant. You’ve got a good relationship in place, you know the people so you can get things done and they’ll be happy to help. But what happens when their strategic focus drags them elsewhere? Our company has tried that some years ago with a content management system (CMS) provider on whose proprietary CMS we had based an important website. The agency stopped developing and supporting the CMS, moving to focus on other business opportunities. We had to start from the ground up again, at a significant cost. You may also be unlucky that your supplier crashes, as was the case for Zoomio, which left a lot of quite large companies high and dry, unable to conduct their usual email marketing campaigns.

Then there’s other, more established online platforms that can be used for employer branding. One example is LinkedIn. Naturally, there are plenty of attractive capabilities offered by this choice, including access to well over 100 million business users. LinkedIn should be a key part of your recruitment activities, but remember: you have little real control over LinkedIn as an employer branding platform. I was recently reminded of this when a LinkedIn message sent to members of a client’s online scientific community led with a large headline proclaiming that Tom Cruise was up to new tricks that the email recipient just had to know about. Basically, you don’t want somebody else hijacking your employer branding activities for their own purposes, so you need to put platforms in place that you control – the category of solutions known as “owned” media.

6. Traditional employer branding agencies

With employer branding becoming one of the hottest topics on management radar, established employer branding agencies – the first-movers in the field – are feeling confident about their continued business prospects. But don’t be fooled by Mad Men-style offices and presentations that focus too much on the “soft” aspects of human resources. If you’re not careful, your precious HR budget will be spent on workshops and beautifully laid out PowerPoint presentations instead of what’s really needed: an all-around solution that provides the right messaging platform, content and distribution/dialog mechanisms.

If you’re looking to engage with an agency for employer branding, take a long, hard look at their capabilities. Do they understand the strategic and tactical demands presented by a fast-changing world of behaviors and media? Can they implement and support the kind of online platforms you’ll be needing?

7. Willing and helpful, but limited marketing or communication departments

So where can the HR department seek help to overcome these difficulties? One place is the company’s marketing and/or communication department. In fact, in the USA, the marketing department is responsible for employer branding in around 18 percent of companies (Employer Brand International again). Corporate marketers, in particular, are often supportive to the point where they push the HR department’s own ambition level – and they provide many of the resources that make good employer branding possible.

But – and there’s a but – marketing or communication departments that aren’t charged with employer branding as a prioritized task have their own work to do, and the here-and-now needs of a modern HR strategy can be pushed far down the list.


What new ways forward are there for employer branding?

Our agency is currently working with a number of companies, including two top world-wide brands to address issues like the seven I’ve mentioned above. One of the better solutions, we believe, is the creation of a non-proprietary, customizable online platform for employer branding that makes HR best practices available to companies lacking the necessary focus or resources to present themselves as an employer of choice. We’re also addressing the need to be able to create videos, such as employee testimonial videos, at an affordable cost without compromising quality (i.e. not by using someone’s iPhone camera, which just makes your company look like a bunch of amateurs). So far, we’ve achieved our ambition of producing 10 videos in a single day of shooting, which is plenty of content to populate the video section of a good employer branding microsite. And we’ve also produced the first sites for three multinational employers.

From here, we will be developing our thinking and the platform’s capabilities as we go along. In my next post, I’ll tell you more about the wishlist of specifications for the platform, as well as our general approach and findings in relation to the task.




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Jonathan Winch

I’m Jonathan Winch, partner at cylindr and BBN International and a B2B marketing enthusiast. I've participated as a strategic and creative resource in the marketing and communication sphere for over 25 years, making contributions to the strategies and communications of companies of all sizes, the best known of which include Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, Danisco, GN ReSound, Hempel, Nokia Siemens Networks, LEGO, Coloplast, and Johnson & Johnson. My mission? To help B2B companies make the most of the value they create for the world. My hobby: Nutritional science, particularly sports nutrition.