When it comes to branding & identity, businesses, employers, and individuals alike are flogged with the notion that they have to find a way to be different.. be unique. And it stresses them out, understandably so. Because here’s the reality: The only thing that’s unique about us? Are our fingerprints. And maybe barcodes, but aren’t those are really just the “fingerprints” of products, anyway? It’s not a fun thought – that there are other people like us, or that there are other businesses that do what we do, act like we act, want what we want… but newsflash? There are, so I’ll say it again:
You Are Not Unique.
Your Business Is Not Unique.
And That Is Okay.
It’s okay because establishing identity does not revolve around being “unique.” Some of those similarities that you have with your competitors actually bring comfort to those you’re trying to attract. That’s what ‘the familiar’ does for us. It allows for recognition, categorization, and action: because if we know what something is, and where it fits, then we know how to appropriately respond to it and discern how we want to interact with it. So let’s stop focusing on what brand identity is not and start tackling what is is: It’s about finding a creative way of sharing your story with the world. See what just happened?? The pressure’s gone way down. You don’t have to be different… the way you tell your story does. So how do you do that?
Know Who You Are
And I’m not talking about your logo. That’s a valuable part of your business identity that plays a large part in your emotional connection with your audience. Consistency in design, look and tone is vital in building credibility, but I repeat: Your logo is not your identity. So if that’s what you point to when asked, then it’s time to (re)think through brand strategy. Start with a SWOT analysis: a process that generates information helpful in matching goals, programs, and capacities to the social environment in which an organization operates.
- Strengths: Name the positive attributes (tangible and intangible) that are internal to your organization and within its control.
- Weaknesses: These are the internal factors detracting from the goals your organization would like to achieve. These are areas for which you should plan for improvement, but also parts you shouldn’t try to hide.
- Opportunities: These are the reasons why your organization exists. It’s attractive, it’s important, and it should be thoroughly considered. Because it’s in this list you’ll find the stuff that will help push your organization to the next level of development. These are usually time sensitive, so make sure you flesh out the timelines.
- Threats: Just as important as a company’s glittering opportunities are the threats that can put your organization at risk. Assess them carefully, pay attention to the probability factors, and have contingency plans in place… just in case.
Modeled, it looks something like this:
- What has your business accomplished?
- How are your products and/or services delivered?
- What can your employees expect to experience – what can you offer them?
- Why does your company exist?
- How do you approach what you do differently from your competitors?
That last question includes considering how both your and your competitors currently tell your story, and what current perceptions are in the marketplace. Those perceptions, both positive and negative, can help define the differences you need to consider integrating into the crafting of your story. Take this information and your branding positioning statement… then the fun can really begin.
Crafting Your Story
The trick to creating a story that stands out is to craft a message that works for the masses of your audience, but has a direct appeal – something that speaks to people individually. This is the art of making a marketing piece not seem like an ad by brazenly looking or sounding like one. This is particularly important in employer branding. People expect to generically be sold soda – not so much their career or employer. So look for stimulus that not only invokes a “human reaction,” but a personalized one that helps your audience seem themselves working for you.
The other goal you’re trying to hit in crafting your story is to get people talking, as this improves your reach. If you’re saying the same thing as your competitors, the same way they say it? That’s not going to happen. So make sure you’ve done your due diligence and know what your competitors are up to – this should have been done in your SWOT analysis.
Finally, while the use of media, such as video, photography, radio & digital messaging – that can help share “the real you” in a creative way that can get people talking? It’s not the holy grail of creative identity any more than a logo is. All of the creative in the world won’t help without being tied back to a concise message with a catchy tagline – something sticky that resonates with your audience. Educate them without boring them - that’s what compels them to action and distinguishes you from your competition.
It’s a bit shocking how many blog posts and online articles have that line preceding some complex subject matter – promising the reader that in 450 to 1000 words, the author will arm them with enough knowledge to tackle some subject or another. While I’m not sure that anyone actually buys that, everyone should know that phrase really represents one thing: a great, big warning sign because someone is trying to sell you something.
You cannot possibly be armed with everything you need to know to be successful in social media, digital marketing, workforce & recruitment marketing, successful culture building, talent or social community building, or talent attraction in 3, 6, or 15 “easy” steps. Look, if this stuff were easy? There wouldn’t be the need for agencies, or departments within companies dedicated to these activities. The tactics associated with execution might be easy (1), but beyond that are the intricacies associated with the strategy:
- Defining the “Why” (what’s the need, goals, metrics, & evaluation definition)
- What to Do (audience definition, type of campaign, messaging)
- How to Do It (creative, advertising mix & platforms, etc)
And then there are the FTC regulations associated with digital marketing, OFCCP and other recruiting compliance laws, and of course how all of that meshes with things like the gray area of native advertising and ambassador programs. This is a particular area of concern for me as the topics of Influence Scoring & Influence Marketing continue to gain popularity and command a significant portion of marketing spend. In a recent study conducted by ArCompany & Sensei Marketing, 84% of companies were considering or had utilized some sort of social influence campaign. Unfortunately, nowhere close to that percentage of organizations are familiar with all of the dotcom regulation updates and rules we have adhere to when engaging in online marketing.
Here’s what you need to know: You can’t and won’t know everything. The topics are broad and the landscape changes rapidly.
That’s okay. You do need to assess your team’s current level of competency in the areas discussed above – if it’s not where it needs to be, you can invest in training and partner with a firm. It’s important to note that a good firm will work with you to achieve your goals, even if one of those goals is to get your team up to snuff so you don’t need to outsource the function. Your SLA should be able to include transitioning the processes, campaigns, and function back to your team, teaching them what’s being done for your organization along the way. If one firm won’t do it, keep looking – there are plenty of reputable firms, large & small, that will. ERE had a really good article on selecting a partner that can help you with everything you need to know that still largely holds true even over a decade later. While I don’t agree with all of it (2), I’d still highly recommend you read it, the only additional recommendation I’d make is that you talk through compliance issues with the partners you interview.
Finally, don’t expect a firm to “give away” strategy. Any firm that is willing to give your organization a free strategy is either not very good or is likely overcharging somewhere else. They pay strategists and those professionals aren’t cheap - so, if you want them to come up with a mock campaign or lay out a strategy prior to hiring them? Expect to pay for it…. though, it’s not unreasonable to ask for that service charge to be credited against your ongoing partnership agreement costs if you select the firm. Just as you’re not going to know everything you need to know after reading a blog post, the same is true after one session with a firm – they’re not going to know everything they need to know about you, and you’re likely not going to really know if you will get everything you need (and want) from them. So, it’s OKAY to ask for a follow-up call or meeting after receiving recommendations from a potential partner.
When you find the firm you think you want to partner with, check out William Tincup’s “How to Avoid Crappy HR Software Contracts.” While an agency isn’t a software provider (usually), a lot of the principles are still the same and should help you negotiate the agreement with the agency that will get you to the point of knowing everything you need to know…. at least on the subject you’re hiring them for. (3)
1. Though often, they’re not.
2. Pay-for-results is not going to be something that most recruitment firms will agree to. There should be metrics that need to be met in terms of improvement in reach, applicant flow, etc; but simply too many other factors that go into a hire that are completely outside of the agency’s control. However, it’s not unheard of for performance accelerators to be put into an agreement that essentially ‘bonuses’ a firm for exceeding expected results. Additionally, Dr Sullivan’s information on Recruiting Technology is obviously outdated, given it was written in 2001.
3. Full disclosure? I run a boutique recruitment marketing agency. I also really like the work of CKR, TMP, and Bayard. There’s no one “right agency,” it really boils down to needs, partnership capabilities, and budget.
Yesterday was Earth Day – once again, we looked at reasons and ways to balance people and profit with planet preservation. Completely noble stuff, to be sure. I like the awareness surrounding the day, but at the same time? For the last couple of years, I’ve had this nagging feeling that “Earth Day” isn’t all that effective when it comes to converting “awareness” into action. Turns out? I wasn’t alone: the good folks at HuffPost must have had a similar inkling. They did a poll to assess environmental attitudes now vs 1971 when the first Earth Day made an appearance.
Turns out, in the 2013 HuffPost/YouGov poll, only 39 percent of respondents said it was “very important” vs the original 68%, while 41 percent said it was “fairly important” now (vs 25% then) and 16 percent said it was “not too important” – double the original 8%.
What’s responsible for the ‘cool-down’ in our environmental attitudes? While HuffPost points to “slacktivists” turning us off with less-than-sincere intentions, I can’t help to think there’s a bigger disconnect at play when it comes to green efforts at work: overall, I think we do a mediocre job of connecting sustainability efforts we’ve chosen to take with payoffs for employees that will give them the purpose needed to follow through. Maybe that sounds harsh, but let’s face it: we’ve already determined we’re a “me-oriented” society working in a time where loyalty is largely no longer to the company but looking to our own interests first.
If we’ve identified that as the mentality we operate under, then for eco-initiatives to be as successful as we’d like them to be, we have to call out things that can be done on an individual level and connect them to why they count for the individual. Why should Sally in accounting take the time to walk to a central recycling bin with last month’s reports?? Why does it help Bob to wait until 5pm to start the dishwasher with everyone else if he wants to get his coffee mug clean now? Why would Kim, Ed, and Sherry bother to inconvenience themselves to carpool, making one reliant on the others if driving alone keeps their control intact? We have to be able to answer these questions with benefits we can tie to our initiatives if we want them to succeed.
Here’s a few areas where we can “go green” on a connected individual level:
1. Create Energy Goals & Rewards: A basic place to start in the office is with knowing the base energy usage. Try using a “Kill a Watt” Energy meter to assess current energy usage of anything plugged in at workstations, break rooms, and conference rooms. Calculate departmental and company totals, then create energy savings goals for each. Associate rewards with this: if it’s not bonuses, then consider time off, team events, and leader boards for a little friendly office competition.
2. Improve Productivity: There are more than a few “green initiatives” that are free and have been shown to improve productivity. Two notable examples? Letting sunshine in through the windows, which not only creates energy savings but also has been shown to improve mood and productivity. The other is through the use of green plants in the office place. Green plants help absorb air pollutants and increase oxygen-flow, helping to prevent “Sick Building Syndrome” — a condition where office decor, carpeting and furniture can release off-gassing fumes into the air that can cause illnesses such as upper-respiratory colds, allergies and eye infections. In a 2-year Norwegian study, the presence of green plants resulted in a decrease of negative health symptoms by 25%:
- Fatigue and headache fell by 30% and 20% respectively, when the subjects had plants in their office;
- hoarseness and a dry throat fell by around 30% and coughing by around 40%;
- dry facial skin fell by around 25%.
Just as important were the effects the presence of green plants have on stress and productivity. In a study with office workers done by Washington State University by Virginia Lohr, it was shown that “when plants were added to this interior space, the participants were more productive (12% quicker reaction time on the computer task) and less stressed (systolic blood pressure readings lowered by one to four units). Immediately after completing the task, participants in the room with plants present reported feeling more attentive (an increase of 0.5 on a self-reported scale from one to five) than people in the room with no plants.”
3. Ditch Disposables: Replacing styrofoam coffee cups and the paper ones near the water cooler can make a big difference when it comes to sustainability. An office of 15 people replacing their three paper cups a day each with a washable, reusable mug would save 11,250 paper cups from being purchased and tossed. This step saves the company money – get the individual employee involved by either providing the mugs, or having a “company coffee break” where employees are encouraged to bring in a mug that shows off their interests and/or personality.
5. Time For Carpooling: Encourage eco-friendly transportation. Offer incentives to employees for carpooling or public transportation use, such as the ability for car-pooling employees to knock off 30 minutes early to help beat traffic. Allowing even part-time telecommuting cuts office costs, makes a lighter ecological footprint and can improve employee morale.
Finally, check out our infographic on 8 ways you can help your employees go green all year long:
Question: If a Twitter account receives no retweets (RTs) or mentions (MTs), is anyone really listening??
This is a common complaint with “career-oriented” and “employer-brand” accounts, with good reason. Although social media is considered a “pull-marketing” method that allows the target audience to find the brand on their own, the reality is it can be a little hard amidst a sea of tweets. It gets further diluted by a broadcast marketing strategy that allows an ‘easy-out’ for those not sure how to best communicate with those who might wish to strike up an online conversation. After all, how much is there really to say back to something like, “Job Open! Apply Now!”
Some brands are comfortable with that, opting to strengthen candidate relationships on other platforms & others, not really interested in striking up any kind of conversation at all. For those wishing to increase engagement with those who follow the brand or with potential candidates, here’s 5 simple steps to start with:
- Get Pretty: Twitter offers two ways to put your best foot forward and attract those to your profile: your cover photo and profile photo. Make sure you use a high resolution photo, at least 300 pixels per inch. Profile image should be 81 x 81px & the Cover photo should be 520 x 260px. Your “in-stream” profile image is 48 x 48 px, so keep that in mind when choosing an image. One great example is Taco Bell’s Career account: it has a clever cover photo, clearly recognizable brand profile picture.
- State Your Business: Your bio should clearly call out who you are and your purpose. Sharing jobs and have no intention of responding on this account? Let people know that & call out the account where they can engage with you. Take a look at how Harrod’s Career account has handled themselves; additionally, they’ve done a good job of calling out when followers can expect engagement from the account.
- Avoid Excess: Being a conversationalist is the goal, not a “Chatty Cathy.” Watch your post- to engagement levels. If you broadcast non-stop and don’t engage, you risk being tuned out; but if you post every 15 seconds, you’ll likely get un-followed. Then there’s no doubt that your messages will not be seen… who wants that? Here’s some good rules of thumb: 4 tweets a day seem to be the magic number for business brands, according to a recent survey by BuddyMedia, owned by SalesForce. After that, there were diminishing returns on engagement.
- Be Witty… With A Point: Sharing a news article? Then give your opinion to increase conversation opportunities. Links are great to include if a wider reach is the goal: they’re 86% more likely to be shared than tweets without them. Want a specific tweet shared? ASK for a “RT” for a 12x jump in engagement… or better yet, spell out ‘retweet’ to have a 32x greater likelihood that your tweet will be shared. 100 characters or less seem to be “tweetastic” when it comes to tweet length; they boast over a 15% rate of engagement return than those over 100 characters.
- Share the Good News: Those who used hashtags got twice the engagement of those who did not, yet only 24% of brands use them. This is a big area of opportunity for recruitment marketers to differentiate. But be careful how many hashtags you put on a tweet: 1 or 2 seem to be fine, at 3 hashtags the engagement levels drop by 17%. Don’t forget to tweet on the weekends; the highest days of the week for engagement happen on Saturday and Sunday between 8a and 7p…. right now, only 19% of brands tweet on the weekends, leaving a lot of room to stand out.