The challenge to attract attention by differentiating yourself is not a new one, of course. When it comes to their product or service brands, organizations, especially large companies, generally “get it.” In hotly competitive industries, such as retail, companies spend millions establishing their name and creating a strong brand image that compels consumers to reach for their products. A strong brand sets expectations and engenders loyalty. It can overcome price differences, distribution problems, economic turmoil, and public relations debacles. A strong brand influences people. It creates an emotional bond.
Unfortunately, many times companies have not put the same effort into making sure the overall brand is carried through in their efforts to communicate with Great Talent. They have not defined what makes their organization a unique place to work. They have not mapped out the type of person they want to attract and go after. They have not built messages and pro¬grams to go out and get those people. In short, they have not identified or put any work into their “talent brand.”
If the reputation of a company’s products or services is its face, the talent brand is its heart and soul. It represents the collective goodwill of the people who make the company go. The talent brand is about service, positive interaction, and mutual respect, but it is also about livelihoods, hopes, and aspirations. These qualities are the essence of the talent brand.
Just like a product brand, a company’s talent brand builds over time. It can engender the same feelings of desire, the same dreams that a compelling product message brings to life. It can bring tremendous loyalty and, through word of mouth, more traffic to your doorstep.
As with a product brand, creating the right talent brand requires creativity and hard work. First, recruiting needs to be a strategic imperative for the company, alongside marketing. Whoever is charged with creating your talent brand should collaborate with your marketing team to determine the compelling link between the company, its philosophies, goals, principles, and its talent. What is the essence of the company, and what is it about that essence that makes candidates feel like they want to be a part of it all?
Second, who is your ideal candidate? Find out in as much detail as possible who your target employee is—what she likes to do, what she likes to think about. What special skills and knowledge does she possess? What are her aspirations, her dreams? Take your time with this. Do your homework. Remember, there is growing popular interest in career opportunities. Do you want to spend all your time sifting through unqualified talent? It will be exponentially faster and easier to find your ideal candidates if you know, in detail, exactly who they are.
Third, create a message that speaks to your ideal candidate. Take the business goals and objectives, the realities that the company faces them into a story that appeals to exactly the sort of a company needs. To be effective, the message should create an emotional reaction. It should cause a light to come on inside your ideal talent. Do this, and you will cause your prospective talent to start picturing how their lives might be different if they were working for you.
Some companies have created and communicated an effective talent brand for years. U.S. outdoor equipment outfitter REI has long enjoyed a reputation of providing an engaging work environment and comprehensive benefits. Beyond that, REI also projects an image that automatically attracts the kind of employees the company wants. REI has tapped into the essential appeal of the outdoors and brought that appeal to its talent force as well as its customers. The company’s employees buy into REI and its mission because the brand represents them and, in the words of brand guru Scott Bedbury, “provides an emotional context for their lives.”
This example reveals another benefit of a talent brand—it is also a screening tool, because applicants will invariably gravitate to talent brands that align with their identities.