The HR Pro’s Guide to Thinking like a Marketer
You might think HR and marketing are alike only in our shared love of acronyms—we’ll see your FMLA and raise you two SERPs and a TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU. But put aside the specifics of what we do and the numbers we look at to measure success, and you’ll find we’re both after the same thing: a better understanding of how to speak to the right people, in the right way, at the right moment in order to achieve the right outcome.
Marketing and HR are both in the business of communication. Consumers and employees alike have a growing sense of ownership over the products they use and the places they work, and just as marketers seek to influence consumers in their purchasing decisions, HR is tasked with keeping new applications flowing in and turning new hires into high-performing, vocal ambassadors.
By borrowing strategic thinking from three areas of marketing—branding, channel marketing, and demand generation—HR can create lasting connections and build a genuine sense of trust and care to create loyalty among candidates and employees.
Communicate Your Brand
Build Your Employer Brand with Brand Marketing Strategies
A company’s brand is more than just the product or service it sells—it’s the company’s identity, which includes its mission, values, and unique consumer proposition.
Think of the most well-known brands and how they’ve set up their customers’ expectations. For example, Nike makes exercise gear and sneakers, but because of successful brand marketing, you not only think of Nike products when you see that iconic swoosh, you also think of the world’s highest profile athletes working hard and winning.
That’s the identity—the brand—they want customers to internalize, and they create it with the right communication.
Your employer brand functions very similarly to a company brand, as it also includes your values, your mission, and the unique proposition of your workplace culture and employee experience.
It’s made up of thousands of interactions, including:
- How you welcome new hires into your organization
- How you communicate with the applicants you don’t hire
- The benefits you offer employees and how you promote them
- The level of transparency leaders give regarding business decisions
- The resources and training you provide your managers, so they can give employees a clear path to grow and succeed
Employer brand even matters to your customers, as it’s become another way for them to gauge if a company is true to its stated values.
How to Market Your Employer Brand to Candidates and Employees
Brand marketing is a long-term strategy built on consistent communication. It takes more than putting your best foot forward to actively shape the perception customers and applicants have of you as an employer. For people to view you favorably, you need to put that best foot forward every time, at every opportunity, until it tells a story people will remember.
Here are a few ways you can start applying brand marketing strategies to expand the reach of your employer brand.
- Start with positioning your brand: Before you can talk about who you are as an employer, you need to figure out how to talk about your organization to prospective or current employees as a unique and desirable place to work.
- What’s the most attractive thing about working for your organization?
- What sets you apart from other workplaces?
- Sell the right brand to get the right people: Employer branding isn’t just about putting out a positive image, though that’s certainly a big part of it. You also want the people who work for you to feel motivated to contribute to what you do and who you are. So as you craft your branding message, make it clear how your organization wants to achieve its goals, so your brand attracts people who align with your organization’s needs.
- Defining your values helps clarify how you operate. Should your ideal employee prioritize collaboration, personal achievement, financial results, or your organization’s purpose?
- Tell the truth: Most importantly, you should tell the truth about your organization, so make sure that you’re not selling something the company doesn’t actually provide. For example, don’t position yourself as a family-friendly employer if you don’t offer an attractive paid parental leave benefit.
As these principles show, an effective employer brand can’t use half-truths and misleading highlights as shortcuts. If the full truth about the company doesn’t attract the people you want, you need to take on the bigger job of moving the company closer to that ideal before you can attract—and retain—the right talent.
Communicate More Than You Think You Need To
Connect with People Every Step of the Way
People don’t buy a product if they don’t feel they can trust the company selling it, and customers don’t stay long with companies that mishandle or fail to earn their loyalty. Building that trust and loyalty takes constant, responsive communication and empathy.
One way marketers try to understand things from their customers’ perspective is by looking at the customer journey—their end-to-end experience with the company—which isn’t so different from the employee’s journey through the hiring process.
|Stage in the Journey||Customer Journey||Employee Journey|
|Before: Research||How do they find out about the company or product?||How do they find out about the company or position?|
|During: Selection||What did they do and where did they go to find out more and make a decision to buy (or not)?
Who did they talk to?
|What did they do and where did they go to find out more and make a decision to apply or accept the job?
Who did they talk to?
|After: Support & Retention||What happens after they buy?
What kind of support, feedback opportunities, returns, invoicing, etc. do they encounter?
|What happens after they get hired?
What kind of support, feedback opportunities, training, etc. do they encounter?
Examine this journey to see where you have gaps in your communication strategy and where you can do more to build trust and loyalty. Ensure you’re leveraging all of your marketing channels—the avenues and methods you use to connect and communicate with your audience—to create as wide a net as possible and as consistent an identity as you can.
Build Constant, Responsive Communication through Channel Marketing
A lot of us forget what it’s like to apply for a job, especially if we’ve been on the hiring end of the process for a while. Even in a candidate’s market, it can be daunting, wearying, and just plain frustrating to search, apply, and interview for job after job.
Constant and responsive communication throughout the employee journey helps prospective employees trust you enough to apply to and accept positions. For example, setting up an automated application receipt email seems small, but it’ll help soothe your applicants’ anxiety about whether or not you received their information (and reduce frustration on both ends over duplicate applications).
Constant and responsive communication also reassures current employees that their decision to work for you is justified, earning their loyalty and keeping them engaged. For example, if you see a consistent demand for something on employee surveys, you need to show employees you’ve heard them. If it makes sense to make the change, do it—and tell employees why you did it. And if it’s something you can’t change, maybe because you just don’t have the resources, it’s even more imperative to show people you’ve heard them and talk to them about why you’re not able to make that change.
As you review your employees’ journey, think of the channels you can use not only to get your employer brand out there in front of candidates but also to establish better relationships with current employees. Here are some examples to get you started.
|Stage||Channel Owner||Example Channels & Communication Opportunities|
|During: Selection||Employees||Same as above|
|After: Support & Retention||HR/Employer||
Target Your Communication
Understand Demand Generation Strategy
The philosophy behind demand generation is that you can’t just put your brand or product out there and wait for interested buyers to come to you. You have to go out and convince people you’re the right choice.
Demand generation does this through a range of tactics, some of which we’ve already discussed:
- Brand awareness: As mentioned in our discussion on company and employer brand, people need to have a positive idea of not just what you sell but who your organization is as a whole.
- Brand authority: This is done through content marketing (i.e., blog posts, videos, podcasts, infographics, webinars, etc.). Each piece of content builds your authority and creates trust as people consider your company.
- Lead nurturing: Best case scenario: marketers continue to build trust and loyalty even once someone’s entered the sales phase. For HR, this goes back to our discussion of the employee journey—you have to keep building relationships past the hiring phase.
- Account-based marketing (ABM): Every demand generation tactic is meant to be targeted, but ABM is the top banana. Like the name implies, marketers identify potential or existing customers (accounts) who are ready to buy (or buy more).
Use Account-Based Marketing Tactics to Create Talent Pools
Thinking like a demand generation marketer and translating the concept of ABM to HR is especially crucial in this current, volatile job market. People aren’t afraid to leave a job if it doesn’t suit them, and they’re actively looking for something better.
- In a 2022 BambooHR survey, 45 percent of HR and business leaders said that the current trend in departures at their company was higher than usual.
- Some of the reasons people leave are clear: the top reason is better compensation, and runner-up is because employees are uncomfortable with COVID-19 policies.
- Other reasons are less clear—the third most common reason people quit is because they want a change.
The unprecedented upheaval brought on by the pandemic and the Great Resignation can feel incredibly daunting if you’re being tasked with recruiting and retaining people. Instead of trying to be everything to everyone, focus on building and refining a stellar employer brand that speaks authentically to the kind of people you want at your organization. Then, divide and conquer—figure out who your top banana accounts are and target them with specific messages.
In HR terms, that means creating talent pools.
Who are you trying to target?
Talent pools are especially important when recruiting for specialized roles. Different audiences and types of talent need different messaging and persuasion—in other words, they require marketing tactics. But it’s not as simple as segmenting according to each position or industry.
For example, senior-level software engineers aren’t going to respond to the same arguments for coming to work for you as entry-level software engineers right out of college, and depending on generational differences, they may not be looking in the same places. A fresh college grad may be more likely to rely on social media while a seasoned professional might need to be courted more directly to leave a position they currently hold.
How are you creating awareness and demand in those audiences?
Once you figure out who you’re looking for, you need to go to them and work that HR marketing magic.
- Target them with interesting, relevant communication. What kinds of things would make your talent pool trust that you’re the right choice? For example, tech workers may prioritize a cutting edge product and workplace culture. Healthcare workers, on the other hand, might care much more about how you handle top issues like burnout.
- Adjust your message to appeal to them specifically. Do you know what inspires them? Can you talk about the opportunities they’ll have at your company in a way that makes sense for them?
- Send it out to the right places. Is your talent pool more active on TikTok than LinkedIn? Focus your efforts there. Is it more of a word-of-mouth kind of community? Then you might have to rely on people who are already part of that community, like your employees.
Communicate on a Human Level
Whether you’re refining your employer brand, expanding your reach through multiple channels, or targeting specific talent pools, the biggest lesson you can take from marketing is to communicate authentically. We all know when we’re getting a canned marketing or sales pitch, so there’s no reason to believe prospective or current employees are going to buy it when we do it.
In marketing, the more we connect through customer stories, being relatable, and solving problems, the better we can build trust and loyalty with prospects and customers. As you adapt the marketing tactics discussed in this post, remember to bring it back to the people you’re connecting with, internally and externally.
Tell them the story of who you are. Understand what they need. Speak to them where they are. And keep working on those relationships after they’ve joined your company.
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