Strong brands stand out from the competition in our mind. We recall them more easily, so as consumers, we tend to equate strength with being different, but there is a small nuance there.
Strong brands are not all different
The strength of a brand, its ability to stick to customers’ minds and to inspire positive attitudes, does not come from being different. That is more a consequence than a cause of a brand’s strength.
Brands like Intel, Oracle or SAP are all in the top 30 of most valuable brands worldwide in 2017. They have pretty boring logos and you don’t see them running spectacular ads with celebrities or catchy tag lines on TV.
And yet, their brands alone, separate of any other assets, sit on their respective balance sheets for billions of dollars of worth. They’re the perfect example of extremely strong brands that don’t necessarily strike the customer as “different”.
Brand differentiation: what is it?
Those brands are worth so much because they project a strong, clear signal of what the company stands for. They tell the customer: here is what we promise to deliver.
That promise, that first quality that comes to mind when you see their logo or hear their name, doesn’t have to be exciting or ground-breaking to attract the right customers. But it has to be extremely well-defined. The clarity of the brand matters much more than its originality or fun factor.
That is the nuance between different and differentiated.
Why does it matter for Employers?
When you think about it, simply doing something because no one else is doing it is not good branding strategy: you end up being constrained by external factors, instead of building a brand that suits you.
For example, you could decide that, as a Healthcare company, you will stand out from other Healthcare employers by developing an employer brand around spirituality and mindfulness. No one else is doing that, so that’s great… in theory.
In reality, what will probably happen is that, if that image does not match the reality of your workplace at all, then you have set yourself up for failure. You’ll be attracting candidates only to disappoint them when they get to know you, or even worse, when they are hired and discover that no one in their office has ever even tried meditation.
Differentiation starts in your workplace, inside the company, not on a whiteboard.
Building a differentiated Employer Brand
A differentiated brand is sharply defined against the background of all the other brands. It makes a clear promise, and supports that promise with tangible evidence.
To achieve that result, list the concrete elements that identify you as an employer. They can be things like the vibe at your different offices, the skillsets valued by the company, the career growth paths you offer to your employees, the benefits, the locations, the flexibility options… as long as it’s a tangible value that your employees receive, it qualifies.
Then put together all these elements into a single idea, and make sure it hits the two following conditions:
Your Employer Brand must be coherent
Your brand as an employer must leverage and resonate with your overall company brand, as well as with the reality of your workplace. It needs to tell a story that makes sense. It doesn’t need to be exhaustive, detailed, or, again, completely different from everyone else; but it has to resonate with the rest of your reality.
In other words, if you are a bookseller known for neat and quiet shops, you can’t try to build an employer brand around exciting, every-day-is-a-party workplace environments. And that is ok! Some people want to work in neat and quiet bookshops, and will immensely enjoy keeping them organized and orderly for their customers.
Your employer brand must also be relevant
It’s great if your employer brand makes sense, but it also has to help you hire the people you need. It has to communicate a message that is relevant to your target candidates.
If you are looking to hire engineers with a track record for innovative problem solving, you need to find a way to inject that into your brand, perhaps by highlighting innovative co-creation sessions that your tech team holds with other departments in the company.
Differentiate to detract
Not everyone in the market is a good fit for your company. Even among candidates with the right skills and qualifications, there are individuals who
- Don’t have the right cultural fit
- Prioritize different values in their day-to-day decision-making
- Think some skills matter more than others and will invest more in developing them
- View professional growth differently from what your company offers
- Can’t adapt to your work environment and are more productive elsewhere
So why would you want to waste efforts to attract them in the first place?
A good brand puts off at least some people. Take the screenshot below, taken from Attest’s Careers page:
They are very clear about rejecting military-like values such as hierarchy, and looking for people who thrive in a flat environment. On the other hands, you have startups like Logz.io who believe that having been in the military is an incredible advantage for employees in a startup. Both know exactly what they are looking for, and both are clear about it.
To build a believable, sharp, differentiated brand, employers need to commit to defined values and priorities, and back them up with facts. The more focused those values and priorities are, the more differentiated the brand will be.
The result will be that your ideal candidates will like you more, and your brand will resonate better with them. So what if, as a consequence, others like you a little less? The trade-off is worth it.
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