Employer Branding: Going Tribal


People are relational beings. We are hardwired for community and interpersonal interactions. And when we buy, we often do so based on emotional resonance with a particular brand. We effectively become fellow tribe members who share a common value set.

We value imagination (GE) or happiness (Coca-Cola) or safety (Volvo) or performance (Intel). In all of this, there’s a very real sense we have a certain ownership in that brand, and the brand itself becomes part of who we are.

BRAND TRUTH: Just as a company’s marketing team develops its brand strategy to advance the organization’s business strategy, so too should the employer brand strategy work to support both the brand and business strategies.

Marketers live in a world of “positioning” and “differentiation” to create clear lines of distinction between their given product or service and those of their competitors. The more a given product speaks at an individual level, the more powerful those communications (and brand) become. This is why so much time is invested in market research, understanding in great detail the values, preferences, and purchasing behaviors of a brand’s target demographic. Marketers understand that a well-defined audience makes for well-defined messaging.

In most instances, the goal is not to capture the entire purchasing market, but to capture the target purchasing market. Anything above and beyond that is a win. These marketers have defined what the tribe is to look, sound, think, and act like. Maintaining focus and keeping the message “small” (i.e., highly targeted) takes a lot of discipline, but savvy marketers understand the goal is ultimately brand equity—loyalty embedded at the heart level—which depends on correct market share.

All of this has direct implications for employer branding. Organizationally, there must be one brand. There are distinct value propositions based on audience and the action a company wishes that audience to take (i.e., candidate versus consumer). And while a marketing strategy around employer branding may (and should) include external and internal communications that clearly articulate the company’s employer value proposition (EVP), its distinctiveness, and position it competitively in a complex and oversaturated marketplace (the “large”), the strategy and communications must always strive toward deeper, one-on-one connections with distinct audience members (the small).

That means knowing them in-depth. It means understanding how they prefer to be communicated with, what they value, and calibrating messaging that aligns your key offerings to those candidate motivators. The difference between how many organizations approach employer branding and what we’ve outlined here is that they remain fixed more on self-promotion than on relating to their target audiences. The process never gets effectively personal, remaining instead at the proverbial 30,000 feet. And this shortcoming isn’t relegated to external audiences. It becomes far more detrimental if automation, closed doors, or functional silos replace meaningful connection internally.

If an organization wants to create true “brand ambassadors,” they need to make what’s big, small. Brand is built on relationships that grow increasing levels of trust. And trust won’t happen without relationship.

Here’s what this might look like in practice: instead of system-generated decline letters, perhaps you choose five of those people to call directly to share how much you appreciate their consideration of your company as an employer. While that might not touch everybody, you’ll likely have five more brand advocates than you had before. Magnify that over time and across the recruiting function, and you’ll be building brand in a memorable way.

How about your organization? How are you putting meaningful shoe leather to your brand through concrete relationship development? Interested in your thoughts …