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Strong Employer Branding Is How You Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be. Where Are You on the Journey?

Plotting your current place — and responding accordingly — can be a springboard to a strategy that attracts and keeps the best talent.

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The power of employer branding is unmistakable. In 2022, according to a specialist company in that field, Universum, 86% of the world's most attractive employers reported that it was a top priority for their strategies. Businesses that realize the value of harnessing it will lead the charge toward better employer-employee relationships and more brand visibility. Employer branding is the bridge from where a business is today to where it wants to be tomorrow.

A well-conceived and executed employer brand can become the foundation of the entire employee experience, from job candidate status to corporate alumnus. A Glassdoor poll found that 86% of employees and job seekers research company reviews and ratings when choosing which business to apply to, and an effective employer brand can serve as free advertising— one that informs the world about what a company stands for and what people can expect if they become part of its team.

Sound exciting to you as a leader? Employer branding can be all these things and more, but there's one crucial step required before taking action: Diagnosing your employer brand maturity. Gauging this will help you take a snapshot of current resources and the sophistication of internal communications — then allow you to start making real progress rather than spinning wheels, including naming the most immediate challenges and prioritizing moves in response.

Related: Why Employer Branding Is So Important

Below are the four stages of employer branding and how to identify your company's status. Remember: This has nothing to do with the size or legacy of an organization. Any business could be anywhere on the scale. But once you've established where you are, use that knowledge as a springboard to build a strategy to reach your goals.

Stage 1: Infancy

You're in this stage if a company has never thought about, not yet activated or tried and discarded an employer branding strategy. At this point, you need buy-in from champions: otherwise, you'll struggle to get an action plan going and the corresponding budget in place. Executives mired in this stage might even view an employer brand as non-essential, which will further reduce their investment in the concept.

Begin by researching, validating and building an early-stage plan. Get people excited about it throughout your company by explaining the many benefits that come from successful employer branding. Once you have some support, take what you've learned and launch a few associated initiatives. For example, the digital communications technology company, Cisco, is a shining beacon of employer branding done right. Its website is clean and easy to access, and materials are easy to find. When launching similar programs, be sure to test everything, share your knowledge and iterate for further support and funding down the road.

Related: Your Reputation on the Line: Employer Branding

Stage 2: Adolescence

When your business is in this phase, branding has started to take shape. There's initial buy-in because people understand that without an employer brand, they'll continue to have recruitment or attrition issues. Although some people might still regard one as an obligation, most realize at this stage that it's a requirement. So, you're dealing with reactive rather than proactive acceptance, appreciation and adoption.

This is a "foot in the door" period during which you'll want to concentrate on building team engagement. In PetSmart's employer branding strategy, this took the form of the company showcasing its love for both pets and people: Introducing #LifeAtPetSmart helped employees feel more connected to the business and their work while maintaining the pet-lovers image the company is known for.

You can begin moving in the right direction by asking teams to manage and own the measurement of employer branding so that you can show how ROI is moving either up or down. KPIs to measure might include net promoter scores, new hire feedback scores and turnover metrics. In this adolescent stage, you start to unify everyone around effective employer branding strategy ideas.

Stage 3: Maturity

At this level, employer branding is fully aligned within a company. It's part of the future vision for the business: Team members are using it as a competitive advantage and it's completely integrated as a business-sustaining factor — so ingrained into the fabric that it's practically taken for granted.

Even if you think you're at the maturity stage, don't settle for a "set it and forget it" attitude: Instead, use all of that positivity and authenticity to tailor and refine strategies even further.

Note that 20 to 30% of HR managers report increased productivity and higher retention rates as a result of well-implemented employer branding. So, armed with historical data, aim to measure your brand's impact on human resources concerns, like the percentage of valued applications, the number of offers accepted and annual talent flow to competitors.

Related: How to Develop a Stellar Employer Brand

Stage 4: Decline

This stage frequently occurs after a major transition, but will eventually happen regardless. Employer branding is cyclical and simply destined to decline after a period of full maturity. Concepts get tired, and what was once refreshingly poignant or intuitive gets old, worn and often misaligned with the true DNA of an organization.

Although being at this stage isn't ideal, it's also a chance to start reconstructing a reputation with fresh enthusiasm. Research from LinkedIn found that "…with even small, simple tweaks, companies can improve their employer branding strategies to attract, recruit and retain the best employees."

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