Employer Branding Will Supersede Traditional Advertising Strategies in 2020

Traditional advertising campaigns for products and services have come to a full stop.  In a flash, society has learned that what matters most, above all else, is the people we care for, surround ourselves with, and support. Connecting with people. Helping people. Supporting our communities. These things are driving the business and branding decisions we make now. Everything else is a distraction. That’s where Employer Branding comes in.

Manufacturing companies like Dyson, Ford, and GM didn’t just change their branding initiatives, overnight they changed the products they produce – moving from manufacturing vacuums and vehicles to personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators. Fashion houses like LVMH, Christian Siriano, Smythe and Eddie Bauer are now producing hand sanitizer and face masks. Iconic brands such as these are no longer promoting the  products that once defined them. Instead, they’re emphasizing the work they are doing to give back, and the people behind the scenes who are doing this critical work.

We have begun referring to our grocery clerks, delivery persons, toilet paper manufacturers, EMTs, nurses, and doctors as our “Heroes”.  The bravery of these essential service workers is obvious, and more valued than ever. And many of these workers have no option but to be brave. They face risks daily to earn the money their families need and ensure there is food on their tables. Many others are living away from home to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to focus on their life-saving work. These heroes are physically exhausted, they are emotionally stretched, and in some cases, traumatized. Yet, they are the ones driving and shaping your brand during this time, and they are your customers as well. 

As we look towards a return to work in the coming months, we know things will be forever altered.  I predict the world of advertising and branding will be as well. There are already plenty of viral spoof ads circulating that illustrate how insensitive and out of place the typical, business-as-usual advertising will be, and how little it will connect with a world that is forever changed. Matt Buechele’s comedic twitter post with over 2 million views is a great example.

For all of these reasons, Employer Branding will supersede traditional advertising strategies in 2020. If you’re still not convinced,  below are 5 more reasons to consider. 

1. Brand and Media Trust Is at An All-Time Low. 

Less than half of Americans trust traditional media, according to a recent Ipsos survey, and I suspect those numbers will drop even more in the coming months.  Many businesses were forced to restructure and put employees on furlough. Despite best efforts, over 17 million North Americans have filed for unemployment. For these people, their families, and friends, it will be the brands that respected and supported their workforce and communities during COVID, that will emerge with the greatest market share and share of consumer and employee trust. According to the Edelman Brand Trust report from March 30, 2020, a staggering 71 percent of consumers agree that if they perceive that a brand is putting profit over people, they will lose trust in that brand forever. That’s why Employer Branding is so effective – it’s all about connecting with and prioritizing people.

2. Employees Have Proven Their Value. It’s Time That Workplaces Prove Theirs.

Your employees have risen to the challenges presented to them during the crisis. They worked from home with children and spouses in tow. They mastered Zoom and virtual meetings. They came into workplaces and were patient with difficult customers, even though they feared getting sick. They worked around the clock to support new communications and to build new products. Many even took pay cuts and reduced their work hours so that their colleagues could keep their jobs. Employees everywhere have stepped up during this time of crisis and proven their value to employers. And they know it. 

So, in the weeks and months ahead, smart organizations will place a much greater focus on recognizing their employees and branding them as heroes. And rightly so. Employees everywhere have kept companies operational and have persevered through this crisis, which is not yet over. Even once we return to work, the economy will be fragile and slow to rebound, and our workforce will return to face uncertainty and new risks.  Employer Branding and storytelling will be of tremendous importance during this time, not only for driving earned media results, but also to help workplace cultures transform through this crisis and stay engaged. 

3. Engagement and Retention Issues. 

This crisis has enabled  the global workforce to slow down and ask themselves  some hard questions about what matters most in life. Am I working with the people and organization that I want to be associated with? Will the 2-hour commute into the office be worth it to me in future? Once I know that my job is secure and that I’ve got options, what company do I believe in and want to work for? These are some of the questions that top talent is asking themselves right now. So, while the majority of your workforce has stayed and will continue to stay with you out of necessity during this crisis, when the  dust settles, top talent will weigh their options and may move on. 

Why? Employees may be disillusioned with their current employer and may have formed negative impressions of the company and its leadership, based on negative press or handling of COVID-related situations. Or, it’s possible that after being isolated and limited on lock-down, a new job will suddenly feel exciting and less risky. Regardless, great employees won’t invest their time and efforts with employers they don’t believe in –  they will simply walk away.

Post-secondary institutions know this and are anticipating record numbers of Continuing Education enrollments in the months ahead, related to people upskilling to become more attractive candidates for new jobs. If employee engagement was a challenge before this crisis, rest assured that, as we emerge from the COVID-19 cloud, engagement and retention of top talent will hit a breaking point. The companies that work on Employer Branding and engagement now, are the ones that will recover faster and take on more market share. 

4. Recruitment Needs Will Explode.

Although the numbers keep changing, roughly 17 million workers are newly unemployed. As the caution tape comes down on playgrounds and workplace barricades are removed, those unemployed workers will be seeking work and employers everywhere will be competing for the best talent, at the same time. Although economic recovery may be slow and businesses will be cautious,  the recruitment space will be active and the standard “WE ARE HIRING” messages won’t be enough.  

Strong Employer Branding and a clearly defined EVP (employee value proposition) will be critical to differentiate and elevate your employer brand in the talent market.  While this will be important for big businesses, as their recruitment needs will likely be sizable, it will be as important if not more so for small and mid-sized businesses. Without having the advantage of offering the same kinds of stability, salary, training resources, or perks and health benefits, small and mid-sized businesses will really need to rely on employer branding to stand out and appeal to top talent.

5. If Your Business Doesn’t Offer Hope, You Have No Purpose.

During times of crisis people are drawn back to the church, to spirituality, to life coaches, and even self improvement. Why? People are constantly seeking hope, enlightenment, and a reason for being. It is only logical then that companies and business leaders need to step up and more effectively convey their vision and greater purpose. They need to offer hope to their workforce and consumers simultaneously. When it comes to marketing and communications, there will no longer be a debate of who is more important to a company and who do you need to support – the customer or the employee? Your employee is, without question, your 2020 target branding persona, and you have to show what you have done and will continue to do to support them and your community. Your employee expects it and your customer expects it as well. So, offer your employees hope with your advertising and communications. Convey to them a purpose, so that they can heal from the trauma of the last few months and look forward to helping rebuild your workplace and our economy with pride. 

Why Employer Branding? Final Thoughts. 

The world has forever changed. How we look at brands, advertising, and workplaces has rapidly evolved. And because our trust is shaken, our need for purpose and humanity is elevated.  We are indeed entering the Age of Aquarius; workplaces will be challenged to put people above profits, but the impact of that will be positive. Over the next year, company reputations, brand trust, employee engagement, and who emerges as best-in-class leadership, will all be evaluated based on the effectiveness and humanity of your Employer Brand story. If that hasn’t been a focus for you before, it needs to be. It’s time for employers and agencies to rise to the occasion.  Say goodbye to traditional advertising and get ready for compelling, authentic, and people-focused Employer Branding.

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