Employer Branding for Small Buiness

I'm James Ellis, the Employer Brand Nerd.

And employer brand isn't just for big companies.

It is for YOU.

If you're a company with less than 1,000 employees who thought you couldn't afford to make your employer brand work for you, this book won't just change your mind, it will give you a details plan of attack!

It's an Amazon best seller on the Human Resources and Small Business charts!

Available now on Amazon

Get an inside look!

Amazon Link

Excerpt: Brand is Clarity

All this is to say that your brand shapes prospects’ and candidates’ perceptions of you, making them very much more or very much less interested in working for you.

It is the bait that attracts them to engage and apply.

It has a big impact on their decision to accept the offer.

It has been shown to encourage people to stay.

The trouble occurs when businesses think all they have to do is say, “we’re a great place to do work,” “we have a great culture,” or “we’re like a family” and treat the project as done. They treat these bland statements like a panacea, something one says to make everything better.
But candidates are smarter than that. In the last ten years, we have witnessed the internet rip away the curtain companies hid behind. No longer can they treat their people poorly without it showing up on Twitter. They can’t steal tips from service staff without it showing up on Yelp. They can’t create toxic, sexist, racist, and homophobic environments without it showing up on Glassdoor. 

Ten years ago, a business could threaten staff with libel suits to keep them quiet, but who would they tell? “Boss is a jerk” isn’t exactly the type of story the local news was interested in running. Before the internet, there simply wasn’t a means to get the word out. Obviously, that’s no longer the case.

Companies finally figured out the value of managing their reputations (primarily by limiting negative behaviors). But for the most part, they haven’t come to grips with what it takes to be clear in the talent marketplace.

Because the process of thinking about and managing your employer brand isn’t linear. There are no good employer brands and there are no bad ones. 

There are strong brands, where the company is well known for a few core ideas (think Volvo and safety or Nike and athletics or Coke and happiness). They are well known because they have focused their messaging and found innumerable ways to reinforce that message without getting repetitive. That’s why Coke commercials involve polar bears, Santa, first dates, watching a ball game, hanging out with friends at a party, etc. These are all situations where we generally feel happy and Coke is associating itself with happiness. (You might notice that they rarely, if ever, use the word ‘happiness.’ The repetition of that single idea is what created that strong brand sense.)

There’s a tendency to equate ‘brand strength’ with ‘brand attractiveness’, but that’s a mistake. Facebook was well known for its “move fast and break things” brand, which was crystal clear in myriad ways, attracting lots of younger-skewing applicants. But for every 25-year-old coder running Leetcode drills to survive the tech screen, there were dozens of people who had zero interest in the company. For every person dreaming of getting into Goldman Sachs, there were hundreds who wouldn’t dream of working 100-hour work weeks, regardless of any future payout. But those were very strong brands. People knew EXACTLY what working there was like and wanted to sign up. 

There are weak brands, where the company isn’t clear on what message it wants to share. They tend to take two shapes: The most common is the company that doesn’t offer anything but banalities about how they are a great employer. There are no proof points to back anything up, and frankly, the company never wants to get specific about the ways in which they are a good employer. By not saying anything concrete, everything sounds like a motivational poster. And it has the credibility to match. Saying that working here is like “joining a family” sounds like a generally positive experience. But does that mean everyone will be screaming at each other at Thanksgiving? Will the dad be a secret alcoholic that the rest of the leadership tries to cover up? Will there be an employee who seems to get away with doing almost nothing because they’ve achieved some kind of “favorite child” status? I mean, I don’t know how many families end up firing Aunt Sue, so what exactly does “we’re a family” mean? But the lack of detail or specifics is exactly the point.

Alternatively, a weak brand tries to say everything. What’s important for them to communicate has more to do with the “idea of the month” in the Wall Street Journal or Fast Company than it has to do with what the company is really like as an employer. It is a weak brand because they spread your limited attention across every conceivable messaging topic, checking the boxes by “saying something” about important topics like work from home, flexibility, work-life balance, diversity, family leave, mental health, performance, data-driven decision-making, everyone has a voice, et al, but never actually saying… anything. 

I often see companies post on LinkedIn that they had a speaker come in and talk with staff about DEI issues, but they say nothing about what was shared, what was learned, or what changes the company might make in the future. Only that it was “a positive experience all around,” whatever that means. And they treat all ideas like that. The weakness is in how with all these niceties thrown around, what should a prospect believe? What should they think about that company? They spent time writing a post without any sense of what they wanted the reader to take away.

So measured in terms of strength, a brand becomes better the more it focuses everything it says in the same direction. 

When a small company gets clear about what it offers, it can compete against bigger companies. Think about how a small boutique store can compete with Target. The boutique sells exclusively up-market and vintage denim at a premium. Compared to Target, which has stores across America and sells jeans for a tenth of the price that the boutique can, you’d think Target would demolish the little company. But as the boutique is known for something specific, something that isn’t easy to find, it can sell right next to Target and thrive. People would come from farther away to the boutique than they would to Target because it was so specialized.

But if that boutique didn’t specialize, if they sold socks and candles and art prints and french fries right alongside the denim, they wouldn’t be as interesting. It would feel like a quirky shop that was dabbling in “fun stuff.” It might feel like a hobby that turned into a store. And as the candles sell out, they might be replaced with funky barrettes and t-shirts. Its purpose and focus, which had previously drawn people from far away, became yet another store that sold… stuff. You won’t be surprised when the storefront gets turned into a coffee shop in a few months.

The more you focus and are crystal clear on who you are and what you offer,  the better you will stand out from a crowded market of “me too!” companies and the bigger “all things to everyone” brands.

When competing for talent, being the smaller company means you can’t win by playing Follow the Leader. That’s a game where the goal is to forever remain behind the leader. What big companies do only works for big companies. They can win with a weak message because they can afford to spend huge amounts of money on tech stacks and ads. They can rely on a well-known consumer brand. They can rely on being in the news a lot. Their brand strategy is based on being massive. Even if you stole all their tricks and strategies, they won’t work for a smaller company.

Thus, you need to take a different approach. You need to challenge the conventional wisdom (the way of doing things that exists because the big companies are doing them), which means leaning on what makes you different, what makes you unique. What do you offer that only some people want, but those people REALLY want it? That’s where your employer brand will become a powerful magnet, attracting great talent to you instead of you having to chase it.

Let’s just highlight this. The very first iron-clad, no-exception rule of employer branding is that you need to focus your message.

Want to read the first 30 pages? Here's the PDF.

Rather watch the video?

Employer Branding for Small Business is also available as an on-demand video course.

It is the exact same content (it even includes the book), but I walk you through the think and process.

This course is $99 per person.

Let's take the course!

Hi. I'm James Ellis.

Having spent the better part of a decade developing employer brands and EVPs for Groupon, Roku, Enova, Recursion, Telecare, TradeShift, Gearset, CreditShop, and others, I focus exclusively on helping companies build and activate their employer brand so that they can compete (and win) against much larger companies. How? By creating and growing the next generation of employer brand leaders, managers, and specialists.

That's why Google calls me the employer brand nerd.

Employer Brand Labs, LLC

EBL is dedicated to bringing the power and value of employer branding to every single company, regardless of size, industry, or region.

You can be an employer not just of "choice," but of desire.

If you're ready to start attracting great talent to you instead of chasing it, reach out.
James Ellis [LinkedIn]
421 W Melrose St
Chicago, IL 60657