Employer branding is how a company expresses its reputation and markets its employment experience. Here are the important components, along with tips to improve your own employer branding strategy.

What do people think about working at your company? What impression do they have? What would employees and your top talent list as the pros and cons? The good and bad?

The responses to these questions are a key metric of your employer brand and a gauge of your company’s reputation in the marketplace. They are also an indicator of how well your brand will do when it comes to acquiring talent.

Is an employer brand the same as company marketing?

At first glance, it seems that an employer brand is the same as company marketing, when it’s actually quite different. The employer brand is the concern of the marketing department, as well as product, sales, and everything in between.

Traditional marketing tries to get consumers or other companies to do business with you. It’s about what you’re selling.

Then what is employer branding?

Employer branding, on the other hand, is about your reputation as an employer in the marketplace.

That’s why companies tout their inclusion in lists such as “The Best Places To Work.” A list like that is a stamp of approval that the culture, workplace, and environment are top-tier.

Here’s how the consulting firm Deloitte defines employer branding:

An employer brand … seeks to encapsulate the total value that employees gain from their relationship with an employer. By articulating and promoting an employer brand, a company can communicate the value of an integrated portfolio of benefits, helping employees appreciate the full scope of what the employer offers and enhancing the attractiveness of the employee-employer relationship.

The benefits of strong employer branding may be obvious, and you may even be convinced of its value. But is it making a real difference in your company? Most HR teams believe in the power of an employer brand—80% of talent leaders think it has an impact on their recruiting—but that doesn’t always mean the company makes it a priority.

But they should. When companies have a solid employee value proposition, retention and job satisfaction are high. This impacts the company's overall reputation.

It may be time to increase the resources you use to maintain a positive employer brand to help expand your footprint for talent acquisition.

What Are the Important Parts of an Employer Brand?

When shaping your employer branding strategy, consider how each of these elements impacts your employer brand.

1. Company culture

Company culture is the ethos of a company. Ideally, this culture is action-oriented, rather than policy-driven, emphasizing attitudes and actions instead of what’s cited on a slide deck.

“Culture is learned behavior—it’s not a by-product of operations. It’s not an overlay,” Jim Whitehurst, then the CEO of Red Hat, wrote in a 2016 article for Harvard Business Review. “We create our organizational culture by the actions we take; not the other way around.”

Company culture is an organic force that seeps its way into the public sphere through your employees, their interactions, and the publicity you do. Company culture is what is on your agenda and what you are focused on, and it even informs your business decisions.

2. Company reputation

Company reputation describes how employees discuss your company, your workplace, and the overall working environment. Word of mouth, review boards, and community forum discussions can affect how your company is perceived by the best talent.

However, there is often a disconnect between what candidates expect and what happens once they arrive. A study by Weber Shandwick showed that only 19% of employees said the employer brand they imagined lined up with reality. And it found that employers that strongly aligned their brands with expectations increased retention, recruitment and productivity.

3. Personalized outreach

With a strong employer brand, you can reach out directly to potential candidates and get a better response rate. Personalized outreach to passive candidates is effective, and a solid employer reputation and brand will make them more likely to respond.

How do you initiate this outreach? Try looking at the candidate’s social media for appropriate references or mention any connections or work they did at previous employers.

Direct sourcing can make candidates feel wanted. When that outreach is supported by a strong employer brand, candidates are more likely to consider your company.

4. Innovation

In an article for Harvard Business Review , former Netflix HR exec Patty McCord wrote that “good talent managers think like business people and innovators first, and like HR people last.” But in order for that to happen at the HR level, it needs to happen within your company first.

Many times, HR is someone’s introduction to your company. Is your HR department innovative and disruptive? Is it responsive and decisive? These qualities trickle down to the types of people that are attracted to your brand. Employees are searching for reasons to remain with a company. Innovation is the hidden “wow” factor that makes employees proud to be among your company’s ranks.

How to Improve Your Employer Brand

1. Properly maintain your social media

Companies used to take out ads or magazine spreads to discuss their company reputation. Many still send out press releases with notable accomplishments, but this is meant for journalists and the media, not necessarily for potential employees.

Social media has replaced a lot of that and has become the No. 1 source for potential employees checking out a brand’s culture.

One thing they’re looking for? Personality. This doesn’t mean your brand has to be different from your culture. But it should be representative of what the culture is really like. So, if your culture is fun, make your social media reflect that. If it’s straight-laced, that’s OK, too. Your social media shouldn’t give a false image of your company.

2. Prioritize employee advocacy

Employee advocacy is how your employees talk about your brand with others. It’s influencer marketing for the recruitment process.

Your employees have ideas and opinions, and good advocacy means helping them make these ideas come to life. Did your product manager think of a great feature? Create a social media story or blog post around it. Let them speak at the all-company meeting. Potential employees want to know that their voice will count when they make a move, and employee advocacy is the way to show that.

3. Incorporate executive strategy

In many companies, employer brand has transcended human resources and marketing and become part of the CEO’s role. A report from Universum found that 60% of CEOs view employer branding as their responsibility.

Employer branding has reached critical mass at the executive level. If it’s on their radar, try to leverage that access and interest. If your CEO believes they can help and are responsible for the employer brand, take advantage of it.

What does a great employer brand look like?

Now that we have examined all of the key factors of what makes an exciting employer brand, let’s take a look at a company that is doing employer branding exceptionally well.

L’Oreal, the makeup and hair-care brand, has a strong employer brand. Once you take a look at their assets, you start to understand the difference between simple marketing and innovative employer branding.

What makes L’Oreal stand out?

Dedicated LinkedIn campaign. Once the company reached 300,000 LinkedIn followers, L’Oreal launched a campaign to connect its followers with open positions. The “In” campaign displayed company values and how they related to open positions, inviting followers to explore and take part.

Recruiting on YouTube. Separate from its core brand, L’Oreal also has a YouTube channel called L’Oreal Groupe that solely focuses on recruiting and working at the company. It shows how the company brainstorms, life with its interns, and how to craft your resume to stand out to the recruiting team.

Content and blogging. The company also runs a blog dedicated to life and careers at L’Oreal, including profiles, news, and experiences from employees. The page shares personal success stories from employees, a strong example of employee advocacy.

An Employer Brand Is Bigger Than Individual Parts

An employer brand is more than the sum of its parts. It is the first impression that you want everyone to have when they think of working for your company. You are aiming for a genuine and trustworthy expression of your brand. To make it stick, you need buy-in from each level: from individual recruiters, your HR department, employees in all departments, and your executive team.