Paying attention is free

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In the world of employer branding, two things are discussed more than any other topics: budget and metrics.  I mean, I haven’t done a study on this, but it’s definitely been my experience.

I don’t claim to be the most talented person in the world, but one thing I am good at is figuring out how to get stuff done for free, when the most obvious solution is to throw money at it. Incidentally, I think I just re-homed a chicken, but that’s a talent we can discuss at another time.

So doing stuff for free. When I started working for myself, before I decided to focus on employer branding, a number of my clients were small businesses looking for a digital footprint. One thing that new businesses have in common is a lack of money. And early in my consulting career, my own scarcity complex was enriched by my fear of failure – I treasured every dollar I had because the more I had and could hold on to, the longer I could stay afloat while I was figuring things out. By the way, if you are starting a business and don’t have a fear of failure, you better get one (click to tweet). Anyway, what I am trying to say is that I am super frugal on behalf of my clients and, naturally, by my own disposition.

I find that there are so many things that seem like they would cost a lot of money to do that don’t. So I am inclined, when faced with a challenge or opportunity, to see what I can do for free or at a very low costs.

In employer branding, I think with all the talk about budget, there is perhaps disproportionate attention paid to those programs that cost money. And, I think that all other things being equal, practitioners will naturally default to activities that are easily measured as well. I mean, when leaders are asking for ROI, they are looking at two things: budget and metrics.

I want to encourage folks in EB roles to step back and not focus solely on the supremely measurable and costly programs. Listening is free(ish), it’s an important element of employer branding and it can have a major impact on your brand, even if it’s hard to measure (click to tweet).

Listening: what it is and why it’s important

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that any marketing or branding function at a company should have a listening program. I mean, you can go out and measure brand perception at any point in time to know where you stand with your target audiences – this is a great starting place because you want a baseline to work from. But perception of your brand shifts over time, new factors come into play, competitors appear, new opportunities present themselves, and you will want to know if what you are doing is working to shift perceptions (or if you need to abandon something that isn’t working). You need to monitor your brand in real-time to head off the nasties, jump on opportunities and feed customer intelligence back to your product, recruiting or marketing/branding teams (click to tweet). Otherwise, you are going to change your name to International House of Burgers and your target customers will think “wut?”

In other, simpler words: always be listening.

Measurability is important at a macro level but it isn’t everything

Without metrics, it’s likely that you won’t have an employer branding program because nobody is going to give you money if you can’t demonstrate ROI, amirite? But there is some stuff that gives your brand a bump that is hard, if not impossible, to measure. Still do those things.

Think about some of the work you do as “goodwill”. A company has value above and beyond the assets that are identifiable on the balance sheet, and the strength of their brand is one of the elements that contributes to that value.

Company value = (assets - liabilities) + goodwill

Goodwill is an intangible; it has real value, but it’s hard to measure. It's the delta between what your company is worth on the books and what someone is willing to pay for it. It's a premium paid for the magic you do. It's practically the definition of "brand" (click to tweet). Companies don’t decline to invest in factors that improve goodwill. Quite to the contrary; this is what they want to build because, given that assets are a set and known cost, goodwill is what increases value. It’s leverage. It’s upside.

Now, I am not saying that all of your employer branding (or marketing) programs needs to be free/organic. I’m just saying that returns on investments such as advertising are pretty predictable. Yeah, it might fluctuate a little. And yeah, sometimes you can hit it out of the ballpark. But you can also hit it out of the ballpark with things that don’t cost a lot of money. These things can be hard to measure, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do them. In fact, when they aren’t costly, why wouldn’t you do them?

Who is doing this well on social?

Social media is prime territory for real-time responses that are teed up via an effective listening strategy. The queen of all timely responses (to both other social media users and current events), is undisputed: it’s Wendy’s. There are some other secrets to their magic on social, but I’ll save that for another post.

If Wendy’s is the queen, perhaps Sanofi is heir to the throne. And they ascended from a single tweet, in response to Roseanne Barr blaming Ambien for her racist tweet.


Not only did they respond, but they did so with humor (taking a page from Wendys’ playbook) and they boosted their employer brand with their tweet. Bazinga!

You have to listen in order to respond. When you do, there are huge opportunities. You probably heard of Ambien before, but had you ever heard about Sanofi or give their workforce a second thought?

I’ll work on pulling together some examples of other companies doing this particularly well for employer branding and will post again to share them. In the meantime, if you have an example to share, please feel free to comment below.