In this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I interview James Ellis. James. James is the principal of Employer Brand Labs in Chicago and is a born employer branding nerd whose mission is to create a million employer brand thinkers. He is an author, keynote speaker, practitioner, and podcaster with a wealth of experience across multiple industries for almost a decade.
No matter the size of your company, you can use an employer brand to your advantage. With it, not only could you be seen as a desirable place for great talent but also gain serious business outcomes – like reducing recruitment costs and shortening search times! In this episode, James Ellis shares his insights on what exactly an employer brand means and how it’s possible to make the most out of yours.
Questions I ask James Ellis:
- [1:20] What is employer branding and why does it matter?
- [2:29] Would you go as far as to say a primary marketing message talking about what a great team you have and how great people like to work there, is really not a bad attraction message for customers either is it?
- [4:46] How does somebody need to start thinking about creating and communicating a positive employer brand?
- [7:38] Culture and employer branding are the same in a lot of ways – would you say one is just the communication of it in an outward way?
- [11:46] How do you measure employer branding and what is the ROI?
- [13:39] Should employer branding be in the marketing department? And how are companies wrestling with marrying marketing, recruiting, and overall branding?
- [15:50] There are plenty of surveys out there that show that people will take far less money to work in a place that focuses on creating a great ROI – would you ever use that type of argument to get the ROI and practical nature of this?
- [18:50] I tell people all of the time you have to have a narrow focus on who’s an ideal client, and that means you have to tell some people they’re not an ideal client. Would you suggest to some degree that as a company the same idea applies?
- [21:06] What has virtual remote work from home done to this dynamic?
- [23:19] Where can more people connect with you and find out more about your work?
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John Jantsch (00:00): This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by Nudge, hosted by Phil Agnew. It's brought to you by the HubSpot Podcast Network, the audio destination for business professionals. You can learn the science behind great marketing with bite size 20 minute episodes, packed with practical advice from world-class marketers and behavioral scientists. And it's not always about marketing. Great episode. Recently you learned the surprising truths about and tips for beating, stress and anxiety. Sounds like a great program, doesn't it? Listen to Nudge wherever you get your podcasts. Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is James Ellis. He's a principal of Employer Brand Labs in Chicago, is a born employer branding nerd whose mission is to create a million employer brand thinkers. He's an author of keynote speaker, practitioner, and podcaster with a wealth of experience across multiple industries for almost a decade. We're gonna talk about, you guessed it, employee branding, employer branding. James, welcome to the show.
James Ellis (01:18): Thanks so much for having me, John. I'm thrilled to be here. So
John Jantsch (01:21): This is one of those topics that we probably shouldn't have to, but we better start with what is in fact employer branding, and then we can go into why it matters.
James Ellis (01:29): No, I honestly, the employer brand has been long run long enough, but it's still vaguely understood that I watched lots of people try and sell it. And I'm like, until you define it, that's why I feel like you're just grabbing me by the ankles and trying to shake the change outta my pocket. Classic if such a thing could be said, the classic definition employer brand is it is the individual perception, meaning it's in your head. It's in my head. But they're different of what is it like to work at Company X based on touchpoints and experiences, some of which happened before the recruiting and job search process. Some of happens during and some happens after. So it is that individual perceptions. So what I think it's like to work at Nike and what you think it's like to work at Nike are, can be different, but they can both be. Right. And so influencing those perceptions is the job of employer brand
John Jantsch (02:15): In, let's just go right into marketing, cuz that's all I know.
James Ellis (02:44): I don't know. So if I go to a, if I pick a flight, they're all Boeing through air buses. They're all working the same routes. They're all working. I mean, they're all flying outta O'Hare. So what's the difference? Well, gosh, the only difference is the people working there. So the difference between a delta and a, a frontier and a united is the almost exclusively a function of the people working there. So if you choose a certain kind of person they embody, they are owning that sense of what it's like to work here. And that creates the experience of what it's like to be a customer on that side. Now, airlines are an obvious example, but it's true. The, any company you work at or any company you're a consumer at, it's good to know who works there. It's good to know that they're friendly faces, that they're happy, that they're, you think they do better work, you think they're delivering a better product, right?
(03:29): Right. There is an inter intersection for the longest time employer brand has lived over in this, what I will lovingly refer to as the recruiting and talent acquisition ghetto. It's the way of saying, Hey, let's write a better job posting, or, Hey, let's make some Glassdoor scores better. What employer brand is, when you really get down to it, it's the human face of the marketing side. Marketing's gonna talk about products, it's gonna talk about features, it's gonna talk about position, you know, your classic five Ps, four Ps, however you learned it, right? But nobody talks about the people. That's the sixth p. And if employer brand can kind of own and drive that message and say, look, yes, it's a great product. Yes, it's gonna solve your problems and aren't these wonderful people who make it, it just further reinforces why someone should
John Jantsch (04:09): Buy it. I tell people it's, it's how people actually, it's how customers and prospects are experiencing your brand or company. Yeah. Because that's, it's, you know, the person answers the phone, greets 'em at the door, you know, sells 'em something. I mean, that's their perception of the company.
James Ellis (04:24): Yeah. Target thinks that what it sells is products at a low price. What it really sells is a decent experience of that where I don't feel bad about myself because those people seem like they're happy wearing those red shirts and they're doing their thing. Like, okay, great. I feel better about it than I would and say another company where it just feels like everybody's, oh, this is the drudgery job.
John Jantsch (04:42): Yeah. All right. So now we've brought complete clarity to what it is. So let's talk about how somebody, like what are the components of, what are the mechanics? Like, how does somebody need to start thinking about creating, but then also communicating in a positive employer brand?
James Ellis (04:58): Yeah. Employer brand has two sides of the same coin. It is that definition, that distillation of what is this brand? What is the message we're going to market with? But it's also the ongoing seemingly perpetual means of activating and localizing that brand. So to build a brand, my model is there are four kind of legs of the stool. There is what is the stand or the actual experience of a employee working there, right? Mm-hmm.
(05:42): Everybody's motivated by different things. So what does your audience actually care about? And then what is the relative competitive set, right? Yeah. If you're talking, if you're trying to hire a product manager and a product manager can work almost anywhere, well, gosh, they have a different kind of, you know, set of competitors than say, a nurse who's only gonna work in a hospital, a clinic, or a doctor's office. So understanding those four things brings your employer brand into pretty clear clarity, right? There's a little creative work that happens to kind of distill it and kind of put a bow on it to make it like, oh wait, that's really tight. But those are the four ideas that you have to wrestle with.
John Jantsch (06:16): Well, you make a great point too about the competitiveness of the industry too. I mean, a lot of times people will think, oh, our industry is so competitive, we gotta have that extra edge, right? But where I like to go is, okay, the remodeling industry or the tree service industry, right? This is a huge edge
James Ellis (06:48): Me. Yeah, yeah. The plumber you hire, they all have the same wrenches, they all have the same hammers. It's what you do and how you do it that really makes that experience real.
John Jantsch (06:57): Yeah. And I, you know, I'm probably hypersensitive, you know, like I'm going with companies because I like their follow up process, you know? I mean, it's like, yeah, they get it if they're doing that thing, right,
James Ellis (07:08): But there, there's a swing in like, you know, if you've talked to B2B marketers, it's always about, it's not b2b, it's p2p, it's person to person. Yeah. Consumer marketing has not quite got that message that it's a person buying and it's a person selling, and they need to adopt some of those lessons as
John Jantsch (07:22): Well. Yeah. Just go read the reviews on every plumber. It's Russ, rusty fixed my boiler. He was amazing. They don't even mention the company, right? It's the person that came in.
James Ellis (07:30): Yeah, we just did our kitchen and this guy lived in my house for three weeks. I mean, it's like this. They lived here. So yeah, I, it's the experience of the human.
John Jantsch (07:37): Yeah. So let's use the culture word then, because you know, all of the employer branding initiatives in the world are not really going to move the needle if people don't think it's a great place to work, right? I mean, so yeah, how do you, I mean, they're really one and the same in a lot of ways. One is maybe just the communication of in an outward way, right?
James Ellis (07:59): Yeah. I always kind of get weirded out when this conversation starts because everybody kinda goes, oh, well I know what brand is, I know what culture is, and therefore I'm equating the two. It's like, yeah, in a shorthand that works. Yeah. But the truth is, I'm a big believer that there's a lid for every pot that the company that I wanna work with and I would adore working with, is not the company you wanna work with. And that's not, I'm good, you're a bad, or vice versa. It's simply what we want is different than as humans. That's completely natural. We look at, you know, use the stories that come out. Goldman Sachs, they're working their junior analysts to a hundred hours a week, and oh my God, the calamity. And even inside my industry was like, oh, this is gonna really impact their employer brand, and it won't.
(08:37): Because the truth is every single person hired for that job knew the workload that they were taking on, but they also knew the reward of taking that workload on. They made a conscious and very informed choice to do that thing, right? You're gonna take my twenties, I'm never gonna see my parents for 12 years. That's fine, because I'm never gonna see the inside of a coach cabin on an airplane ever again. Right? That's the trade off you're making now for someone working at state government, that sounds hellacious, but their motivations are completely different. They love the idea that at five o'clock they close their laptop, and I'm done for the day. I can go do this other thing and have this life. They're motivated by different things. Is one job better than another? No, and that's the problem. Everybody is really focused on this very linear sense of good versus bad, right?
(09:22): Glassdoor has said, this is your score, and therefore that is your employee brand. We've heard things like, this is your culture, therefore that's your employee brand. It focuses too linearly In the end, you might want status, you might want opportunity, you might want op autonomy, you might want, there's like nine core human motivations that move us to pick a job. The problem is, candidates don't realize that they are o motivated by that. But two companies need to understand that this is, they care about who they bring in and the motivations they have. If you are a company of sharks where com competition and backstabbing and win at any cost is the norm, they should be crystal clear about that so that the accidental sheep doesn't wander in and get murdered in the, you know, feel the sharks. And I know I'm cross-referencing land and and sea animals here, but
John Jantsch (10:07): There's a lot of mixed metaphors
James Ellis (10:08): Going on yet. That's right. That sounds like what I do.
John Jantsch (10:26): You know, that's a really great point because I think some people, rather than owning who they are, actually try to say, no, here's who we should be. And that's, you know, regardless of what you're doing,
James Ellis (10:37): It? Yeah. You see these lists of these are the best places to work, and you're like, oh, we're just like that. Like, no, you're not. Otherwise you'd be on that list, wouldn't you? But okay, that's neither here
John Jantsch (10:45): Nor there. Are you an agency owner, consultant or coach that works with business owners? Then I want to talk to you about adding a new revenue stream to your business that will completely change how you work with clients. For the first time ever, you can license and use the Duct Tape marketing system and methodology in your business through an upcoming three day virtual workshop. Give us three days and you'll walk away with a complete system that changes how you think about your agency's growth. The Duct Tape Marketing System is a turnkey set of processes for installing a marketing system that starts with strategy and moves to long-term retainer implementation engagements. We've developed a system by successfully working with thousands of businesses. Now you can bring it to your agency and benefit from all the tools, templates, systems, and processes we've developed to find out when our next workshop is being held, visit dtm.world/workshop. That's DTM world slash workshop. All right, so now I'm the boss, and James has come to sell me on this idea of employer branding. And so I'm going, going to say, how do I measure this? What's C R o? Roi, right?
James Ellis (11:57): That is,
John Jantsch (11:58): I'm the first person that's ever asked you
James Ellis (12:00): That. Yeah, that's true. True. You, congratulations, you've invented that question. The problem is, it's the wrong question. You don't really ask classic branders that what you say is, can you focus our message so that it resonates and connects with the right audience? If you're selling planes, you're not like, does my mom know? Does my mom wanna buy our planes? That's probably not a likely audience for you. However, our CEOs wanting to buy your planes. Okay, that's really interesting. Will they buy your planes? Well, that's a salesperson's job. So branding it as a measurement function is really hard to do. What I would say is that when you're thinking about employer brand, what you're really trying to do is make the right people want to work for you. It's not about more applications, it's not about volume. And here is where I get into trouble talking to an actual marketer, marketing, and I say this non pejoratively, very positively.
(12:47): Marketing worships at the temple of more, they want more eyeballs and more shelf space and more wallet space and more impressions. And more and more, everything is a function of more employer brand is probably the only aspect of marketing where quality is better than quantity. And I say that and every marketer goes, I like quality too. You're like, in the end, I have the one job and I can only give it to one person. So my job isn't to give it to a hundred people. My job is to give it to the best person. That is how I measure. And so really good employer brands should be measured on quality. Are you attracting better quality talent? Are you attracting more people who are potential award winners, or the people who are gonna be the rock stars of your industry? If you are employer branding is doing that job, getting a million people to apply for your job is how you get fired, right? You sell a million, anything you're gonna get employee of the month, you get a million applicants, you're getting fired
John Jantsch (13:38):
James Ellis (14:09): Yeah. Most companies start employer brand as kind of a pilot project. And it's usually sitting in the recruiting side, Hey, we gotta, why don't we have an Instagram channel? Hey, why don't we put some content on LinkedIn? Hey, let's make a video. Right? They have that pilot, right? Right. They start it, they kind of go, oh, this worked. What if we got serious about it? And they have a pretty clear maturity model of how this works, right? They specify and they get specialists who write caught it and build videos and all that stuff. And we build advocacy who integrate it throughout the entire company. The ideal of all this, the goal of the platonic ideal of what employer brand should be is that the company has one brand. And that, yeah, it's a lens through which consumers look through or consumer marketing looks through through it to talk to consumers.
(14:52): Investor relations looks through it to talk to their investors. And employer brand looks to see what the candidates want. And so it's the same brand. And when you see it as a single brand, one, the conversation of where should it live kind of gets a little, it doesn't really matter. You know, we all have a, you know, if we're all looking at the same thing, it really makes things easier. But once you're all looking at that same lens, the work employer brand does, makes consumer marketing better. The work consumer marketing does, makes employer brand better, and therefore they should be integrated. They should talk to each other. Do they need to live side by side? Ah, equivalent on that.
John Jantsch (15:27): So when you talked about attracting talent, there are plenty of surveys, at least that I've read, that talk about people. People will, you know, take far less money to work in a place that they're happy to, you know, work in a place that probably does focus on creating a great employer brand. So would you ever use that type of argument to get the roi, to get these sort of practical nature of this?
James Ellis (15:50): There's plenty of evidence and research that shows a bad brand. You have to pay a premium to bring in talent that matters. Yeah. That is just, you know, no one wants to work at Bob's filling house of whatever. You gotta pay 20, 30, 50% more to get that person to even consider you because it's added risk to them, right? That logo is now on their resume forever. And so that's a burden, huh? At the same time, I know incredibly smart and talented people who teach, I know incredibly smart and talented people who work at nonprofits who've made a very clear decision to say, look, I'll lose 20, 30% of my income because I'm doing a thing that matters to me. Yeah. So when we think about the phrase evp, everybody forgets the wor middle word, which is value. So what do people value? Okay, yeah.
(16:29): Everybody likes money. Let's be fair. It's America. It's wherever you are. Capitalism works. It's o not the only conversation, right? If you have to, if you're, are you choosing Goldman Sachs or you're working a hundred to 110 hours a week where you're making all this money, that's a value transaction. People choose to say, I'm gonna have work 40, 50 hours a week to get this kind of work-life balance. Some people will burn themselves out working for a mission that matters to them, right? Yeah. You look at everybody who works at SpaceX, they're not there because the management style is so great. They're there cuz they're trying to go to Mars and what other companies go into Mars. If that's what you care about, that's where you go. It's the end of that list. So getting a better sense of what is my value offering is really where the conversation happens.
(17:11): The problem is, in most recruiting and candidate experiences, when you think about being a candidate, you hear, oh, we're a great company, we're very innovative, we do this, we have this, we do. You get all these claims, and I love talking to marketers cause I can use the word claims with, and you get what I'm saying. Recruiters go, Hey, wait a second, I meant that. But you get all these claims and you're like, that's great, but none of them are provable. They're all completely subjective saying, you are very innovative, it's easy to do, right? I just did it, but when I show up and you give me a four year old Dell laptop and say, this is your computer from now on, I'm like, whoa, time out. What happened? Innovative. Well I meant this. And suddenly you understand how, how subjective, it's, so if you look at the entire experience of getting a job, you realize there's only a handful of non-subjective points being made.
(17:56): And the most important one is salary. Because if you say you're gonna make a hundred thousand dollars and that you hire that person and you pay them 90,000, that's called fraud. In fact, it's technical felony fraud, and people go to jail for that stuff. And you don't wanna do that. Saying you're innovative is just some BS you just get to spit out. So in recruiting, the job is to say, if you focus on a non-objective value, if you focus on the subjective value, we have status work, left balance, innovation, autonomy, whatever it is, my rule of thumb is you have to prove it 10 times harder than an objective value. Right? The objective value being, Hey, what's my title? Hey, what's my start date? What's the bonus structure? When do I get a review? That's pretty hard and fast saying, this is a great place for families to work. Anybody can say that you gotta work real hard for me to go, oh, you, I, that's true. That must be true. And that's where the value conversation needs to happen.
John Jantsch (18:50): Yeah. That that's where, you know, repeated stories demonstrate
James Ellis (19:16): Ab No, actually there's that. That's a complete tenant of what employer brand is. Your job is not attractive to everybody. In fact, if you really looked at it, you only need to hire, let's pretend you're a good concise company. You only need to hire about a thousand people at most. You need to get a hundred thousand people to be really interested enough to work for you that they apply. Okay, a hundred thousand people relative to 8 billion people on the planet. That's a really low percentage, which means you really only need to be engaging and interesting to 0.001% of all the audience you could be talking to. And once you realize that, you start to go, okay, so I don't need to make these grand claims that we're a world beating company, that we're the greatest company, that we offer the best in class, blah, blah, blah.
(19:57): But I realize who I'm trying to reach. And that means I can start to understand what they care about and suddenly I can put messages out that only they care about, right? If I'm trying to hire working mothers. And that's a really broad spectrum, but at the same time, I don't know any companies who say we're trying to hire working mothers because they are really good at kind of balancing work life. They're really good at getting things done, they're really good at managing expectations. They're really good at talking to customers. There's a whole narrative about this particular audience would be great for us. So in order to attract, then you have to talk about the things they care about in the way they care about them. So you talk about mother's rooms, you talk about leave, you talk about balance, you talk about education spending, you talk about all this stuff that a non-working mother might not care about, but you don't care. You're trying to focus on this audience. The more you specify and the more you segment, the more specific you can get can get about what they care about. And suddenly you're not just any company talking, which is every company, but you're a very interesting company because you're speaking their particular language.
John Jantsch (20:56): Yeah. So key there is understand what that language is. Well absolutely. I'm getting tired of asking this question, but you know, especially anytime that it comes to people conversations, what has virtual remote work from home done to this dynamic?
James Ellis (21:10): Well, first off, it's, it just, it changes the math, right? It used to be, well, I'm a hospital or I'm a small startup and I'm in Chicago. You draw a circle on the map, those are the people I can hire. It's real simple. But suddenly that circle got, went, got erased where it has holes in it. Certainly even companies who I've engaged with, where they're very focused on, you have to come in the last three years, they've really said, okay, there's talent out there that we normally wouldn't say yes to, but let's have a conversation. And having to deal with that kind of model and realizing that good talent can bring in good quality work, even if they're a thousand miles away, has changed the conversation internally in leadership. I know there's a push to say, let's bring 'em in, let's bring 'em in, let's bring 'em in.
(21:52): That's a reaction. That is a mm-hmm
(22:38): You wear a suit, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. That says a lot. Does it say all of it? Absolutely not. But it does frame the conversation. And what goes back to that sense of competition. If you're trying to hire a developer and you're a bank, you have to know that developer is also looking at automatic going, I could work at a fully remote wear, wear my pajamas every single day, do amazing work at midnight kind of thing. Or I have to go to this bank and dress up in a suit and what's a tie? What that, I sounds like a word, but I don't know what that word is. Like that you have to explain why that's good for them. And that kind of focus really changes the math on who you talk to, what you talk about and what they care about.
John Jantsch (23:16): Speaking with James Ellis about employer branding, James, do you want to invite people to connect with you somewhere or find out more about your work?
James Ellis (23:23): Absolutely. You can find me employer brand labs.com, but really I run a, oh, a newsletter. It's free, it's really designed, you know, you mentioned my mission of getting a million employer brand thinkers, right? This is how I'm trying to get recruiters, marketers, HR VPs to say, oh, there's a heart of employer brand that I can use and I can leverage. And that's where I would invite them to go. So you go to employer brand headlines.dot com or just Google employer brand Headlights. It's a free newsletter. I, it's a lot of great content every single week.
John Jantsch (23:49): Awesome. Well, again, thanks for taking a moment to stop by the Duct Tape Marketing podcast and uh, hopefully we will run into you soon, one of these days out there on the road.
James Ellis (23:56): Thanks so much, John. This has been great.
John Jantsch (23:58): Hey, and one final thing before you go. You know how I talk about marketing strategy, strategy before tactics? Well, sometimes it can be hard to understand where you stand in that, what needs to be done with regard to creating a marketing strategy. So we created a free tool for you. It's called the Marketing Strategy Assessment. You can find it @ marketingassessment.co. Check out our free marketing assessment and learn where you are with your strategy today. That's just marketingassessment.co. I'd love to chat with you about the results that you get.
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