I think it’s time to reinvent, dare I say do away with, the notion that an Employer Brand needs a tagline. I can almost hear the shouts of “Nooooooo” echo across the EB landscape. Allow me to try and explain.
This might sound like quite the esoteric topic, but I think it’s time we can ask out loud, “what help or impact does an Employer Brand tagline actually contribute to brand building?” How? Why? This question actually comes up often in my employer brand-building work. I began my EB love affair 16 years ago when I joined Bayard to create our EB practice. A central expectation at that time, and for some time after, was a Tagline. You are your tagline, was the sentiment. But the ubiquitous motto is a product marketing left-over. It stems from a time when most print marketing dominated the landscape. And, attention spans are ever decreasing, and screen sizes ever-shrinking. An EB tagline on an Apple Watch?
Taglines sum up what a business does, or offers. At least that’s how they started. Can an EB tagline do that as it relates to careers? It feels nearly impossible. Jobs are not easily summed up, given the complexity, diversity, and scale of work contexts today. For a local Coffee truck, what’s the EB tagline, “Serve your job while it’s hot” or “Pour Your Soul Into Your Career.” Really?
You may have seen a few careers taglines if you’re in the field, and maybe even have been part of creating one. We all have. “Are You Ready,” “The Future Starts Today,” “Your Dream Job Awaits,” “Make a Difference,” “Change the World,” and so many, many more. They varied wildly then, and still do today, from lighthearted and broadly aspirational to not very helpful, and at times, outright confusing. Some even seemed likely to dissuade candidates from moving forward, and not intentionally. Over the last couple of years, given the incredible change in the candidate journey, I began wondering out loud, “does this matter today”?
That might sound like heresy coming from someone whose title is Chief Creative Officer. I’m hired to make these. Yet, I couldn’t ignore the data. I’ve interviewed thousands of employees, surveyed tens and tens of thousands, read countless studies on what candidates align with, and when the question about influence and impact in EB come up, very, very, few employees, if any, knew there was a career tagline. It was hard to measure impact because there was none to measure. “We have a tagline for careers?” people would ask if I mentioned it. I propose that it’s time we move on or reinvent the EB tagline into something that does matter.
Being a fan of Freakonomics and uncovering the hidden side of things, call me an EBonomics connoisseur, a client partner once said to me after sharing my thoughts on this, “Matt, you may be spot on here, but internally, we won’t be able to sleep at night without one.” We had a good laugh, and the point was understood. My client needed something to call the EB program. To them, the project or campaign had to have its ubiquitous tagline, or it didn’t exist. You are your tagline, so to speak. Or maybe not.
Some context might help if recruiting and talent marketing is new to you. A decade ago, and longer, companies competed for job seeker attention and talent in more open forums than today. Newspaper and magazine Jobs sections were like Times Square, with every possible brand and company vying for attention. Campaigns could benefit from good taglines in that context. They were there to call out. In many cases, scream out, “Look at me. Hey, look here”.
There were cavernous job fairs on college campuses and hiring events with row after row of the same type of open forum shouting match for eyes and ears. Then the shift happened. We stopped buying newspapers for careers info, and less and less went to events. It was more comfortable, more efficient, and less stressful to go to a job board online in the comfort of one’s PJ’s, any hour of the day, or night. The search result text replaced the headline. The job posting replaced the job advertisement. Banner ads then became the only way to promote an opportunity, and in tiny sizes at that. A tagline’s impact was greatly diminished. Imagine “Change the World” in a small square. Really? Why then does B2C still do it?
B2C is so vastly different for so many reasons. To that market, the slogan is alive and well, and for good measure. The open forum for products and services is still quite robust. In EB, it’s not just the technology that changed for recruiting, we changed. We changed our practices and patterns of candidate behavior. We changed our expectations as the landscapes and environments we found ourselves in changed. And companies responding to these shifts changed their practices and advertising. Change is not one direction. It’s more like a loop.
It’s 2020, and we search on devices, pretty much anywhere at any time. We search by a job title, location, type of work, phrases and words that fit what we’re looking for, and with adjectives sometimes, like “great” place to work. And we do it in the billions, maybe trillions a year. Around the Western world, we do it similarly. We tend to start with a search engine – the front part of a database, barely aware of the auctions taking place, and scroll the results. With only 100 or so characters to inform and engage, a tagline is simply not the best foot, or should I say character count, forward? But what about job postings, landing pages, careersites, and events, which are quite viable and impactful? Once a job seeker is past the search result, clicking in, or click-through, then what impact does a tagline have? The job seeker is already where you want them to go. You don’t need to call out, “come here” at that point. This brings me full circle to UX, or more aptly, candidate experience.
UX isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.
In more general terms, UX, short for user experience, according to the Oxford Journal’s study on ‘Interacting With Computers’ is roughly this:
The goal of UX design is to “improve customer (insert candidate) satisfaction and loyalty through the utility, ease of use, and pleasure provided in the interaction with a product (insert Employer Brand).”
UX starts at the very first point of contact, which we’ve seen studied like mad, is often a search engine, and in the UX development process, we ask a million questions about how we search, what we search for, what we hope to find, what matters and so on. UX design then acts as a partnership with the job seeker through every interaction after that, all the way to the day someone retires (or leaves the company). I prefer thinking of UX as Candidate Experience, or CX, because the focus of a candidate/job seeker is vastly different than that of a shopper/user, even if the act of searching is informed by our purchase practices. I can shop for anything, and if I can afford it, they let me buy it. I can search for any job, but they don’t automatically give me the position. You can see the difference, hence, CX is fundamentally different than UX, but they share best practices in ideation. And CX is more than just the site one is on. I liken it to the new candidate journey.
If we do CX well, then we create a meaningful connection with a candidate. We do this by working very hard to develop valuable dialogue. Dialogue is interactive and iterative. It’s not one-way communication. The conversation doesn’t end when someone finishes reading a job posting, or after they visit a careersite or social channel. I was a job seeker myself at points in my career and didn’t search for taglines. I didn’t search for the look and feel either. I didn’t search for an experience for that matter, but that’s exactly what I was engaged in — an experience we affectionately call candidate journey. I looked for opportunities. I wanted to be well informed and feel reassured that I’d fit in, be able to do my best work, qualified so I didn’t waste my time applying, be able to grow, learn and enjoy being at work. And I wanted to know what kind of tangibles, like benefits, were in store. Think back to the last time you searched for a job. What mattered most? What helped you decide whether to apply and accept an opportunity?
Job seekers ask questions. Lot’s of questions, only most of that questioning process is done wearing pajamas or sneaking away on a break, meaning the job seeker is not asking those questions to anyone in particular, but to themselves or to the posting or careersite. Our role as EB developers is to learn what those questions are and best address them. That’s candidate experience design. It needs a value proposition; it requires proof of concept; it needs demonstrations of expectations implied. That’s way more than taglines and graphics.
Another way I like to think of CX is as if I’m searching for a vacation. Do I want the sun-soaked beach getaway off the grid or the glorious lights of big city dining and the arts smack in the middle of everything? That’s what job search feels like to a job seeker. And at times, they don’t know what they want, waiting to be inspired by finding that perfect opportunity they didn’t know was out there. They may know the elements that they’d like to be in the mix, but not necessarily the company or an exact title or role. That’s why the candidate journey is no longer as reliable a process as we would like it to be. Searching in PJ’s changed everything.
We need CX because we simply can’t know the exact pathway or touch-points people find influential, not entirely. Tracking metrics and attribution only give a partial picture, focused on referring sources from databases of troves of jobs, not the instrumental landscape and bouncing around, articles read, reviews looked at, questions asked to friends, and the like. CX to the rescue. My media colleagues might argue if a job and job seeker don’t find each other, then the CX doesn’t exist, and I couldn’t agree more. Search is part of CX, and that too makes it different than UX. Once the job and job seeker find each other, if we don’t provide a robust candidate experience, then we wasted the money and time pairing each other. A tagline won’t do that. It might even work against us.
Taking a cue from the way most of us are visual learners, I’m exploring the idea of visual searchers in CX. I think this has great potential for innovative ways of expressing EB while keeping our eyes on the high caliber candidate conversion prize.
An impressive thought out, high impact candidate experience is the employer’s best model for shaping and rewarding the candidate journey, wherever that may be in an online, impossible to predict array of channels, links, shares, scrapes, groups, articles, reviews, tweets, bots, careersites, postings and then some. And if, like my client, you must have a tagline or you won’t be able to sleep at night, don’t fret. If they’re done with CX in mind, then you can be at the forefront of innovation with a dialogue starter that has a more significant impact because it’s likely not to be a tagline.
In my next article, I’m going to share views on why I think the Employee Value proposition is like the air that we breathe. We’re done for without it. Employer Brand is like the water we drink. We can get by for a while without it, but life starts to get really miserable fast. I’ll talk about how we do both well and thrive.