Of Sidewalk Chalk to Cyborgs: Your EB Technology Stress Is Worrying About The Wrong Problem

January 4, 2021 • 5 min read

Of Sidewalk Chalk to Cyborgs: Your EB Technology Stress Is Worrying About The Wrong Problem

James Ellis

James Ellis

I often hear employer branding being described as an exciting field. And to me it is. But what’s exciting to me may not be particularly exciting to you.

If you think ‘exciting’ means that it’s an in-demand industry where your skills and perspective are valued through the business, where companies vie for your attention and employment, and where leaders grace the covers of magazines… you’re out of luck.

The reality is that employer brand as a function is still early in its own adoption curve; we live in that phase where you have to explain what employer branding is, even to seasoned TA leaders and marketers.

So if you read the word ‘exciting’ to mean “adjective, denoting that something hasn’t been figured out yet, connected to the thrill of figuring things out and inventing frameworks from nothing. See also: laboring in obscurity, defining and justifying your value daily, working without glory or recognition except by your peers” – then boy howdy, is it an exciting field!

Employer brand is surfing a far larger wave of change

The workforce, and the concept of work is changing. What we look for in an employer, how we research employers, our range of options, how we expect to do the work, the flexibility we expect from our employers, the guidance on what good work looks like; everything is changing at an ever-increasing rate. We can get hired full time or on-demand, we can work from anywhere at any time, we can define the role on a quarterly (if not monthly) basis, we can get machines to do the scut work we hate doing.

Add all this up, and we’re essentially killing the idea that you have a ‘job’.

First, let us all admit that job descriptions are broken at deep and fundamental levels. Whether they come from books or copywriters, they don’t reflect what a job really is. The second the job description is documented and put into the ATS, the role has already changed. Remember, if a job could be simplified and documented into a series of discrete and anticipated steps, you’ve already programmed a bot to do it and fired the thing that requires health insurance. At the end of that process, all that’s left are the changeable, distinctly human, and generally artistic jobs. Companies have gone from hiring ‘human resources’ to hiring artists whose passion and creativity change businesses.

It follows that hiring artists, the kind of people who invent the job as they go, the kinds of antifragile folks who help you survive and thrive when the world turns upside down, necessitates thinking like an artist. Hiring 20 people knowing full well that half will be gone in 90 days is no longer acceptable. The focus must be on finding those with the perfect combination of skill and ambition. Your TA team shouldn’t be asked to offer up a handful of potentially acceptable candidates to the hiring manager. They should be armed with the knowledge that allows them to deliver that one perfect individual who will grow the business.

The focus must be on finding those with the perfect combination of skill and ambition.

What does this mean for employer branding and tech? It means that an EB pro can’t live in one spot or use one set of tactics for too long. You need to be comfortable being uncomfortable as you push the envelope in trying (and inventing) new tactics. The goal of great EB is to facilitate an idea, to help the business understand the brand, and to use collaboration to attract the best.

The goal of great EB is to facilitate an idea, to help the business understand the brand, and to use collaboration to attract the best.

Your developers, for example, should understand the brand and how it was used to attract them to the role, so that they can suggest smarter ways in which coding could support the brand. EB pros can’t be the sole source of tech innovation – that makes for some weak innovation. That’s simply not their role. They need to lean on others for ideas, then apply them to EB.

Work changes as a symptom of world changes

To understand where EB is headed, we need to begin by dispensing with the idea that EB is tactic-driven. It’s instead a mindset that sees you maximizing the strength of the brand within the minds of your target audience, whatever the situation. Boiling your employer brand solution into an “optimal tech stack,” or a series of best-practice tactics makes no sense. The second something “works,” you’ll see a tidal wave of others doing the same thing, negating your advantage.

The goal is to create desire, not amongst the general population, but purely amongst the people you want to hire. Looking to hire A+ nurses? You are going to want to show them how much better it will be to work at your hospital than wherever they work now. Pointing to an award saying you’re a “optimal place to work” based on the aggregated comments and surveys of all employees doesn’t tell a nurse anything about what they should expect when they join you. Nurses, especially the best ones, are choosey, and will ignore general claims they see on almost every job site until they find something more authentic.

The goal is to create desire, not amongst the general population, but purely amongst the people you want to hire.

Second, we should also define ‘technology’. A bicycle is technology. A candle is technology. Your blender is technology. So why do we only think of ‘tech’ as computers and internet-connected devices? Maybe once ‘technology’ actually does what we expect it to every time, we cease to see it as such.

Someone compressed and bound chalk dust in a way that allows you to mark surfaces. Can sidewalk chalk be used for employer brand? Heck yeah. Looking for the next tech genius? I’ll draw an amazing message about your company in chalk out front of a big conference designed around what I know about the attendees.

It’s not snark. Technology is the lever we use to move the world. And while there are advantages in picking a metal lever over a straw one, what matters isn’t the lever as much as the person designing it and implementing it. There’s no “right” lever. But there are great artists who can make change happen with what’s around them.

Taking a broader view of tech trends, what I see is a decrease in separation between people and the internet, and not just through phones. Ask your robot butler about the capital of Panama. Tell your car to add to your to-do list. Feed your heart rate directly to the servers of medical professionals. Strap on those goggles and play a game against that annoyingly ever-present Belgian kid. It’s getting late, so connect to your sleep monitor. Make a living performing dances to your front-facing camera.

That’s the internet. That’s the world.

What does that all mean for EB? It means new ways to insert our brand message in front of our addressable audience. But is that necessarily a good thing? It depends on how we wield our power.

The tech that will shape employer branding

When the words ‘employer branding tech’ are uttered, most professionals will expect to hear about tools that spam the bejesus out of their addressable audience. Why? Well, EB continues to deny that it lives in a world of quality over quantity, and continues to use whatever tools the marketers use, a team inherently incentivized towards quantity.

These tools exist. Don’t use them.

Your job is to think about that tech to tell a better, stronger, and more compelling story.

Innovation shouldn’t mean “I can harass you 24/7 across every known channel in the universe while I sleep!” It should mean sending fewer messages, but making each one count for something. It should mean building a brand idea that makes 99.999% of people contort their face in disgust, and 0.001% fall in love (for those without a calculator, that’s still a global market of 70k people. Are you planning on hiring more than 70k people? I didn’t think so.)

It means spending more time thinking about how to show – not claim – that your brand is real, authentic and the right choice.

We live in a world where warehouses of servers exist purely to find your content and make it available to your 0.001%. Your job is to think about that tech to tell a better, stronger, and more compelling story.

Not generic, force-fed messages, but messages that expand your brand’s emotional palette.

That’s the challenge. And that’s why I find EB so exciting.

About the author: James is an Employer Branding connoisseur, with a wealth of experience across a number of industries. He is an employer brand and talent strategy thinker, keynote speaker, consultant, and podcaster with a passion for “how we do it”.