Nov 21 2001 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Effective brands work like shortcuts. They help us to make sense of the most crowded and confusing marketplace we’ve ever had to deal with – the Internet. There are too many ways to waste time on the web and our attention spans are limited, to say the least. So it’s clear that companies who don’t take on- line branding seriously will lose impact - or run the risk of being ignored completely.

Traditional recruitment methods deliver diminishing returns. The growth of HR metrics, ROI measures and the drive towards outsourcing fundamental HR tasks, are unlikely to have carried much credence in the days when talented candidates were plentiful and recruitment was process- orientated. Now it’s become a strategic issue, any organisation’s ability to operate effectively in a rapidly expanding and shifting marketplace depends on attracting and retaining highly skilled people. These are the individuals worth fighting for. And now the Internet has become the strategic tool to find, track, select and retain them.

The Internet is also the most effective way to move towards ‘continuous hiring’ not ‘sequential hiring’. It can provide all the information a prospective candidate needs before making an approach, and it can handle the onerous administration tasks that have dogged recruitment for so long. It’s also the most powerful tool we have in developing relationships with those ‘elusive’ passive candidates who don’t actually have a CV and who are unlikely to browse the recruitment classifieds.

Technology can help you to build knowledge about your target audience, to create personalised messages for each and yet still deliver cost- effective marketing strategies capable of reaching mass audiences.

We recruitment professionals need to learn from and work with our marketing colleagues to secure an unfair share of the talented candidates out there. And with companies suffering from global talent shortages and retention issues, it’s the growing need to use brand marketing to attract candidates which is the most significant challenge we have to face up to if we’re to gain competitive advantage.

This ‘redefinition’ of recruitment as something rather like marketing (but with a crummy budget) is not new, but it does mean that recruiters need to clear their heads. Let’s be honest, recruitment’s not an administrative function, and never should have been. It’s a strategic business division that’s critical to corporate success - perhaps the most critical. Many of us are increasingly recognising that the benefits making our product or service attractive in the marketplace are the same ones which make career opportunities appealing. So let’s work together.

We know prospective candidates see both overt and covert ‘pick me’ messages everywhere, and that these form the company’s brand proposition. Indeed, it’s through the brand that prospective candidates interpret a company prior to applying. It therefore follows that any forum bringing together these brand messages is critical. Try looking at your own website.

Although a company may have more direct control over an individual’s on- line than off- line experience, remember that technological complexity can also destroy brand equity while trying to create it. We know how much some designers like to show off the powers of the web instead of building upon an existing, pre- tested identity. But a brand encompasses more than just the look of a company. Nowadays it’s functionality that’s the watchword.

Everybody goes on- line to save time through a hassle- free experience, so any hurdle for a prospective candidate - slow response times, poor navigation, inaccurate information - will weaken your chances. The most successful brand strategies take full advantage of the web medium, using well- designed identity and navigation systems that showcase a site’s purpose and which provide the infrastructure for an intuitive user interface.

It’s easy, though, to be overwhelmed by the hype, to embrace the ‘revolution’ and reject many of the lessons from the ‘real world’. You still need a strong USP, differentiation from your competitors, a proposition built upon genuine consumer insight on top of a powerful visual identity.

But there are new rules to the game. Think about usability - the ‘hygiene values’ that it’s easy to sneer at, but which have made Amazon and Yahoo watchwords for best practice on- line. Essentially, customer experiences are determining your brand power. As we interact with websites in real- time, such experiences - rather than advertising- induced perceptions - will shape brand attitudes. As a result, focus is shifting to develop this ‘experience’, ensuring the sum of a customer’s numerous interactions with a company and the ‘moments of truth’ enhance rather than deflate the brand. Companies have to deliver their promise through look and feel, through tone of voice and through functionality - their brand is what’s delivered between a user’s first and last click.

Recruitment advertising is only one part of an approach to building the sort of brand equity that helps attract and retain employees, and this has been a painful lesson to learn. Advertising spend has been misallocated, and justified on the same thinking that has brought off- line recruitment advertising to the point of ineffectiveness. We see a lot of ‘eyeballs’ and ‘sightseers’, rather that the ‘loyal’. The talented candidate is one of your most important potential customers and is difficult to win over. Recruiters can’t make do with providing a shop window for vacancies - advanced levels of interactivity are available and expected by an ever more sophisticated candidate marketplace.

Of course, traditional brand equity doesn’t automatically translate on- line. Many corporations who have always traded on powerful brands find the transition difficult. Coca Cola, Pizza Hut and Levi’s, for example, don’t register enough traffic to appear on Media Metrix audience ratings. Limited budgets may actually promote innovation, but building brand awareness can be an expensive exercise. Nevertheless, the good news is that leveraging your brand through on- line recruitment strategies doesn’t take a huge investment. But it does require imagination, flair and an understanding of what will appeal to your target candidate audience.

Think about what they want, when they want it, and talk to them on their terms. And if this sounds more like marketing than recruitment, then you’re getting there.