How to Build Your Employer Brand, According to an Expert With Two Decades of Experience

We spoke with Bryan Chaney, co-founder of the Talent Brand Alliance, about what employer branding really means, how organizations can effectively build their brand and even some common misconceptions about the buzzword.

4 minute read

Done right, “employer branding” can attract top talent — and even launch a career. That was the case for Bryan Chaney, who stumbled into employer branding by chance nearly two decades ago. He’d taken a job as a web and graphic designer, but the role quickly pivoted into candidate sourcing and launching recruitment marketing campaigns.

Chaney struck out on his own in 2015, when he co-founded the Talent Brand Alliance, a community of more than 2,000 employer branding and recruitment marketing professionals. He also works as an employer branding consultant. Over the past year, he’s helped organizations navigate layoffs while protecting their employer brand reputation and engaging and retaining the remaining workforce.

“I love the storytelling aspect of employer branding. Not just the marketing angles, but also the personal stories of people doing the work,” Chaney told The Org. “Most employees don’t get recognized properly for the work that they do for a company, and this is a major way to shine a light on them.”

We spoke with Chaney about what employer branding really means, how organizations can effectively build their brand and even some common misconceptions about the buzzword.

The birth of employer branding

Employer branding is a hot topic, and it’s proving essential in the war for top talent as unemployment rates hover at around 3.5% — a low not seen in decades. More than 70% of recruiting leaders worldwide agreed that employer brand has a significant impact on hiring, and when done well, it can slice the average cost-per-hire in half, a LinkedIn study found.

It can feel like a fresh buzzword, but Chaney’s company points to 1996 as the birth year of employer branding. That’s when it was coined by two academics in the Journal of Brand Management. “The concept has represented the voice of the employer company as it wished to be defined,” its website explains.

But what does that mean in practical terms? “Many people think employer branding is a silver bullet with magical powers,” said Chaney. But he doesn’t agree. Rather, employer branding is a long-term strategy, not a quick solution you can turn on or off, he said. It also doesn’t require big budgets or extensive HR departments; both large companies and smaller high-growth startups can build (and benefit from) a strong employer brand.

“A company has an employer brand reputation whether or not they choose to admit it,” he said.

Who is responsible for an employer’s brand?

Organizations often wrestle with figuring out who should be responsible for major workplace culture initiatives. When it comes to pay equity, for example, about 37% of employees say the CEO — who they view as the ultimate business decision-maker — should be held responsible, while just 6% of employees think the Head of HR should lead the charge.

Pay equity needs to be a team effort – and so does employer branding. “If there are 1,000 employees at the company, there are 1,000 people who are impacting the employer brand,” Chaney said.

But ultimately, HR leaders are often charged with owning employer branding, even if everyone needs to pitch in, Chaney explained. 88% of professionals in the Talent Brand Alliance are HR professionals who work on talent acquisition or recruiting.

First steps toward a better employer brand

Chaney suggests HR leaders start by auditing and assessing the status quo and listening to employees. This may involve talking to marketing teams, PR teams and internal communications groups.

“You have to understand where your employer brand gaps may exist, among the audiences you’re trying to reach," he said. "This allows you to craft a narrative that will resonate and feel aligned with authentic employee experiences. And they are sitting on the content you need.”

Next, he advises HR leaders to review the job candidate experience — everything from job search to interviewing and onboarding. Job listings, social media posts and company profiles on sites like Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Blind and Built-In all tell a story about what it's like to work for your organization. Staying on top of employee review responses is a simple way to show job-seekers that you are an engaged employer.

“The issues that drive the most feedback? They’re the ones that you need to address with personal and relevant stories from employees,” he explained. “Then hit your career site with fresh eyes, and make sure that you have that same content searchable and mobile-friendly.”

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