All or nothing!

Why most employer brand initiatives flop

Today, companies use all means to recruit employees, but overlook the essential factors for success. In particular, the impact of a company's own brand is underestimated. However, the development of a holistic brand strategy can be the decisive factor in standing out in the war for talent. Tanja Freudenthaler, Creative Director, and Maria Strodt, Strategy Director, explain how this can be achieved using the example of the Karlsruhe-based tech company Exxeta.

Ninety-six thousand euros. According to calculations by the career portal Stepstone, this is how much it costs a larger company today to fill positions for which it cannot find skilled workers. And that is per unfilled job. After the "War for Talents" ended with a victory for the talents, companies are now competing even more fiercely for qualified employees. The marketing resources used: enormous. Their success: limited.

But what is the reason that the best minds are being recruited increasingly without success? Is it the companies' measures that are not working? One thing is clear: when employer and corporate brand send completely different messages to the market, this does not trigger applications, but confusion. In the delicate relationship between talent and company, such confusion often leads to a break-up before it has even really begun. But why is that?

The reinvention of HR

The investigation into the causes of unsuccessful recruiting usually leads to a deeply rooted misunderstanding of what role human resources (HR) and employer brand actually (should) play today. In many companies, the HR department is still seen as an internal service provider, irreplaceable but secondary to the success and growth of the company. Yet the tide has long since turned and the importance of HR has increased massively: After all, what good are the best growth strategies if there are no employees to put them on the road?

The most creative recruiting campaign gets off to a false start when talents get to know a completely different company on social media or at the point of sale than the one that has just wooed them with a campaign. If, for example, the communication claims flat hierarchies but only the face of the CEO is shown on the website. Or when frustrated employees on job portals paint a completely different picture of their company than the one it is trying to create in a glossy HR campaign.

Serious recruiting must therefore start deeper, both organisationally and brand-wise. First of all, companies need to give their HR department the high profile it deserves in times of a lack of workers. Secondly, they must derive their promise to employees and talents from an authentic corporate brand. If this is not strong enough as a foundation, the way forward is first to go back - to sharpen the overall brand.

The path to more visibility

The success story of the Karlsruhe-based Exxeta AG shows how such a consistently different path can look. Exxeta is a consulting and technology company with more than 1,300 employees.

Exxeta's challenges were that the brand was not visible enough on the labour market and had a hard time attracting enough talent that it needed for further growth. At the same time, employees' identification with their company needed to be strengthened in order to retain top performers. The far-reaching questions that resulted from this for Exxeta: How can we as a company appear more authentic overall? How must our brand be structured in order to be equally attractive to customers, employees and talents? This is what we worked on together with the experts at Exxeta.

The seriousness with which the company took the project was also shown by the fact that the board team around Andreas Ritter participated in all workshops and presentations as a matter of course. At the start of the project, the board members each formulated a fictitious letter to shareholders in which they presented their very personal vision of the company and consolidated it together. The important discussion about "Who are we? And who do we want to be?" could thus start right away on a common, fundamental basis. The commitment of the four board members avoided the usual communication and friction losses in such processes and accelerated them enormously.

How employees become collaborators

At least as important was the serious involvement of the employees, who ultimately decide on the effect or failure of any employer branding. Because it is clear: every workforce communicates continuously about their employer at all times. The only question is whether employees carry the unspoken unpleasant truths or the jointly sharpened and thus authentic messages of their company into the world.

A good branding process therefore involves selected employees from the beginning, collects their perceptions and evaluations, and compares concepts with their reality. In this way, the team ensures results that are not only accepted but also proudly carried outwards by the employees. The processes should therefore be based on the behaviour change model, which starts with information (very important: also on the "why?" of the process) and leads to the activation of the employees through their genuine involvement.

The power that such a brand image can develop in the long run is also a question of foresight and perseverance. Because once the brand has been defined, the real work begins for companies. This includes, among other things, the alignment of management mission and core messages, the adaptation or development of internal and external communication or the transfer of materials into the new design. Brand images can be developed in dynamic sprints, but their implementation is a real long-distance run.

It is not only challenging for brand managers, but also for employees. Here, too, Exxeta did many things right by supporting its employees during the implementation phase. Practical offers such as a "PPT relocation service", which transferred existing presentations from the old to the new brand image, made it easier for everyone to get started with the new brand.

Video: in collaboration with hawkins & cross

Strong brands pay off

The brand identity, which teams from Strichpunkt and Exxeta developed together in an eight-month process, now communicates the brand's unique selling points far more authentically than before. The new Exxeta claim "Hightech with a heartbeat" condenses the unique combination of technical expertise and human qualities. The new design and linguistic style convey the company's personality and mission far more credibly now. With its long-term communication strategy, the company continuously promotes its brand identity to its stakeholders. And this also convinces the employees: Today, dozens of branded LinkedIn headers show employees' attachment to Exxeta.

The brand's appeal has also visibly increased externally, not least through the social media activities developed by Exxeta on the basis of the brand image. After the branding process, the Exxeta website recorded 14 percent more views, the career page even 40 percent more hits. On LinkedIn, the most important career network for the tech company, the number of followers grew by a whopping 50 percent in 2022. The engagement rate rose to 9 per cent and thus to around four and a half times the B2B benchmark.

Companies like Exxeta that take a holistic view of their brand and develop it with foresight gain an enormous, measurable competitive advantage. In March 2022 alone, the company was able to attract 64 highly qualified talents. In other words, the in-depth brand-building process that the company underwent has already paid off. And yet the competition for people and talent is only just picking up speed.

Click here for the Exxeta Brand Design

The authors

Tanja Freudenthaler is Creative Director at our Strichpunkt Studio in Stuttgart, Maria Strodt Strategy Director at Strichpunkt in Berlin. Together with their teams, the two developed the new, holistic brand identity for Exxeta and supported the tech company in its implementation.

Strategies for successful employer branding

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