WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

Attracting young talent continues to be one of the biggest challenges we face as employer brand specialists. From Generation Z to millennials, companies all around the world compete heavily in order to attract the best of the best to their business.

The week we sit down with talent attraction and employer branding prodigy, Lane Sutton, to find out what makes recruitment marketing work and how to truly build relationships with young people.

Have a listen to the interview below, keep reading for a summary and be sure to subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.

Who are you and what do you do?

I started in recruitment marketing about two years ago, but a little bit of my path essentially started out in the social media and marketing space and realized that I had this unique perspective to offer as someone really young, probably the youngest in the industry at the time, someone really young to say, “You know, here’s kind of what Gen Z Millennials are thinking but also someone who is living and breathing social media and technology at a young age,” right?

I started a blog called “Kid Critic” where I wrote reviews by a kid for kids and families. That was when I was 11 and had no idea that that was actually called blogging or content marketing at the time. That made me realize, hey, I actually like writing and enjoy using social media to promote the website. I met all these great people online and one thing always led to another. I got offered a small kind of training, consulting opportunity with a 65-year-old who’s an author. And she said, “Hey, I’ll pay you to teach me social media.” I said, “All right. You know, I’ll give it a shot.” And the rest is history essentially. I realized that that was something I enjoyed doing.

I started an internship at HubSpot which was my first job and got to really get a feel for their social media strategy, and build something that was not only better but more concrete, and present that to the team. I then came back the next summer, sort of, as a community manager, managing their entire social presence. Got a great feel for what inbound marketing looks like and how it’s used in the business.

Then fast forward, not even a year, maybe six months and I was sort of asked to run social media, not for a marketing but for recruiting.  I’m going to say, “start-up” because there were 500 people at the time. They said, “We love your social media experience but we want you to use it for recruiting.” I said, “Well, I don’t know a thing about recruiting so why me,” in one sense but also, you know, “am I the right guy for the job?” They said, “Yeah, we believe so.You know, just apply sort of that social media background into recruiting and help us, you know, do something different, essentially.” They happen to be a social media software for enterprise, that was Sprinklr.

I said, “All right. I’ll give it a shot.” Essentially I worked remote, which was another challenge as well. I worked remotely to build their social recruiting program, strategy, some execution from the ground up. It was a really cool opportunity. I had no idea that there was, kind of, even a job for this or that there were conferences about it. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. You know, here’s a way to be, kind of, an all-in-one marketer on recruiting or HR team, and really enjoyed that.

The next summer I went to TripAdvisor and got to focus a lot on content and storytelling and understand, you know, how a small company, relatively small, you know, given the size of other giants in the space and they’re a local company located in the Boston area. I got to get a feel for how that worked. And also experienced how marketing works on a large enterprise, a large organization, 200,000 plus.

I’ve had a few interesting experiences on the recruiting side and love it, and I also happen to be 20 years old. It’s fun to take all this in while being a student and do, you know, half-time student life and then half-time work, inbound recruiting and employer brands.

What does employer brand mean to you?

Employer brand is really what people think of you as a company, as a brand, the attitude, the values, the essence. I’m going to use the word “essence” to describe it. That’s really how people feel, it’s the aura that they get when they’re in your environment, they check out your website, or just they think of your company, in general. A lot of people get that confused, I think, with recruitment marketing, which is more of the tactics and the execution, and all the channels that you see.

But the brand is really the EVP, right? The Employer Value Proposition that people feel, that you put out there. It goes with some of the messaging. You know, that’s meant to really speak to the employer brand. I think, the biggest part of it is culture. It’s culture. It’s something that employees don’t just get from seeing your website, candidates don’t just get from seeing your website, but it’s, kind of, what they experience along with all the touch points as they, you know, venture across your online presence or even your in-person presence.

How would you differentiate inbound recruiting, recruitment marketing and employer brand?

Yeah. I think the way the whole shift that’s happening now is inbound recruiting, and that goes with each of those terms that you just described. We’re seeing more of a focus come from, you know, it used to be a lot more outbound, a lot of sourcing techniques and that still happens and it’s still effective. But all the InMails, job ads, job boards and recruitment ads that you see, we’re seeing a little less of that, I think, and less of the cold emailing tactics or InMail, and more of a focus on the inbound approach.

The inbound approach is your online channels, your social, Glassdoor, some referrals and also just generalized personalization, right? You know, being able to personalize your messaging. So say you’re still using the outbound cold emails, cold calls, InMail. We’re seeing a resurgence of the personalization on those techniques. And, I think, that makes it a little more inbound, it goes with the movement. And, ultimately, it’s just how candidates find you, right? Instead of you finding them.

It’s a lot more of a choice driven approach. Candidates feel empowered as consumers to check out an entire company, research them online and then when they feel comfortable enough, they’ll take that step to apply or join a talent network community or, you know, make several touch points, follow a company on social. And when they feel empowered enough, they will then take that action and become a candidate and find the right job application, and enter the, for lack of better words, funnel or recruitment process that a company has lined up.

What are some of the most common talent attraction challenges that you see from corporates?

I think it’s attracting the right people, you know, which is easy to say but really more qualified people that fit what they’re looking for. And, I think, some of that comes across with mixed messages online. You know, if you’re putting out different campaigns there, you want to make sure that they feel consistent, feel consistent with your company brand, right? I’m going to call that the “master brand.” Feel consistent with what consumers think but then make sure candidates get that similar feel, that they’re applying to the same company and that they don’t feel separate. That’s a big thing, I think, attracting qualified people.

Another thing that we tend to forget is keeping them, right? It’s easy to, you know, focus so much on the external and we have to attract more people, but then what about your current employees? How are you, you know, making sure that they want to stay? Retaining them, keeping them and making sure that you balance your internal and external efforts, right? A lot of the external is sort of that talent attraction, that’s what, you know, HR wants to see, right? Or, you know, ahead of talent attraction, they want to make sure, “Okay, we’re getting more people. You know, more people are entering our funnel, essentially.”

But what about your existing and how can you leverage them for internal mobility for other roles within the company, but also make sure they’re happy, in general? That’s a big thing. Then also, I think, maximizing the results from the channels that you’re using, that’s also another challenge.

What is your go-to-market strategy to activate some of these channels?

On a channel level, I’m pretty impressed by Instagram lately. So at first, it was Snapchat, right? Snapchat had its whole little, you know, a-ha moment and all companies were like, “What do we do here? How do we use it?” Cisco was probably the first or one of the first notable companies to leverage Snapchat, and they still are to some extent. You can’t measure it, right? It’s very light in that approach. Now they’ve started to add links. But you also can’t get found. You have to really promote your channel.

Take Instagram, a channel that’s pretty easy to get found on through hashtags and just tagging in general and through Facebook with the close integration. Now you could do stories there. Companies are using this as a place to run employee takeovers where your employee can show what a day in the life is and do quick 10-second videos across their day when it’s convenient for them, no cost at all and it’s a pretty safe approach. You know, it’s not like you’re handing over the keys. You can have an employee send you the videos and then you upload as the employer brand manager. But those are really effective because you can run them pretty often, they’re interesting content.

All throughout HubSpot is a great example. I think they do a really good job with takeovers. Disney has done a couple as well and those have been effective as well. Instagram is a great channel. I think, Twitter for some of the live, instant stuff. So if you’re looking at live chats, Twitter chats, that’s a really good channel to do some of the Q&A style content, but it’s popularity, I think, is decreasing somewhat. That’s interesting.

Facebook for Facebook Live. I’m always impressed by companies testing out some campaigns there. GE has done some really good stuff on the live front and you could do some great interviews, you know, on the fly or just kind of a Q&A sit down style. That’s a really neat one as well.

Where do the best quality candidates come from?

I think word of mouth and referrals is still the best, right? So when you think of a brand, if you’ve got a good, positive employer brand and employees feel happy, say they’re rating a pretty high NPS, Net Promoter Score, and they feel good about their company, they’re going be likely to tell their friends about it and tell their family. So that’s probably the most powerful recommendation. You know, if a friend tells you about something, you’re going to feel pretty good about it.

Then you can leverage their social networks through your employees. You know, having a post come from, you know, you VP of sales or your, you know, anyone within your company as opposed to your own company page is probably going to do a lot better because it’s from a human. If they’re recommending it, personally, they feel pretty good about it. And so I think word of mouth is a great place.

Source of hire is difficult to measure, right? Not difficult to measure but a lot of employer brand recruitment marketing people say, “Okay, we need more hires. We need more hires,” right? Well, there’s so much that goes on beyond just attracting candidates, right? So, say, after the application phase, there’s so much that goes on when you look at the interview, you know, the phone screen, everything else, that it’s very hard to track that all back to employer brand once you get closer to the bottom.

It’s great, I think, to measure candidates and measure applicants, that’s definitely a good measure. But once you get further down, it’s really hard because there are so many touch points that happen throughout the funnel beyond you, which could be the recruiters, the hiring managers, the onsite, the phone screen, whatever it is that you can’t control all of that.

How important is it to have an EVP defined?

I think it’s really important. It’s something that a lot of companies create very formally and it’s hard to say this is a one size fits all approach, right? So to say, “Okay, here is our, you know, core pillar,” right? You can do that but it’s something that takes your entire company, right? Your entire company but also talking to your candidates, too, and getting a feel for, “What are our values? How do those translate to who we are as an employer an employer of choice?” Making sure that it’s aligned with what you’re putting out there, all the messaging, what you see in the job description, what recruiters are talking about.

You want to make sure that this is, kind of, an approach that goes across the business. It’s not just a small piece of a strategy document or a PowerPoint or some research that was done that you have and then you forget about it, right? You know this is something that you want to speak to in each of your messages. Something that we do is essentially tracking our EVP pillars to the individual posts. We’ll try to make sure that all of our posts on social speak to an EVP pillar. Sometimes they could be two or they can be everything, but we’ll try to choose the most aligned pillar.So maybe it is, you know, that we’re a great company, that we have great people. That could be in one pillar, for example.

Another pillar could be innovation. Doing new things, new products, and local impact, that could be another. We’ll try to tie each of those posts to an EVP pillar to make sure that it does come across. And that’s a very diligent approach, something that we can also track because EVP can be difficult to track. You know, you’ve already surveyed all your employees, you’ve gotten your EVP pillars, now you want to make sure that they’re working and that those pillars speak to your audience as well.

What initiatives are you particularly proud of?

In my first role in recruitment marketing and employer brand, I was doing, in the first part, a lot of strategies and putting together, you know, this is what we should be doing, talking to employees, getting a feel for all this. We were putting all our eggs in social, right? You know, social was our basket. It was free. It was organic. And I said, “Well, why don’t we try email. We’ve got emails from all of our candidates, all of our applicants. Why don’t we test this out as a channel?”

I pulled a list of all of our candidates from Jobvite and made the decision, difficult decision, to send all candidates this email, including rejected, right? A very debatable topic. You know, we talked about it for a week or two and I said, “Well, even if they were rejected, don’t we want to be top of mind? Don’t we want to plant the idea back in their heads that we’re hiring? You know, we want to say hello, just a casual newsletter email.” This was at Sprinklr, Sprinklr saying hello. It was sent on a Wednesday morning 9:00 a.m. I figured that would be a good time to send it.

This email had some jobs that had a personalized, “Hi, you again. You know, hope you’re doing well. Here’s what happened in 2015. We wanted to say hi.” There are some culture tidbits, there are some events in there, some nice pictures. What we ended up with was a 54% open rate, which compared to the email marketing industry, you’ll find, maybe 25%, 26%. That’s a good average benchmark. So we had over double that which is amazing. I was shocked, my whole team was shocked. We’re like, “Wow, that was a really good result.” Then there were 11% clicks which are also really good.

The goal was really awareness, it was an application so everything that we got was sorta extra in gravy. We ended up getting, I think, 30 or so applications, which is fine, you know, that wasn’t even part of our goal. But this was just really successful and I think that speaks to the idea of trying something new and seeing what you get out of it, even if it’s something that you’re like, “Well, it may not work, it might.” Hey, we had HubSpot. We figured let’s just put this into HubSpot and see what we get. And that ended up being a really good channel, so I’m really proud of that.

I also had the opportunity to interview and sit down with a lot of employees at TripAdvisor while I was there over the summer, and got to just speak to, you know, CMO, speak to interns, speak to product managers and people who were building things across the company and interview them, individually, face-to-face. A lot of companies will go the survey approach and they’ll just send out a survey and say, “Hey, we want to spotlight you. Can you fill out these questions?” And they’re all the same questions, they’re standardized and it doesn’t feel personal.

This was a chance to put a face to recruiting, put a face to HR. I was the guy going out emailing these employees and saying, “Hey, when do you have time to chat?” basically. And just do a sit-down. I wasn’t recording it, I was, you know, jotting down notes as I spoke to them and by the end of it, you know, I was able to put that into a message of employees saying, “I built this,” right. And so employees who had built maybe the destination pages online, right? So San Francisco, that page that you see, I had met the employee who built that.

Then that was a story that we could then put out there and show the impact that some of these employees were able to have. So now recruiters had content to show candidates. Candidates had content with, you know, reference and experience what it’s actually like beyond just a Glassdoor review. And we had content to put across, you know, a blog, across our social channels and this really put the voice of the employee forward a lot more effectively.

What pitfalls should our listeners avoid?

  1. I would definitely say pick the right channels to be on, not all, right? So it’s easy to say, “Well, we want to reserve our presence on each of these channels and make sure we’re there.” Well, what happens is that, you know, you’ll try some of these out and they end up not working or you don’t keep up with it, and then you lose, you know, the consistency and you’ve got these followers who are wondering, “Well, why aren’t they active? Why haven’t they posted in a while?” So I think it’s much better to choose one or two channels that work really well, especially in the beginning and make sure you feel comfortable, make sure the content is good. Try those out rather than just having all these different channels, that’s one big thing.
  2. Another, I think, is as you get larger, you have all these different sub-brands. You know, say you’re a Procter & Gamble and you have Tide, Downy, Duracell, you’ve got the toothpaste, you have all these different brands. It’s very challenging to speak to the brand awareness of those because you’ve got this master brand. People are applying to Procter & Gamble, right? That’s the main career site. But then you have those sub-brands that people know on a household level, right? You know, “Oh, I buy this toothpaste. I buy Duracell batteries.” So you want to highlight a bit of both, but also not necessarily create all these separate channels for those individual brands, right? You want to have your main, you know, corporate master brand channel, so P&G careers, for example. Then be careful about setting up separate pages and separate brands for each of those sub-brands. I think that’s an easy one to do because they feel so different, right? You know, the brands will feel different. You know, say, a toothpaste company versus a battery company. But at the end of the day, they’re payroll is coming from Procter & Gamble, they’re a part of Procter & Gamble and their team just happens to be the team that is Duracell, right? You want to make sure that your message feels pretty consistent aligned with your master brand and that your sub-brand, yes, can feel different but not so different that it feels like a completely separate company, and then people are confused about who they’re actually applying to or working for.

What are the best ways to track ROI on employer brand?

I think measuring ROI on employer brand can be tough, right? How do you measure brand? That’s a very subjective thing. It’s almost like saying how do we measure PR even sometimes. Brand, I think, you’re checking Glassdoor to see, you know, is what your employees are saying about Glassdoor, your candidates saying on Glassdoor. Does that feel similar to what employees told you in the EVP discovery, right, when you were figuring out some of those pillars? Is that consistent?

You know, making sure the messaging, those points, feel right. I think, on the recruitment marketing level, it’s a little easier to measure that, right, because you can leverage the channels and you can say, “Well, from social, we’re driving X impressions, X reach. Ultimately, once they click the link, X applications start and then X applications submissions and complete.” You can get really granular on that level which tells you a lot about what might be going wrong or what’s working right.

Say someone comes in through social, they like the copy from that social message, they click the link, they get to your job description or your career site or your blog post, then they apply. They start their application and then they don’t submit it. Something went on there. Maybe it’s your candidate experience, maybe it’s your application taking too long, or that your questions were too complicated. There’s a lot that could go on there, right? You can get very granular on tracking the ROI there on your recruitment marketing level.

Really, on the brand side, I think, a ton of that is the messaging and what people are saying as the candidate experience, as the employee experience and if those feel in line with what you already found from the EVP pillars, then I think you’re doing it right. It’s working pretty well. You can track that through all of your channels, your career site, through your social, through the job boards, Indeed, what those are driving.

What employers inspire you?

  • Dropbox: They used The Muppets and all their employees were speaking, they were the voice but then all you saw, you know, watching the video was The Muppets. That’s a fun video that you wouldn’t expect, you definitely wouldn’t expect from them.You know you want to make sure it feels right with the culture.
  • HubSpot: They’ve done a great job with the inbound recruiting style. They have a new inbound recruiting manager, Hannah. She’s doing some awesome work. They tested a Slack channel, which was interesting because so many companies use Slack internally.Here is a chance for them to use Slack for candidates to talk to employees and recruiters on a channel, and they could ask questions and people would respond pretty quickly because employees were on Slack already. A candidate would drop a question in and an employee or a recruiter would respond. I thought that was really neat. You’ve seen a lot of the talent community approaches, some of them working, some of them not.
  • Zappos: I admire what they have done. They ditched job descriptions. I thought that was an interesting idea. Holocracy – how they switched to that new management model or actually lack of management. Then they also did the talent community approach where enter the talent community, don’t apply to a specific job and then internally the recruiters or sources would fit you for the right role for the roles that they were looking for, internally. That was also an interesting approach. Didn’t totally work 100% and I think they brought Jobrecs back, but I admire kind of the idea to test that and see how it worked.

Looking into the Lane Sutton crystal ball, what’s next for employer brand?

Well, HR Tech is blowing up. You know, in the last few years, we’ve seen so much action with companies for ATS, CRM, a focus on the user experience, candidate experience. I think, the technologies are going to progress a lot more. We’re going to see, you know, more standout platforms that are working right now. Some of them are in, really, the early stages and there’s a lot of heavy competition between the few that are doing it.

I think, companies are going to see more need to dedicate to an EB recruitment marketing function, right? Some of the smaller companies that might not have anyone yet, say, a 500-person, a 1,000-person company, they’re going to say, “Hey, we need to build an employer brand or at least a strategy here, and start to have some channels.” I think we’ll see that, companies that will, you know, create a role. Maybe it’s part-time, half-time or at least one person dedicated to employer brand or recruitment marketing to actually run this.

You’ll also see more compliant companies start to say, “Okay, you know, we understand the need for it. Here are some of the keys,” right? “We’ll sort of open up the doors a bit to trying out what will work.” Maybe a financial industry. Some of the industries that are a little more closed, I think, people are going to start to realize that it’s an important thing to invest in, put some budget, some money behind but also just try it out and see what you can get there.

I hope that that progresses a lot. I also think, at the student level, right? I’m a student now, at the student level HR and marketing are seen as two very separate things. When you’re in the classroom, marketing professors just talk about marketing for customers for sales. But I hope that we’re going to make the connection between HR and marketing and people will understand that this is actually a profession, that you could do a bit of both, that you can love marketing and have a passion for HR and bring those together as a career, and be a recruitment marketer, essentially.

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