Getting Serious About Your EVP Strategy: Q&A with Maren Hogan
Red Branch Media’s “chief marketing brain” untangles EVP strategies, employer brand rollouts, and how to develop a value proposition that attracts talent.
Maren Hogan. Photo: Red Branch Media
Maren Hogan is a seasoned marketing strategist and thought leader in the human resources and recruitment space. As the “chief marketing brain” at Red Branch Media, an agency devoted to marketing for the workplace, she helps employers articulate their employer value proposition (EVP) and implement an employer brand strategy. Over the phone, Maren outlined the EVP development process, untangled the sometimes-confusing terminology around employer branding, and shared advice for employers who want to get serious about attracting talent.
“You can’t take somebody else’s template and plop that onto your own company.”
What is an EVP?
Your EVP answers the question: what value do we bring to the table for our employees? Because a job is a huge thing. It’s like buying a car or a house. You can’t just say: here’s the job, take it or leave it.
If you go to any company’s website, the first thing you’ll see is a big, overarching headline that states: this is what we do, this is who we do it for, this is why we do it, this is how our product or service makes things easier. An EVP lets employers do the same thing; it positions you to say: here’s the value we bring to our employees. Do you as a potential employee buy in?
How does the EVP differ from the employer brand and the recruitment marketing?
It’s like big fish, smaller fish, smallest fish. The EVP is going to be two or three sentences – it’s going to have a tagline. That drives the employer brand, which is the big guy. The recruitment marketing gets the employer brand out to candidates.
What does the development process look like?
There are a lot of models you can use. Ours is based on a typical go-to-market strategy, where you determine who the stakeholders are, where they live, what bothers them, what keeps them up at night. From there, you back into the EVP.
When we’re working with clients, we’ll talk with their new hires coming in, and ask: what attracts you to this company? What do you know about the company? What don’t you know about the company? How do you see this role fitting in with your lifestyle? And sometimes we’ll survey folks who have left, to understand why they decided to leave.
Who should be responsible for developing and implementing the EVP strategy?
It’s wonderful to get talent acquisition, marketing, and HR in the room with you. Also, front-line managers and employees who hold key positions, so you can fully understand the true complexity and get a comprehensive look at what’s happening inside the company. But if anyone is going to own it, it should probably be talent acquisition.
Can an EVP incorporate value you aspire to offer employees, even if you’re not quite there yet?
Yes, there’s room to be aspirational. But you have to align it with reality: what your jobs actually offer, not just what you wish they offered. What I’d be careful not to do, is say, “we want to be like Google,” or, “we want to be like Apple.” Yes, those employer brands might be nice, but that may not reflect the reality of working for you.
I always tell the story about how our very first employer branding project was for the world’s largest protein company. You haven’t really tried to build an employer brand until you’ve built one for what is, essentially, a string of slaughterhouses! [laughs] and so I just think – no, it’s never a bad time to be aspirational, but you should also be realistic.
“You have to align it with reality: what your jobs actually offer, not just what you wish they offered.”
When is it time for an employer to start thinking about their EVP?
I think it happens organically. If you’re out there, and you’re actively recruiting, pretty quickly you’re going to see which people are coming to your door, and which people never make it past the first interview. So it’s never too early to start thinking about it. You can do it when you have three employees, ten employees, 100 employees, or 1,000 employees. But I wouldn’t sit down and say, “this is what I want my employer brand to be” before you’ve even sent the incorporation papers to your lawyer. That’s certainly not a bad exercise, but it will be difficult to recruit to that until you know your area’s demographics and what your company’s leadership looks like.
How often does the strategy need to be reviewed or updated?
When do you check back in? My gut says every six months, or so.That’s one place where Red Branch – and I would bet, a lot of the rest of the industry – can say we need to improve. I think that’s a really good question to be asking, and it’s something I’m going to be diving into over the next few months. Because you can’t just set it and forget it.
Employer branding gets talked about a lot. What’s the most common mistake people make, or misconception they have?
Thinking you can just take another employer brand and slap it, like a sticker, on yours. It’s like making your own cookies and putting them in a Chips Ahoy! box. It doesn’t make any sense; your cookies probably don’t taste anything like Chips Ahoy! cookies. You can’t take somebody else’s template and plop that onto your own company. Your company is different.
What one piece of advice would you offer to employers who want to get serious about figuring out their EVP and building their employer brand?
Don’t separate the EVP from the employer brand. An EVP gives you, basically, a bumper sticker. But it doesn’t give you a plan, or a guide to implementation, and it doesn’t change anything about your organization. So if you’re going to get serious about it, make sure you have the budget to do both. If you don’t have an internal team to manage the tactical implementation and the breadth of the eventual recruitment marketing – sending out the emails, building the careers site, all that stuff you actually have to do to make this come alive – you have to find budget to get it done externally, so that you don’t just stop at the bumper sticker.
For more of Maren’s insights, read her blog Marenated.
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