2 min read

Employer Branding vs. Word of Mouth

Employer branding is worlds apart from word of mouth—and top-of-mind. It’s why most EB work misses the mark and ends up being a waste of time and money.

1:15 read (+2:23 video)

For most (like almost all) high-demand candidates, considering a new opportunity starts with some version of word-of-mouth.

  • They’re looking for a new opportunity and go straight to their peer group to get a short list of referrals or recommendations. Research ensues from there. Then a straight introduction to the opportunities that look the most interesting.
  • Something interesting (cool, new, innovative, different) is shared inside a community of peers that catches their eye.
  • A well-respected peer reaches out with an opportunity to collaborate—maybe at their company or on a side project.
  • A smart person with unique thoughts, opinions, and perspectives regularly shows up wherever they spend their time online. That person is associated with an opportunity (typically a company). That person + opportunity are now top-of-mind.

It’s very rare that need and timing align so perfectly that a cold message reaches this type of talent at just the right moment for them to go 🎯—that’s exactly what I was looking for!

You can get as creative as you want with cold outreach. But in the end, whoever can become the word of mouth solution in their niche wins the war over productive conversations (aka our time).


Additionally, some companies will embark on an “employer branding” initiative. Most of the time this is a process of strategically positioning their company’s culture and unique values as a way to entice job seekers to come over to their side.

Employer branding is worlds apart from word of mouth—and top-of-mind. It’s why most EB work misses the mark and ends up being a waste of time and money.

Word of mouth exists in peer-to-peer settings. It’s driven by relationships, trust, and always-relevant content that makes people think and feel inspired to do things they're drawn to.

Working to become the word-of-mouth solution in your niche is a unique mindset that too few companies embrace as their guiding talent acquisition principle.

But if you’re one of those few who believes that word of mouth is what drives the best results, here are some guidelines to help model your strategy:

It’s not:

  • Showing the fluffy culture stuff.
  • Polished videos and perfectly edited blog posts.
  • Self-indulgent “look at us” posts on social.
  • PR’d profile stories.

It is:

  • Giving the outside world a look under the hood.
  • Showing in real-time how you do, build, make, and create things.
  • Through genuine, unattached contribution to your community.

Side note: A close second to word-of-mouth is top-of-mind. Show up enough times in the right places with bags full of value and when someone needs your thing, they’ll only think of you.

P.S. Do top-of-mind really well and you’ll become the word-of-mouth solution. Works out nicely 😉.

P.P.S. This is why the strategy of senior leaders being sourcers at scale by creating and distributing owned content is something that every high-growth startup needs to be doing.

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