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I am a big advocate for the employer branding industry. I’m also a harsh critic of it.
This is the context of my criticism:
Employer branding folks use agreeable words to sell flowery ideas that sound great in theory, but are largely inapplicable to solving real-world business problems.
Nobody really knows what those ideas and words actually mean—you know the ones I’m talking about—nor how they apply to anyone outside the employer branding bubble.
(FTR, I’ve been guilty of this.)
This language is just so damn agreeable. It’s applauded inside EB circles. It’s “the way” to put on display everything culturally virtuous inside organizations.
Meanwhile, people outside the EB echo chamber think it’s all a joke—a cute attempt at what the big kids in marketing are doing.
And this dismissiveness is kinda justified. The flowery language, combined with an over-emphasis on “strategy” and a lack of execution, rarely impacts business outcomes.
Things like EVPs take months (and a ton of budget) to “discover”, only to sit on a virtual shelf in some fancy deck collecting dust never to see the light of day. At best, this brand work gets turned into overpriced careers sites that employer branding people use to justify their existence internally.
Meanwhile, candidates and employees couldn’t care less.
TBH, most of the employer branding industry feels like smoke and mirrors: people getting paid to say the right things. (If you’re in the mood for a word salad, just talk to an EB consultant. Your vocabulary is guaranteed to grow.)
I still shake my head at the debate between “recruitment marketing” and “employer branding” and the idea of separating marketing outcomes from brand strategies. Why are we still debating terminology? Because it gives us something to do?
The ideas being hocked from stages at conferences, the cronyism that propagates these ideas in employer branding communities, and the legacy players who gold-stamp methodologies as if they’re gospel, keep this industry from evolving.
This work is extremely important. I believe that it’s vital to modern business.
But if it's to be effective—and therefore respected—across industries and seen as a legitimate function, employer branding must be clear, tactical, and have a tangible impact on a business.
That’s why I’m going all-in on a new guard of marketing-minded folks—the people who care about what users want—and about actual user behavior. These are the people who will turn this industry upside down and fundamentally change the way that companies and talent meet.
These are my peeps. And I’ll continue placing my bets on them, and only them.
This post will likely resonate with:
- High-growth startups
- Founders, CEO’s, and hiring managers
- Tech talent
Who will likely disagree:
- HR folks
- Legacy employer brand leaders
- Employer brand consultants/agencies
- Those who run employer brand groups, online communities, and events
And I’m more than ok with this. Onward.