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In employer branding it is what you measure that counts

If you could predict with a high degree of precision that investment in your employer brand strategy would deliver value wouldn’t you increase your investment?

Employer Brand International’s (EBI) 2012/2013 Global Research study found that 39% of companies plan to increase their investment in employer branding initiatives in 2013. The important consideration in this statistic is just how much of this investment will add value and how much will be wasted. For many companies it may lead to an outcome that many marketers are only too well aware of: half of their investment is wasted, they just don’t know which half!

Making the case to measure return on investment of employer branding isn’t the hard part. Figuring out what to measure is! EBI's 2011 global study found that retention rate (thirty-eight percent of companies surveyed use this metric) is the most common metric used to measure ROI of employer branding. Thirty-three percent use employee engagement, twenty-nine percent quality of hire, twenty-seven percent cost per hire and twenty-six percent use number of applicants. So which metric(s) should you use?

The key to which metrics you use to measure your ROI is to align the metrics with your business objectives. There is no point measuring the number of applicants if you are recruiting astronauts to send into space. If you are hiring for a new local store opening or an upcoming busy summer period you may focus your spend on employee referrals if your previous research has shown that employee referrals result in the best performing employees.

Your employer brand metrics should be reliable and predictive. If you can identify the drivers of employer brand value and focus your investments on these activities aren’t you more likely to receive the ongoing support of Executive to invest in employer branding? Following an employer brand strategic audit in 2012, a large Danish employer found they were spending sixty percent of their employer branding investment on University activities but only five percent of new hires were being recruited from this channel. Sure enough, investment was re-allocated to channels which were producing the best hires and this is where understanding what to measure can drive value!

EBI research shows the employer brand strategy is driven by the human resources department in 36% of companies and in 30% the responsibility is shared amongst more than one function. Based on this statistic it would be reasonable to expect that measures that have commonality amongst all departments contributing to the employer brand strategy are more likely to get closer to the true 'employer brand value creation' goal.

The link between creating employer brand value and financial (e.g. cost per hire, profit per employee, staff turnover cost) and non-financial measures (e.g. employee engagement, employee loyalty, employer brand awareness) is variable and must be evaluated on a case by case basis and re-evaluated over time as the strategy evolves. For example, your new recruits out of University may place less emphasis on face-face contact in the recruitment process and a key driver of whether they choose to work for you may be the time to hire. If your recruitment processes are lengthy and result in a poor candidate experience whilst your competitor understands the needs of the target audience better you may find yourself regularly missing out on the best talent.

Employer brand leaders should think like researchers and employ tactics to better understand their workforces. Conducting feedback and discussion group sessions and interviews with current and future employees will assist you to better understand what measure is driving the emotions behind why employees chose to join your company, why they stay and what would make them leave.

For example, let’s say you’re the small chip maker Xilinx. Last fiscal quarter you brought in $510 million in revenues. Compared to chip giant Intel, who raked in $53 billion last quarter, you have a small market share and share of voice. How do you compete against Intel for talent?

Firstly you need to understand your audience. You need to learn what matters to your prospects. You need to market your employer brand and be clear on what differentiates your employment experience from your competitors and use the channels that will extend your market reach..

Then you need to be clear on what you are going to measure. How many prospective employees had heard about Xilinx before your efforts began? What is your level of employer brand awareness now? What is your market share and share of voice? Measures like these can help you compete against the larger companies who can outspend you with their bigger marketing and communications budgets.

As you’re evaluating these measures, take a holistic look at your brand. Imagine a scale that starts on the left with the broad, big picture of your brand to the outside world, all the way to the right with specific, high-performing employees that best emulate your employer brand.

Start from the outside looking at broad trends:

  • Where do you communicate your EVP(s)? (i.e. which channels do your target audience use?)

  • What is your level of employer brand awareness?

  • How attractive is your employer brand with your target audience?

Then move toward the inside focusing on your target audience (candidates):

  • Is your target audience engaged or interacting with your communications?

  • Are they taking the desired action? (i.e. joining your online talent community)

Finally, look inward at your current employees:

  • Do they understand how to communicate EVP messaging effectively?

  • Can they communicate your EVP(s) through their actions and behaviours?

  • Are they acting as brand ambassadors, would they recommend your company as a great place to work?

Depending on how you perform against these measures, it is important to assess and understand which measures drive employer brand value in your company (remember there is no one size fits all set of metrics, so don’t just copy your competitors metrics). That said, jumping into measurement isn’t the first step-you have to first align your metrics with your objectives.

Alignment of measures to objectives

For those of you who have children, you might have a wall in your house where you use a pencil to chart their growth. As any parent with a ruler knows, measurement isn’t static. Before you know it, your baby boy is taller than you are. Employer brand measurement works the same way. You won’t always trend upward, but you will change, driven by factors such as external market conditions or internal product development, innovation or employee engagement.

This means it’s essential to make measurement a standard and cyclical part of your strategy depending on where you are in the evolution of your employer brand strategy. For example, if you’ve developed and launched your employer brand strategy in year one, you may be measuring employer brand awareness and/or alignment between departments responsible for the strategy. In year two, as you become more skilled at engaging with your target audience you may track conversion rates of your Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter followers who become members of your online talent community where they can receive more targeted communications based on their profile.

We all know the value of data, but what’s important here is the value of data over time. Employer brand value is best measured as it is enhanced over time. That’s why corporate sustainability has become such a hot topic in business as companies are fast realising the impact on business performance through low levels of engagement and high staff turnover. This is one of the reasons why the practice of employer branding has a bright future.

It doesn’t matter whether you have been managing your employer brand strategy for three years or three minutes, below is a nine point action plan you can share and discuss amongst those responsible for your employer brand strategy to improve your measurement and ROI.

1) Clearly define your employer branding objective(s)

Attracting and retaining the best talent may be a logical objective. The definition of clear objective(s) is critical as it guides the allocation of resources. Conducting a strategic audit of your employer brand is a good place to start to define your objectives and identify where your investments are best focused before you start spending big on creative and communications.

2) Understand the key drivers of achieving your objective

This should be part of your audit process as well and may require revisiting the survey data you invested heavily in and now makes a great bookend on your bookcase! If you can identify the cause and effect of how you attract and retain the best talent, you can focus your efforts on these activities. If your research tells you your hiring manager satisfaction produces the best hires or the quality of your induction program results in the most effective sales people then you can start to implement your employer branding activities with a higher level of predictability.

3) Develop an employer brand scorecard

Your scorecard should identify the financial and non-final measures that drive employer brand value. It should allow you to track and report on those measures most likely to impact on achieving your objectives.

4) Allocate responsibility for the measure(s)

The responsibility for reporting on the performance should rest with the employee(s) responsible for the employer branding activity. thirty-six percent of human resource departments are responsible for the employer brand strategy. However thirty percent of responsibility lies in more than one department so it makes little sense for a HR leader to be responsible for measuring employer brand awareness if marketing is responsible for the external communication activities to extend the market reach of the company’s employer value proposition (EVP) communications. Ensure everyone is on the same page!

5) Obtain baseline data on your workforce

Measures are nothing without a baseline understanding of your audience. Start by gathering data on your current workforce to obtain a solid understanding of your target audience and who they are. Seek information on hobbies, commuting patterns, family situations, interests and behaviors. Go beyond demographics and search for patterns amongst subsets of employees. Your most talented young employees may all share an interest in gaming so use that to your advantage rather than send them to a full day of training on a topic unrelated to their interests!

6) Dispel assumptions

Share the data with your leaders and dispel assumptions they have about the typical employee. Break down employee likes and dislikes. Share intuitive data about commonalities you found amongst ‘A level’ talent. Create new personas that are data-based and not assumption based.

7) Listening closely to employee feedback and observe behaviors

Pay close attention to the channels your current employees use and map marketing strategies to their preferred channels. This will ensure you have tactics to allow for a deeper, richer perspective into how well your employer brand and EVP strategy is resonating with employees.

8) Evaluate your progress

Business conditions aren’t static, nor should your measures be! They’re ever changing and more valuable when measured over time. Make comparisons and don’t be afraid to report failures-they’ll drive change and show you’re paying attention to your investment.

9) If all else fails...

If you are unable to convince your executives to invest in employer branding, consider the human element. In early 2012, AdAge found only three mentions online for the search terms “I love Dow Chemical.” How many people love your brand? That alone can demonstrate how far back in the pack you are. Genuine feelings about a brand matter-don’t forget the power that human love (or hate) can bestow on your brand success.

In most cases it’s a clearly defined strategy and successful implementation (and a lot of hard work and collaboration) that comes to back to these few (but value creating) words,

‘I love working for <enter your company’s name here!>

About the authors

Brett Minchington MBA is Chairman/CEO of Employer Brand International. Brett is an International strategist, corporate advisor and author on employer branding who has trained thousands of leaders in more than 50 cities around the world. You can follow him on twitter @brettminch

Susan Strayer LaMotte is the Founder of exaqueo, a workforce consultancy delivering services in brand, culture and talent. She’s a veteran of in-house talent and brand leadership roles and speaks and writes on talent innovation and brand definition. You can find her @SusanLaMotte or at

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