The Best Talent Strategies are Marketing Strategies

I have been discussing the converging roles of marketing and HR in the past few posts. I believe that organizations will eventually find themselves with a critical role that is a hybrid of the CMO and CHRO.

But for now, I want to take a deeper look at why HR should continue to take strong cues from marketing as it adapts the talent strategy and process to the current and future workforce.

Specifically, I’m discussing why a progressive recruiting strategy might start looking more like the strategy marketing pros apply to the customer purchase funnel.

For many organizations a highly desirable talent target and the “ideal consumer persona” that marketing departments are already obsessed with engaging is actually the same person. Marketers are in the business of mastering the emotional consumer buying process of brand awareness, consideration, preference, purchase, loyalty and advocacy.

Replace the word ‘purchase’ with ‘apply’ and you can see where this is going. Logic tells me that HR must begin to think more like a marketer and visualize engaging and recruiting talent much like a content marketer visualizes the stages of the purchase funnel. That means crafting the appropriate type of content to complement each stage.

Oh, and marketers need to serve up nearly every piece of content through a mobile experience. I’ll address some technology trends at the end of this article that support that. First, let’s dissect a typical marketing funnel and apply it to the world of recruiting:

Awareness: For marketing, brand awareness is table stakes. If the brand has no presence where potential customers are, the marketing strategy is already a fail. To that end, marketers are having growing success integrating brand messaging into social/mobile platforms.

For example, the fact that 21 of the top 25 brands are using the ‘new’ IAB Rising Stars Ad Units [1] shows us that cutting edge brands are increasing engagement and interaction by delivering ads that leverage native mobile behavior (swiping, clicking) and are optimized for mobile consumption.

In the recruiting world, there is stiff competition for real world experience and desirable skills.

Therefore, much like a marketer, your strategy must include creating brand awareness where talent is not necessarily ‘shopping’ – yes – I’m talking about passive candidates. This likely begins on a platform where the talent is already engaged.

Consideration: As a culture, we are now programmed to do our research before we make purchase decisions. We also value the influence of others in our decision making process. In fact, 70% of Millennials are more excited about a decision they have made when their friends agree.[2] Marketers have embraced the new reality that consumers trust word of mouth over a traditional marketing message crafted by the brand.

By acknowledging this and applying technology appropriately (think shareable consumer ratings), they are finding ways to infuse brand interaction points with authentic stories generated by their existing customers and fans. Great visual examples abound in the fashion industry: jewelry brand Stella & Dot leverages the visual story telling of their stylists by streaming Instagram posts right on the product shopping page (stylists are the freelance workforce of the brand). In this case, what’s true in consumerism holds true in recruiting – authenticity matters.

Therefore, much like a marketer, your strategy should include serving up user generated content – think employment brand stories. To see this concept playing out today look at Zappos. Zappos has turned the recruiting process upside down by eliminating job postings all together and turning recruitment into a full blown marketing experience born from authentic employee ‘reviews’.

Preference: Brand preference happens when the consumer is given something valuable – when the brand delivers on its promise. Maybe it’s a solution to a problem, maybe its inspiration or aspiration, maybe it’s just a different perspective on something – whatever the ‘value’ is – that is when the magic begins to happen and a brand rises above the noise.

Therefore, much like a marketer, once you have the disposable attention of a potential candidate, it’s critical that your interaction provides VALUE. In the case of millennial talent, maybe it’s an explanation of your tuition reimbursement program or a look at how the company gives back to the community.

In the case of a Gen X parent, perhaps it’s a flexible workweek and remote office capability – Whatever “it” is, it’s incumbent upon you to serve up the information at the appropriate touch-point. (Side note: this is an interesting article in Fast Co. about the difference between brand preference and brand relevance.)

Purchase: When a consumer finally takes action (the big purchase!) the real work kicks off and marketing’s job really heats up. Delivering on the product/promise begins, and sets the tone for the next stages in the marketing funnel – customer loyalty and brand advocacy.

Ecommerce marketers are haunted by the abandoned cart – it’s a constant reminder that something in the process failed and caused the consumer to move on.

Much like a marketer, HR needs to make sure that the purchase process (which we are replacing with “application process”) echoes the desired brand experience, values the candidates time, and is worthy of completion. Using technology to make the process mobile, easy and dare I say enjoyable is critical as HR builds out the recruitment strategy that delivers on the next part of the funnel…

Loyalty & Advocacy. I’m combining these last two because this piece is focused on recruitment strategy, and we could iterate these into full blown discussions about onboarding and employee referral programs (maybe I will – let me know if you’re interested.) Brand Loyalty & Advocacy are the Holy Grail of marketing. I’m not talking about loyalty programs either – I’m talking about true loyalty – why a consumer will pay more, patiently wait for, or go without something that is not their preferred brand.

Marketers strive for this, and the really smart ones find a way to capitalize on it and reward it appropriately. Much like marketers, HR needs to tap into the most loyal talent within the organization and transform that energy into advocacy (think NPS scores). The ability to capture that energy and put it at the top of the entire employment brand ‘funnel’ is the cycle that will continue to build on the overall success of the strategy.

While I’ve focused on the strategy that marketers apply to the funnel, I also want to make mention that marketers are viewing all of this through a mobile enabled lens. Their strategy accounts for the way consumers behave on mobile devices and it would behoove HR to do that as well.

Consider the impact these mobile trends might have on your strategy:

1) Mobile ad spend soars past digital ad spend by 2017[4]. Design content for mobile consumption.
2) 80% of time on mobile is WITHIN Apps. HR must engage via social platforms, a ‘mobile career site’ isn’t enough.
3) Hyper local overtakes national ad spend by 2017[6] When location is a factor, ex. retail hiring, seize the opportunity with location aware engagement.

Further indications that recruitment will continue to look like marketing can be found in continued growth of HR technology platforms built to empower organizations with tools that look a lot like those inherent in inbound marketing platforms: SmashFly, Jobvite, Jibe, SmartRecruiter, KarmaHire, Recruitics are just a few of the companies worth following.

[2] US Chamber of Commerce: Millennial Generation Research Review:

About the Author:

Jason Averbook is CEO of the Marcus Buckingham Company and recognized as one of the top thought leaders in the space of HR and workforce technology. Jason contributes to Inc., Businessweek, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, CIO Magazine, HR Executive Online, Talent Management Magazine, NPR, SHRM, IHRIM and other well-known publications. He also is author of the new book HR From Now To Next: Reimagining the Workplace of Tomorrow.

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