Measuring Your Employer Brand

article by Dr. John Sullivan and Master Burnett Last week I wrote about rebuilding a damaged or tarnished employer-of-choice brand. Based on the articles people were searching for on my website and email questions that had come in over the past few weeks, I figured this was becoming an emerging issue. This week my colleague Master Burnett and I are going to build on last week’s article by providing some metrics you can use to measure your employer-of-choice brand. Measuring Your Brand Isn’t Difficult One question that frequently gets asked when the topic of branding comes up is, “How do I measure it?” For most in HR, the idea of measuring something that isn’t tangible is difficult to grasp. But measuring your brand isn’t as hard as it may seem. After all, advertising firms have been doing it for years, so the process is fairly well established. Some of the models the leaders in advertising such as Young & Rubicam, Inc., have developed are more complicated, and therefore more robust, than others, but for most firms a more simple approach is adequate. What Measuring Your Brand Really Means When we talk about measuring your brand, we are really talking about measuring three things:

  1. Awareness: The degree to which those individuals who you want to know you realize you exist!
  2. Differentiation: The degree to which those you want to attract to your organization make positive distinctions between you and their other employer options.
  3. Perceived quality and popularity: The degree to which your organization is recognized for growth and reputation.

True advertisers would argue that you need to measure a fourth element of your employment brand, called brand relevance, but this measure can become overly complicated very easily ó so we’re going to stick with the basics. Measuring Your Brand Awareness Without a doubt, the easiest thing to measure with respect to your brand is its awareness. This is a metric that much more closely resembles other metrics commonly found in HR, in that it is a simple count. However, like many metrics, it comes in many different flavors! The most common, and the ones we recommend include:

  • Basic awareness. Simply stated, this metric determines what percentage of a very targeted population (in this case, your potential candidate pool) is familiar with your company. To use this metric, you simply ask the question, “Are you aware of XYZ Corporation?” and record the percentage that say yes.
  • Recall awareness. Similar to basic awareness, recall awareness measures what percentage of the target audience names your organization when asked to list organizations that match some criteria. This metric can also be used to see if your firm is recognized as a leader with respect to certain criteria, such as innovation. To use this metric, survey your target population and ask them to list the firms they are aware of that are in your industry. It is essential that the survey not come directly from your organization. Recruit a staffing agency or research firm to deploy the survey for you. Count what percentage of the respondents listed your organization.
  • Top-of-mind awareness. An offshoot of recall awareness, this metric simply determines what percentage of those who can recall your organization recall yours first. To use this metric, first complete the recall awareness metric, then determine what percentage of the total population listed your organization first.
  • Familiarity. The most complex of the awareness measures, familiarity, further breaks down the percentage of the population that is aware of your organization by weeding out those who also have an opinion on your organization, be it positive or negative. To use this metric, survey the target population with a series of questions that determines not only if they are aware of your organization, but also if they have either a positive or negative opinion of your organization.

Awareness measures are helpful in that they can help you determine to whom and to where your employment communications are getting through. In short, they can help you allocate your resources so that you reach the target audience with the greatest degree of penetration possible. Measuring Your Brand Differentiation Again, the idea here is not a complex one; we simply want to determine if our target candidates believe that our organization is significantly different from their other employer options, or relatively the same. For the most part, metrics that measure differentiation measure to what degree your organization is seen as meeting some characteristic ó e.g., this organization is one that I would trust. Two measures are primarily used to measure differentiation. They are:

  • Value. This metric determines whether or not your organization is perceived to be the best bet for the candidate’s future. Basically, it measures whether the value proposition of working for your organization exceeds the value proposition of working for someone else. To use this metric, first develop a list of benefits for working at your organization. Second, develop a similar list for at least two other talent competitors. Be sure the lists of benefits include information on the organizations’ growth and historical performance. Survey the target audience to determine what percentage of the population would choose your organization over the other options.
  • Personality.This metric is by far the most fun and the most interesting to look at. The goal is to determine if your target candidates assign the same personality characteristics to your employment brand as you strive to communicate. For example, let’s say that you strive to be known as the most innovative firm in your industry. Then one personality metric would measure what percentage of those surveyed identify innovativeness with respect to your brand. One way to collect this metric is called “semantic differentials.” If you search the Internet for this term, you will find many examples on how to build a semantic differential survey. In short, you list the personality traits you would like to be assigned to your organization down the left-hand side of the page, then list the opposite of the trait down the right. Provide a five- or seven-point scale between each pair of traits. Ask survey respondents to select a point on the scale that best represents your organizations position with respect to the traits. Average the responses by point value, and put the average value per pair on a clean survey. Draw a line from point to point to visually show how your organization is perceived.

Measuring Your Brand’s Perceived Quality and Popularity Perceived quality is a scary term, but it is one we live and breath by nature. Every time an individual comes into contact with a person, place, thing, or idea, they make a judgment as to the quality of that person, place, thing, or idea. Over time, these judgments create what everyone calls a reputation. What is your organization’s reputation? It might not be what you think. Study after study has linked the perceived quality of an organization to its stock return ó so this is one metric you might want to pay attention to. Unfortunately, while your employment communications can play a role in perceived organizational quality, so too can communications from every other aspect of the organization and from the outside world. The primary metrics to measure perceived quality and popularity are:

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  • Quality by characteristic. This metric looks at the perceived quality of your organization with respect to a specific characteristic, such as leadership team or engineering ability. Overall perceived quality is also measured, and in most cases will not equal an average of the characteristic measures because candidates assign different weight values to each characteristic. To use this metric, develop a survey that asks respondents to rate your organization by characteristic, and overall, on a scale that ranges from poor quality to high quality. You can put as many option between the two endpoints as you desire, but most experts agree that three to five is plenty. Present the results as a basic average of all respondents.
  • Popularity. This metric is actually a category of measures, because popularity can be measured thousands of different ways. Some of the most common for employer-of-choice brands include resume submission growth rate (which can be further separated by candidate quality), resume volume comparison (to other industry players), and corporate career website usage.

Conclusion As you can see, measuring your brand isn’t really any more difficult than writing down on paper what you want your image to be, then counting using different tools how many of the people you want to have that image of you actually have it. The most difficult part of measuring your brand will be figuring out what characteristics you want to exude as an organization, and developing the tools (surveys) you will use to capture the data. If money is not an issue, any one of the larger advertising firms would jump at the opportunity to help you measure your brand. But I expect that for most of you, you will be going it alone. If you want more advice or direction on developing surveys that use scales, check out the website on research methods at Cornell University. It should be enough to get you started. If you still have a lot of questions, let me know what they are, so that I can try to give you answers!

About the Author

Dr. John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions. He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on www.ERE.Net. He lives in Pacifica, California.