Managing Your Company and Employer Brand

05/12/2019 Insights from Alexis Smith, former Director of Employer Brand & Culture at Anheuser-Busch

While most companies within the wine and spirits industry spend a lot of time thinking about how to market their products, few give any real thought about how to market their employer brand to potential job applicants. And, yet, as Alexis Smith, former Director of Employer Brand & Culture at Anheuser-Busch points out, that’s overlooking a potential point of competitive differentiation between you and other beer, wine or spirits companies. After all, talent is key to future success, and companies with access to the best pipeline of talent are also the ones that are going to have the best product launches, the best distribution networks, and the best sales performance.

The starting point, says Smith, is determining what your company values are. “Company values is where culture starts,” says Smith.  It’s important to come up with a language of what your company does, how it does it, and what it values. With that in mind, it’s often difficult to come up with descriptors for your corporate culture that make it truly unique. After all, which companies are not in favor of “integrity” or “transparency” or “teamwork”? Simply saying that your corporate culture favors “integrity” is not going to win you any job candidates.

Moreover, thinking about company values is inherently difficult to navigate because different people have different ideas about what certain terms mean. Over a period of time, words even start to take on new meanings, says Smith, so you might need to refresh your terminology every few years. For example, a word like “ownership” has been influenced so much by tech startup culture that it actually implies equity ownership in a company, and not just the ability to influence what a job role means.

To guide your thinking about values, says Smith, think about the typical descriptors used by beer companies to characterize and describe their products: hoppy, grassy, floral, earthy, citrus or toasted. While people might disagree about what “hoppy” taste like, most people would use hoppy to describe an IPA and not a lager. Using these descriptors should be taken seriously, advises Smith. “You don’t want to have someone order a lager and sell them a stout.” In the same way, if someone were ordering white wine, you wouldn’t want to sell someone a red wine instead.

And, yet, says Smith, this type of “bait and switch” happens all the time in the corporate world. Candidates think they are ordering a lager, but they are sold a stout. In other words, they might think that they are joining a young, dynamic entrepreneurial company and find out that they are joining a completely different type of company. So be careful about what you promise candidates – it’s not easy to fix a mistake if you are hiring people based on the false promise that you are making during the recruitment process.

Also, companies need to do a lot better job differentiating between “values” and “perks.” It’s easy to offer people free product samples, or invitations to certain events or promotions. But what are you offering in terms of value? For example, says Smith, it’s important for job candidates to feel that your workplace is an environment where they can make a difference, where their opinion matters, and where they are fundamentally valued. That can often go a lot further than simply handing out perks.

When thinking about the overall recruitment process, it’s helpful to think like a digital marketer, says Smith. For example, digital marketers love to think in terms of tools, channels, and platforms. They might use Facebook for one aspect of their marketing, and Twitter or LinkedIn for another aspect of their marketing. The same is true in the world of recruiting, where there are plenty of tools at your disposal. For example, says Smith, there is social media, digital media, job boards, job fairs, referrals, and email.  The best thing about digital media is that it is scalable – you can start with a few hundred dollars, or with a few thousand dollars. And you can spend on the platforms that are driving the most success for your organization. “A little bit of media spend goes a long way,” says Smith.  And you absolutely want to make sure that, if you are dedicating a lot of time to creating content, then people are actually going to see it.

In the same way that digital marketers think about “purchase funnels” (i.e. sales funnels), recruiters should think about recruitment funnels. In other words, at the top of the funnel is “awareness” – this is where you reach out to the marketplace to find potential candidates. This phase of the funnel is followed by “consideration” (in which you give candidates reasons to join your organization), “desire” and “apply.” At the very bottom of the funnel, of course, you’ll get the best candidates who are ready and eager to work for your organization.

One important consideration throughout the recruitment process, says Smith, is to keep in mind how the candidate experience might impact the consumer experience. If a candidate has a terrible experience during the recruitment process, he or she is unlikely to buy your products or services in the future, so you absolutely have to pay attention to the candidate experience of everyone applying.

Additionally, you want to make sure that the candidate experience accurately reflects the employee experience. This is particularly important if you are hiring young millennials. “Have fun with it,” says Smith. Make the interview process fun and memorable, not bland and boring. And always look for innovative ways for candidates to learn about your organization and what it does. At SXSW, for example, Anheuser-Busch hosted a fun escape room experience for people attending the event, with the entire experience based around real-world experiences at the beer company.

As a final takeaway lesson, says Smith, don’t be afraid to define culture from the inside out. Build a recruitment marketing plan. Make the whole process fun and “human.”  And make sure that the candidate experience and the employee experience are part of the same shared journey. That way, says Smith, when someone orders a lager, you can sell them a lager and not a stout.