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Psst. Over here. Yea, here. I’ve got a secret to share with all the employer brand leaders, recruiters, recruitment marketers, and talent acquisition pros who share an aspiration to become great marketers. It’s gonna blow your socks off. No, really. It’s the one, universally true secret about marketing that will open your minds to all the goodness it can deliver.

Ready? OK: Marketing’s hard.

Like, really hard. There’s no real playbook. No pre-baked recipe. No silver bullet (despite what all those experts might tell you). No shortcuts. There’s no tactical formula that any one marketer can execute successfully across any market. And if you meet a marketer who tells you they’ve got it all figured out … run, don’t walk, away from any advice they give you.

Here’s the truth: Even the experienced marketers— the folks with real, proven marketing track records — are still figuring it out. And that’s partly because marketing — and your audience, whoever they are — is constantly changing.

The One Constant: Investing in Building Real, Meaningful Relationships Always Pays Off

Now, let’s be real: Marketing also isn’t rocket science.

At its most common denominator, marketing — and everything that falls under its sometimes messy umbrella — is about building relationships. If you can empathize with your audience and add something to their lives, you’re off to a really good start.

And that’s not just true for marketers like me who — pretense aside — are ultimately trying to drive interest in a product. This fundamental marketing principle (that relationships are the bedrock of any great marketing strategy) is applicable to anyone in talent acquisition.

In your world, just like mine, the objective should be to tell your story in a way your audience understands. To connect with people in a way that means something to them. To do something that creates mutual value.


The Bad News: Most Companies Missed the Memo

In many ways, offering the option to join a talent network is one of the most fundamental aspects of recruitment marketing. For candidates, it’s a less obtrusive and time-consuming way to start a relationship with an employer. And for employers, it can be a very effective way to capture candidates who may not be ready to apply today.

This creates a gateway to market an employer brand, evaluate behavioral patterns that indicate interest, and nurture qualified leads to a desired action (a conversation with a recruiter, finishing an application, etc.).

There’s just one small problem: If they have one at all, most companies aren’t leveraging a talent network to do any of that.Here are just a handful of interesting data points from SmashFly’s 2018 Recruitment Marketing Benchmarks Report.

  • Just one-third of the Fortune 500 have a way to capture talent information without having to apply. The problem: The vast majority of people who start an application process never finish it (because, you know, applying to jobs is about as fun as a hammer to the face). SmashFly data reveals up to 90% of talent drops off the application process before completing it.
  • Of the companies that do have a talent network, 95% only send jobs. No employee stories. No content about diversity or culture. No videos. No positive PR or employer awards. Just. Jobs.
  • If that’s not bad enough, only 41% of companies actually personalize those job recommendations. It goes something like: Interested in the next great marketing gig at Acme Corp? Sorry, here are some maintenance and engineering gigs instead. Click to apply!
  • And now for the real kicker: One-third of companies with a talent network NEVER send anything. So, even if you’re a candidate eager to get job alerts, don’t hold your breath. They ain’t coming.

What’s the takeaway?

I think it’s pretty clear. When it comes to marketing, most talent acquisition teams are still obsessed with the product they know best: Jobs.

That’s unfortunate when you consider that every data point on the planet tells us that the best talent today doesn’t really give two beans about your jobs. Particularly when you haven’t yet given them a good reason to listen.


So, Where Do We Go From Here?

OK, so let’s recap: Marketing’s hard. It takes time and resources that most TA teams don’t have. And talent doesn’t really care about the one thing your team has in plentiful supply (jobs).

Time to pack up and go home, right? I mean, what’s the point?

Let me retreat a little bit and semi-contradict myself: While great marketing takes some effort, getting started down the path toward great marketing isn’t that difficult.

In fact, in the HCM industry, the act of simply committing to doing things differently is a differentiator (see the stats above). While most companies continue to market jobs that people don’t really care about, you have the opportunity to tell a different story and connect with talent on a different level.

And you don’t need to be the next Malcolm Gladwell to do it.

Some of the absolute best marketers I know don’t worry about creating the most beautifully packaged marketing material or shooting the most professionally produced videos. They just do something that their research and intuition tells them might be a good idea and then they measure it. They take some risks. They try new things. And they think about the sequence of experiences that give them the best opportunity to create a real connection with someone. In short, they invest in building relationships.

It’s a very human thing that any of us — marketing degree or not — can be good at. But to do it well, you have to focus on a few key areas:


 1. Listen To, Understand, and Empathize with Your Audience

Start with one job family or candidate persona (e.g., a hard-to-fill role) and research what that type of person cares about. What do they value? How do they work? Where are they active? What do they think about and respond to?

A simple way to do this is to interview people in your organization who are in a similar role and/or segment your database by that job family and study their activity over time. The more you know, the easier it is to deliver content and experiences that add value to that person in their moment of need.


 2. Target Your Message (or You’ll Never Stand Out)

Building off that last point, no one likes generic marketing — particularly in an era where everything, from Amazon recommendations to Spotify playlists, is curated for us. Once you understand who your audience is, focus on building out content that’s targeted to what a particular persona is thinking, feeling, and doing. Then think about how you can layer those messages in a way that tells a progressive story.

When you blast out generic job alerts, you not only sound like everyone else, you run the risk of driving the best people away, instead of drawing them closer.


 3. Be Present and Consistent, But Don’t Create Noise

 The worst thing you can do is nothing at all (TA already has one black hole with the ATS, let’s not create another…). The second worst thing you can do is focus only on you. The third worst thing you can do is fall into the trap of thinking that building meaningful relationships requires a specific, prescribed frequency of communication.

The name of the game here is being useful and interesting.

Depending on the type of talent you’re targeting, “useful” and “interesting” will mean different things (which is why it’s so critical to understand your audience and target your message). But if you focus on ensuring each interaction you have strengthens your relationship, you’re in good shape. People respond to quality. And when the things you send meet that standard, metrics have a funny way of taking care of themselves.


Let’s Wrap This Up

I’m going to close with a quote from Shaunda Zilich, GE’s head of global employment branding, in SmashFly’s 2018 Recruitment Marketing Benchmarks Report:

“Thinking differently and being brave enough to embrace change can pay huge dividends for a business and a brand. The best talent — the right talent — can read through a generic brand and marketing. But when you live your values — and your recruitment marketing reflects that — candidates respond.”

I can’t sum it up any better than that.

Marketing won’t ever be easy — even for the most seasoned marketers among us. But trying and learning is half the battle, particularly when many of your peers aren’t doing either. When those efforts are rooted in the goal of building real relationships with people and adding some kind of value to their lives, that’s when the real magic happens.

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