Employer brand storytelling is an essential tool for recruiting, retaining and engaging great people in your culture.
In this guide, I’ll give you three tips that you can immediately implement to improve your employer brand storytelling. I’ll also give you a few good examples of employer brand storytelling done well to get your creative juices flowing.
Wait: employer brand storytelling?
Even though it might take a second for these three words to click together, the fact is that employer brand storytelling isn’t some fluffy or esoteric new trend. The basic functionality of our brain allows us to create narratives about the infinite disconnected circumstances that make up the world around us. As Noble Prize winning economist Daniel Kaheman says, when it comes to human beings, “we are much better storytellers than we are logicians.”
In this sense, we are already well aware that the people we’re trying to recruit, retain and engage are constructing stories about us. Heck, we do it too: how many times have you sat down for an interview, took one quick look at the person across from you and said yes or no? Our employees and applicants are doing the same thing to us. They’re creating stories out of the experiences they have with you personally or with your employees out in the world. They’re creating stories about you out of the content that you put out through our media channels, especially social. And they’re creating stories about you based on what they hear — good or bad — about you in the news.
The question isn’t whether you should be doing employer brand storytelling. You’re already telling stories about your employer brand.
The question is: how can you do employer brand storytelling better?
3 Easy to Implement Tips for Better Brand Storytelling
You could spend the rest of your life thinking about your employer brand story, and still it would never be perfect. My goal here is not to help you create a perfect story. (That’s what my corporate storytelling workshops are for.) It’s to give you three things you can do this week to improve your storytelling.
(If you want to go more depth into your story — and receive more benefit — click here to learn more about storytelling consulting.)
1. Find 3 Great Character-Driven Stories and Start Sharing Them
One key differentiator between a dry organizational values and a story is that a story is “character-driven.” Stories are about someone — someone real, fictional or anthropomorphic — that an audience can connect with emotionally. The power of these emotional driven connections is profound. Neuroscientist Paul Zak found that character-driven stories consistently cause oxytocin synthesis, increasing a person’s likelihood of engaging in cooperative or charitable behaviours — the kind that will positively impact your culture.
To apply this to your organization, follow the storyteller’s maxim: Show, Don’t Tell. Ask yourself: what are the stories that best exemplify your values? Don’t tell me what your values are; that’s telling. Instead, ask yourself what story you would use as an example to explain what your values mean.
For example, I have a client whose organizational values include education. They’ve got a great story about Paul, a college dropout, who joined the company in the mailroom. Over the course of many years, the company was an active participant in his education, paying for his college degree and then his MBA as he moved up the ranks. Now Paul is Senior Vice President of Business Development. That’s a perfect, relatable story that illustrates the spirit behind that business’ values.
To put this into practice for your organization:
- Brainstorm 3 stories that illustrate important aspects of your organizational values.
- Write each story out in full. What happened, who did it happen to, what was the result?
- Summarize that story into a paragraph, like the story I told about Paul above.
- Start thinking about how you can share that story. On your careers page? In your social media? In a job posting? To internal audiences?
Just by the mere act of telling character-driven stories, you’ll change the way that people relate to your employer brand.
2. Make an Empathy Map
Because each of us has a different set of life experiences, the story of your employer brand will affect each of us differently. By better understanding your audience, you’ll have be better at telling stories that resonate.
A great tool for understanding your audience is an Empathy Map. An Empathy Map is collaborative tool designed to help give you more insight into your customers. By asking yourself questions about your audience — not just who they are, in terms of quantitative metrics, but also how they think, act and feel — you’ll naturally uncover new ways to connect with them through your employer brand storytelling.
For example, I have a financial client whose primary marketing narrative was the size of her returns. In every social media post, she consistently shared how her portfolio was performing. But portfolios go up and down, no matter the skill of the investor, and my client was finding it embarrassing to share her losses. Together, we walked through an empathy mapping process and discovered that, in addition to returns, her target audience valued her personal and attentive service. This insight helped her change her messaging to be more focused on service, allowing her to increase her connection with her clients — and grow her business 15% in the process.
To put this into practice for your organization
- Set aside an hour without interruptions
- Download and print an empathy map template or draw the template onto a white board
- For one group of applicants for a recent job posting, ask yourself the questions on the template: what are they thinking? Feeling? Seeing? Saying? Etc.
- Write down your answers on the template or on sticky notes and explore what unexpected connections arise
- Adjust your job posting to highlight the emotional experiences that you’ve identified as important to your target audience.
By being more thoughtful about who you’re talking to, you’ll improve how your employer brand story resonates, and you’ll get better applicants as a result.
3. Think of your Story Dynamically
An employer brand includes not just the stories you tell, but the perceptions, beliefs, values and feelings that live in the mind and heart of your target audience. That’s an incredibly complex thing, when you think about it — especially because the organization is growing and changing over time.
The reason so many employer brand stories sound hollow is because they’re described in empty values words that sound great but don’t mean much.
Rather than trying to codify your story into a few empty words, start thinking about your story as a dynamic entity that shifts over time. Rather than trying to make your story all inclusive and final, make your story into an inclusive process — a call and response between you and your audiences. If your audience gives you signals that suggest they like what you’ve shared, do more of that. If your audience reacts with a collective blah!, change your tact.
Start getting into the habit of being an adaptive and dynamic storyteller yourself.
To put this into practice immediately
- Take one upcoming piece of employer brand storytelling — maybe a blog post about your culture that you’re about to post.
- Rather than posting it to your blog, contact three or four or five people who fall into one of your target audiences and ask to interview them one-on-one
- In the one-on-one interview, ask them to read what you’ve written and give you feedback. Is it interesting? Is it boring? What’s the best part?
- Take the feedback you’ve received and tweak what you’ve written. Then put it out to your social audiences.
- Is the public response different than normal? Is there more or less engagement? What can you learn for next time?
By thinking of your story dynamically, you’ll naturally become a better storyteller — and improve the perception of your employer brand story — over time.
Employer Brand Storytelling Examples
Finally, here are a number of employer brand storytelling strategies that you can use to inform your own.
- Patagonia’s employer brand storytelling focuses on the freedom of the employee experience. It’s not just that this story is true; it’s that this value overlaps with the values and beliefs of its customers, creating true holistic benefit.
- Home Depot has begun telling stories of its staff members. In the video below, notice how the character driven story creates a sense of connection.
- Thermo Fisher Scientific used great storytelling to help humanize what happens in its labs. Check out this engaging, inside scoop into what they do.
- Here’s one I picked up off the street. Check out this great way that Icebreaker used storytelling to paint the picture of their organizational culture. Easy, simple to implement and effective.
Want help with your employer brand storytelling? Contact me!
I can help you iron our your employer brand story — sometimes in just one phone call.