Authentic employer branding: Turning principles into practice

Whilst the talent attraction community recognises the need for authentic employer branding, how best to achieve it remains largely an open field. Recent innovations do point towards emerging best practices, in particular, the power of employee-driven storytelling. 

In recent years, employers seem to have embraced a number of principles seen as success factors for talent attraction.

Employer branding, but the real thing

Employer branding is today accepted as central to talent attraction, with 83% of talent acquisition leaders surveyed by LinkedIn believing that it has significant impact on hires’ quality.

Increasingly also, employer branding is believed to work at its best when authentic, i.e. when perceived to convey the most genuine image of the organisation.

A Boston Consulting Group survey amongst Millennials indicates that the best way brands can engage them is to have an authentic purpose. Beyond salary, status and career progression, candidates want to know the reality behind life at the organisation, the people they will work with and what the job is like on a daily basis. 

No doubt employers accept that candidates’ search for authenticity should not be dismissed, not least because 90% of recruiters continue to feel the labour market is candidate-driven. But importantly also, authentic employer information is already being exchanged, often without the organisation’s awareness:

  • 50% of employees already post comments and other content online about their employers, with 30% doing so without the encouragement of their employer and 15% having shared negative comments about an employer (source); and
  • Most job seekers read at least 6 reviews before forming an opinion of a company.

Despite the recognised importance of authentic employer branding, the “how” remains an open question. Only half of companies surveyed by LinkedIn believe they have a proactive brand strategy and less than 40% feel they have the required resources to succeed.

Take social media. Whilst regularly seen by employers as the most important channel to promote an employer’s brand, there is no consensus on how to make best use of it.

“Despite all the hype about social-media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, every channel must be closely analysed for its benefits and risks. If a company does not have confidence that it can present itself authentically and engage in open dialogue with consumers through certain mediums, it should not use them until the advantages outweigh any potential damage”, concludes the BCG

Against this backdrop, it is encouraging to see innovations able to turn principles of authentic employer branding into practice.

The power of a story

Storytelling is now seen as a powerful way to project authenticity in employer branding. “Authentic storytelling…is an amazing way to impact talent strategies”, says a Forbes magazine article.

Scientific evidence backs this. Storytelling prompts a strong neurological response, according to neuroeconomist Paul Zak. His research shows that “stories that are personal and emotionally compelling engage more of the brain, and thus are better remembered, than simply stating a set of facts”.

“People are attracted to stories,” says Keith Quesenberry in the Harvard Business Review, “because we’re social creatures and we relate to other people.”

The role that storytelling can play in responding to candidates’ search for authenticity should come as no surprise. Whilst job seekers can access many facts about a target employer, facts alone are unlikely to be sufficient to answer many of their most burning questions.

At PathMotion, we assessed over 5,000 questions recently asked by job candidates on our employees-to-candidates discussion platform. The ones attracting most views include questions for which only a response with an authentic story is imaginable:

“Can you tell me what your first year was like?”

“Why [company] vs. other banks and what do you do as a trader?”

“A story can go where quantitative analysis is denied admission: our hearts. Data can persuade people, but it does not inspire them to act; to do that, you need to wrap your vision in a story that fires the imagination and stirs the soul.” concludes the Harvard Business Review.

Employees are the best storytellers

Arguably the most authentic source of storytellers for employer branding are employees who, according to the BCG, can communicate credibly about an organisation and “make its culture tangible”.

This is not just about who delivers the message, but also what message is being delivered, with employees seen by many as central to defining what it is that makes an employer unique.

Adidas’ employer branding campaign was developed together with employees based on their experiences working for the company. A worldwide employee survey shaped Adidas’ five main branding messages.

“More and more young employees are demanding that their voices be heard,” says Matthias Malessa, Chief HR Officer of the Adidas Group.  “I ask my people, ‘How do you perceive this company?’ Then I build my employer-branding story based on what they say.” He cites for instance one message involving social and environmental responsibility.


In recognition of these trends, several solutions were developed for employers to help their employees tell their stories.

Employee referrals programmes have been adopted by many organisations, including eBay.

“When you shape your employer branding out of the culture and put your people at the centre of it, the advantage is that you can motivate them to channel their pride by recommending the company,” says Tobias Hübscher from eBay.

Other tools include employee video testimonials and online postings. At Adidas, employees are encouraged to share their experiences with the firm’s culture online.

As well as solutions focused on delivering “one-way” messages, more recent trends include platforms offering employees two-way dialogues with target candidates.

A PathMotion study reveals that 96% of job candidates seek to engage with employees of target firms. This is reflective of a more general trend in which consumers expect to engage more actively in a two-way dialogue with brands.

Meaningful two-way dialogues can be achieved through dedicated online discussion and live chat platforms, where employees can discuss directly with candidates and respond to their questions.

The potential of online engagement solutions can be wide-ranging.

Discussion platforms for example generate data about candidates’ behaviours. At PathMotion we found that, of the most active candidates on an employer’s discussion platform, the majority ended up working at that employer or at its competitors. If candidates’ engagement activity on a platform is a good predictor of their interest, should more focus be placed on candidates who are most active on the platforms?

When considering employee-led storytelling solutions, employers will need to ensure several grounds are adequately covered. Chief amongst them relates to what content is being shared publicly. The chosen solution must be able to facilitate authentic exchanges whilst also giving the employer sufficient means to manage that information flow.

Storytelling for talent attraction: How to improve your employer branding strategy this quarter

Bringing together the best advice from our global leadership events series and results form our research, we outline five steps you can take right now to improve employer brand and drive talent attraction with storytelling.