What Role Does Storytelling Play in Employer Branding? Answers from 10 Experts
Employers often look to stats — salary, benefits packages, retention rates — when determining their marketability as a desirable place to work. While it’s important to know the numbers, some aspects of your employer brand cannot be expressed quantitatively. Equally important is having a strong narrative about your brand and what it means to work for your organization. Using storytelling in your brand can help you better recruit and retain top talent.
What Does It Mean to Have an Employer Brand Story?
Your brand story tells the world what it means to be part of your organization. Think of this as the cardinal rule of creative writing: show, don’t tell.
Companies with a strong storytelling aspect of their brand don’t just inundate people with bland facts and figures about their organization. They engage their audience by illustrating intangible aspects of the company experience.
Benefits of Using Storytelling In Your Employer Branding
Storytelling has become increasingly more common among talent acquisition execs and employer brand managers as of late, and for good reason. Consider the following benefits of developing a narrative arc for your brand:
1. Stronger Audience Engagement
Nearly 80% of Millennials say they would choose a job based on company culture, even more so than career potential. A storytelling approach is the best way to connect with others to illustrate your company culture in an authentic way. Particularly important is two-way communication, such as reaching out to prospective talent on social media or hosting live chat sessions in which people can learn more about your organization. The more engaged people are with your organization, the more likely they will want to work for you.
2. Opportunity to Stand Out From the Crowd
Differentiating yourself from competitors is critical to attracting top talent. Storytelling is a particularly effective way to demonstrate the human aspects of your organization, including empathy, relatability, and values. This is essential for retention and productivity, as 77% of employees say they would work longer hours for an empathetic employer and 60% would accept a lower salary.
3. Integration of Thematic Elements Across Platforms
Developing a strong story for your brand ensures that you constantly stay on message while continuing to deliver new, engaging content. For example, because job applicants increasingly use social media as part of their job search, you may build your story across all of your marketing platforms. Maintaining a similar theme across your website, Facebook profile, Instagram stories, Twitter feed, LinkedIn recruitment, and print materials helps your audience feel like they “get” your employer brand. From a “day in the life” series on your website’s careers page to an employee-hosted podcast or live video stream of “what’s happening now” in the office, storytelling gives you the flexibility to increase brand awareness in a new way.
So those are the top core benefits of using storytelling in your employer brand strategy. While I could easily just finish this post right here, I thought it’d be even better to explore other people’s perspectives on this exact topic – people who are actually dealing with the impact of their company’s employer branding on a regular basis. So to do that, I asked a handful of experts in employer branding, traditional branding and HR for their perspective on the role of storytelling in employer branding.
Here’s the valuable advice and insight they shared:
The Role of Storytelling In Your Employer Brand, According to Experts:
Lauryn Sargent Co-Founder and Partner at Stories Incorporated:
The easiest and most effective way to market to candidates is to use employee stories. While this is a best practice in the industry, companies still sometimes miss the opportunity here to feature employees. Quotes and pictures of the office are great — they get the candidate picturing themselves in the work environment which is important — but stories leave a lasting impression. When candidates consume 2-18 pieces of content before clicking apply, you have to be memorable. And stories stick.
Make it easy on the candidate, don’t make them work too hard to find out about your real-deal culture. Get rid of “People are our greatest assets” and other generic statements other companies are using, that don’t tell candidates anything. Own it by finding stories that show what’s unique about you and put it where candidates are searching (review sites, career sites, nurture content, social content). Embrace the fact that not all people will want to apply, but by being real, the right candidates will find you.
You can get started immediately. interview a few people in a role you’re having trouble recruiting for. Ask them a question that a story will answer, something like: When did you know you made the right decision to work here? What happened on your favorite day of work?
Candidates that read/view/experience those stories will envision themselves having that very experience, which is rooted in brain science and recruiting closing best practices.
Morgan Chaney, Head of Marketing at Blueboard:
Storytelling is huge for employer branding, in today’s job hunt candidates are flooded with content sources to learn about their prospective employer, which can feel overwhelming. A company needs to craft a sticky, short and compelling story about their why – why their work matters, what they believe in, and how they will support their people in effort to achieve company goals. Storytelling not only helps companies build a more authentic brand, but helps to differentiate them in the market.
Nigel Green, VP of sales and marketing for Relode:
Story is the most powerful tool to engage the human brain. It’s the only communication tool, that allows the audience to get lost in your message. A good story will outperform any other sales, marketing or recruiting tactic.
Here’s where most companies get it wrong: Every story has a hero and it’s not your company. Your customer (potential employees) must see them as the hero in the story, not your company. If you look at most company’s websites they are positioned as the hero. They best way to turn your marketing material into pieces that pull employees in is to show who they become by joining your team or taking you up on your offer. How does their life improve? They must see themselves make a character transformation as a result of your brand’s impact. Your company’s message must speak to self-actualization or self-transendance.
Lars Herrem, Group Executive Director of Nigel Wright Group:
Companies should seek to differentiate themselves from competitors through storytelling and a unique Employee Value Proposition (EVP). A strong EVP will communicate the company values in a way that highlights what makes that workplace unique and attractive to individuals sharing the same values. As employer brands are based on intangible factors such as image, identity, and perception, being able to discover what it is about a brand that creates an emotional inclination and a sense of identification with the company can prove invaluable to employers, as it is these factors that will resonate with prospective employees.
Social media now offers a platform for employees to voice their own views and paint a more realistic picture of the workplace. Channels such as Facebook and Payscale, in particular, are now useful tools for candidates to research and assess an employer’s offering, and organizations must therefore ensure that recruitment messages align with employee perceptions to create a truly genuine impression to those who are or may consider working for your company. Stories from those who have direct experience with the company are far more powerful than messages delivered by a company itself and it is therefore crucial to maintain positive relationships with existing and past employees, as it is these individuals who are likely to shape and influence the opinions of many prospective candidates.
Peter Dudley, Author and employee engagement expert:
People get information from brochures, and they can be convinced by data, but they relate to stories. When you’re recruiting, or when you’re trying to influence behavior, stories from real people’s experiences not only carry more credibility than marketing copy, but they also allow people to see themselves in the story. Properly constructed stories draw the audience in and provide not only information but also an emotional experience that the audience will associate with the brand. I can show you happy volunteers in my brand’s tee shirts, but if I let one of them tell you why they are volunteering and what they’ve gotten out of it, you are left with a much stronger feeling that lasts longer than just knowing our employees do community work.
Properly constructed stories also can put the brand in a position of solving a problem: Good stories have tension pulling the audience from the beginning through the middle to the conclusion; when you show how the brand is integral to getting to that satisfying conclusion, you create a feeling in the audience about the brand. The opposite is equally true: what gets people most angry at a brand? Statistics? No. It’s personal stories of being let down, cheated, or mistreated. (Remember the guy who did the video about an airline breaking his guitar?) Finally: Good stories are simply more interesting, and more interesting things get read or watched. You can create the best company video, but if no one watches it, it’s a waste of time and money. People like to consume stories.
Jordan Beck, HR Manager of Beck Digital Marketing:
An organization’s branding strategy reaches beyond just the consumer. It fact, it’s quite significant in driving corporate culture and is key to attracting and retaining the right employees. When job candidates are doing research to find out if they might be the right fit for an organization, they are seeking a connection. A connection between their ideals, vision, potential job satisfaction, work environment, and the overall culture of the company. There is no better way to reveal this data to a new hire than storytelling. The digital marketing industry terms storytelling as content marketing, or the development of strategic content that connects with the end user. Make content marketing a focus during recruitment. Create content for job listings on your website that gives a glimpse into what life would look like at the firm for the potential employee. Spend time telling your story, and you’ll gain employees who not only match the qualifications for the role, but also are in for the long haul. These employees are also more likely to promote your products and services to their potential sales resources through methods such as social media, online review boards, and participation in corporate sponsored events.
LinkedIn recently published a guest blog article with similar findings, and as a digital marketing agency ourselves, we agree. Our own success lies in sharing our story with employees, gaining a strong relationship with each individual, and asking for recommendations within.
Cassie Tolhurst, Branding Expert at Business.org:
The importance of creating a ‘brand’ for your business hits many aspects of your future success. The element of effective storytelling based branding plays a huge role when hiring and recruiting competitive talent. The best candidates in the industry are looking not only for competitive salary and benefits, but they are looking for where they fit into your brand’s overall story and culture. You need to make it easy for the applicant to imagine themselves as an essential part of your organization and that will help it stand out through storytelling.
The most important factor in hiring according to 60% of recruiters is how well they will fit in with company culture. With cost-per-hire rising higher than ever the importance of communicating your company’s branding through the hiring process is more important than ever. Storytelling is the most effective way to convey your culture to potential employees and make sure you’re considering the best talent for the position.
Dino Villegas, PhD, Associate Professor of Practice, Marketing at Texas Tech University:
The reason of this is very clear to me, stories always are going to beat facts, because stories appeal to emotions and engagement. People can relate to stories as they cannot with facts, after a story you can hear things as: “I want to live that experience” or “that is similar to what happened to me”
Signature stories will empower the brand they can show higher purpose, exemplified the values and culture of a company or show the company vision for the future.
For a company to create a corporate myth surrounding their employer branding, stories must have at least 3 elements, it have to appeal to history of the company (where we come from), have a higher purpose (something greater than us as a cause) and appeal to a future of possibilities (vision).
Rishi Dastidar, Head of Verbal Identity at BrandPie:
Storytelling should play a larger role in employer branding than it currently does. Too often we see one off campaigns, that go little deeper than shallow exhortations to bring your best to your desk, perform with passion, and a vague promise that you, the employee, will be looked after OK. And repeat every so often, normally just before a pulse survey is due to be administered.
Whereas a powerful story, told in a compelling way, can be something that begins to form true and lasting engagement between employees and their brand. At the heart of every story is three things: a protagonist, a challenge to be overcome, and a resolution. By making sure that employees can see themselves as protagonists – people whose actions will have a real impact – who know what the bigger challenge their work is helping to solve, and what success looks like, then you have the foundation upon which to build deeper and longer-lasting bonds between staff and the brands they work for.
Marvin Coach Powell, CEO of Coach Powell Training and Development, Co-Founder The RoundTable Network, Chairman of the Centreville Community Foundation, Fairfax County Small Business Commissioner
The Vital Importance of Story: The reason I teach storytelling to employers and entrepreneurs is that telling stories are the best ways to:
1. Get attention
2. Tap into emotion
3. Be remembered and
4. Share your brand promise
I use the following mantra to help people to stay focused: Benefits compel, stories sell and facts tell!
You want to hit them right away with a big, bold, compelling benefit statement that sets the scene and creates a level of expectation. These benefits have to be emotional and fulfilling.
Getting into your story means first helping them fall in love and identify with your main character. Next, you want to take them on an emotional thrill ride that leaves them hungry for relief. After that, the hero (your product or service) can come in and save the day. Of course, then, everyone lives happily ever after.
Now that you’ve built enough memorable trust and credibility to share just a few facts to prove your relevance and value. Then and only then are they ready to know the answer to the BIG question, Who was that masked, man? Then your name or your company brand really counts, that’s when they are dying for more.
The beautiful thing about this format is that it can be written for copy, produced in video and even shared personally. Once the story is perfected it’s sticky everywhere.
For more best practices on employer branding and attracting talent into your organization, check out our free resources that we’ve made specifically for company leaders, HR and talent acquisition teams.