How to Spot Generic Plays in Employer Branding Strategies and Opportunities to Be Different

By Richard Mosley

Spotting generic plays in employer branding strategies and opportunities to be different involves identifying common patterns of communication — words, phrases, and images that crop up with noticeable frequency across your competitive set. Patterns tend to be particularly obvious within industries where companies often reach the same “route one” conclusions about what will attract target talent, with noticeable examples of companies that stand out from the crowd.

Spotting similarities in employer branding across your industry

The first place to start is spotting similar headlines. For example, global companies, particularly financial institutions, have made frequent use of the phrase world of opportunities. Over the course of the last five years, we’ve noted more than 30 leading global companies using this very same headline, making it possibly the most generic employer brand headline of all. Among tech companies with a more missionary zeal to change the world, a similarly common headline is making a difference or making an impact. Likewise, pharmaceutical companies commonly use the phrase improving lives.

Another approach is to pay attention to the underlying narrative structure of the brand promise, where the words used may be slightly different but the overall pattern is very similar. For example, a recent analysis of how major engineering employers in the oil, gas, and automotive industries described their employment offer revealed the following generic pattern.

Image attribute Examples
Committed people Shell: Talent and tenacity

ExxonMobil: Exceptional people

Chevron: People with the drive to keep moving

GE: Dedicated people

Rolls-Royce: Committed to delivering

BMW: Passionate people

Creating innovation solutions Shell: More innovative solutions

ExxonMobil: Take initiative and be innovative

Conoco Phillips: Innovation and excellence

GE: Dedicated to innovation

Rolls-Royce: Relentless innovation

BMW: Innovative ideas

Taking on big challenges Chevron: Our team has the technology to take on big challenges

Schlumberger: Addressing the most challenging engineering problems on the earth

GE: Taking on the world’s toughest challenges

Shaping the future Shell: Shaping the future of energy

Chevron: Laying the groundwork for decades of progress

E.ON: Your energy shapes our future

BMW: There’s no need to predict the future. You can create it.

Realizing their potential ExxonMobil: Unlocking your potential

Conoco Phillips: Realize your full potential

EDF: Fulfill your potential

Although these employment pitches are not necessarily weak in isolation, they represent opportunities for other companies to stand out from the crowd by deploying more distinctive and unique phrases and patterns of communication.

As you identify similarities among your talent competitors, look for opportunities to be more distinctive in addition to identifying attractive attributes that may be missing from your competitors’ employer brand marketing.

Analyzing competitors’ visual positioning in employer branding

Alongside your analysis of how your competitors present their EVP and tell their story, take a look at how they present themselves visually. We’ve found that most markets follow very similar visual codes, as in the following examples:

  • Global financial services: For many years, global banks have illustrated their career pages with a very similar visual. It presents a diverse group of people (generally four) representing both genders, a mix of ages (though tending toward the young), and a number of ethnic backgrounds. The people are relaxed and smiling at each other. They’re dressed in what the British call “smart casual,” which for the men means smart white shirts but no ties. They look like they’re friends hanging out together rather than doing any serious work, except they’re not in a coffee shop. They’re usually pictured against a large glass window, with a clear view of sky and a hint of corporate status and ambition.
  • High-tech companies: This presents a far more chilled-out version of the financial visual code. The typical visual contains the same gender and ethnic mix, but the people are all young. No suits. More casual than smart casual, but definitely smart looking, super bright, and funky. These people tend to be smiling at each other rather than at the camera. The setting looks more like a trendy bar or social club than an office.
  • Pharmaceutical companies: Companies in this sector also put the emphasis on people, but more on the people outside the work setting — consumers rather than employees. The core message is health and vitality. You see people running on the beach, mountain biking, or simply playing with their children.
  • Engineering companies: This one doesn’t take long to guess. The key image is men in hard hats standing in front of impressive examples of large-scale engineering projects.

These images all make sense in the context of their industry sectors. However, from a communications perspective, they give little indication of the individual character of the organizations they represent. As for the narrative positioning, when you understand the visual codes of the market you’re in, you can consciously decide to follow the code or find a way to present your company that stands out from the crowd and highlights what makes you special.

In the financial services market, Deutsche Bank decided on a visual presentation that made it a clear outlier from a visual point of view. Instead of the classic “rule of four” diversity team photo, Deutsche Bank’s global career page featured bright splashes of color and a row of clothes hooks. This communicated a similar diversity message to many of its global competitors, but in a far more expressive and imaginative way. The employer brand tagline was “agile thinking,” and use of this alternative image neatly demonstrated that claim.

One note of caution in exploring visual presentation is to bear in mind current levels of familiarity with your employer brand and your existing brand image. If your brand isn’t particularly well known, you may need to stick closer to the standard (expected) visual codes in the marketplace to establish what marketers refer to as your category membership.