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It's Time for HR Pros to Put on the Marketing Hat

Cornerstone Editors

Companies are racing to build conversations around their brand by investing in content marketing and bolstering social media. But brand-building efforts aren't limited to the marketing department: HR can also benefit from organic marketing.

Recruitment used to be a one-way conversation. Companies blasted job postings and controlled the conversation when viable candidates applied. Today, that approach is going out the window, says Marvin Smith, talent community strategist at Lockheed Martin. "We're starting to change this transactional nature of talent acquisition to more of a nurturing, relationship-building approach to things."

While HR pros have been told to adopt a marketing mindset for some time, now they actually have the tools to start following through on that advice. By using data-driven insights and inbound strategies, HR leaders can build long-term relationships with potential candidates—whether they're looking for a job today, or a year from now.

Inside the Mind of a Marketer

New research into job posting messaging underscores the need for recruiters to add some marketing finesse to their tactics. A recent study in the Journal of Business and Psychology found that online job postings focused on the upsides an employer could offer, as opposed to flat job descriptions, delivered both higher quality and a higher number of candidates.

Similarly, the ads that featured "needs-fit" content (things that the organization can offer, like work autonomy and career advancement) performed nearly three times as well as others with "demands-abilities" language (wording that describes what skills the employer is looking for), according to the study in the "Journal of Business and Psychology."

But job postings are just a small piece of the puzzle, says Shannon Smedstad, employment brand director at CEB, an Arlington, Va.-based advisory company.

"Savvy recruiters and talent acquisition teams are using more data-driven insights in order to approach their recruitment strategy," she says. The two biggest data points she recommends following are where your talent originates and where you find your highest quality hires. "Understanding where people and top talent come from can really help you reallocate your budget resources; it can help you allocate your time resources," Smedstad says.

Play the Long Game

Marketing departments depend on CRM systems and automation platforms like HubSpot and Marketo to gather this kind of data about their customers and act on it.

"We think about a pipeline or a funnel. How do we have people come into that funnel and how do we keep them in orbit when they're not ready to buy?" Smith says. In the HR talent pipeline, people aren't buying goods or services, but they might be in the market for a new career.

Marketing has shifted from "spray-and-pray" tactics that involve mass messages for a short time period to relationship-building with potential customers so that the brand is top-of-mind if and when they make a purchase. That's what Smith and his colleagues want to achieve in recruitment.

For example, Smith built a talent community called Military Connect for Lockheed Martin. The community features relevant professional advice and networking opportunities for veterans and military personnel considering the transition to civilian life. The strategy is essentially a content marketing approach, in which companies share and discuss brand-relevant (but not sales-y) information with their audiences.

Don't Reinvent the Wheel

Rather than start from scratch, why not adapt marketing strategies from the people who know best?

"If your marketing team is doing marketing well, you've got a gold mine there," suggest Smedstad. "You can just ask somebody to have coffee with you and talk about marketing concepts or your company's brand or the company's positioning. That feels like an easy win."

Smedstad admits she has no professional marketing background, but she's learned tricks of the trade by asking marketing pros questions and networking with peers online. Next month she's taking a class called "Brand Like a CMO," taught by a marketing professor from Vanderbilt.

For Smith, the Holy Grail of "HR marketing" comes when HR has the ability to connect all the dots around potential hires. He says he's frustrated right now when his team is missing information like an email address for an individual.

Soon, he says, we'll see platforms that not only capture holistic information about candidates, but automate some of the process around engaging them for extended periods of time. "We're beginning to realize that we have to have a relationship with those folks, that we're going to need over the next 10 to 20 years, or it's not going to work out for us very well."

Photo: Creative Commons

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