Can you remember the last time you heard the phrase “You’ve got mail”? (And NOT counting all the times it’s followed the question “What movie is the Oxygen network going to be playing this Friday night?”) Feels like a while, huh?
Well, prepare for a blast from the past, because the company that used to be America Online is suddenly a hot commodity again…or at least it is among job seekers…
In the past year, AOL has successfully recruited employees from high-profile companies like Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, The New York Times and Time Warner, prompting AdAge’s Michael Learmonth to ask, “Why does everyone want to work at AOL all of a sudden?” in a recent article for the online magazine.
You can’t blame the guy for asking: Nothing against AOL, but it’s been roughly a decade since the company’s heyday as the “goliath of Internet service providers.” So how is it suddenly an employer of choice among what is surely a highly sought-after talent demographic? Well, it’s simple, really: Basically, AOL is a lesson in employment branding done right.
By understanding the specific talent demographic its brand appeals to, AOL gets one of the most crucial elements of employment branding right: It knows what it stands for – as well as what it doesn’t stand for – as an employer.
“Employment branding is about knowing who you are as an employer, but just as importantly, it’s about knowing who you aren’t,” says employment branding expert Mary Delaney, President of CareerBuilder’s human capital consulting company, Personified.
In AOL’s case, the company knows it’s no Google…nor is it trying to be. Sure, Google enjoys a reputation as a top company to work for, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the right fit for every single worker ever. Understanding this, AOL seems to be using its smaller position in the industry as its employee value proposition: By marketing itself as a place where employees will be challenged to expand their knowledge and help rebuild what was once an industry giant, AOL is appealing to a candidate base that is hungry for career, professional development and training opportunities, factors that a recent employment branding study found to be among the top reasons employees chose their employers.
Similarly, if you look at the list of the 50 Best Small and Medium Companies to Work For in America, you’ll notice how these employers sell their brands as ones that can meet employees’ intangible needs – such as motivation, empowerment, trust and recognition.
The takeaway here? All too often, companies try to sell themselves as something they are not – effectively making promises they can’t fulfill – when, in fact, they should be embracing what differentiates them from other companies and focusing on what they do offer.
As AOL demonstrates, companies need to look at what is unique about their culture – and what demographic is attracted to that – rather than waste their time trying to appeal to a group of candidates that would fit better elsewhere.