What’s the single most common mistake companies make when they think about their employer brand? 

Many companies misdiagnose other common issues, such as job-posting, marketing or “reviews site” problems, as employer-brand problems. Some shift the blame for employer-brand issues onto recruiting, rather than taking it on as a company. Others confuse employer brand with recruitment marketing. However, these issues aren’t so much mistakes as they are organizational choices or signs of low branding “maturity.”

No, the biggest mistake your company can make is to treat your employer brand as something much more short-term: a campaign. 

Your brand isn’t a campaign 

Your employer brand needs the support of recruiters in order to succeed. But some recruiters aren’t ready to embrace employer branding as a new way of thinking — failing to recognize the potential value or the problems with the alternative. Instead, they treat branding like a campaign that will eventually go away; in other words, they ignore it. 

A successful employer brand isn’t a campaign, project or initiative. Treating it like something with a discrete end date or a tactic to give your hiring a quick boost is a surefire way to fail. 

Instead, think of your employer brand as the comprehensive understanding of what it’s like to work at your company. It’s not about what it’s like today, or once you move into those spiffy new offices. It’s not about what it’s like when business is good. It’s an expression of the everyday reality of the company, and the reason employees strive to achieve its purpose.  

Your brand isn’t a coat of paint — it’s the real you. But it’s a real you that you can build upon. To learn how to get the most out of it, let’s take a page from one of the world’s best-known brands: Coca-Cola. 

What is Coca-Cola’s brand? Is it a red-and-white swooshy thing? Is it a cool bottle? Is it polar bears? The customer may see that specific shade of red, Arctic animals and an invitation to “share a Coke and a smile” — but those are all campaigns. They’re ways of re-sparking an emotional connection to the core brand.  

At its core, the Coca-Cola brand is all about creating and sharing happiness. It’s about the effervescent feeling you get when the bubbles tickle your nose; the immediate hit of sweetness; and the “ahhh” you utter when you’re hot and take a swig of a cold drink.  

Your brand is a platform 

Campaigns help spark customers’ emotions, but they all sit on top of the larger brand platform. Without a strong platform, none of the campaigns would make any sense. Think about it; what do polar bears have to do with soda? Pretty much nothing — except for the fact that seeing a happy polar bear sparks joy, and happiness and joy is the platform the Coca-Cola brand is built upon.  

Here are just a few of the tactics that sit on top of a strong brand platform:

  • Your tagline.
  • The hashtags you use. 
  • How you respond to reviews.
  • What your career site says. 
  • Your job postings. 
  • Social media and referral campaigns.
  • What you say at on-campus events.
  • Ads and videos. 

The real power of a platform lies in what it allows you to build on top of it. A strong platform keeps your recruiting tactics and messaging aligned. But with a weak or non-existent platform, your company will appear schizophrenic; for example, this month’s job postings tout the status of working for a growing company, while last month's recruiting event focused on work/life balance. 

Interestingly, platforms aren’t always obvious. Coca-Cola is an outlier in that it makes its platform visible: “Coke and a smile,” “the happiness project” and other campaigns clearly represent the core brand of creating joy. 

Nike, on the other hand, is less obvious: The brand isn’t the swoosh or the Michael Jordan logo. Rather, it’s the idea that anyone can be an athlete. This idea is rarely visible; in fact, the tagline of “just do it” never references what ”it” is. But the brand platform makes it clear: run, jump and play.  

Successful employer brands think about platforms first

Companies get lost when they think about their brand as a campaign instead of as a platform. Don’t get hung up on the campaign idea or tagline; it isn’t the end result. Trying to stuff every idea and perspective into a single concept leads to something more like employer “blanding” rather than branding

Another important thing to remember: Employer branding doesn’t work like a consumer marketing campaign, so don’t expect to see an obvious lift immediately. This is why it’s crucial to set key performance indicators and goals ahead of time. If you just want to attract attention, then thinking in the short term is fine. But if you want to change sentiment and continually reignite brand understanding as people move from candidates to employees, you need to look at the bigger picture. 

Your employer brand is the base level for everything else you want to do. Invest wisely in it, and think in terms of platforms, not campaigns. Then you can teach other people how to build on your platform — and activate your brand.

James Ellis is host of the popular podcast the Talent Cast and Employer Brand Consultant. You can also find him on Twitter.

Henry Eschricht can’t get enough of people, strategy, and culture - brand consulting is where that comes to life (and in his “regular” status at local businesses he tells us). He insists that you don’t need to go anywhere to explore, but when he does go places the preferred method is at medium speed in fast, old cars.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Indeed.