Strategies to Beat Out The Competition with Killer Employer Brand Positioning

Posted by Larry Murff

Isn't it thrilling when a brand clicks into place with a target audience? Look at Wendy’s and Gen Z traipsing across social media hand in hand all while getting press hits regularly for burger tweets. Wendy’s is an example of a great brand working hard to maintain a differentiated position in a crowded competitive field--after all, everyone from Starbuck’s to 7-Eleven is catering to the same consumers. Wendy’s viral success is a testament to how powerful, differentiated positioning can help build a competitive moat and move the needle on key business metrics like brand awareness, revenue, and marketing. 

Good positioning can also be your special sauce for successful employer branding and recruitment marketing. Every iota of positive brand awareness you can eke out over the next guy will help you fortify your resource advantage and gain ground in a job market that is tight (obviously).

On top of brand benefits, a thoughtful positioning exercise will engage your internal stakeholders and provide a compelling framework for sharing employer brand value and establishing metrics in common with other departments. So how can positioning help you recruit and retain the best employees instead of your competitors?

Laying the Groundwork

You could argue that employers have an even wider competitive field than a category as broad as fast food. It is a good idea to start with clear ideas of where you can compete before you commence tracing your competitors’ positioning back to their strengths and weaknesses.

Look Inward

There are a few key areas to evaluate before you begin your competitive research: 

  • Talent
  • Budget and Bandwidth
  • Brand Alignment
  • Friction
  • Wins and Losses 


Now is the time to play to your team’s strengths. If your competitor has hired a Vine superstar to create hilarious shorts for social media, but your team struggles to maintain the Twitter feed it’s best not to try and come from behind on Instagram. Now is the time to look at your team’s backgrounds and opportunities for growth. A teammate who has serious social credibility in the office could drive a Glassdoor review campaign and snag more stars than your area competition. A team who takes their NCAA bracket deadly serious because of their diverse alma maters could help generate unique college recruitment materials and so on.

Talent also refers to the candidate pool. Call out what roles you struggle to hire and retain and thoughts and evidence on the causes. 

Budget and Bandwidth

In short, what resources can you dedicate to new programs that arise from your competitive analysis? Funds will dictate the scale of adjustments you can make to your current employer brand and recruitment marketing efforts. New videos and event investments take big bucks while focusing on social media, updating giveaways at current events, etc. are lower cost options. Secondly, what time does your team have to complete new initiatives? Short staffing or fully resourced teams will choose different activities. Choose to focus on what you can afford and execute well.

Brand Alignment

Of course employer branding is very closely entwined with a company’s brand. The marketing, public relations, product and/or business strategy teams can help advise human resources on the current and long-term brand awareness, competitive positioning, and messaging plans and provide feedback on the “guardrails” on the employer brand to keep programs in alignment. Often, these departments are a treasure trove of useful market research that could help provide a baseline on the competitors you choose to investigate e.g, their business structure, expansion plans, past PR disasters etc. 


New ideas tend to breed emotion-based opinions, roadblocks, and bottlenecks. Evaluating what sort of changes will be more or less problematic as they work their way through an approval process or feedback loop is an important consideration. If you can reasonably predict that an initiative will meet a lot of internal resistance, it is a good idea to check business impact and bandwidth before adding it to your plan. Thinking ahead will also help you set a reasonable scope and timeline for your projects. 

Wins and Losses

Now that you have compiled a loose guide on what tactics are readily accessible in your toolbox, you can focus on your targets. The short list can begin with where your employees worked prior and where the prospective employees who rejected your offers work. If you do not track this information, resumes on file and LinkedIn research will help you get a picture of companies to profile.

The next tier on your list is composed of companies nearby with similar roles and industry competitors that are fishing in the same candidate pool. 

Compile the Dossiers

You get to choose how to evaluate your competitors based on the exercises you have completed. Here is a checklist to get you started on building a plan for how to investigate each firm.

  • Driving applicants
    • How is their career site structured? What type of landing pages? How are their search rankings?
    • Key SEO terms
    • Do they cross-promote job postings? Where? 
  • Application process
    • Do they outline the process of applying and interviewing? What is it?
    • Are positions filtered by search? Is it simple to find new jobs?
  • “What’s in it for me?”
    • How well are they answering this question for prospective employees?
    • How do they frame their answer to this question?
  • Content
    • Videos
      • What type? How many? How specific?
    • Employer-specific blogs etc.
      • What type? How many? How specific?
  • Social media
    • What platforms are active?
    • What career- or employer brand-specific accounts exist?
    • How large is their following? Are these followers potential candidates?
    • How do they engage with their following?
  • Online reviews and ratings
    • How are they performing on major rating sites?
    • How do they respond to negative reviews? What about positive reviews?
    • Are current employees reviewing?
  • General observations

Once you have your initial research completed, document your initial impressions.

    • What is each firm doing that the other competitors aren’t?
    • What is surprising?
    • What is missing?
    • What are they not saying that you could?

With this information as your foundation, you can start to identify trends across the group of companies you selected. You may identify an area or two where you have fallen behind in your employer brand messaging, but hopefully you will find plenty of unique opportunities to capitalize on your company’s unique culture and benefits to draw in the applicants you desire.

Prioritizing your opportunities and evaluating the factors discussed like resource availability, cost, and friction will help you weigh the risks and benefits of new initiatives and strategy in your recruitment marketing and employer brand awareness efforts.

Plan to Measure

Your positioning requires measurement, but that is not always black and white. Unlike your inputs on competitors, metric-based objectives may or may not have a place in your plan. Some example objectives include: 

  1. Increase direct traffic or search volume for careers site or role-specific landing pages
  2. Reduce time-to-hire for key targeted roles
  3. Increase post respondents by x% per share

Setting a time frame on when to measure these objectives is crucial. Plus, nothing motivates completing the measures associated with a project more than a pending, practically immovable program assessment. Campaign length will correlate to the scope of your goals and the tactics you deploy. According to consultancy, Technology Therapy Group, a multi-channel digital marketing campaign should last 45 days to be memorable. But, an e-mail nurturing program, say to rejected applicants or newsletter subscribers could run indefinitely. 

No matter what, it is important to evaluate the objective’s achievement and whether positive results are actually moving the needle on the business goals. If Objective 1 in the example above is achieved, but applications are not increasing, it might make more sense to tweak the objective than the positioning. Maybe more site traffic is not helping you drive applications, but a dedicated microsite would.

With a well executed review of your competitors’ positioning, you can sway qualified applicants to your team with consistency using a flexible, measurable framework. Proactively optimize and wield your employer brand and your competition won’t know what hit them.

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