The Art of Employer Brand Positioning

Posted on Mar 8, 2016

We share 99% of our DNA with chimpanzees. 1% can make quite a difference. Or at least we’d like to think so. Research into the similarities between the human and chimpanzee genomes was first published in 2005. It revealed that while humankind split from chimpanzees 6 million years ago, only 1% of the 3 billion letters that make up our human genome differs from our hairy cousins. However, it turns out that you don’t need to change much of the genome to make a new species. Where we chose to differentiate (the cerebral cortex) turned out to be an excellent choice. Our brand positioning from an evolutionary point of view is ‘Sapiens’, the wise. From a more tangible product feature perspective, we should probably say ‘the brainy’ (our brains are 3 times larger than our nearest ape cousin, but I’m not always so sure we use them that wisely). Either way, our brains represent our most defining feature, and the most obvious point of differentiation from every other species on the planet.

The phrase ‘brand positioning’ emerged in the late 1960’s as a way of describing company’s conscious attempt to establish a distinctive ‘position’ for their brands in people’s minds. The leading marketing author Kevin Keller describes this as: “the act of designing the company’s offering and image to occupy a distinctive place in the minds of the target market.” While Keller rightly defines positioning in terms of all of the brand’s points of difference from its competitors, he also stresses the importance of summarizing the essence of the brand in 3-5 words. He calls this the ‘brand mantra’, an articulation of the ‘heart and soul’ of the brand. Sometimes this performs an essentially internal role, guiding the development of a wide range of different taglines and brand activities over time. An example of this would be Nike, whose brand mantra for many years was ‘authentic athletic performance’ (as opposed to the famous external call- to-action tagline ‘Just Do It’). For others the essence of the brand positioning is simply captured in the tagline. A good example of this would be the brand mantra for AVIS, ‘We try harder’.

Finding a completely unique positioning is extremely hard, particularly in the world of employer branding, as the competitive field for talent is vastly more numerous than you’d find in the markets for consumer products and services. It has been convincingly argued that virtually every story follows one of 7 basic plot lines. In the same way Universum’s research suggests there are 9 basic employer brand positioning territories: Status; Purpose; Teamwork; Empowerment; Innovation; Reward: Learning; Career development and Performance. In my next series of articles I’d like to try and guide you through some of the most common positioning areas so you can better understand which your competitors’ tend to favour and how you can find a more distinctive positioning for your own brand.


Written by: Richard Mosley

Richard Mosley is widely recognized as one of the leading world authorities on employer brand development and management. His first book, ‘The Employer Brand’ (Wiley) published in 2005 has become a global best-seller, and the sequel: ‘Employer Brand Management: Practical Lessons from the World’s Leading Employers’, published by Wiley in September 2014, tracks the evolution of the discipline over the last 10 years, highlighting the latest best practices and trends that are likely to shape the future of recruitment, employee engagement and HR / talent management

Richard’s thinking draws on over 25 years’ experience in both brand management and HR consulting, and has led global employer brand development projects for a host of leading companies including Bacardi, BP, Coca-Cola, Ferrero, GSK, HSBC, Lafarge, LEGO, L’Oreal, JTI, Met Life, Nokia-Siemens, PepsiCo, Santander, Unilever and Verizon.

Today Richard serves as Global Vice President of Strategy at Universum and Senior Advisor for the Employer Branding Academy.

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