I had an interesting discussion on this topic, in response to a post Shannon from Exceler8ion made here.
In summary, I suggest that employment marketing to a segment of top candidates (those with multiple options for employment) differs from general consumer marketing in that candidate marketing impressions are multiplicative in nature, as opposed to additive as is most consumer marketing. This is important to consider when recruiting top candidates (who are almost always currently employed).
First we have to bear in mind that the primary motivating factor of humans is fear of loss:
If you present people with an even chance of winning a hundred and fifty dollars or losing a hundred dollars, most refuse the gamble, even though it is to their advantage to accept it: if you multiply the odds of winning—fifty per cent—times a hundred and fifty dollars, minus the odds of losing—also fifty per cent—times a hundred dollars, you end up with a gain of twenty-five dollars. If you accepted this bet ten times in a row, you could expect to gain two hundred and fifty dollars. But, when people are presented with it once, a prospective return of a hundred and fifty dollars isn’t enough to compensate them for a possible loss of a hundred dollars. In fact, most people won’t accept the wager unless the winning stake is raised to two hundred dollars.
So when considering top candidates, one must consider that a primary motivator is fear of making a career mistake and 'buying' the wrong job. Now consider every marketing impression these candidates receive through the informal and formal process of changing jobs - employment ads, impressions from colleagues who work at the new company, overt marketing such as employment branding, blog posts from people inside the company, candidate experience during the interview process (a personal favorite - call me a zealot) and all the other components that frame up the value proposition of changing companies.
So let's consider that Joe is the passive candidate being wooed by a company. His buying decision is representated by an imaginary bank account into which he places value (positive employment marketing impressions) and in which value is diminished, through negative impressions or experiences.
First and foremost, Joe starts with a positive impression of the company, or Joe won't even engage in exploring the opportunity (bank account: +10 credits). So during the process, Joe is considering all impressions, in the marketing sense of the word. Interesting job description (+4 credits). Appealing location geographically (+2 credits). Good compensation and benefits (+4 credits). Positive postings on a variety of blogs (+3 credits). Excellent corporate reputation (+2 credits). Positive corporate social responsibilities (+1 credit). We are now up to 26 credits in Joe's bank account. But then let's say the Joe goes through a negative candidate experience that doesn't inspire confidence, or makes him feel unsure about the culture, the culture of the company through a blog post, his new boss or >insert Joe's concern here< and in one fell swoop, the deal is off (-26 points). In terms of impressions, one negative impression has the potential to impact the entire deal and turn the whole bank account into a negative balance: candidate marketing to top candidates is multiplicative.
Similarly, to recruit and land top candidates, organizations need to use this multiplicative effect to dislodge top talent by 'wowing' them with a consistent series of positive experiences. I have found that few organizations are good at doing this today.
Contrast this with product marketing which is more additive in nature; and in this I can speak from a personal experience. I offer this example as it has relatively high value. Other purchases with less opportunity cost or lower value exchanges follow the same additive model, if not more so because of fear of loss diminishes with value exchange.
I bought my wife a 2000 Volkswagen Jetta in 1999. Our general impression of VW automobiles was slightly favorable, but pretty close to neutral as we had long-owned Japanese automobiles. Following the example above, let's say our bank account was +10 credits. So we visited the dealership, had a favorable experience (+5 credits), we liked the features on the car (+3 credits), we really liked the price (+5 credits), and we talked with others who owned VWs (+3 credits) and then we read the reviews of the automobile...um...not so good (-10 credits). The reliability predictions for the car were not comparable to other cars. But we still ended up purchasing the car, because we still had 16 credits in the bank, and although we REALLY did not want to make a bad purchase decision (fear of loss), the overall impressions related to the buying decision of this consumer product were additive, not multiplicative; even though this transaction was of considerably high value ($24k or so). This is true of most consumer marketing efforts.
As we consider a talent market driven by candidates, any detrimental components of employment brand, employment experience, interview impressions, and other facets of the candidate engagement cycle will have the potential to impact outcomes like never before. As such, talent will continue to develop as a source of competitive advantage for organizations that recruit well.
And as it turns out, I was never really happy with the Jetta. Lots of problems. Would I buy another Volkswagen if they offered a model that I liked (they don't today)?
Yes, I probably would.