The future of employer branding, with Ed Nathanson


Finding a way, as an organization, to stand out from the crowd in a manner that’s both authentic and compelling is becoming an ever-trickier task. In this post-pandemic environment, where trust and humanity are rising to the top in terms of key employee needs, how can you create a successful employer brand that reflects the changing environment?

To answer this, we sought the advice of a true expert. Ed Nathanson is the VP of Talent and Talent Branding at EQRx, and is passionate about this topic. Through our discussion, Ed talked about what employer branding looks like after COVID, the importance of not appealing to EVERYONE and how a company’s own workforce can be the greatest ambassadors they have for attracting the best talent.

Employer branding

How the pandemic has changed employer branding

According to Ed, “these two years have accelerated an employer branding process that’s been happening for the last ten” – and that’s been a huge move to digital. Conversations, research, interactions and even interviews have transitioned almost entirely online. And while there is a tendency to think that this could weaken the human and emotional side of employer branding, Ed counters this belief. “Just because it’s a different medium, it doesn’t mean that the same emotions aren’t percolating in the audience you’re trying to engage and attract.” In fact, he believes that no matter how we work, outside of marriage and children, your career is the most important and impactful decision of your life. It’s not a transaction, and it never will be. But some companies are struggling with this transformation.

This new digital landscape, and the effects of COVID, have changed what employees want. So many of the perks and siren songs of old don’t have the same resonance now and it’s vitally important to understand what is motivating and engaging talent. Ed told us that in over six years of talking with staff, never once has anyone said: “I joined this company solely because of their values”. You have to dig in and discover what matters most to your people, the ‘what’s in it for me’ angle. Because, while a company mission is crucial to rally and provide identity, no-one joins a company to ascribe to something they had no hand in creating. Instead, Ed advocates for the two As – appreciation and autonomy. These things drive employees in today’s workplace.

Employer brand vs. Talent brand

It has never been easier for a job seeker to find information about a company. Through Google, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and employee social profiles – there is a wealth of detail that can contribute to perception and opinion. So, it’s important to ensure employer brand (what the company is saying) aligns with talent brand (what employees are saying) or else, in Ed’s own words, “it’s game over!” Historically, people always trust other people more than organizations. And with so many resources available, it empowers potential talent to ask companies to prove the claims they make. Ed compares it to a Yelp review for a restaurant. No matter how many bombastic claims the owners may make about the quality of food or comfort of experience, negative comments from real customers will always affect decision making.

A mistake many organizations make is only speaking with senior leaders. As Ed says: “If you are only talking to executives, you’re going to be portraying a company that has chocolate rivers and marshmallow streams – it’s not reality!” What your employer brand says has to be relevant and it has to be real. Ed recommends speaking with a large cross-section of engaged employers and asking questions about their current experience, like:

  • What do you think about your work in the company?
  • How would you describe the culture?
  • What matters most to you?
  • What do you do really well in the organization?

Armed with this first-hand information, you can create an authentic and aspirational employer brand. But also one doesn’t shy away from the realities of the company. According to Ed, many organizations are stifled by fear when it comes to their brand. They’re too concerned with being everything to everyone, and instead become vanilla. The best companies ardently market to who they are and what they stand for.

Employer branding

Don’t forget about employee experience!

In tandem with developing a strong employer brand, you must consider what happens next in terms of employee experience. Ed believes this is the downfall of many organizations. Referring to it as putting “lipstick on a pig,” if you fail to deliver on promises or conditions that are championed in the employer brand, you’ll only shoot yourself in the foot. But a close connection between employer brand and employee experience can solve this. It’s a sure-fire way to keep new hires genuinely happy and content in their decision. And with this buy-in, they become incredible brand ambassadors. It’s a system that Ed has fostered masterfully in EQRx where there is a huge push on celebrating the individual. Employees are encouraged to share their experiences at work through hashtags and social media. And not only does it generate organic buzz and promotion, but it also builds a genuine path to trust.

The final word

Although COVID has changed the playbook in many ways, when it comes to creating a successful employer brand, it must boil down to authenticity. It’s not about putting your company values on blast or creating an image of who you think you are or want to be. It’s about talking to your employees. Focusing on realities and opportunities. And finding a way to mix your company’s purpose with humanity. That is the present and future of employer branding.

Want to catch Ed’s full appearance on The Shortlist? Check it out here! He gave a wealth of practical and insightful advice:

Ed will have new employer branding content coming to the SocialTalent platform on November 18th.

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