What the 90s video shop taught me about employer branding

21 February 2023

Choosing the perfect film was once about glossy covers and a leap of faith. But now it’s about online reviews and realistic expectations. So, do you approach your employer branding like a 90s VHS or a modern blockbuster?

“Let’s go down the video shop”, he said.

It was Saturday afternoon. I’d switched off the Sega, and met up with my friend. We were off to rent a film from the video shop, as we called it back then in the 90s.

I remember stepping through the door, marvelling at the floor to ceiling shelves. “There must be at least two hundred movies here”. Ha, how we can laugh now.

We’d head off in different directions to gather a small pile of the videos we liked. Both finding inevitable excuses to pass the adult section several times.

“What about this one?” he said.

Return of the Killer Tomatoes. Looks interesting. The cover was some buff commando with a big red face.

“Epic”, I said, “basically Rambo with a tomato head”.

We took it home and put it on. But what we actually got was a film about giant tomatoes rolling over civilians and a mad scientist using music to turn tomatoes into people. Now, I know some people might regard this as a B-movie classic, but it was hardly the action film we’d dreamed of.

The term ‘never judge a book by its cover’ is well known, but no one told us it applied to VHS too. And in those days, how else would you judge it?*

The trouble is, the covers could really pull you in – make it sound exciting, make it look great – something that acting and special effects seemed to rarely deliver (no offence film fans, there’s still some great movies from that era).

Fast forward to 2023 and you probably get your films online after a quick search and a read of the reviews. It’s a totally different world.

Erm, I thought this was about employer branding

90s VHS often set expectations that the film failed to deliver. And it wasn’t just this one. Time after time, we were let down by interesting looking horrors that turned out to be god-awful puppet shows.

Great cover artwork would grab our attention, but it didn’t guarantee a good watch.

The same is true of employer branding. We can get attention with some slick words and big promises, but that doesn’t guarantee a good experience when you get through the door.

What happens if the experience doesn’t match the expectation? Well, in our scenario, we wasted three pounds and two hours of our life. But for you as an employer, you’d lose your candidate and all the time, effort and investment that went into recruiting and onboarding them.

And that’s if they don’t do their research and find out the truth about you first, before you have a chance to convince them otherwise.

Approach your branding like a modern movie, not a 90s horror

A lot has happened since those video shop days – perhaps most notably is the internet. And that means everyone has a voice.

For movies, you can find countless reviews online and form a good idea of what to expect. For employment, well actually it’s very much the same.

You used to be able to close the doors to the office and paint a picture of whatever you wanted to the outside world, but now the world is much more transparent, so the truth comes out (ahem, Brewdog).

What does all this mean? Well, it means three things, and some of them are biggies:

  1. Get your shit in order. If you’re losing people because you have a toxic culture or you’re not paying a fair wage, then no amount of branding will fix that. Make people want to work for you because you’re a great place to work.
  2. Build an authentic brand. Create an employer brand based on what people like about working there. Do your research, be honest about aspiration, and let your employee voices shine.
  3. Listen to your reviews. No one likes to hear criticism, but it’s how we grow. Get regular feedback, learn from your exit interviews, keep an eye on Glassdoor and be humble in your responses.

And so…

Great employer branding is no substitute for a great place to work. Fixing that has to be priority number one.

But if you’re doing good stuff and struggling to pull in the candidates, then maybe it’s time to look at how you position yourself. Just because people know who you are as a business doesn’t mean they know who you are as an employer or why they should be a part of your vision.

Understand who you really are and turn that into something authentic and inspiring. Make sure you’re the modern movie boasting the five-star reviews, not the forgotten horror setting expectations that it just doesn’t deliver.

*Whilst we were often let down by these films we also never learned. After being disappointed by a horror movie called House, we still went on to watch House II, House III and House IV. All of which were crap! Kids eh 😆

Interested in employer branding? Download our whitepaper to understand the context, case and considerations for a modern employer brand.

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