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Soggy bottom? Does my employer brand look narrow in this?

News stories rarely come as cataclysmic as this. And it’s a story with everything. Break ups. Financial greed. High profile spats. The very heart and soul of the BBC being questioned. The British public outraged. Bakexit has replaced Brexit.

For those temporarily occupying an adjacent planet, the production company responsible for The Great British Bake Off has upped the price it charges broadcasters. The BBC has baulked at this new price and the next series of the programme will be shown on Channel 4. Reactions have been fierce and three of the four main presenters have voted with their feet and will not be transferring. Channel 4, although welcoming the profile and publicity, must be wondering exactly what it has paid £75m for.

Whilst we have to wonder whether GBBO will survive full stop, it certainly won’t survive in its current state. New presenters will come on board, the format will be tweaked, different sponsors will be attracted.

Perhaps as interesting, however, is the likelihood that the programme will open up a new audience. Clearly, millions of viewers will switch over from the BBC, but it’s more than likely that Channel 4’s younger, potentially edgier demographic will also give it the benefit of the doubt, at least initially.

My money is on the BBC – potentially hand in hand with Mary, Sue and Mel – coming up with a suspiciously similar programme with, and I’m just reaching here, a baking theme. However, let’s give GBBO the benefit of the doubt as it seeks to deliver something tried and trusted to a new audience.

We’re seeing something very similar play out within the Labour Party over the last few days. Jeremy Corbyn has recently won a significant re-election mandate to run the party. On the face of it, he couldn’t be more popular, having inspired massive membership growth for Labour – now Europe’s largest single political party.

However, what sort of audience is Corbyn succeeding in appealing to? One that will see his party assume power in 2020 or one that would have supported Labour regardless? A ComRes survey from the weekend around the question ‘Who is the right person to unite the country following the EU referendum?’ puts Corbyn at just 19% and Theresa May at a distinctly more healthy 56%.

Rather than broadening his appeal and that of his party, Corbyn appears to be succeeding in narrowing it.

There’s an interesting contrast to be made right now with Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats. In an attempt to position his party as an alternative to the Conservatives, he’s unashamedly trying to occupy Blair territory. With any number of middle ground Labour supporters feeling disenfranchised by Corbyn, it will be interesting to see whether Farron succeeds in broadening the appeal of the Liberal Democrats.

Such approaches feature just as prominently in the communications space.

‘We targeted too much and we went too narrow’ – the recent words of Procter & Gamble’s Chief Brand Officer, Marc Pritchard.

Similarly, McDonald’s are closing down their YouTube channel for fear of not reaching out to sufficient numbers of both new and existing customers. Recent new consumer product launches from the likes of Apple and Samsung have made as much use of billboards, TV and newspapers as they have digital channels.

Such activity is driven by brands fearing a reduced relevance, profile and resonance. They do not want to paint themselves into a narrowing audience corner.

An equally relevant example of this has just cropped up with people messaging. It has been hard to ignore – on Facebook and LinkedIn – a great piece of employer branding work by Heineken. Imaginative, beautifully executed and challenging, this is not the first time the brand has come up with something that asks real questions of its candidate audiences and their perceptions of Heineken as an employer.

And why should such a high profile brand feel the need to work so hard on broadening its employment appeal?

Despite the emergence of flavoured and craft beers, huge marketing and promotional activities, mergers and acquisitions on a global level, it’s a quietly depressing but unavoidable state of affairs, but less beer is being consumed. As a result, organisations such as Heineken realise that talent wants to work in sectors that are growing, investing and developing.

There is also a feeling that the brewing industry can be conservative and patriarchal and not necessarily open to new ideas, new approaches and different demographics.

With the Go Places messaging, Heineken is working hard to avoid a narrowing of its appeal and messaging. Take a look, it’s rather special. It’s also rather necessary for Heineken.

It’s also not untypical of a recent important messaging shift.

The ability of online targeting and re-marketing is making pin-point and forensic targeting of consumers and candidates alike more and more accurate. Click on a page advertising shoes, holidays or cars and you can be sure to be digitally stalked by similar messages for some time.

However, the more specific and advanced a message delivery system is, the more specific and, therefore, narrow an audience this serves.


From a recruitment perspective, such targeting means your message is about the specific vacancy and not the broader employer brand. By definition, the message will target someone with the right experience, but not necessarily the right softer skills or motivations.

There is also less capacity to target people with parallel industry skills and experience. A further downside of such targeting becoming more and more successful is around persity, with certain candidates finding themselves effectively excluded from an employer.

For me, too, targeting is more relevant in an employer driven market, when candidates are plentiful and much inappropriate response requires filtering out.

The latest ONS figures for UK employment suggest there was a 174,000 rise in the number of jobs in the quarter to the end of July. There will undoubtedly be Brexit-inspired employment wobbles ahead, but this remains a strong market heavily biased towards the candidate.

There is much skill to be admired in the successful targeting of specific and niche candidate audiences. However, in the absence of any broader employer brand building, the profile of an organisation and its employee value proposition is likely to decline and slip gradually off the radar, losing relevance and anything other than very narrow audience participation. 

Posted Tuesday 27 September 2016
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