I spent a good chunk of time in Talent Chooses You
(open source and free) talking about the power of positioning, the magical (sometimes imperfectly understood or perceived) idea that by defining the territory in which you work, you can become the go-to company for a specific thing.
Think about coffee. If you make coffee at home, even with good beans, you can make a whole pot of coffee for… 75 cents? A dollar? A Nespresso pod costs $1.25 for a single (not very big) cup of coffee, which in comparison to homebrew, seems crazy.
But Nespresso isn’t competing with your Mr. Coffee or Chemex setup. It is positioning itself against a $3.50 latte at Starbucks, in which case $1.25 is a heck of a bargain.
(Trash person Peter Theil
does a great job talking about positioning in Zero to One, which is worth reading. He talks about how if you define your market correctly, the goal isn’t to compete so much as it is to build a monopoly.)
What’s the difference between a Honda and a Toyota? Maybe you feel like the Toyota is a little cooler or the Honda is a little more reliable. They are brands fighting for position against each other, but not against SmartCars or Ferraris, which hold very different positions in the market.
Employer brands can define and hold positions, too. You’re the caring company. You’re the ‘move fast and break things’ company. You’re the ‘we’ll make you rich in 15 years’ company. You’re the ‘stability is its own reward’ company. Those companies are not really competing against each other, as the candidate who loves stability isn’t interested in breaking anything. Defining a strong position allows you to be the “only” company in a given space.
But this leads to a strange issue. With 20MM companies in North America (and maybe 50MM worldwide), how do you maintain a unique position? Is it even possible for every company to define a unique position? Perhaps not (and perhaps that’s why we see so much employer blending).
There’s a different approach you could take. Instead of trying to define some magical unique space where only you thrive like a hothouse orchid, potentially boxing yourself into a space so small that you can’t find anyone in it worth hiring, you could out-execute on your brand.
I think of this as a “puncher’s” strategy. Throw harder punches faster and more accurately, and you don’t need to be more clever or have a better strategy. You just out-punch your opponent.
The trick here is that unlike in boxing, in talent you have a LOT more opponents, all of whom are throwing their own punches and hoping to beat you. Just by the law of large numbers, one of them could land and take you out. We’ve all lost talent to companies we thought had way less to offer, companies we thought we had nothing to worry about.
But in a market where your position is being claimed by other companies, you need to think like a puncher. How do you craft a message that’s stronger than the competition? How do you select channels where they aren’t (or are scared to be)? How do you bring the first to them to make that informed choice more clear?
Defining your position well is the smart move. But at this stage, it takes a puncher’s mindest to just out-work your competition.