There are two major Bay Area freeways that traverse the distance between San Jose and San Francisco, California, and they each have their own unique feel, brand, and image. Highway 101 borders the airport, the Peninsula, and most of Silicon Valley. 101 is renowned for being congested with too many onramps, too many exits and too many billboards. It feels busy and crowded much of the time. Traffic on the 101 corridor tends to bunch up at various points during both the morning and afternoon commute hours, and you can almost always count on road work, construction or an accident or two to slow you down during the week.

Highway 280, on the other hand, runs parallel to sprawling green foothills, and is surrounded on either side by a beautiful, pastoral landscape, water, and on some afternoons a spectacular fog bank that rolls above the treetops. Unlike Highway 101, 280 is open, expansive, and flowing with no billboards and no roadwork and a great feeling of open space. Both freeways take you to San Jose and San Francisco, but they each offer a completely different experience for a commuter. Each freeway has an entirely different feel.

As a commuter, contemplating which freeway will best serve your needs, you know that the experience with each is different and you have a choice to make. 101 offers a direct shot and a straight path to the heart of most towns in Silicon Valley, but there is a high risk of an accident, delay or traffic jam. 280, on the other hand, offers a longer path but one of beauty and low risk for congestion. Both Freeways serve the same purpose in the same marketplace even though they each have vastly different, but equally viable propositions. In a sense, you could say that each freeway has its own "brand".

In facing the choice of which freeway to select for your commute, the reality is that it depends on where I am going and which one makes the most sense to me. Maybe I'm not in a hurry and I like the open road countryside that 280 boasts, or maybe my destination is right off the 101. The choice is mine, and it depends on what I want and what is best for me.

Similar to the choice commuters face in Silicon Valley, candidates today have choice on where they decide to work. They have more information and intelligence than ever before to understand the experience they will face if they work in your company. They are better able to find people they know who work in your company or used to work in your company. They can quickly find people and resources to supply them with a clear picture of your brand as an employer. In my experience, high quality candidates do their homework and invest a great deal of time making certain, before they choose to work in your company, that they understand the full picture.

Every company has an employer brand and today this brand is more important than ever especially when it comes to recruiting. As I have said in earlier posts, if you don't define, claim and manage your employer brand, people will do it for you - and chances are it may not be how you want your company represented. Unlike the 280/101 analogy, an employer brand is far more difficult to define/nail down. As Andrew Gardiner, an employer brand guru based in Silicon Valley says:

"Perhaps the best way to put it, is your employer brand is what people say about your company when you are not in the room. Anyone can claim a brand, or create a brand, but to be truly effective, your brand must be organic and authentic. In other words, if I tell you that my company is a super fun place to work, we joke around all the time and the compensation is out of this world, but then you come to work for me, and it's not all fun & games, we don't ever fool around and the pay sucks, it's only a matter of time before word gets out that my employer brand is disingenuous, my GlassDoor profile gets blasted, and my company's employer brand loses its credibility."

Building a great employer brand is far more fun and less challenging than trying to untangle or reconstruct or suppress a negative brand that evolved out of your neglect or because of some unfortunate misunderstandings among current or former employees. Investing the proper time and attention on your employer brand is essential. It amazes me how few companies actually actively think about this and make employer brand strategy a priority.

The reality today is that every one of your employees is now part of your employer brand marketing team. They have amplification devices in their pockets also known as mobile phones that quickly broadcast to the world what it's like working at your company. Don't you want to fill that amplification with great stories and experiences?

As Gardiner notes, one of the realities he confronts frequently is that:

"Companies seem to place an overstated emphasis on developing and establishing mission statements, company values, corporate goals, and objectives, but they miss the fact that it's the daily experience of being in your company that really is the essence of what people want to understand and often times these mission statements and valued and stated cultures are far from the reality of the daily experience."

Simply said--great people and amazing talent want to work in amazing places and do amazing work. You want those people on your team. So... are you doing all you can to get them? The great thing about a great brand is that it acts like a magnet--attracting the best which requires less effort and brute recruiting force than you might otherwise need.

To diffuse any confusion around employer brand, let me clarify what employer brand is not. Employer brand is not a pitch deck or a PowerPoint presentation; it's not a clever catch phrase or a tag line; and it's not something you 'sell' to candidates or your employees. It's not something that management, PR or HR cooks up and pushes down and across the organization.

A great Employer Brand is simply something that is true, credible, relevant, distinctive and aspirational. It's who you really are as an organization, your personae, and a reflection of what life is like being in and working at your company

One of the common mistakes companies make is thinking that their employer brand can draft off of their product brand. While there are instances where this works, the complexity arises out of the fact that you cannot always build or control your employer brand--you can only influence it, whereas you are able to control your product brand to a large extent. Further--many times your product brand has nothing to do with your employer brand. Take the case of Volvo. Years ago, they decided they needed to develop a better brand recognition for their cars--the executives were sitting around the board room trying to figure out if they should be the fastest car, the most expensive car, the sportiest car, the best looking car, etc. They came to the conclusion that there were already multiple car companies focused in each of these areas, so they chose safety as their brand, and built, marketed and advertised their cars as 'safe.' The result was sheer genius, as Volvo quickly made a name for itself as one of the safest cars in the world, churning out thousands upon thousands of SUVs and station wagons to households all over the world. Needless to say, an employer brand developed around 'safety' would be nowhere near as successful or effective. 'Come work for Volvo . . . we'll keep you safe.' I don't think so... and you get the point.

Having a great employer brand matters if you want to build an amazing company with a solid team. Candidates today have access to countless amounts of information, posts, videos, tweets, pictures and commentary to build a picture and a fairly clear understanding of your unique employer brand. They can choose which freeway they take to work and they can choose whether or not your company is their destination. They have the power of choice and having a clear employer brand will help ensure that the right people are choosing YOUR company for the right reasons. Building a great employer brand requires hard work, focus and attention, but if you make the commitment and put in the effort, you will realize great rewards.