It really is a rare day when someone says, “go ahead and build our employer brand. We’ll stand still for a few weeks or months while you figure it out…” More often, we are building a brand on top of existing ideas, collateral and content, trying to disparate ideas together that were never designed to go together.

So in this episode, we examine the process of developing a strategy, brand and even EVP after you’ve already built a bunch of “stuff.”

Show Notes

Automated transcription (from

I’m going to assume that we’ve all seen the movie airplane. I mean, I know it’s an old movie, but it’s very much classic. I speak jive. Don’t call me Shirley. There’s so much in that movie. It’s amazing. And it’s dense is the level of comedic density that one can only you know, aspire to, Really?

But what if I told you before having watched airplane before turning the movie on, you’ve never seen it before? What if I said, I’m gonna play for you my favorite disaster movie. Same movie is it is funny. It is laugh out loud. If you’re waiting for the crash, if you’re waiting for the drama, if you’re focused on, will they get out of this thing alive? Is it nearly as funny? If I told you it’s the one of the world’s greatest comedies? Do you even notice this? That there’s drama in it? You know, of course you’re laughing at it. If I tell you, it’s a great love story. Again, how funny is it? I mean, there’s places that are kind of funny, and maybe take you a while to realize that maybe there’s a lot more comedy in here than your average kind of love story.

But if I set the frame that this movie is a love story, or a disaster movie, or a comedy, you’re seeing the same movies, but you’re really seeing different movies. And that’s what I want to talk about because I think there is a fairly common situation we find we often find ourselves in not often but enough that this happens and where I’ve heard it happen where companies are unwilling to change strategies are kind of reevaluate what they’re up to and what’s going on because they’re so terrified, frankly, of having to realize that their strategy has to change and all their collateral all their content, all their videos, all their stories, what have you are pretty much now. junk. Right?

And that’s we’re going to talk about how do you take all the building blocks, all the stuff that you develop the collateral, the content, what have you, and repurpose them on a new strategy. What happens when you have to build a strategy after you built everything else? And that’s what we’re gonna talk about. We’ll be right back.

Intro Audio

Hey, James Ellis here recording live from Chicago How you doing from the studio, which is commonly referred to as my dining room? standard, nothing crazy. Oh, wait, no, there is some some housekeeping notes. I’m doing a webinar with Elena Valentine of skill scout doing that in about two weeks. So I’ll put a link in the show notes. The topic is how do you manage an employer brand when you don’t live in the same room right we you know, I’ve touched on a little bit the podcast, we’re going to go deeper. And of course with Elena there, we’re gonna have a much deeper conversation. This will not be a boring. Next slide. Next slide. We’ve cut in a presentation. She and I kind of bounce off each other pretty good. So again, I really feel like we should just record our breakfasts when we we get together and hang out the conversations go nuts. It’s a lot of fun. So hopefully, we’ll try and capture a little bit of that in this webinar. So again, link in the show notes.

And in fact, I mentioned the newsletter, you should, you know, share that let people know that it exists, you should, you know, subscribe, all that good stuff. But this podcast is based on a 15 minute Ask me anything conversation, open office hours I had with Heather Wilson, who is now I’m going to consider a friend because we had a great conversation. And it was really interesting. And she had a great, this topic wasn’t exactly what she asked for. But this is how we kind of got to it. And this is how I thought about it. And it was really interesting. I wanted to bring it to you because I thought it was a really valuable topic. And I know that I’ve wrestled with it.

When I was working in house on brands, that this is a consideration you have to bring up and we’re going to talk about this idea of strategy after the fact. Now Heather’s specific question was very much about we didn’t have a strategy we didn’t have any VP. We knew we needed some employer branding. Yeah, we just didn’t know exactly what it was. So we hired a video team and we built some content and the video is great, and it doesn’t work. And I said, Yeah, of course not. You didn’t have a strategy you didn’t have any VP, you didn’t have a direction you didn’t. You didn’t. You took the video for the sake of taking a video you did the classic mistake of saying, well, everybody’s on social so we should be on social without defining why, who how to what ends what value is it? What’s the ROI? What’s the purpose of it? You said everybody’s doing video everybody talks about you have to have some video.

So we made some video without ever asking, why what what are we going to do with this? How is it going to move people? How does it impact the candidate journey in any way shape or form? How does it influence people to take some sort of action one way or the other? We put the cart before the horse now, pretty commonly that happens right? We get so excited. Someone gave us some video or some some some budget. And so we blew it on some content of some sort. And we made the stuff and then we realized Wait, what are we going to say here?

And that to me is and you know I’m not a videographer. by any stretch of the imagination, but to me, the best videos aren’t the most polished. But they’re also not not the most polished. There are great videos that are polished. But what they have is a direction, a strategy, a goal, a purpose. They’ve really worked and you know, having worked with creative teams, they will all tell you, a project succeeds and fails on it on the creative brief, the strategy brief for the creative brief, depending on what you want to call it.

That is, have you thought through why you’re doing this and what you want to do with it. Once you define that, and understand it, the people who make the content, understand what you’re trying to do, and they bring back much better content. It’s not about budget, it’s not about gloss or polish. It’s really about the purpose, what is the intention of that piece of content and the better you define that the better your content is going to be. But as so often happens, we are either we put the cart before the horse or we are given the cart and then later we have to beg for Horse, right? We’re like, Okay, well that my boss thinks we need a video. So I guess we need to make a video or my boss or leadership says we need a new website or we need to be on this social media channel, we need to be on this other third party video site or whatever it is. And I guess I’ve ever figured this out.

And having done so I don’t know what the value was. Right? We all have political pressure, right? That’s just the nature of the game. I mean, show me the person who doesn’t see and feel political pressure. And I’ll show you someone who mostly dead frankly, to be perfectly blood. The other way of looking at this is a situation where perhaps you do have a strategy, and perhaps you do have any VP or employer brand and however you want to think about it, but really a direction of a North Star sort of thing.

And you’ve been using it for two or three years and at some point you may start to feel like maybe the North Star is no longer as true as it used to be. The company’s changed. The product has changed. The management structure has changed the policies have changed the system have changed the competition has changed the context around which your brand exists, which by the way, shapes the brand as much as anything you do. Let’s be honest, the context is so dominant and gives opportunity for the brand building it isn’t, you know, it’s very important to what that is.

But if the context changes, you might be hesitant to say, Okay, I have to reevaluate my IEP or I have to reevaluate my brand or I have to reevaluate my North Star because you might look at all the great work you’ve done, shooting the videos, making the content, building the profiles, building, the social audience, all the wonderful things you did all the glass door stuff all the the conversation starters, all the internal referral candidates all but the collateral, the swag, the hashtags, all of that stuff. You built it.

And if you change the strategy, there’s a fear that you got to throw it all out and start from scratch and maybe you can kind of make it okay by saying, Well, look, I did it pretty well, the first time now I know what I know I’m sure I’ll do it better and faster the second time and that’s almost certainly true. But it’s really hard to let go of your your baby so to speak your beloved’s your, your wonderful content like I am guilty, Your Honor, I’m saying I made that piece of content therefore I’m in love with that piece of content whether it still applies or not, you got to get rid of it, you got to lose that stuff, but you got to be willing to kind of cut that stuff out to say, what’s the story I’m really trying to tell however.

However, absolutely true. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. And it brings me back to what we started with in the in the little intro we bit the idea of the movie airplane. Now this came from a separate conversation I asked someone what their favorite movie was, and they said airplane and the second they said air Plain I realized this is the that one of the greatest examples of this idea. And that’s called framing or reframing.

Now, I’ve touched on framing and reframing here and there. In fact, I probably mentioned it a lot more than I think I do. It’s so embedded in how I see things. And I blame an ex wife from a very, very, very, very, very long time ago, but she was very into a thing called neuro linguistic programming, which is probably 90% bowl. But there’s some interesting ideas in there if you can kind of parse them out. But one of the things they talk about is framing is resetting a frame that the way they put it sounded like it was mystical and magical in it. It is but you don’t have to put on the flowing robes and get really hard to kind of consider it. It’s really about mindset shifting, and sometimes it’s about how do you get someone else to shift their mindset. And you do it by changing the frame and one of the clearest examples of talking about frames and changing frames is exactly this.

There is a piece of content It’s called the movie airplane. I think it’s technically airplane comma, the movie explanation point. It is peace content. It is. It is factual it is. There’s there’s no kind of questioning Is it a 20 minute movies or 40 minute movie or 120 minute movie it is there’s no slices and dices of it. There’s nothing you can change about the thing. No matter who you play this movie to, it will be the exact same movie the runtime won’t change, the credits won’t change, the stars won’t change, the lines won’t change the the film stock won’t change, the coloration won’t change, the direction will change. Nothing will change it is set in stone. But again, if you tell someone about to watch this movie that this is the greatest comedy ever. Or you tell them that this is a pretty good comedy, or you tell them it’s a trauma, or a love story or a disaster movie. You are setting the frame here. I want you to look at this piece of content. I eat the movie through this frame. This little lens that I am establishing for you.

And by setting the frame you can you don’t change the content, but you dramatically change the content, how people perceive that piece of content dramatically shifts because you’ve set a certain frame. If your business and the brand you’re representing is all about the idea of I’m going to use one I’m not going to name a name but I want to use one of my I got one of my head. It’s all about grit and determination and pride and having been tested in strength that comes from having done the hard work. You know, no fear of sweat, no fear of of getting dirt on your fingernails, determination. All those things are the words that kind of make up their own Northstar that is setting a frame. And that frame lets you look at what some might consider to be fairly hard work, factory work. Talking sparks. We’re talking factory floor. We’re talking machines in room But also welding and building and machinery and you know, the ratchet the, you know, the things that you know, screw things together and put things together a lot of physical heavy machinery, this is a sweaty job, this is a hard job, this is a hard place to work. Now, if I just looked at that and said, Well, that’s a pretty sweaty, spark filled warehouse where they’re building some heavy stuff. If you do not set the frame for me, I set my own frame. No, me being me. And I’m a pretty white collar went to college has an MBA kind of guy, I might look at that company and say, Gosh, that’s a little more sweaty and blue collar than I might like.

Because I’ve set my own frame, you haven’t told me what this is all about. You simply said, here’s a movie, here’s a piece of content here’s a story not telling tell me how to feel about it. Not tell me how to perceive it, not kind of setting me up to think and look for those things, but to simply say piece of content and figure it out for yourself.

To be fair, that’s mostly what a lot of employer branders do. They capture the moment they capture the the day in the life story. And I’m not a huge fan of Dan, the live videos myself. I think they’re generally Pat, I think they’re boring. I think they’re almost 80% the same regardless of what company you’re looking at. However, they get made, and frankly, they’re valuable, they’re useful. They’re creating a opportunity to poke and peek inside the brand curtain to see what’s really going on on the inside. I get that I get that.

But let’s say you are given 10 videos 10 different Day in the Life videos of different people in different parts of the company just doing their work. Heck, whether you have the raw footage of the final cuts of it, it doesn’t really matter. You are seeing these are the people let’s print the person as Susan and Susan is doing work and Susan is a sales manager and Susan, you know wakes up in the morning and shows up Berlin gets coffee and you know those her kind of mindset thinking and she maybe listens to a podcast or something to kind of get her revved up you know she gives a high five to so coworker, phones get started the emails, get started, the CRM gets started whatever. making calls, making conversation, trying to build relationships, trying to move a deal closer to the end, get some lunch, has a quick conversation, goes back, does some more has a quick chat with their boss. Susan’s grinding, she closes a deal. There’s high fives everywhere. There’s somebody ringing a gong, and then kind of a big round of random applause Good job. Susan. You did a great job. Hey, it’s five o’clock it’s 530 whatever it is Susan goes home and she meets her family who is very happy to see her that is your day in the life video.

Based on what I just said, you should be able to imply exactly nothing about this job about this company. It is a standard sales, job sales, sales manager, sales professional kind of job. Sure, but you shot it. So what’s interesting is that it collects a lot more information about the job and about the company than you might have expected.

For example, what Susan’s desk look like, what’s Susan computer look like? What do her coworkers look like? How do they engage with each other? Are they all different flavors and colors and people? Are they all kind of sort of look the same? Is it a bullpen kind of job where no one has any privacy? Or do they have cubicles? At the very least let’s not even get into offices who still has offices anymore? Or is it you know, kind of she’s sitting on a couch you know, with a laptop on her lap and a phone in her ear or Bluetooth thing kind of plugged in her head? And she’s talking and she’s making the deal or she’s talking and walking with a cup of coffee. She’s closing the phone call while she’s getting a cup of coffee, though then doing so shows the office it shows the carpets or the floors it shows the walls what’s on the walls. Is it posters? Is it blank? Is it dirty? Is it clean. Is it fun? Is it? You know, serious? Is it a bunch of hang in there baby posters or is it a bunch of, you know, accessories, posters, whatever, what that is information that is being passed to me through that video that the videographer may or may not have intended to pass along. It’s just incidentals. It’s just the context. Susan’s there. She’s making phone calls, she’s closing deals. That’s the job. Yeah, but no.

Because how Susan acts, her body language, her tone of voice even if she’s doing a voiceover and a head and a talking headshot. I’m still collecting a lot of information about this company. Does the company decide that the talking head has to be super glossy with the background kind of blurred out you know, like a tight what’s it called frame of focus frame or whatever it’s called. I’m not a videographer. I think I’ve covered that. But you know, they have that kind of it’s, you know, looks a little blurry in the background and make it look a little nicer, right like when our phones started to build Do that two or three years ago, just automatically that was magical, right? Who suddenly our phones really elevated. You’re seeing things and you’re seeing decisions being made, as well as in deceit into unintentional decisions being made, the videographer was just trying to capture these moments, collected them strung them together and put it out there.

Now, again, without telling me what the frame is, I’m going to start to see that stuff. I’m gonna start to see those posters in the background and the carpet that may or may not be stained, and the office that may or may not be a bullpen, or it may or may not be a couch, or it may or may not be very young or very old, or what have you. I’m going to start to infer things. And I’m going to start to make judgments about that information. But if you set the frame better than I set the frame, if you tell me what the frame is, and because I have no information at this point, I’m looking for the information. I’m looking for the movie airplane, and you’re going to tell me whether it’s a disaster movie, or the best comedy you’ve ever seen.

You are setting the frame that might be on the website where that video lives. It might be In the title of the video itself, maybe you took the video pulled in iMovie and put a 10 second kind of slide that talks about why this video is interesting, or your tagline or your purpose or maybe not your maybe not your EVP I always think EVPs are fairly conceptual and should not be shown to the outside world most most times. But hey, this is what this is about. What is the thing you the intention you want people to come away with? Well, how do you build the strategy, the EVP after you’ve created all that content, and it’s really not that hard to just put a wrapper on that thing to say 5-10 seconds, just saying it at company, blah, blah, blah. You know, we love the flexibility to put our people first so that they can do great work. Okay, that’s pretty flimsy frame, but it is a frame. It is something right. Okay. Okay, flexibility, and ability to get things done. Okay. I don’t see how that’s any different than every other company in the world pretty much these days. Okay, fine, I’ll take it. But I’m starting.

And what I’m doing is I’m listening or hearing you’re looking for sometimes consciously, sometimes subconsciously, for those things to reinforce, invalidate the frame that you have set. So if you tell me that this is an amazing office where everybody’s super friendly, and everybody works together to get work done, and all the pictures of Susan or her on the phone by herself, and I don’t see a lot of her hanging around with other people, or them solving a problem collaboratively, chances are using a glass or whiteboard, right? That’s pretty standard stuff. I’m gonna go Wait a second. The frame you set is not the movie I saw. That’s the trick.

If I told you airplane was an amazing movie, in Spanish, and I played you the English version, you would look at me and go, this isn’t Spanish. This is English. If I told you it was a movie about I mean, it’s not it isn’t war movies. Because there is a flashback. It is kind of a movie, isn’t it? It’s a musical. Yes, there’s a single dance number in the middle of it, but it’s super deep in. And it’s a disco movie. So where you go, but if I told you it’s a musical, you know, there’s not a musical nobody’s singing and dancing. I don’t see that. You’re not validating your frame. Therefore, yours broken frame, you’re a liar. This movie sucks. I’m gonna go by. You have to set a frame that’s real. But the same movie can have multiple frames. You can say here’s a movie, showing Susan who’s about to be promoted. And this is the kind of work she does and this is what she did to get promoted. You can set a frame that says here’s Susan, who gets in early, but she’s also the first one to leave. She has an incredibly flexible schedule that she gets to set. Or you say this is Susan. She’s walking around in open space office, she gets to sit where she wants to sit, she can sit on the couch, she could sit her desk, she could have all the conversations she wants. We just want her to close these deals, we just want her to get her work done. We don’t micromanage, there’s a frame, they’re all friends, all three of those things are frames. And they’re far better than the first one I had, which is like I said, real flimsy.

The content remains the same. But you can wrap a strategy around existing content profiles, change the headline, change the banner, websites, change the headline, change a couple of words here and there if you can, but really, it’s just about change the frame. Now, if you have the opportunity to go in and change the movie, and maybe edit out the stuff that doesn’t revalidate the stuff you’re saying, please do so if you can.

But changing the frame is far better than throwing out all that content that is true of who you are, and shows actual people doing actual kinds of work in this example, and say, Okay, we’re going to go spend another 5, 10, 20 $50,000 to the video crew in here and shoot about three days worth of shootings, and stitch all this together and got to find music and we got to buy, Oh, we got to do a half a day of voiceover which we saw as a scheduling nightmare to get everybody in the same room and find in a room where you can shoot audio where there isn’t an air conditioner vent right on top of you.

So it sounds like so I like to work here is right. You know, that’s a lot of logistical nightmarish ness. And people would say, I think I’d rather keep an imperfect EVP go through that nightmare again, or spend that kind of money and I get that. But that’s what I’m saying is you don’t have to do that. That’s not the choice you have to make. You can read frame. You can reframe almost all your content. Content, you’ve already made content you’re about to have content in process. The more you have control over it, the stronger more aligned it’s going to get with your frame. But just because it already exists, doesn’t mean you can’t reframe it. Here’s another way to look at it. If you decide Today, you’re in the market for a car. It’s a bad example. It’s quarantine. I’m on lockdown. I go out twice a week to get food and or let my kid bike around the block. So the concept of cars right now is pretty thin. I can actually see Lakeshore drive out of my window. And it’s pretty, there’s not a lot of people on the road. So it’s not a car culture at the moment. Everybody’s at home and thank you for doing that. Please stay home anyway.

Let’s just say you want to buy a car and you decide what I really want to buy is and I’m not being brand in you know, I have no interest in what the brand is. But I’m decided I’m going to buy a Mini Cooper. A blue Mini Cooper. I saw one once I saw commercial like, Ooh, that’s a cool car. That’s a cute car like that color, like that style like that. Whatever is you look, whatever you like, whatever that thing is you go Mini Cooper. Great, that color blue. Great. You’ll notice you’ll see that car more often as of today. than you did previously, how is that possible? Did someone realize you’re about to buy a Mini Cooper and they what they did is they imported a bunch into your neighborhood to drive around and make you see it to make you want it and lust after it. So you really pick up the phone and say, Do you have the blue Mini Cooper I’m gonna come down by right now. Now, that would be ludicrous, and expensive and time consuming, and against a home the bad job. But what really happens is your brain found a goal. It found a thing it says look out for these blue mini Coopers. And it starts to notice them in ways that you never noticed before. If you weren’t looking for a blue Mini Cooper and three passed by in the space of an hour, and I say Hey, have you seen blue mini Coopers or any mini Coopers at all? You might say? No, I haven’t noticed any. Why? Because you weren’t looking for them.

You ever noticed if you’re in a crowded room, and someone says your name and they don’t necessarily scream it or shout it but For some reason, it just cuts through the noise, like what someone said my name What? Whether they’re talking at you or about you, you just hear your name. Why? Because you’ve been programmed for almost the entirety of your whole life, to know that you should hear for your name, because that’s important. If someone’s calling your name, they need your attention now. And it’s important that you be aware of it, your brain is perpetually listening for your name on some level, all the time.

It’s just sensitive to it. Same way here, you’re not so much saying here, I’m setting a frame around your name, but you’re saying is, look, I want you to pay attention of all the information in this video in this piece of content in this profile in this social post, whatever it is, of all the information that could be conveyed or ideas that could be conveyed by this content. Here’s what I want you to get out of it. So that means a lot of what your job is is understanding what the intention is. All this stuff is and inserting it dead front center of all of your content. So no matter what door, no matter what entry point someone comes in to learn about your brand, the video, the Glassdoor response, the career site, the job posting, whatever, I don’t care that they all set the frame.

Yes, that’s right. Your job posting should have a headline that sets the frame for everything you’re about to see. Your Glassdoor response should use the language so that as a frame got set someplace else, it’s being reinforced over here in this what appears to be completely independent site, which isn’t completely independent, but mostly is what sort of is it? You want to reinforce and validate because what happens is, the more you reinforce and validate, the more you intentionally set the frame, the more control you have over how people perceive you. And as we all know that I don’t want to talk about it too much. Your employer brand should absolutely attract certain people but it should absolutely repel certain people it should push them away because they’re never going to be good fits and rather than ask them to waste their Applying and waste your recruiters time reviewing that application, you make it very clear what this job is all about. And you reinforce it.

So they go, You know what? Yeah, I’m starting to get a picture of what this job really is. I get it. I’m gonna walk away. Let’s go back to that factory floor for a second. If I tell you if I don’t set the frame, and all you see is the sweatiness and the sparks and the hard work and little grunting and little, you know, physical labor, and it’s tough and it’s dirty, and there’s dirt and fingernails, etc, etc. I choose my own frame, right? I say, That’s not the job for me. But I might say, Well, yeah, but I’m not going to work in the factory. What’s the rest of the office like? Well, the rest of the office should have similar mentality. It should have similar positioning and framing as the people who work in on the factory floor.

If the frame is all about pride and being tested and its strength and grit and determination, all that stuff. You should see it in other people’s jobs. Now, does that mean the sales managers gonna have dirt under the fingernails, maybe Not, but they might talk about how it takes a lot more work to make this sale, it takes a lot more work to put this together, that we work collaboratively because we work together in order to achieve these goals because that’s the only way we can achieve such hard goals. It is about pride It is about being tested is about perseverance, determination. And that’s every salesperson here has to have determination and perseverance in order to be successful here, but once they are, there’s so much they can achieve. Well, Wow, you’ve set the frame. And now you’re aligning things that look like radically different micro cultures because you’ve set the frame properly. What’s nice, I can look at that sales manager piece of content, let’s call it a day in the life video, what the hell and I can say okay, this is what perseverance and determination means in a sales manager role.

And then even though I’m never going to apply for a job as a technical engineer, or a safety engineer, or a fabricator, whatever, I’m gonna look at that and say, it’s not just true about this microculture. It’s true about lots of micro cultures inside. company, therefore, it must be true about the entire company, I can believe it more. And that is really what you’re striving for. It’s not so much about putting messages out there, you can put messages out there all day long. It’s about putting messages out there that are credible, because they’ve been reinforced by other sources and other directions. So people go, gosh, who thought that I’d be looking at a sales manager job, no one would have expected me to go look at the video about the technical or the fabricator job. But somehow they’re all aligned. That must be true. That must be real.

And now I get to make a better decision about this company. And that’s where you want it because you want to push them away or attract them. But if they feel kind of like, okay, you’re just talking about one pocket or you’re talking about one role or just talking about talking about one team. I don’t know if I believe it. So you have to set the frame but you have to set that frame thoroughly across all the content and all the touch points and all the entryways to the brand. That’s the only way it really works. So Yes, you can absolutely build a strategy after the fact. If you have to eat is not optimal. It is not what I would recommend, frankly, if you push came to shove, I’d say no, I don’t want to do it that way, I absolutely want to set a strategy first. But times are weird and complicated, you don’t always get the chance to kind of make those decisions. So there are ways of establishing building content using content, leveraging content that already exists.

Implying it to a strategy that was not in effect wasn’t even in existence before that strategy was that content was made, and still have it work. And it’s called reframing. So that thanks so much for listening. Thanks so much for sharing. Thanks so much for talking about it. As always. Yeah, you know, this is, this is where these conversations come from conversations with you. So feel free to grab 15 minutes with me. Open Office Hours, loves to talk to you love to hear what your what your challenges are, maybe find some sort of way to help you. That just sounds like fun to me. So hopefully it sounds like fun to you. Thanks again. I’ll talk to you next week.