In traditional marketing, we sometimes talk about hard versus soft marketing techniques.
This isn’t a topic I’ve seen explored much from a Recruitment Marketing perspective, but I think it’s worth talking about because it can be easy for organizations to prioritize hard marketing approaches at the expense of soft marketing – but both are really important!
This article will explain what hard and soft marketing approaches are, and how to make a business case to advance soft marketing techniques within your Recruitment Marketing plan.
First off, what is hard and soft marketing?
Hard marketing refers to initiatives that are strongly tied to metrics. You can easily prove the hard ROI associated with these initiatives. Here are a few examples of hard marketing activities in the Recruitment Marketing space:
- Advertising your open requisitions on job boards
- Leveraging programmatic job ads
- Buying banner ads on a website
- Attending recruiting events with landing pages/lead capture forms
These are all initiatives that can be associated with firm hiring goals: how many candidates were brought in, how many were interviewed and hired, etc.
Soft marketing, on the other hand, is more about brand building and awareness activities that are hard (or impossible) to measure concretely in terms of the number of net new candidates in your pipeline or numbers of hires made. In Recruitment Marketing some examples include:
- Publishing employee stories on your careers blog
- Sponsoring a professional or trade membership
- Sharing your organization’s employee events on social media
- Creating a press release about your company’s Diversity and Inclusion program
Why soft marketing is hard to prioritize
Put simply, soft marketing is hard to prioritize because leadership is more easily sold by initiatives that you can directly tie to end-of-funnel achievements (like more applicants or hires).
The best way I can think of to explain this is from an experience I had a few years ago, where I was tasked with prioritizing activities based on budget and resources.
Something our team knew we needed to do from a strategic perspective was weave more Employer Brand content into our job descriptions. However, before we could start on this task, we had to persuade leadership that this was the right move.
Not surprisingly, the first question leadership asked was how this initiative would tie in to the hard ROI of volume hiring. The answer, put simply, was that it didn’t tie in directly. In fact, this Employer Brand content might even deter some people from applying because they might decide the organization isn’t the right fit for them.
How did we convince them to let us tackle this initiative despite the lack of hard ROI? By sharing some of the other benefits associated with soft marketing.
The benefits of soft marketing
Going back to the Employer Brand job description example, sharing that brand information up-front had some other ROI outcomes that we were able to identify and make clear to leadership.
For instance, by sharing more info so candidates could better self-select fit from our job descriptions we were saving our recruiters time. It would also persuade people who were the right fit that this was indeed an opportunity worth applying to (and they would be more likely to stick around longer presumably since they have more alignment – although this is admittedly a tougher one to measure still!).
In other words, while the ROI wasn’t as easy to identify or as straightforward to measure as it would be with hard marketing initiatives, it was still there! This particular soft marketing technique wouldn’t necessarily boost the quantity of hires, but it would help inform people’s expectations to improve the quality and values fit of the people applying to join us.
However, that’s just one example of the type of benefit you might see from a specific soft marketing initiative. Here are some other examples of what soft marketing does:
- Communicates the personality of your brand
- Enhances the appeal of your messaging
- Improves the candidate experience
- Creates more personalized touchpoints
- Provides a feeling of connection
- Influences candidates throughout their journey
- Drives engagement and awareness about your Employer Brand
Although tougher to measure definitively, these are all benefits that ultimately make your company more proactive and strategic. Candidates will now know about your organization and think about you in a positive light. This means that candidates will be more likely to consider you for future opportunities when the timing is ripe or be more open to a conversation when a recruiter reaches out.
How to make the case for soft marketing
In some cases, there will be resources and budget required for soft marketing. For instance, to create good Employer Brand content for our job descriptions we needed to put together focus groups to uncover what people in different job areas (and even on different teams) really value about their employee experience. Additionally, it required that resources on my team devote their attention to this project in lieu of another one for a few weeks.
In these instances where resources are needed, to gain approval it’s important to try to identify your objectives and some form of measurement that could communicate the outcomes (even if the measurements are imprecise since brand building isn’t an exact science).
For example, if you are trying to advance the soft marketing technique of developing candidate personas in Q1, you might rationalize this by spotlighting how it will help create personalized content that grabs the attention of your target demographic more effectively. You could measure baselines like time spent on site (if you have pages for different job areas), or how many click-throughs you get on social content geared towards your key audiences and compare data after finishing the persona work and incorporating the outcomes in your messaging on those platforms.
With soft marketing, you may need to get more creative in figuring out how to show the outcomes of what you’re trying to achieve, but they are there and if you can pin them down you’ll be more successful at convincing leadership to allow you to allocate the necessary resources towards properly executing on soft marketing approaches.
Bringing it all together: soft + hard marketing
Now all of this isn’t to say that hard marketing isn’t important too! Certainly being able to drive applications, conversions or careers site visitors is mission critical to a successful Recruitment Marketing program. However, without the soft marketing content, your Employer Brand will lack personality and authenticity. Candidates won’t have the full picture they need and expect today.
To succeed in Talent Acquisition, forward-thinking organizations really need to develop a Recruitment Marketing strategy that encompasses both soft and hard marketing strategies – and now you’re armed with the info to make the pitch to include soft marketing techniques in your budget and plan for 2019! Let me know how it goes by connecting with me on LinkedIn and sharing your success.