Job-Candidate Feedback Helped Shape American Express’ Talent Brand Refresh

By Amy Gulati Dec 16, 2016
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American Express recently reinvigorated its employer brand based partly on feedback from job candidates and new hires.

In 2014, the 166-year-old multinational financial services company started to notice a disconnect between its reputation and reality. Certain talent pools, particularly individuals on college campuses and in certain niche talent channels like technology, viewed the company as more traditional and stuffy than it really is, according to Christy Mommsen, the company's director of marketing and communications. "The perception was that [the American Express] culture was too 'formal,' " she said.

Additionally, surveys showed that recent hires were surprised at how innovative and different the company was from the perceptions they held coming into the organization. In response, Mommsen led a cross-functional initiative to refresh the company's talent brand to ensure that it was effectively attracting the right candidates with critical skills.

The first step was to conduct research in all of the company's key talent markets across the world. Mommsen and her colleagues met with a representative sampling of employees, leaders and hiring managers in an effort to get insights from local leadership.

[SHRM members-only Q&A: How can we develop an employment branding strategy?]

Operating under the assumption that leaders in different markets would cite different employee value propositions, Mommsen and her team were surprised to discover many more similarities than differences in opinions of what made American Express an employer of choice in any given country. The extensive work of conducting global focus groups allowed the team to hone in on the brand elements that were universal and consistent as a basis for building messaging.

In completing a thorough and honest evaluation, Mommsen was able to identify discrepancies between perception and reality and then address these issues by facilitating an organizationwide conversation about what it meant to work for the company.

"Holistically, talent across the globe was looking for the same thing: challenging work with purpose," she said. This became a tagline for the company's talent brand, which was then leveraged across a variety of different recruitment channels:

Industry events. American Express particularly emphasized developing a presence at large technology conferences to interact with candidates and showcase the firm's technology.

Social media. Mommsen decided to use existing enterprise accounts to promote the talent brand instead of creating separate channels for careers. "This allowed us to maximize efficiencies while still driving applicant flow," she said. Thanks to a strong correlation between American Express' consumer brand and its talent brand, this ended up being a successful strategy, allowing the company to keep the brand globally consistent.

The careers website. Mommsen explained that American Express created a responsively designed careers site, realizing the need for an optimal application process. After all, it would be difficult to position the organization as a hub for progressive technologists if the careers site wasn't mobile-responsive or lacked an impressive user interface. The company also ensured that its careers site was translated into multiple languages, reflecting the global nature of its business and workforce.

Key stakeholders were supportive and receptive when the new branding was introduced. Mommsen said the comprehensive research process her team followed led to support and excitement about the project. "Taking the time upfront to hear [from candidates] helped with the success of the project," she noted, "but the product had to deliver."

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