Kathleen Smith is the Chief Marketing Officer at ClearedJobs.Net. With 20+ years of extensive experience in Marketing and the commercial world, Kathleen is without a doubt an expert when it comes to managing your branding.
Kathleen will be discussing what a brand is and how these fit into the job board industry at The Job Board Summit 2015 – North America alongside ADP’s Jenny DeVaughn. Kathleen gave us some exclusive insights into some of the topics she’ll be discussing with Jenny as well as a fantastic run down of just how she helped make ClearedJobs.Net such a success.
What does brand mean to you?
Many folks consider branding to be the logo, the web site, advertising or conference schwag, maybe even the social media tag lines. Brand has always meant to me an identity. When you think of a brand, you think of an experience, it is multifaceted and will be reinforced every time a person interacts with a brand. Since there can be many different experiences you can have with a brand – phone, in person, online, social media – it is important that there are guiding principles for every kind of interaction. You can’t be just a brand in one medium.
You worked in the broader commercial world before joining ClearedJobs.Net did you see a difference between how brand is perceived and used by those organizations?
Yes, I worked with World Wildlife Fund, American Red Cross and many commercial brands such as Metropolitan Life. Sometimes it is more difficult to work with a brand that has been established for a long time as what it stands for has been built by perception rather than with the assistance of the company itself. Many of these large commercial brands actually are hindered when trying to leverage their brand or embrace new marketing strategies. Look what happened to Coke when it brought out New Coke, or when an established brand tries to be hip or embrace social media.
Could you share how you have gone about building the ClearedJobs.Net brand?
This has been an evolution. When I first started with the company, the key points were that we were veteran owned and the founders knew the Washington DC government contracting community.
One day I heard one of the founders, John Nixon, speaking to a tank driver back from a deployment on how to build his resume and the online job search process. John took almost an hour walking the soldier through everything they needed to know to become a competitive job seeker. Our brand was beginning to form in my mind: veteran owned, knew the marketplace and took time with our customers.
We then had a business decision to make: we had an opportunity to take some good quick short term advertising money from agencies looking to advertise on our job board and contact candidates. However, in the security cleared community building trust with the candidates was very important to us. We knew that anyone contacting candidates through our job board should be vetted. We made a company decision that only facilities cleared employers would have access to our site and candidates. We didn’t take the short term revenue which has paid off in the long run. There will always be business decisions to make that will affect your brand, and you have to decide what your business goal is.
We were also the first job board to offer a customer service phone line; reinforcing our brand that we were there for our customers. This customer service line was available for both job seekers and employers. We now have a full team that is available from 8am to 6pm to support both job seekers and employers. The customer service support first was for job seekers to assist with their job search questions and how to use a job board. We as an industry have always believed that our products are easy to use and understandable, but they are not. Our front line interactions proved this to us.
After awhile, we realized that our employers needed this support as well. We go beyond resetting passwords, we assist with job postings, tutorials on search strings and more- helping the customer better use our product. This in turn helps us revamp our site each time to meet our customers’ needs.
As we are veteran owned, we do invest resources in the veteran community; attending events, sponsoring Wounded Warrior rides – even producing one ourselves – and creating job search tips for transitioning military through an eBook, social media and presentations. We also have a dedicated Military Liaison staff person to provide support to the transition managers on military bases nationwide.
Our brand continues to be people focused by helping our customers – both of them job seeker and employer, focused on the needs of the community and veteran supporter.
When social media exploded, we jumped in with both feet using any and all tools to share our expertise, celebrate others’ accomplishments, share news and curate content across many mediums – blogs, posts, videos and even music videos. We created a ‘voice’ of the company, which was in essence my voice in the beginning but has now grown into its own voice as a melding of several interests in our company and I have established my separate brand.
We had a personality, passion and perspective on what was happening in our community. We engage thought leaders in key area of government contracting as to trends that candidates should be aware of, and we are now actively involved in trends in cybersecurity. We always find ourselves as the advocate for the candidate in issues pertaining to the security cleared community. We actually engaged in debates about security cleared candidates being involved in social media.
An extension of our job board is our job fairs which we extend the brand there by creating a very customer service oriented experience for everyone; registration staff, high quality materials, seminars and more. Events are a great place to create, curate and share content. When we started using social media at the events, many were skeptical and adverse to us using it. Now it is expected and a great way to extend our brand relationship with our customers, in particular.
We also noticed in the marketplace that recruiters specifically in the cleared community were only talking to one type of candidate, basically shunning other candidates. We turned this around creating the Best Recruiter program where the job seekers vote for the recruiters who provide the best overall experience. This provided some initial thoughts to the creation of the Candidate Experience Awards.
As a brand we are on advocate for our customers; sharing their concern and helping them find the solutions particular to their needs.
Do you believe there is a marked difference between the job seeker and the recruiter brand?
They are both our customers. Throughout the company, everyone looks through the same lens as to how to help the customer. This has helped us build loyalty when customers move to different companies. We have also had several situations where job seekers have become company owners or decision makers at companies and they come back to purchase our services.
If there is a business decision that needs to be made that benefits that employer and not the job seeker, we will always decide in favor of the job seeker. This has been proven time and again the best long term business response.
How did you find the switch from a branded business to the job board world?
The transition from the branded business world to the job board world was not difficult. I have always been a marketer and embraced what it means to have a brand. Not many job boards have a brand, so coming from a world that is accustomed to a brand to one that was not, really helped me keep a focus on building our brand. In the branded world, the whole company is thinking about the brand – what it is, what it stands for- but in the job board world we haven’t really had that focus. The focus appears to be about numbers rather than the quality of the interactions which we have been highly criticized for.
How did you set out to measure success – KPI’s
There are many success measures that we can look at in job boards- resumes, traffic, and revenue. For branding, quantitatively we look at several success measures: site ranking, traffic, social media followers, but we also have several qualitative measures in how we have raving fans, repeat business, business that has been converted from our competitors and so on. There are challenges in measuring brand success as the brand permeates every aspect of your business. I can implement a program and not see the success of it for several years; having the trust of your management and the experience under your belt to prove that this will happen takes guts and persistence. I can say that ClearedJobs.Net has grown its business in sales, revenue, traffic, and database size have grown each year except one in 10 plus years and we all say that this is due to our brand in the industry.
Do Job Boards market themselves well enough?
When I look at job board marketing, we have two different levels: the large general job boards and the niche job boards. Marketing for a large board seems to be more about market share, industry dominance and revenue; this is great from a business perspective but it doesn’t speak to their brands. Decisions are being made to serve the business rather than the customer. For niche boards, the marketing seems to be just about survival rather than understanding our role in the industry. We have industry knowledge and can review the data with a very specific lens. This informed perspective is very valuable but niche job boards have not leveraged it. There is revenue to be made in being the valued consultant in how to serve a specific career niche while everyone else is vying for the elusive tech talent.