December 22nd 2021
By: Andréanne Thibault

HR Marketing VS Employer Branding: Beware of the “Put Lipstick on a Pig Effect”

Times are changing.

HR is more and more at the heart of discussions and concerns, which is no doubt a phenomenon precipitated by the current shortage.

In this context, the concepts of HR marketing and employer branding are, let’s face it, very fashionable. However, when we dig a little deeper, we quickly realize that the two terms are often used as synonyms or even the opposite.. Science itself reports a lack of consensus on the matter…nothing to help us here. Although they both relate to HR, they are distinct concepts, which is why it is important to focus on the definition each refers to when learning about the subject.

Typical product marketing promotes a product by distinguishing it from others in order to attract a targeted clientele, while HR marketing uses the same general idea. The difference is that HR marketing promotes a company (not a product) as a distinct workplace to a pool of potential candidates (clientele).

Employer branding, a concept that originated in the 1990s (Barrow, S.), has a multitude of definitions. For the purpose of this article, I will retain this one, which I believe is the simplest and clearest:

Sum of a company’s efforts to communicate to existing and prospective staff that the organization is a desirable place to work.

(Lloyd 2002; Ewing et al. 2002)

Therefore, we can quickly see that employer branding is aimed at an external clientele (potential candidates) AND internal to the organization (current employees). While HR marketing is mainly aimed at appealing/attracting, employer branding is also aimed at retaining talent and distinguishing itself as an employer of choice. It operates essentially on the basis of meeting the needs of this clientele and responding to their expectations. It implies an in-depth work, to dig in order to understand what the expectations are and to take the real pulse of the floor and not simply rely on the perceptions of everyone… which are not very objective. This is an essential step in the process: to evaluate progress, you need to know and understand where you are starting from.

However, there must be a real willingness on the part of management to face reality, a willingness to put ego and pride aside for the good of everyone, as well as a desire to improve things.

Currently, various certifications exist in this area, each with its own sub-criteria of analysis (e.g., leadership, work-life balance, communication, training and development, and so on) as well as its own operation. Thus, it is clear that this is a long-term task that should be seen as a process rather than an end in itself.

Certainly, a strong employer brand can serve as an HR marketing tool. However, in the short term, for those of you who don’t-have-time-to-work-on-the-employer-brand-because-you-need-people-as-soon-as-possible, beware of the temptation to make things look better than they really are (hence the expression “don’t put lipstick on a pig”). You have everything to gain by putting the real good things about your organization forward by being honest. Many organizations have learned the hard way: dissatisfaction, loss of credibility, de-motivation, staff turnover. The content inside the container must live up to expectations (many people from post-dating app X could probably attest to this…!). If the bar of expectations is too high…there is a big risk of disappointment.

Honesty and consistency.

Andréanne Thibault – part-time makeup remover! 😉

Andréanne Thibault, CRIA

Senior consultant, Talent Management


Charbonnier-Voirin A., Vignolles A. (2015). “Marque employeur interne et externe- un état de l’art et un agenda de recherche” Lavoisier- Revue française de gestion n°246, p. 63 à 82

Lloyd, S. (2002). Branding from the inside out. BRW, 24(10), 64-66.