I Want To Provide Student Loan Repayment Assistance To My Employees

Differentiation: The Student Loan Repayment Assistance Program, Employer Branding, and Katy Perry

I’ve been listening to Katy Perry’s “Firework” on repeat lately on my evening runs, and now I got the darn song stuck in my head. I kind of love it though.  I mean, I can always get down to some Katy. Remember these lyrics?

You don’t have to feel like a waste of space. You’re original, cannot be replaced… ‘Cause baby you’re a firework!  Come on show ’em what you’re worth!

Look, I’ve been writing about the employer student loan repayment assistance program for going on six months now.  Before that, I was in recruitment marketing running geo-fencing and other digital campaigns for companies like Amazon. So my mind has been all over this kind of stuff. Recruitment strategies. Employer branding. It’s fascinating.  I love it.

Employer brand differentiation

Those Katy lyrics made me think of a certain general marketing principle – a very important one, actually: differentiation. One of the hardest things to do in marketing is to differentiate yourself from other companies with the same positioning category as you (basically, your competitors). The same is true in the recruitment marketing game.

Think about it. What’s the one thing we can say for sure about a country with a national unemployment rate that hovers just above 3.5%? Answer: it’s a total job seeker’s market! There are more jobs than there are people to fill them.  Well, not exactly, but pretty darn close. As of May 2018, the Department of Labor reports that there are 6,065,000 unemployed persons in the U.S.  At the same time, it was reported that there are 6.7 million job openings in the U.S.

When I worked in recruitment marketing, most of my clients neglected their branding efforts. They would call me in a flush about some requisition or other that needed to be filled ASAP, but they had failed to utilize media channels to disseminate their employer brand, which made the acquisition process a lot tougher. Why should job seekers work for your company and not your competitor? Make no mistake about it: you are not the job seeker’s only option. Once upon a time, job seekers came knocking on your door, resume in hand and a glimmer of hope in their eyes. Those days are gone. Now it’s you knocking on their door, along with other employers vying for the same talent.

How and why employer student loan repayment assistance programs differentiate your employer brand

That’s where differentiation comes into play. What have you done to set yourself apart from the competition so that top talent actually wants to come work for you? Offering a competitive salary, good benefits, and a positive company culture are not points of differentiation. They are prerequisites. According to the 2017 MRI Recruiter Sentiment Study, those are among the top things candidates seek. Those things are expected. You should have those things.

The employer student loan repayment assistance program will obviously differentiate your employer brand. Less than 5% of employers offer that benefit. That’s a huge potential for differentiation. Imagine it. You’re offering a benefit that most companies don’t have but that a majority of job seekers want.

This is your competitive advantage. And it’s new! I’m tired of hearing things like “We care about our employees here,” or “We want our employees to advance and grow with the company.” Duh. If you want to attract top talent, then you better care about your employees and you better want them to succeed. Brand awareness, which is what those messages are, is not the same as differentiation.

Adding to your employer value proposition

All of this comes back to your employer value proposition (EVP), those unique offerings provided by an employer to top talent in the market. The operative word is “unique.”

Let’s do a hypothetical. Let’s say you have a business that is hiring for salespeople. Okay, great. You place a job posting on Monster, Indeed, CareerBuilder, LinkedIn, etc. Maybe you even take out an ad in the job pages of the local paper or run a digital banner ad campaign online. You even put it on social media. It’s a standard posting that outlines the job duties and requirements. The posting lists the salary and benefits offered.

The problem is that pretty much every company in your industry within the market pay the same base salary. They also offer pretty much the same benefits. If you’re not a major brand, people probably haven’t heard of you, so all they really have to go on is your job post and website. But, what’s this?  It says here on the posting that you also offer an employer student loan repayment assistance program!  Oh, okaaaay!  Now we’re talking. That catches my eye as a job seeker.

Final thoughts

It tells me something about you as a company. First, it tells me that you’re different. No other company that I’ve applied to offers that. Secondly, it’s something I could desperately use.  Seriously. My student loan debt payments are a nightmare. Third, it tells me something about the company culture and values. It tells me that you care. If I get offers from, say, three different companies, yours included, and all other things being equal, I’m going to pick you for the simple fact that you have differentiated yourself as an employer by offering something that I really, really need.

Back to Katy Perry. Every company wants to be a firework in the recruitment game. But are you willing to put in the branding efforts that it takes to differentiate yourself, to be original? I see the employer student loan repayment assistance program as being part of that effort.  So do job seekers. Katy said it best: “Show ‘em what you’re worth!”

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