How Employer Brand Leaders Can Grow Brand Awareness

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

Ashley Cheretes faces a challenge familiar to many employer brand leaders: Her company isn’t top-of-mind for many candidates, despite touching millions of lives. “Cigna is the most well-known unknown company,” jokes Cheretes, Cigna’s Head of Marketing, Talent Acquisition. “When you throw in the fact that we are technically an insurance company, we are often not considered a desirable industry.”

How do you grow brand awareness (and sidestep industry stigma) in a position like this? That’s the question Cheretes and her team tackle. They’ve found their answers through research-backed content strategy, innovative event marketing, and a willingness to be flexible about where and how their candidates engage.

Focus on Talent Higher Up the Funnel

Rather than expend all their energy on casual jobseekers encountering Cigna for the first time, Cheretes’ team takes aim at those higher up in the funnel. To do this, the team employs a content strategy designed to feel as little like marketing as possible.

“People don’t want to be marketed to,” says Cheretes. “That is especially true when recruiting for our ‘unicorn’ roles, like data scientist or technologist.”

Attracting the eyes of these “unicorns” means prioritizing content’s usefulness, first and foremost. That content ends up looking a lot like traditional inbound marketing: ebooks, downloadable resources, and other substantial pieces of content created to both attract leads and provide value.

When Cigna struggled to attract candidates for its infusion nurse roles, which require an exceptional level of training and skill, Cheretes’ team researched current infusion nurses to learn what content would be most useful to them. That research led them to create guides for recovering from challenging shifts and resources for people working in emergency medicine, all designed to keep the “Cigna” name top-of-mind in this talent pool.

Another way Cigna’s employer brand team reaches higher-up-the-funnel leads is by partnering with PR and the external communications team, who have relationships with publications beloved by those “unicorn” candidates. The employer brand team writes value-rich articles targeting these readers, then sends that writing through PR to platforms like Forbes or TechCrunch.

This approach to nurturing brand awareness keeps Cheretes’ team from expending energy on lower-funnel leads less likely to convert and saves their attention for top-tier candidates.

Diversify Your Distribution Channels

Type of role is one of the factors Cigna’s employer brand team considers when selecting which channels they use to distribute content. Customer service candidates need their content to be mobile-friendly, the team found, while nurses gravitate toward downloadable content.

Age demographic is another factor the team considers, particularly when mapping its social media strategy. When promoting a campaign, Cigna makes sure to share to both Instagram for its younger audience and Facebook for its older audience, guaranteeing its message reaches as wide an age range as possible.

Region is sometimes a factor as well, as Cheretes was surprised to discover. Despite the evidence suggesting that print advertising is all but dead, Cigna’s employer brand team attracted 20 new hires from an ad it ran in a local paper in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Cheretes’ team got inspired to experiment with a print placement after asking Scranton residents, “What do you read on a regular basis?”

Keeping their distribution channels diverse, using research to inform their decisions, and staying open to new possibilities helps Cigna nurture brand awareness.

Embrace (Virtual) Events

Event attendance looks different during COVID-19, but that hasn’t stopped Cigna from attracting fresh candidates through virtual events. The employer brand team has embraced online conferences as opportunities to interview prospective hires and offer something valuable to audiences through their own virtual talks.

To promote its own events, the Cigna team uses a combination of social media advertising and event landing pages. As with their content strategy, usefulness is a top priority for their events. Most recently, a fireside chat with Cigna’s new CIO that provided a personal window into her career journey toppled Cheretes’ attendance expectations.

This face-time, Cheretes says, is key to winning candidates over to a less-than-popular industry. As she puts it, “If we can get you through the door, you’ll want to work here,” a promise that’s become her team’s ethos.

Before Cigna’s employer brand was run by a team—back when Cheretes was functionally operating as her own agency—many of her own colleagues had little awareness of her role or what she did all day. Now, with her team of five, Cheretes is helping awareness of the Cigna brand bloom, reaching tens of thousands of new hires each year across the globe.

To follow more of Ashley Cheretes’ work in employer branding, connect with her on LinkedIn. For help measuring your employer brand, reach out to us about the Employer Brand Index. Our EBI uses 16 key attributes that measure how you compare with others in your industry.


Our newsletter is exclusively curated by our CEO, Jörgen Sundberg, for leaders who make decisions about talent. Subscribe for updates on The Employer Branding Podcast, new articles, eBooks, research and events we’re working on.


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