How Groupon Does Employer Branding

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

We’re with a Chicago-based tech company that has been through the peaks and troughs of business and now competing for the best talent with the likes of Google, Amazon, Facebook.

James Ellis is the Global Head of Employment Brand at Groupon. He is responsible for the global employer brand and its activation across all digital channels.

Have a listen to the interview below, keep reading for a summary and be sure to subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.

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Can you describe the corporate culture at your company?

Groupon is such a fascinating company. It went from a tiny startup to a unicorn in the blink of an eye. At one point, it was referred to as the fastest growing company ever. Then, we went through a bit of rough patch for a few years post-IPO.

Over the last two years, our new leadership has turned the ship around, focusing our strategy. I bring this up because you can see elements of all those periods in our current culture. We have the ambition and agility of a startup, but the pride and scale of a massive global company. The resilience and spirit of a company that’s seen some tough times. And the hope of a company that has a future.

What talent challenges are you faced with?

It’s Developers; it’s Architects, it’s Engineers. Like so many tech companies, we aren’t as big as the GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon), but we truly believe that what we’re doing in the local commerce space is as innovating and vital as anything they do. But at 6,000-plus people, we’re a lot smaller. Our challenges are how to punch above our weight from a talent point of view.

Can you tell us about your employer brand strategy?

Once you understand who you are, you can understand why you do the things you do. After all the history and change that’s been crammed into the last nine years, there might be some whiplash. People don’t know who we are today. They might know us from coupons and flash sales, they might remember us when we were a colossal email company, but that’s not who we are or why we exist. We’re a company that’s big enough to give you global scale. 15 countries, 49MM customers and a top e-commerce app. But we’re small enough where any one person, from customer service to sales to risk to mobile development, can make a real impact.

What is your EVP/people promise?

Our EVP is a function of our corporate brand architecture. You start with Groupon’s mission: To become the daily habit in local e-commerce. This is supported by our five values:

  • Community
  • Ownership
  • Inspiration
  • Respect
  • Customers

You can look at that architecture through the lens of the customer, the merchant, and the investor. My job was to look at it through the eyes of the candidate and employee. Each value becomes a pillar, each obvious. The only interesting one is the Customer-focused value. In the case of the employer brand, the customer is the candidate. And the value we offer them is the change to grow, the opportunity to expand their skills, trajectory, and perspective, and doing it in a fun atmosphere.

How do you communicate and activate this?

I was a content marketer before it got a name. That impart value is kind of in my professional DNA. So we try and tell a lot of stories. Where some companies try to tell brand stories, we’ve taken a different route.

What people connect with are the people, not the logo on the side of the building. How many times have you heard that someone hates working for a company, but they stay because they love their co-workers? The individuals you end up being surrounded by at work is what attracts you, it’s what makes you stay.

What’s your best source of hire?

No such thing. The second you start thinking about “best source of hire,” you start thinking about how to optimize for it.

I’m also the guy who thinks we need to stop sharing jobs on social because that’s spamming. You’re sending out something that has zero value to people who didn’t ask for it. That’s spam. Instead, share stories. They have a longer half-life and can drive high intention down the road.

What initiatives are you particularly proud of?

I’m proud of the content-at-scale mechanics we’ve put in place to tell our brand story one human at a time. In one year, while we’re in the middle of the standard coterie of branding projects, we’ve published more than 300 stories of Grouponers.

These are stories that aren’t just of the people at the Chicago HQ, but from every office around the world. I’ve learned so much about these offices and cultures just hearing about why they work here, what they value and more. And the best part, we did it with a WordPress install on a hosted server we were already paying for. There’s zero unit cost, and we get a few hundred visits every single day.

What are your top 3 tips to employer brand managers?

  1. Ignore anyone who wants to sell you anything and start with First Principles:
    • Who are you?
    • What do you stand for?
    • Why would anyone care?
  2. Based on those answers, figure out what people already know about you and where the gaps are.
  3. Figure out how to close that gap with the limited budget you have.

What’s up next for employer brand?

It’s not about clever or sexy tactics. It’s not about AR or VR or blockchain. The future is how will we respond to Google. What does brand mean when every job is on the single-greatest search engine in the world when the playing field is truly level. How can you compete when you can’t pay your way into the top rankings of jobs?

Connect with James on Twitter & check out his podcast The Talent Cast.


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