The Placebo Employment Brand

Tim Sackett Business Development, candidate experience, Communication, Diversity, Employment Branding and Culture, HR, HR & Marketing, Influence, Recruiting, Recruitment Marketing, Talent Acquisition, Tim Sackett 4 Comments

There’s a ton of research done on placebos. You give one group the real medicine, you give another group the ‘placebo‘ pills, and then tell both groups what they should expect… and amazingly in almost every test, the placebo group will see most of the same effects as the real medicine group. The power of the mind is a crazy thing!

Placebos as an effective replacement for the real thing are totally underrated! Placebos are:

  1. Extremely cheap
  2. Really effective
  3. Proven to work
  4. Have almost no negative side effects.

So, we can use placebos to replace the real things in many cases and have a cheap, effective, alternative.

Organizations are spending millions of dollars creating employment brands that are virtually the same as everyone else’s. “We deliver an authentic, nurturing employee experience that puts you and our customers first. Where you will be valued, your contributions will be rewarded, and we’ll save puppies together, and smiles, a lot of smiles from many different colored faces!”

The one thing we are constantly warned against is to not have a fake employment brand! I mean, really!


Well, Tim (you idiot) if you have a fake employment brand your employees will know and that will cause turnover, immediately, and cancer! It will definitely cause cancer, and then everyone in your market will know and you will never, ever, get another person to apply to your jobs or want to work for you, and you’ll go out of business, and the puppies will die!

You think!?! Really!?!

I think you could put together a placebo employment brand, a virtual fake, and if you do an exceptional job marketing your placebo employment brand, most employees and candidates would not know the difference! In fact, the better you do at marketing your placebo employment brand, the more your employees and candidates will actually believe it’s your real employment brand.

Turns out, placebos work really well! We tell ourselves that this is the truth and our minds make it true. If it works with fake pills, I know it would work with fake words and ideas – those are even more easily manipulated than sugar pills!

So, what are the steps to making your placebo employment brand real?

Step 1 – Create the narrative of the employment brand you desire.

Step 2 – Share that narrative with some influential employees and have them help you shape this narrative – no matter what feedback you get, keep basically the same narrative but give all the credit to these employees for designing this employment brand.

Step 3 – Market the crap out of this employment brand, constantly, endlessly, until it’s the only thing people really know about your organization.

Step 4 – Never go off script.

Step 5 – Apply to speak at conferences, apply for employment branding awards, live the high life.

What does this have to do with Canvas, the sponsor of this post? Great messaging is nothing without great technology that can share that messaging far and wide. Great tech, like Canvas, allows you to stay “on brand” more effectively to a wider audience. Your ability to get your message out is many times more important than the actual message. Don’t forget that!

FOT Note:  We here at FOT like to think we get talent and HR at a different level. At the very least, we are probably going to have a different take than the norm. So it made perfect sense to ask Canvas to be an annual sponsor at FOT, where they’ll sponsor posts like this one, allowing FOT contributors to write, without restriction, on all things related to using new and innovative ideas in recruiting, like using text messaging to interview candidates. If you find yourself thinking, “Hey, I should really look into Canvas!” then go do it, I think you’ll love the technology! 

Tim Sackett

If you Google “Tim Sackett” you’ll find our Tim, and a truck driver chaplain. Our Tim is NOT the truck driver chaplain, although how awesome would that be if he was!? He is a prolific writer in the HR and TA space who just happens to also run an Engineering and IT contract staffing agency (HRU Technical Resources) out of Michigan. He also writes every day at his own blog, the Tim Sackett Project. Weirdly, he’s known as an expert in workplace hugging, which was kind of cool years ago, but now seems painfully creepy, but we still love him and he’s fairly harmless. Tim is also on the board of the Association of Talent Acquisition Professionals (ATAP), lifetime Michigan State Spartan fan, husband to a Hall of Fame wife, 3 sons, and his best friend Scout. He also wrote a book with SHRM called The Talent Fix, you can find it on Amazon.

Comments 4

  1. The most concerning aspect of creating a placebo brand is when your real employee brand sucks…then you get a disconnect between existing employees and new hires, selling fake Rolex only lasts a short time, till the watch stops working or the fake gold starts to peel…been there done that… but hey might work for some..and a compelling idea!

  2. You’re a jaded individual, but not entirely wrong…

    Related to what Mark said, I agree, but I also would counter that there’s always going to be a set of employees who emphatically disagrees with your EB. Really comes down to how big that % is…

    Also – I think the best candidates can see through the placebo. Those people will always need more, because they realize the placebo is BS. Once every EB looks the same, which many of them do, they cease to be a competitive advantage.


  3. I am a placebo believer and think with the right executives popping the pills your placebo effect can overtake your standard cocktail. I was in a meeting a couple of weeks ago (company unnamed) and they are rolling out a new mission and behaviors without any data-backed insights, but I’ll tell you that people are taking their dose and it’s totally working…

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