The U.S. is facing one of the biggest talent shortages in history. In July 2017, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics monthly JOLTS survey reported that the number of unfilled job openings rose to 6.2 million (up by 461,000 jobs) from the previous period. At the same time, job shifts remained relatively unchanged. This is forcing recruitment professionals to think creatively in terms of where they pitch new job opportunities.
One often overlooked source of talent is within the ranks of ‘superconsumers’, a term that describes individuals who are highly passionate and engaged in the services and products offered by their favorite employer brands. This untapped market can provide a rich crop of people who already act as cheerleaders for companies they believe in. In an age where branding has become pivotal to the success of the top companies, these folks are not too hard to find.
HR Dive talked with business growth consultant Eddie Yoon, who wrote about the concept of the superconsumer in his book, “Superconsumers: A Simple, Speedy, and Sustainable Path to Superior Growth and Culture". Yoon says the concept is best exemplified by businesses that "ooze category passion in their DNA and culture."
"Nike is a great example, where the majority of people who work there were either former athletes or aspiring athletes," he said. "Anheuser-Busch in their heyday was another one, where the only people who didn't love beer typically had a doctor's note. Here, it comes up naturally and is simply hard to not hire superconsumers.”
Companies in less-visible industries may have a larger hill to climb in this respect, but Yoon believes recruiters can identify superconsumers with just two questions: (a) do you spend a lot [on the category]?; and (b) do you care a lot about the category?
"My experience is that most people rarely bother to ask this in the recruiting process," Yoon said. "I'm not saying it should necessarily make or break hiring decisions, but just even asking to see if someone might geek out is the first step.”
The traits of superconsumers
It's these two qualities — spending time/money on the given category (or industry) the business is involved in, and general interest in said category — that are the most common identifiers of superconsumers, according to Yoon.
"This is fundamentally important because Gallup says only 32% of US employees are engaged. Over two thirds of your workforce don't care," he said. "Maybe you can motivate them with carrots and sticks, but that assumes that your performance measurement and incentive system is firing on all cylinders. And even then, all that you'll get is the bare minimum above what they need to do.”
"Superconsumers bring passion for the category," Yoon pointed out. "They derive personal purpose from the category. Passion and purpose bring an energy, empathy and creativity that go far beyond anything that real incentive can motivate and certainly no stick can provide. Energy, empathy and creativity is an unlimited resource that is completely renewable, and is can be the difference between winning and losing."
When approaching superconsumers for career opportunities, use caution
It can be awkward approaching a potential superconsumer, especially if they are a current customer or partner of the company. It's certainly expected that you'll have a scorecard for a given role, but what other considerations need to be made?
Eric Herrenkohl, an executive search consultant, advises caution when a superconsumer presents as a customer. "You'll need to determine if they are hands off or not," he said. Check with a supervisor first to determine whether a relationship could be damaging to either party.
In terms of approaching superconsumers, Herrenkohl says that the easiest way is to ask, ‘who do you know?.' It's a soft opening that doesn't assume anything and gives recruiters a chance to see how the other person reacts. The next step is to introduce the candidate to potential career opportunities. But because of the relationship that pre-exists, recruiters should be transparent about the hiring process and state ahead of time that it may or may not be a good fit. If anything, superconsumers can be a huge part of any recruiter’s referral network, which is something hiring managers should be working on at all times.
Herrenkohl describes top candidate among superconsumers as someone who "has strong leadership skills, already knows your company and the industry well and shows innovation for doing things better.”
Yoon seemed to share some of the same ideas. “First, every company should have customers on the payroll. Not in a transactional way, like doing classic market research or social media," he said, "but in the long term, relational way, just like you would interact with a friend. Every company should have a superconsumer council to bounce ideas off of and act as an early warning system for threats."
Furthermore, companies should look for ways to 'compensate' superconsumers for what they are already doing.
"It should be no more awkward than a normal friend relationship. If it is awkward, it really means you don't have an authentic relationship with them,” Yoon said.
From superconsumers to superemployees
Once they've hired superconsumers, how can companies create pathways for them to be successful long-term?
“Once you start with passion and purpose, then the next step is to see if there is a particular functional area they already have expertise in or can build expertise in," Yoon told HR Dive. "Every major functional lead should aspire to have a superconsumer buddy to be the voice of the customer in their annual planning, long range planning and beyond."
Ultimately, the career path for the superconsumer is no different compared to other employees, and it's not safe to assume that their loyalty gives them complete and total knowledge of the organization. We must still provide coaching and learning opportunities," Herrenkohl said. "We also still need to screen people, run them through the same assessments and conduct multiple interviews."
As always, he adds, it's important to include management in the process. "Go by the philosophy of ‘Do no harm’. Step back a little in your approach, be smart, and ask plenty of questions ahead of time.”