What do you gift a father who insists he already has everything he needs? A Panama hat, of course.

Dad was preparing to visit the Florida Keys for the first time, so I jumped at the chance to outfit him with something suitable for the special occasion. I knew he’d protest wearing anything so ostentatious, but I also knew he’d secretly enjoy a practical item for the uncompromising sun that spiritually aligned with his boyhood vision of the Florida Keys, back when he was still pushing through those cold Iowa winters.

Finding him just the right hat proved more challenging and educational than I anticipated. I discovered that traditional “Panama” hats are actually from Ecuador, made from toquilla straw native to its coast. They are labor-intensive works of functional art – often taking months to weave – and can be incredibly expensive. As I trawled the internet trying to find the right balance of quality, style, and affordability, I kept coming back to a particular hat I’d seen offered by a respected American retailer. A pop-up window informed me that joining their email list would earn me a hefty discount on my first purchase. And so, never one to say no to a deal, I did exactly as I was prompted and purchased the gift.

I should have known better. As I feared, I was subjected to an aggressively frequent stream of marketing emails from the vendor, who seemed to curiously forget my recent transaction with them. Many of the emails, for example, invited me back to purchase the very same hat I had already ordered. Another breathlessly announced a summer sheet sale. Yet another extolled the virtues of their even-broader hat selection and solicited me to buy another one, leaving me to wonder how many more hats (Panama or otherwise) they thought one guy could possibly need? And wouldn’t it be more effective to highlight complementary products – such as summer clothing or footwear – over bed sheets? There just wasn’t much logic or value for me in these communications, so I began to ignore or delete them altogether.

The experience got me wondering: how many employers commit similar mistakes in their recruitment marketing? And might candidates be even more sensitive than retail consumers in regards to communication that are at odds with their needs and aspirations? After all, each interaction that a candidate has with a brand – whether online or off – colors his or her understanding of that company as an employer.

How imperative it is, then, that employers take a holistic approach to recruitment marketing; one that is grounded in a comprehensive understanding of the candidate journey and iterative learning about each candidate’s needs. This means moving away from capital “M” marketing towards true engagement and genuine conversation. When executed successfully, companies and organizations will attract, screen, and hire the best-fitting candidates. After all, ensuring the right fit – whether in gift-giving or employee recruitment – comes down to thoroughly understanding the audience in question.

If you’re looking for ways to authentically connect with your audience while avoiding the common mistakes made by mass-communications, we’d love to hear from you. Email us at: conversations@jwt.com

As Director of CRM at JWT Inside and strategist extraordinaire, Colin spends his time thinking about the candidate & employee experience and how to make it better. Off the clock, he’s probably plotting a ski or hiking trip out West.