Employer brand is multifaceted
Today, the most dynamic and innovative HR professionals realise that employer branding is much more than just the sum of a company’s efforts to communicate to existing and prospective staff.
Strategic HR professionals who want to add value to their companies, recognise that an employer brand is not just about the logo; it’s not just a set of values; or a rationale that sits next to an employer value proposition. Neither is it the result of an employee opinion survey or series of focus groups.
An employer brand is multifaceted, and makes a company a desirable place to work. It’s also something that should consistently evolve to satisfy a change in brand strategy, or business goals.
The former HR director of the UK-based brand Paul, Esther O’Halloran, was recently quoted as saying: “Your brand is not your logo – your customer can identify with it, but it is not who you are.” I can’t agree more.
The rise of employer branding
I remember being one of the founding members of a solutions consultancy at one of the big global recruitment advertising agencies in the early 90s.
We were a group of individuals from several disciplines who were working together on random client challenges. They ranged from: ‘how do I educate candidates on our proposition?' to: ‘our brand is huge, but we’re not known as an employer of choice.’
Back then it was more about an organisation’s messaging as opposed to the creation of an employer brand. A selection of messages would be created, packaged up and shared with the client to run across multiple channels. It was rudimentary, but at least there was an element of consistency. The smart clients even invested in research to identify what their core message should be based on feedback and perceptions.
Since then, employer branding has become a widely adopted term that is settling comfortably into boardroom conversations when executives discuss talent initiatives that aim to attract, engage and maintain top talent. It’s also become the specialism of many, pontificated online and analysed across global lecture theatres by professors and students alike.
Steps to creating an employment brand
1. Develop the right stakeholder group. In order to create an employer brand that all employees can identify with you need to have the right people from all levels of the organisation involved. From the boardroom to the desk clerk, everyone should be represented. This is particularly important when a company operates in different international markets, as all these groups will have to buy into the brand image you’re creating.
2. Make sure your employer brand is closely aligned to the business’ objectives. Whatever you and the stakeholder group decide the employer brand to be, it has to feed the business objectives. This is key if you want to get management buy in, but also because that’s really where HR can play a strategic role – through attracting and engaging the right people to meet business objectives.
3. Put the measures of success in place early. Be clear right from the start what the success metrics will be and make sure that they are measureable. Whether it’s about attracting a certain amount of tier one talent or retaining a group of employees through increased engagement. Another key is to make sure that everyone is happy with the success metrics and working towards the goals at all times.
4. Identify who holds ownership or leadership of the employer branding initiative. Whether it’s HR or marketing that leads the project (I say project, but once established, it should be an ongoing concern) the bottom line is that someone has to drive the initiative forward while ensuring that each stakeholder group has bought into the overall concept and its subsequent messaging. However, it doesn’t have to be an exclusive ownership model. In fact, I encourage departments to work closely together to create the right employer brand. There’s no point in marketing keeping HR at a distance during its development and vice versa.
5. Create consistency for global companies. This needs to come from the overarching employer brand message and must be rolled out across all communications regardless of the geographies. This will prove challenging; messaging needs to be dialled up or down to fit local cultures and to reflect the maturity of the audience you are focusing on. For example, in parts of Asia, if you don’t reflect cultural differences, then you’ll be portrayed as a global company failing to tailor your message to target audiences and specific geographies. A consistent message and a dynamic selection of centralised tools should be produced which can then be adapted by local teams – this balance is important.
The knowledge of these local teams is invaluable to the employer branding strategy as they have first-hand experience of understanding the values and cultural differences of the region. Employer branding is much more mature in some markets than others – for instance many multi-nationals in the US market are onto their second generation of employer branding, as the fluctuating economy has driven new business goals and as a result, brand strategies have had to be refocused.
In EMEA, some markets are more mature than others in creating and embedding an employer brand strategy. In the UK it’s still a hot topic and some organisations are evolving their original employer brands, while others are still without a clear proposition or consistent message across their employer lifecycle.
In Germany the subject is gaining momentum, and ramp up is occurring, whilst in other markets such as the Netherlands, brands such as Philips have had long-established global strategies and tracked consistency and their impact across labour leagues globally.
Boardroom through to frontline
Ultimately I believe that in order for any employer branding initiative to be effective it has to become adopted at all levels within the business.
From the boardroom to the frontline, from country to country, each employee has to have a consistent understanding of what makes you stand out as an employer and be an enthusiastic brand ambassador as a result. Because customers and your future recruits (who could be one and the same) will identify you through your people – and through the experiences they have shared in relation to your brand.