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When “Employer Branding” isn’t helpful

When “Employer Branding” isn’t helpful

It’s funny how the conversations I have with businesses adopt clear seasonal themes. It may have something to do with the media’s habit of picking up on what they consider to be the “latest hot topic” and milking it for all it’s worth, before moving on to the next big thing.

It doesn’t mean that any of these subjects are new, of course, even though those writing about them might believe they are or make them out to be, just that someone, somewhere has decided they should be the flavour of the month.

What exactly is “Employer Branding”?

The current theme seems to be “employer branding”, which I’m having a bit of trouble with, to be honest. Why employer branding? Surely a brand is a brand? The idea of “employer branding” suggests a brand that’s separate, or that the brand presented to employees, current or potential, should be different from another brand that exists somewhere else in the organisation.

In fact, as I hope we all know really, one of the essentials of a brand is that it is consistent. You can’t represent it differently to different audiences. Doing so guarantees failure.

Essential single-mindedness

The process of brand development is one of community building.  A brand community has multiple stakeholder segments including investors, partners, distributors, clients and, yes, employees and prospective employees, but it’s a single brand, with one “promise” expressed in the same way to every stakeholder.

The only thing that differs is the way the promise resonates with individual stakeholders or stakeholder groups. If your brand is valid then the promise it holds – the single promise – will mean something to them all even though what it means might differ.

How a “brand promise” works

For example. If your promise were “Together we’ll grow” the interpretations for the various stakeholder segments might be:

  • Investors – The success of the business means my personal wealth will grow
  • Suppliers – Because this business is successful demand for the products/services we supply them with will grow
  • Distributors – Because demand for this company’s products is growing our sales will grow
  • Employees and prospective employees – Because this company is successful I will have more opportunities for advancement – to grow my career.
  • Customers – My life will be enhanced (specific to produce/service on offer) by buying this product/service

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In the brand modelling approach I use and teach my clients, I call the different ways in which the promise is interpreted by different stakeholder segments, “pillars”. Defining these pillars is part of the brand modelling process and is the way you “prove” the brand promise is correct.

It comes as a surprise to some of my clients, how tricky this process is, but that’s why it’s rare for an organisation to be able to do this for themselves. Because it’s vital that a brand is consistent the need for a single promise is paramount.

In his recent article for PR Week, Huw Morgan highlights some of the aspects of internal marketing essential to any brand development programme. This is where you build your community … starting with employees.

Investment in internal marketing will bring a better return

For years I’ve encouraged my clients to focus on internal marketing. I used to promote the idea that if they re-directed 20% of their advertising budget to internal communications they would get a better return on investment.

This still holds true. In fact, it’s probably even more relevant in the digital economy where customer demands are greater and, sadly, the emphasis of most businesses is on making their promise to prospects and customers.

Brands so often neglect to ensure they can deliver that promise. This is what internal marketing and your internal stakeholder community is all about – getting your internal stakeholders (including employees) behind the idea of delivering your brand promise.

If you omit this you risk your prospects’ expectations exceeding your reality and consequently, fail to deliver the brand promise, and that’s something guaranteed to bring any business to its knees.

How employer branding can cause inconsistency

What I think these people who talk about “employer branding” are referring to is “internal marketing”, or at least “marketing communications” targeted at audience sub-segments such as employees, prospective candidates, education establishments and recruiters.

However, apart from the single-mindedness of a correctly managed campaign aimed at this specific audience segment you can’t divide brand development in the way this terminology suggests. Apart from anything else, doing so introduces the opportunity for inconsistency, which is the greatest threat to any brand.

A brand has to be single-minded to succeed – that’s what the “brand promise” is all about – and we have to be single-minded in our approach to building them. Inventing spurious terminology so that individuals can present themselves as specialist experts is a bit like America inventing “world championships” in sports only they play. It isn’t helpful.

Getting your task in focus

If you are struggling to understand how all this applies to your organisation, I’m here to help. Drop me a line to schedule a conversation to start you off.

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