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Employer branding essentials

One would be mistaken to think that this might be about the company’s brand and brand marketing, and in a sense this isn’t completely wrong.

In the context of human resource management, employer branding is related to how the employer (-brand) in question is perceived in the minds of prospective employees.  Employer brand is however intrinsically linked with the wider concept of brand.

In an increasingly competitive marketplace for top-tier talent how you as an employer are perceived is paramount to attracting the best talent.  Being a preferred employer and having a very strong ‘employer brand’ will not only help to attract the best professionals in the market, it will also retain them for longer, saving your organisation money and time.

What is an employer brand?

To define this it would be useful to have a definition of what a brand is in the wider sense of the word. One of the more succinct I’ve come across is this:

It is the intangible sum of thoughts and feelings about a particular company, service or product. A company can steer how a brand is perceived but never has full control.

Employer brand is defined in exactly the same way; it’s the intangible sum of thoughts and feelings about a particular company as a place to work. Some of the specific features of a workplace might be remuneration, benefits, structure, culture, management, advancement prospects, location and product portfolio.

Employer brand management

Just like in the field of brand management where the perception of a brand is based on not only communications and advertising, but also the products themselves, (how they’re made, what they’re made of etc.) as well as the perception of the company (ethics etc.), an employer brand must be seen as the total sum of the employment experience.  This includes people management, management practices and processes.

It therefore follows that the majority of the work should focus on creating a place of work that in the minds of prospective employees is attractive and offers them what they are looking for.

The presentation of the company and its features and benefits, and external communications are an important part of the employer brand management, but is only the ‘surface gloss’ on the product.  Focussing on the employment experience will support not only the attraction and recruiting of the best talent in the marketplace, but also improve employee engagement and retention.

Employee value proposition

In a similar way to consumer brands, it’s recommended that you spend time to develop an employer brand proposition.  In doing this you will develop an understanding of your organisation’s culture, attributes and drivers as well as formulate how it differs from your competitors (USP) and how you would like it to be perceived.  The document should also look to clarify the employment deal in terms of what the employees can expect form the employer and vice versa.
We’ve put together a list of pointers on things that are worth keeping in mind when you’re looking at the employer branding aspects of your organisation.  

1. Attract people by offering great career prospects

The relationship is straight forward.  You want driven people to work for you – it’s good for your business, morale, productivity and ultimately profitability.  It is generally considered that driven people are motivated more by opportunities in the workplace and praise than by money, so by offering great prospects, you will be able to attract the right kind of people whilst potentially shifting focus away from high levels of compensation.

One way of ensuring that the best employees don’t pass you by is to integrate a clearly defined career plans as early as the recruitment stage, mapping out expectations of the individual as well as what they can expect from the organisation throughout their career.

2 We advice candidates to tailor their CV to the employer – you should do the same with the value proposition

Knowing your audience is key to effective communication – and your organisation consists of many different types of people. You will have pharmaceutical sales professionals who respond to extrinsic rewards (e.g. salary) much more readily than, say, for example a research scientist.  Taking into account differing values, ambitions and needs when finalising the employee value proposition may well pay dividends further down the line.

3 Align your employer brand with the wider brand

I mentioned this in the introduction; since there is an intrinsic link between the employer brand and the wider brand, it would make sense to align the two.  By doing this, you will make sure that there is consistency in the message, that the values are seen to match up and the external communications will produce mutual benefits.

4 First impression counts, but so do every subsequent impression

When considering your employer brand you need to look at the bigger picture and work at maintaining a consistent message and experience.  It is true that first impression counts, but if subsequent interactions (such as a poor recruitment experience) let you down, that may be the lasting impression.

Make a list of every touch points an individual may have with your organisation to form a picture, and then try to introduce a system of evaluating all of these encounters. Building up a detailed information database in this way will be crucial in identifying weaknesses in people’s experiences with you and allow you to address them. You can also divide these touch points into a timeline, to further increase your understanding any potential issues.

Finally, when looking to address shortcomings, don’t forget to take a joined up approach where you make use of your internal marketing capabilities (after all, this is about marketing) as well as maximise the use of any external staffing and recruiting partners you work with.  They often sit on significant knowledge about the target audience, your firm’s market reputation, what the experience working for you is as well as how to best go about creating the right experience at every encounter.

5 Your recruitment process needs to reflect your brand

The recruitment process needs to be reflective of your brand and the values you want to convey to the candidate and to the wider market.  To work together with a recruitment partner that you trust and that will represent you in a professional and correct way is an important part of it, but so is the way you manage the process. 

Ensure that you take the time to brief the recruitment partner fully on the organisation and the role, as well as make sure that the lines of communication are open. Be transparent and honest with feedback and if there’s anything you’re not happy with – the sooner they are informed the sooner they will be able to address the problem. Good communications and relations are crucial in order to enable the partner to act as an extension of your brand as every step of the process will shape the impression a prospective employee has of your organisation, and indirectly influence their decision.

Things to consider are for example where you advertise your roles, how easy it is for people to apply, how swiftly they get a response and how it’s handled, how many steps the recruitment process involve and how the rejection and offer process works. 

One of the most important things, which is a bug bear for many candidates, is the feedback from the interview process. This single piece of information has the power to turn people off a company for life, so should not be taken likely.

6 Get existing employees on side

By ensuring that you’ve taken a global approach to your employer brand and addressed any shortcomings within the organisation, you should have a bunch of happy employees.  Happy employees tend to act as (employer brand) ambassadors and/or evangelists and are instrumental in creating a positive image of your organisation.

To get the best effect we would advise to join forces with other parts of the business, from sales to marketing and PR and devise an internal communication plan for how best achieve the desired outcome.  It would also be a good idea to involve key individuals from all areas in creating the value proposition as well, ensuring that nothing is missed out and that the key messages are aligned to the company brand strategy.

Focus in the first instance on building the employer brand internally before taking it to the wider world. If not, it risks backfiring when you start getting people through the recruitment process that will not recognise the image that is conveyed to them at the interview stage. Inconsistencies like these will cause external and internal disconnect and will only serve to turn people away.

7. Don’t lose focus in choppy waters

Always ensure that the message and the delivery of this message remain consistent.  To lose focus and ‘drop the ball’ in a slowing economic climate leave your organisation wide open to threat by other firms.  The theory behind this is identical to general brand marketing and it’s been proven in several studies that it is the organisations that invest in marketing through downturns are the ones who come out on top.

You should already have an employer brand strategy in place and it’s important that you stick with it.  A well thought out strategy looks to the long-term objectives and helps you keep focus on hitting those goals, so unless the goals have changed, don’t deviate from the plan.

To maintain focus and not be seen to flinch also helps current employees feel more confident and secure, which in turn should help retention levels. As soon as people start suspecting that rough times are afoot, they tend to start heading for the door.

8. Engage management at all levels

The strongest, most well thought-out employer brand identity will be rendered worthless unless you have the right people in place to drive it, buy-in from senior management and a successful strategy for embedding it in the workplace culture.

Some commonly used tactics in rolling out and garnering support for an employer brand are internal workshops and staff tool-kits.  Moreover, all levels of management need to lead by example, and keeping employer brand and values high on the agenda.  By being clear about the direction of the organisation and allowing for constructive feedback (e.g. having the infrastructure in place), staff across the company will be much better equipped to connect with the core message and align themselves with the company’s values.

9. Consistency

It’s been mentioned several times before but I think it merits its own bullet point. Consistency in communication, experience, and delivery is paramount in order to maintain value in the marketplace.   The tone of voice and the visuals are expected to be the same at all times, delivering the same or similar messages. 

In practical terms this means that all touch points need to be ‘on brand; the visuals on all documents, the tone of voice, the experiences throughout the recruitment process, the behaviour and professionalism of the recruiter and so on.  It’s also important that everyone involved in the hiring process is fully briefed on the employer brand identity and values so the right message is communicated to the prospective employee.

10. Monitor progress

Another key concept in marketing is the monitoring and tracking of progress.  It is only by collecting this data that you will know where you’re performing and where you‘re failing.  Conduct surveys across your business, both anonymous as well as informal conversations. Conduct exit interviews when people leave (but don’t necessarily trust them – people are rarely truthful as it may come back and bite them afterwards) as well as contact people after they’ve left.

Some questions that could be asked would include whether they would recommend working there to a friend; whether they sing your praises as an employer; how long do they plan on staying within the company or whether they are prepared to go over and above to ensure company success. If they are ex-employees, explore why they left and what would perhaps make them return.

Remember, the most important thing is to regularly carry out the research and be committed to taking action on the results.