When your horse is dead, just dismount

Let me state the case clearly. Most current employer branding models
pasteurise organisations of their complexity. They misrepresent what they are
and what they stand for.

Look about you. The recruitment marketing world is full to overflowing with
aggressively promoted ’employer brands’, constructed around loudly proclaimed
‘value propositions’ and set within rigorously policed frameworks of ‘brand
guidelines’. Sadly, they tend to bore us today in much the same way as grand
mission statements bored us a decade ago. They are becoming ineffective at
differentiating one employer from another.

This stems in part from the excessive reliance on focus group research in
developing employer branding strategies. These tend to generate numbingly
predictable conclusions. The fact is, we live in a world of similar companies,
employing similar people, often coming up with broadly similar ideas. Put them
through focus groups and you get similar branding propositions.

This is compounded by a tendency to see employer branding as primarily a
communications issue. It isn’t. While branding is about the coherent
orchestration of visual, verbal and positional elements, it is also about
behaviour. The way you treat your staff, the way they treat each other, the way
you all treat your customers – these are the nodes around which your brand
credibility is structured.

These elements are not only in perpetual motion; they are in dialogue with
the wider society as well as each other. The result is a relational dynamic
that forces us to look at the brand, not as a stable entity with clear edges,
but as a centre of gravity around which revolve continuously changing
environmental, cultural, economic and political forces.

Clearly, employer branding does not come about by central planning. While it
can and should be driven by the pursuit of specific goals, it is inherently organic
in its evolution. It is part choreography and part inspiration. It can be
influenced but not prescribed. It is subject to random accidents, circumstances
and coincidences. Witness the 53 per cent of the companies on the 1980 Fortune
500 list that are no longer in business.

Employer branding is more intervention than revelation, more emotionally
driven than rationally informed, more about what we do than what we say, and
more about inventing the future than reflecting the past. Until we take these
observations on board – and challenge the comfortable simplifications of
current practice – employer branding projects will continue to take the form of
company managers addressing their own navels in terms that mean little to
audiences either inside or outside the company walls.

That may be very profitable for advertising agencies. It is very bad for
business.

By Shaun D’Arcy, Partner, Lighthouse Adcomms

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