Putting oomph in your employer brand

Does your employer brand pack a punch? Four recruitment marketing experts define what gives an employer brand oomph.

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Too much research leads to diluted brands

Andrew Baird, managing director, TCS: Many employer brands are timid, limp affairs. This is because, rather than building brands with robust and original value propositions, most organisations create diluted brands based on too much research, which try to be everything to everyone. In the ice cream shop of life, they’re the vanilla – perfectly acceptable to almost everyone, but almost impossible to get heart-wrenchingly, mind-spinningly passionate about.

So how do you give your brand oomph, rather than its opposite – let’s call it sloomph? First, ensure your brand actually stands out. As Allan Leighton advised the original Asda employer brand team: “Tell them about the stuff the other buggers don’t do.”

And when you’ve found your differentiators, use your own language to explain them – usually, the more idiosyncratic the better. ‘Boundarylessness’ was ridiculed when US electronics giant GE introduced it as a value, but it’s an intriguing word that’s hard to forget.

Too many employer brands have static attributes, such as “corporate social responsibility is important to us” or “we believe in training”. Often it’s far better to develop attributes that are dynamic in the sense that they’re about a journey, such as “We aim to reduce our carbon footprint by 50% in two years”, or “We won’t rest until everyone in the business has 10 days’ training a year”.

We call this type of proposition a brand vector. They’re helpful because they increase engagement and assist in the creation of compelling brand stories.

Explore how and where your brand touches its audience. Yes, there’s your intranet, your staff magazine and your conference – but what are you doing to bring your brand to life in interview rooms, in receptions, in management practices, at social events? Often, it’s the communication channels that sneak up on people that offer the best return.

Finally, and most importantly, be clear about the point of your branding programme. Is it improvements to retention? Is it helping to deliver consumer brand promises? Clear objectives will help you define metrics that demonstrate the validity of your work. And don’t forget to regularly research employee opinions – they’ll give feedback on whether that magic oomph is coming across and help your brand evolve into a living thing.

Live and breathe clear values and principles

Roger Juniper, managing director, advertising agency 360°: Does your employer brand have oomph? Is it exciting and energetic? Does it exude power, strength and confidence?

Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahy has said: “Your employer brand isn’t what you say it is. It is what people tell you it is.” By ‘people’ I believe he means not only existing employees, but past and future employees.

As with product brands, people want to know who they are dealing with. There is an important distinction between product brands and organisational brands. They are inextricably linked, but it is possible to perceive them as two different facets of the same organisation. There are increasing signs that the organisational brand is becoming important to the long-term success of related product brands, as much in terms of attracting and retaining talent as product awareness and positioning.

There is a significant degree of scepticism about branding because people are marketing-savvy and know when a brand is inconsistent and insincere when a brand portrays itself one way and acts another.

Oomph is important, but the only way a brand can engender this feeling is if employees – past, present and future – know who they are working for. This requires the organisation to live and breathe a clear, unambiguous set of values and principles. For these to be truly believable, the organisational brand needs to behave with honesty, integrity and consistency.

The difference between the good, the bad and the ugly in this respect is no more evident than in the murky world of corporate social responsibility. Many brands promise great things, but deliver empty gestures.

Innocent Drinks has an impressive employer brand, mirroring the quirkiness of its product brand. Some would say its employer brand is exciting and energetic. It recently concluded a deal to sell its products through McDonald’s. Many people believe this devalues the company’s ethos. But does this mean the brand has lost its oomph?

Finally, there is one brand that is exciting and energetic, as well as exuding power, strength and confidence. But is it a brand you want to work for? Does it have oomph? You be the judge. That superb employer brand is the British Army.

How not to be bland

Sarah Asprey, client services director, RAA Sprague Gibbons: Employer brands mean different things to different people, and rightly so, as different people need and want different things from employers. The challenge for the employer is to find a message that means something to all the people it needs to recruit and retain. And this needs to be done without being bland and predictable.

To me, an employer brand with oomph means your company is instantly recognisable and distinctive in its appeal to employees. Oomph is about creating a sense of excitement about why people should want to work for you and build a long-term future with you. It’s easy to convey bland “we’re nice” messages, but if we’re talking oomph, then we’re looking for employer brands that pack more of a punch. One of the most important elements is a strong message that speaks clearly to the kind of people it means to attract. Like the best consumer brands, employer brands should have a strong identity that isn’t afraid to say: “We’re this kind of company, and we’ll appeal to people like you – but not everyone will fit in here.”

One of the key ingredients of employer branding oomph has to be truth, based on an understanding of the company’s true personality and culture, as lived and breathed by its employees. The key metrics for any brand are recognition, understanding and engagement, and in terms of recruitment these can be measured in relation to hire numbers and staff retention.

But oomph is harder to quantify. As a brand is measured by its audience, research among candidates and existing employees of the level of stimulation a brand has prompted will go some way to measuring it.

One employer brand with undeniable oomph is the British Army. Multimedia advertising campaigns have made plain what it means to work for the Army. There is a clear sense of the variety and excitement on offer, along with the grit and danger. If you dig a little deeper, the website fills in the rest of the picture, showing that training and family are given priority.

Another is car hire firm Avis. This company defines what it means to be an Avis employee in all its communications and recruits according to those key values. This alienates people who can’t relate to those values – but surely that’s the point.

B&Q is also an employer with oomph. DIY is not the most glamorous of industries, but B&Q has built a reputation for being inclusive and hiring people of all ages. It has created the image of being a respectful employer where everyone is treated equally.

Say it differently

Stewart Goold, founding director, ThirtyThree: Great employer brands transcend the consumer-led image of an organisation. They convey the message that you represent a terrific employment proposition, irrespective of the work you perform. You can be involved in something as dull as waste disposal but that does not mean you are a poor place to work.

The hospitality and catering sector strives for service with a smile and is keen for its staff to project a sunny disposition. However, it frequently fails to remunerate, train and develop its people, so that smile may be through gritted teeth.

Organisations strive for a unique proposition on which to base their employer brand. If you work in the services sector, it is your people that make the difference. However, there are only so many ways you can skin a cat. Don’t fret that you are saying the same thing as everyone else just say it differently. Use your people, use humour, be clever with language and design. But above all, tell the truth. A business that accepts its failings and is honest with its employees is likely to enjoy above-average retention levels.

There are many ways you can measure the success of your employer brand. Attrition levels, numbers of applications and a reduction in cost per hire all give the statistical evidence necessary to impress the board. But if you want to understand what makes a great employer brand, find out more about First Direct. I have been a customer for 12 years and believe the exceptional level of service it provides could not be achieved without happy, motivated employees.

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