What’s in a name?

The concept of employer branding has become one of the most significant developments in recent times, and for some companies, its importance has been recognised since the early 1990s.

Simon Barrow, now chairman of consultancy People in Business, is acknowledged as the creator of the term ‘employer brand’¨ as early as October 1990.

At its simplest form, employer branding is about ensuring that your people brand matches your marketing brand. This involves making sure the messages the business gives out are reflected by the actions of its people at all levels and at all times.

To achieve that, however, you have to consider all aspects of your business to ensure consistency in your messages, behaviour and values.

In a commercial context, employer branding is the glue that holds all the different components of the organisation together to ensure staff loyalty, commitment and performance, which equals customer loyalty, advocacy and satisfaction. This also ensures business growth, profitability and market share, which in turn leads to stakeholders, competitor respect, and becoming an employer of choice.

One of the problems with employer branding is that if you mention anything with ‘brand’ in the title, people often make assumptions about where the issue belongs in an organisation.

It shouldn’t be seen as an issue just for HR or marketing. Employer branding is not ‘soft and fluffy’, and should not be something nice to do when we get round to it.

Equally, it should not be driven by a clinical process. It is not a PR exercise Ð without practical application, you will fall at the first hurdle.

Employer branding is also not just about having a charismatic leader Ð it is far more all encompassing, going to the very heart of an organisation. It needs an integrated process to make it happen, but a process based on capturing the imagination that has its foundation in the heart and soul of every employee.

It’s also about emotional connectivity. While the process may be called employer branding for some organisations, others have not formally named it as such, but still adhere to its underlying principles.

Organisations are increasingly recognising that, directly or indirectly, most brand promises are delivered by people, not products. Pick up any business magazine that talks about branding, and it is likely that it will be discussing the broader aspect of organisational, corporate or employer branding. And there is also increasing emphasis on being an employer of choice.

In the Concise Oxford Dictionary, one definition of a brand is ‘to impress unforgettably on one’s mind’. If we explore this definition of branding a little further, it is clear that building an employer brand is an extension of this definition.

Every organisation has a brand, and organisations are creating impressions in the minds of others every day. The impact of your brand can be felt 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks of the year. Even when your building is closed, its image is there for all to see. Your staff, clients, customers or suppliers may be talking about you to other customers, clients, friends, or family.

Breaking down barriers

Creating an employer brand entails focusing on the key components of your business and encouraging consistency across all functions. Like any piece of machinery, one part cannot operate without the other. Cross-functional working breaks down the traditional divisions between marketing, sales, distribution, IT, manufacturing and HR.

This process links new service/product development and the development of staff. It links the distribution chain with the customer. It creates relationships, not just agreements, with external suppliers. It takes the most senior managers and involves them in the front line of the business.

It puts the customer at the heart of the organisation, and builds everything else around them.

The organisation doesn’t just service its customers; it becomes their lifeblood. Employees do not just make promises, they deliver them Ð not once, but over and over again, consistently developing better service. The organisation differentiates itself in the market through its people, its products, its processes and its premises.

It is also about being passionate, gutsy, using initiative, taking risks, allowing failure, encouraging individuals to take responsibility and standing by their decisions. It’s about employees not just identifying the goals of the organisation, but also believing and sharing them. It’s about creating a working environment where workers are supported and motivated to take direct responsibility for making success happen.

A strong brand image is as relevant to an organisation as it is to a product or service. The people behind the product must be consistent with the brand, and the commitment to the brand must be reflected from the top of the organisation down to the newest recruit.

A true competitive edge will be achieved by those organisations that are able to attract and retain employees and build customer loyalty through the clear transmission of their overall brand. They will be the success stories of the 21st century.

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