Employer branding is such a hot topic that we decided to make it the subject of both our blogs this week. On Tuesday we featured Kirsten Davidson, head of employer branding at Glassdoor, as she discussed the differences between a company’s consumer and employer brands. For part two today, we hear the insights of Stephen Cheliotis, CEO of The Centre for Brand Analysis.
Stephen, how would you describe the relationship between consumer brand and employer brand?
The first thing to say is that trying to put clear demarcations around different aspects of the brand or how the brand works with different stakeholders is almost impossible. The reality is that people interact with brands in multiple ways, so there is no doubt that in the majority of situations employees have built up an image of the organisation before they joined. Similarly, they will be aware of how the company presents itself to the outside world during their time as a member of staff and beyond. It is, therefore, very difficult to try and isolate the consumer brand from the employer brand.
Employees built up an image of the organisation before they joined
That said, there is almost certainly a different value proposition when talking to employees in comparison to other stakeholders. The benefits of working for a company are not the same as the benefits of buying a certain product or service, so employer brand communication needs to take account of the specific mental processes that take place and the information required to support those decisions.
Can you tell us more about the influence of the consumer brand on the employer brand?
We like to think of ourselves as rational creatures that carefully compare and evaluate all available options, when in reality we are biologically built to take the path of least resistance. We base a lot of our decisions on intuitive thinking and gut reactions, and we rapidly develop opinions about certain brands based on the myriad ways by which an organisation behaves and communicates.
It is very hard to change these opinions once they have been formed, which means that our perception of a company’s consumer brand will affect the way we respond to its employee value proposition. Let’s say that someone strongly dislikes a given brand for whatever reason. It won’t matter how fantastic the role, they are unlikely to ever consider taking a job at that organisation. That means that no matter how competitive the salary or how amazing the opportunities for progression, you won’t be able to engage that particular person. This can have a huge impact on your ability to attract top talent.
You can’t have an employer brand that sits in isolation to everything else
Do you think organisations fully understand this relationship?
I would hope that it’s common sense and that most businesses recognise you can’t have an employer brand that sits in isolation to everything else. That said, it can be easy to miss the wood for the trees at times. It’s a common mistake to focus on fixing certain internal issues without looking at the bigger picture.
If a company is struggling with recruitment and retention, then I would strongly recommend assessing the external brand image alongside the internal situation. If your employees hate what you’re doing and don’t believe in your purpose then they probably won’t deliver on your brand promises effectively, which then impacts the consumer brand. Equally, it’s going to be a harder struggle to recruit talent if people don’t feel that the consumer brand has momentum, or it is failing in some other way.
I would strongly recommend assessing the external brand image alongside the internal situation
How can companies align these two elements?
That drive must come from the top and it has to be managed holistically across the business. The same brand purpose should direct decisions about marketing and HR. When a brand acts as the glue then everything becomes more joined up. The problems come when it’s all disparate: HR is doing one thing, marketing is doing another, the CEO is talking about something else at a conference and nothing makes sense from an integrated perspective. You tinker with one side, but it doesn’t marry up elsewhere.
The other thing is that teams across the business need to work together more collaboratively. A lot of companies have individuals focused on delivering and enhancing the employer brand, which is positive. I think that some of those businesses are joining the dots and getting different departments to work together, but I suspect that a lot of companies are not doing that yet. That might just be HR, marketing and internal comms, or it could include others who impact how the brand is perceived internally and externally.
HR is doing one thing, marketing is doing another, the CEO is talking about something else at a conference and nothing makes sense from an integrated perspective
The fundamental goal is for the brand to be articulated clearly at every touch point. By taking this approach you minimise the chasm between inside and outside perceptions and create a consistent, coherent brand with a common sense of purpose and values that is attractive to all stakeholders.
Once again, thanks to Stephen for his insights on this topic. We’re confident that employer branding is going to become even more important and central to businesses over the coming years and it’s a subject we will return to again in the near future.