A Short Exploration: Does Employer Branding Belong in Talent Acquisition?

A Short Exploration: Does Employer Branding Belong in Talent Acquisition?

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How the world of employer branding has changed. From cruising high on a stable economy, hiring top talent and creating alluring content, 2020 has torn away the shiny shell of employer brand marketing, revealing the naked truth to candidates.

Your new brand? It will be based on how you’ve treated your employees during COVID-19.

The intent of this post isn’t to talk about how employer brands have changed. Thought leaders like Emily Firth, Hung Lee and my buddy James Ellis are taking care of that (be sure to read their stuff!). The intent of this article is to instead pose some questions: what exactly is an employer brand now, and who should ‘own it’?

Through some engaging and passionate conversations, I’ve undertaken an exploration of post-COVID-19 employer brand function. This is what I’ve found.

Separating brand from reputation

We should begin by separating brand and reputation.

Brand is the way your organization presents itself to the world. Your brand represents how you position yourself in the market, how you want the world to see you, and the value you believe you can deliver. You define and control the brand.

Reputation, on the other hand, is how others collectively perceive you. Unlike your brand, your reputation is ultimately decided by the people around you. Anyone can write a review or article on Glassdoor and instantly affect your reputation (particularly if the experience is negative.)

Per Brand Matters: “Corporate branding is the practice of promoting the brand name of a corporate entity, as opposed to specific products or services. The corporate brand is the ‘umbrella’ brand that sits over all a company’s product and service brands. The scope of a corporate brand is therefore much broader than a product brand.

“The way a company’s corporate brand and its product/service brands sit and interact in relation to each other is known as the brand architecture.”

I like this description, as it neatly highlights the value of brand architecture. The benefits are clear:

  1. You prevent customer (or candidate) confusion.
  2. A new/separate brand can overshadow your main brand, and there’s no real reason to have one.

A typical stakeholder diagram can include any or all of the following: customers, investors, media, authorities, regulators and, most importantly for employer branding, employees. No matter how many you choose to identify, employees will always be one of them, as they are your most precious asset. Treat them badly and the whole house comes down.

While the brand/reputation distinction is important, it’s not to say that branding can’t affect reputation – that, in fact, is its whole reason for being. Branding then is your opportunity to control the controllables.

Identifying key messages for stakeholders

Your branding should be personalized to each stakeholder. The first step in its development is to identify the key messages that will resonate with each group:

You’ll notice that corporate responsibility comes up over and over again. COVID-19 in particular has highlighted its importance: people will now take note of how you’ve handled your employees and customers, and if you’ve supported your community.

Let’s take a closer look at the employee section. While compensation and development are pure HR messages (which can be difficult areas to stand out in), the likes of purpose, innovation and corporate responsibility are more corporate messages. This demonstrates the blurry lines of brand architecture: all facets of your brand are inextricably linked, meaning you need to take a holistic approach.

Then there’s the hard-to-define and oh-so-important culture piece: the awesome colleagues, the workplace, the respect. In order to construct these messages you need to decide who ‘owns’ and controls the values and culture in your company.

Defining the goals of your employer brand

An employer brand is often defined as a set of attributes that “describe the strengths, benefits and opportunities of the employment offer.” I’d add that the objective of the employer brand is to positively influence current and future employee perception of you as an employer. An employer brand is therefore not an exclusively external topic; it shouldn’t just entice people to join your company, it should get them to stay as well.

A good employer brand will begin with the design of your employee value proposition (EVP). You need to understand what drives people and how you are delivering on these drivers. You need to define your key attributes, develop key messages, plan local implementation and provide training to stakeholders.

Brand defined, we then begin to influence perception – your reputation.

Use it externally to promote your company as an employer via career sites, social media channels, digital campaigns (paid and organic) and career fairs. Use it internally to inform or remind employees about things like culture, values, career opportunities, development, wellness, compensation and benefits. Use it to engage your employees.

So, where does employer branding belong?

Employer branding needs to be thought about less as talent acquisition, and more as a marketing exercise. In 95% of cases, TA focuses purely on the external market – on the attraction of talent, but not the engagement and retention of it. The team handling the employer brand should instead bring a broader knowledge base – one that covers culture, engagement, retention, talent acquisition and brand architecture.

Ultimately, employer branding should sit in or close to corporate branding and communication. HR should deal with the engagement and retention activities, while talent acquisition should be tasked with recruitment marketing, based on a strict employer brand framework.

This, to me, is the modern brand architecture – one in which employer branding plays an essential role.

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