Tom Chesterton, Chief Executive and Co-Founder of Tonic, shares his insights on employer brand: what it is, why it’s so important, top tips for building a successful employer brand, and what the future looks like.
Employer brand is very closely tied to recruitment, marketing and campaign activation, but the thinking that sits behind the visible creative – the employee value proposition and wider brand purpose, mission and values (everything that makes that a business or an organisation different) – means the discipline of employer branding also impacts employee experience and employer reputation, making it a critical business tool.
If you're a candidate considering your career, employer brand is a way of differentiating company X against company Y. If you’re already an employee, it's an expression of why you might choose to stay with that employer. Even within those two audiences, you could be addressing a really broad spectrum of needs: it could be about safety, stability and security; or it might be about higher-end human behaviours, like self-actualisation or group self-identification.
From a talent-acquisition point of view, it's a way of making an invitation to join a business by capturing what an organisation has to offer – whether that's the attraction funnel, the onboarding process, or learning and development, or even how compensation and benefits are structured, or what happens when someone chooses to leave.
If you really wanted to crystallise employer brand into one thing, it’s the expression of a brand that allows organisations to talk to talent, irrespective of where they are in their lifecycle.
For business leaders, an employer value proposition and the corresponding employer brand helps to foster the culture of your business, manage the engagement of the people already working for you, and enables recruitment to become more efficient. So it's all about productivity, efficiency, and business effectiveness.
The banking crisis of 2008 caused instability in the labour force that hadn't really gone away before the pandemic hit. Post-pandemic, many people are reevaluating their lifestyle and what they want from their life. So the labour market is in an odd spot: we've got this weird environment where there's lots of movement, but not enough people to actually fill the roles available. Although that's softening as we head into 2023, it is still a tight labour market. People are more reluctant to move jobs and there are a lot of brands fighting for attention and share of voice.
Grabbing people's attention and differentiating in a tight labour market is difficult. An employer brand is a way of making that distinction.
There's a lot to be said – particularly in the hospitality and travel sectors – for the interaction between customer experience and employee experience. If you want to create a great customer experience, that's delivered via your people. If you're not doing the right thing for your people, they can't deliver on the product for your customers. Research suggests if you combine and align the employee experience and the customer experience, you’ll have increased productivity.
Again, it shows employer brand is a business tool, not just a recruiting tool. But businesses are still learning the potential of working together, because the investment isn't something that will pay off immediately. This is a longer-term investment play.
That means you have to understand the audience you're trying to communicate with. You need a sense of empathy about where people are emotionally – where do you want them to be? What do you want them to do or think? How are you going to encourage them to make that change?
We all know about big data, which will tell you what people are doing. But thick data is where you’ll find the insight to build and deploy an employer brand, because thick data is about understanding why people are doing things.
If you're trying to understand everybody and their motivators, you'll come back with nothing that's meaningful. So it's much better to identify a particular group you want to communicate with and find out what they’re interested in, then tailor content to communicate with those people really effectively. There really shouldn't be one message for everybody in a communications environment where it’s easy to personalise (and that’s the expected norm).
I’ve previously written about the four Ps of employer brand:
Product – your company itself, and the opportunity you offer for an employee to grow, learn and develop in their career
People – highlight your employees: they’re the ones who will ultimately sell your company to potential candidates
Place – your physical location is important in employer brand: share what it feels like to be 'in your place', even if that’s many places
Purpose – your company's mission and values are essential in employer brand: why do you exist beyond making money?
The funnel is a framework that allows you to communicate with different groups based on their interest level. Begin by clarifying what you're actually trying to achieve – where in the employee experience are you actually working?
If people don’t know your brand, they’re at the top of the funnel, so don't try to sell them a job: instead, sell them the brand. If they're further in the funnel, remind them about the purpose and the great things about you as an organisation, then talk about the job. If it's about something you should all be proud of, collectively talk about that from an internal comms point of view. But don't try to do all things all the time.
After 28 years, we have to assume employer brand isn’t going anywhere – it probably is a discipline, not a flash in the pan. Being effective as a business relies on engaged and motivated talent. You can't disassociate business performance from the humanity that exists within that. So, in the short term I see more collaboration, more power, and more investment going into employer brand.
Post-pandemic, there's a growing reality that effective business relies on your people being motivated, and your job as a business leader is to motivate them. Stop seeing people as units of production and start seeing them as people.
Since the term, ‘employer brand’ was first created, communication has moved from lineage and classified ads to social, programmatic and AI. But that fundamental practice of humans talking to humans won't go away. Our job as a business in this space – and the job of all stakeholders, whether talent acquisition, business leadership, or HR – is to identify the offer, capture that in the brand, and then communicate that consistently, reflecting the preferences of the people that we serve.
So far, employer brand has been about the organisation talking – so it's been the brand voice, rather than the voice of the people. There have been developments around user-generated or employee-generated content, but that's been quite siloed and only what the employer chooses to release. But if we agree people listen to people rather than brands, the voice of the people will increase reach and authenticity. If employers relax the grip on brand and allow their people to talk about themselves, they'll actually achieve more.
Tonic helps organisations communicate with their talent. That might mean building talent brands people want to work for, or it might mean helping organisations communicate with their clients.
Essentially, we unpick problems. Sometimes clients come to us because they're in hypergrowth mode – they've got a strong sense of who they are, which they want to preserve as they grow. Other times, organisations come to us because they need help telling their story.
The vehicle for all this is the employer brand. Find out how we can help you. See how we've helped Lightning - launching their Tiktok and levelling up their Instagram.
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