I don’t watch superhero or comic book-inspired movies. Not really my thing. However, a busy travel schedule has resulted in many hours of restless plane-sitting, and in willing time to pass, I have seen a couple such films in close succession. Entertaining as they were, they got me thinking about teams. When you look at the superhero teams in these movies, in most instances each member of the team brings something unique to the table, be it superhuman strength, invisibility, or spontaneous combustion. And the abilities of the super-team members collectively, save humanity/the world/the universe. In building an employer brand, the survival of the human species may not hang in the balance, but still, there are a few key people in your organization with specific abilities who can help to ensure the success of this endeavor and maximize its impact. So, if you’ve been tasked with building your organization’s Employer Brand – who do you invite to join your super-team?
Introducing the Employer Branding League of Superheroes!
Human Resources Leadership
Historically, the HR function has been responsible for the people practices within an organization, and it still is – but the scope of this function has ballooned in recent decades and thank goodness for that! HR is now recognized (for the most part) for the incredible value that effective and strategic people practices add. However, that means that in addition to hiring, onboarding, training, compensation, benefits, compliance, recognition, and the list goes on, HR teams are also responsible for attracting, retaining, and engaging the talented people that will drive a company towards its vision. Enter employer branding. In my experience working as both an in-house employer brand leader and as an external strategist, it is often HR who is tasked with leading the employer branding charge. Not surprisingly. After all, an employer brand is the sum of all the things that make up who you are as an employer and how you communicate to your people internally and talent externally. Whether called Human Resources, Talent and Culture, or People Operations, you are the caretaker of your company’s identity and reputation as a place to work. You have your fingers on the pulse of all that goes on with your people. You are the voice responsible for ensuring your employment experience is represented in a true and authentic way. For this reason, it is critical you are involved in the process of building your employer brand. Depending on the size of your organization, who you’re able to allocate to this work may vary. In a perfect world, a project of this scope should have a dedicated resource with a deep understanding of talent management and acquisition involved in the day-to-day, and a trusted senior HR leader with a seat at the executive table to ensure this venture is understood, valued, and supported from the top down.
No matter what your advertising budget is or what means you use to promote your products or services, consumers are forming opinions about your brand. Chances are that your company knows this and invests in shaping these opinions to some degree. Marketing teams must understand the competitive landscape in which a company operates, observe how the market responds to its products or services, and ensure that its brand is being represented in a clear and consistent way. Marketing teams are responsible for protecting a company’s consumer brand from anything that could tarnish it or dilute its impact, making marketing a critical stakeholder (at the very least) in any employer branding endeavor. Ideally however, marketing is a trusted and active partner in this effort, providing strategic guidance, creative direction, and expertise in brand activation. There is a lot to be said for consistency when it comes to marketing. When marketed effectively, a brand is instantly recognizable and should even evoke strong emotion. Take Nike or Apple for example, distinguishable by a mere swoosh or apple with bite-mark. These brands probably inspire some sort of sentiment in most, a perception of quality, even an expectation of product price point. The marketing of an employer brand is not so different from that of a consumer brand. You are essentially working to distill the elements of your company’s authentic employment experience to differentiate your company from other employers and communicate these elements to your prospective talent market in a way that is interesting and engaging. This is a marketing team’s bread and butter, and a unique set of skills worth tapping into. And while the audience may be different, an employer brand should align to and complement an organization’s consumer brand. Involving your marketing team early on ensures cohesion, adds credibility to your employer brand and can boost your company’s reputation among consumers and prospective employees.
Your company may have a communications team, or it may not. If it does though, these individuals have a deep understanding of your organization’s tone of voice, a unique ability to customize and cater communications to various audiences (including your various talent segments), and knowledge of different communication channels. Tap into this skillset. Engage your communications team as you’re building your employer brand materials and communications to ensure you’re aligned, and then keep them close. Befriend these individuals, discover the breadth of their reach, educate them on your employer brand! This will enable your communications team to habitually weave elements of your employer brand into internal and external communications. It is very likely that they are the means by which information is disseminated in your organization, both internally and externally. Your communications team is a goldmine of relevant company information, compelling stories, and engaging content that you can leverage to grow your employer brand’s impact.
Like many organizational initiatives, an employer brand is bolstered when it is embraced and driven from the top down by executive teams as well as from the ground up. Executive buy-in is important for a number of reasons, but I will highlight two. First, the executive team, intentionally or not, sets the tone for culture and priorities within an organization. If the executive team does not believe in or care about the company’s reputation as an employer, it is unlikely others will. Your executives need to champion the employer brand and the employment experience, communicating its importance and their own commitment to it so that this ripples throughout the organization. The second reason is a little more tactical. An employer brand requires ongoing investment. Think of your employer brand as a living and breathing thing – changing and evolving with each Glassdoor review, each recruitment campaign, each employee storytelling initiative. Executives need to understand the positive impact of an effective employer brand, and the potentially detrimental effects of not tending to it. Only then will you have the support, financial and otherwise, that you need. But how do I get my executives’ attention, you might ask. Well, executives don’t always speak the language of employer brand, but they do understand quality assurance, productivity, and profitability. Speak to them in their language. Illustrate the relationship between an effective employer brand and the bottom line, using data to drive your point home. Ideally, executives should be more than passive stakeholders in an employer branding project, signing off on budgets — they should be involved in kick-off, research, and activation and kept apprised of metrics as your employer brand evolves. This will ensure they understand and see first-hand the value of continued investment. Moreover, their organizational knowledge, vast business experience, and influence will enrich an authentic and compelling employer brand.
As you may have guessed, your employees must be involved in building your employer brand as well. An employer brand is not built-in a vacuum, nor a boardroom. Seek to understand what brought your people to your organization, what they value about their employment experience, what challenges they face or things they would like to see change, and celebrate their contributions. If your employer brand is not representative of your authentic employment experience, then it is smoke and mirrors, and no one likes having the wool pulled over their eyes. Only when you have an accurate picture of what makes you unique as an employer, can you determine what aspects of your employment experience, authentic and aspirational, should you communicate. An employer brand should not aim to attract everyone, but specifically, those individuals who will thrive in your organization. This will help to ensure the satisfaction and engagement of your employees who will, in turn, drive your company’s vision forward.
Your External Employer Brand Partner
Lastly, I would be remiss not to mention — if your organization has the means — the value of engaging an external employer branding firm in building your employer brand. Just as the internal partners I referenced have a wealth of knowledge and expertise to tap into, so does the right external partner. An experienced strategist can seamlessly guide you through each of the critical steps in the process, from research and design through to activation and measurement. We’ve done this before, understand the competing demands on your time internally, and we’re prepared to do most of the heavy lifting! Our external position also promotes the sharing of honest feedback and allows for an objective assessment. How do we partner with you, you ask?
- We immerse ourselves in your organization and culture to understand who you are, how you got here, and where you are heading.
- We speak to and survey your people to understand what elements of their employment experience they value most.
- We look to the talent market and competition to understand what sets you apart and how to differentiate you.
- We analyze heaps of data to ensure we build an employer brand that is authentic, compelling, and that resonates with your employees and talent market.
- We define a customized strategy to activate your brand internally and externally.
- We provide guidance on ongoing activation and measurement to ensure your employer brand continues to evolve.
- And we do all of this with big smiles on our faces because we love this stuff!
The above list of Employer Brand BFFs is by no means comprehensive and may not fit each employer branding endeavor. It is however, a starting point and hopefully sparks some consideration. The process of building an employer brand is complex, requires a vast skill set, and is never truly complete. Look at who you’ve got around you, invite them to the employer branding table, and leverage their superpowers. You are unequivocally stronger together.