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"Fact is, businesses in every corner of the world look for a 'secret sauce' to accomplish many things. How to outsmart competitors. How to stay out of trouble. How to make more money and increase shareholder value." Libby Sartain and Mark Schumann, Brand from the Inside

Your employer brand is the secret sauce. It is the key to outsmarting competitors, staying out of trouble, making more money, increasing shareholder value, recruiting motivated candidates, engaging employees, retaining top talent... to achieving virtually every conceivable business objective. When properly prepared, this secret sauce can create real results for your organization. So, what's the recipe for effective employment branding?

From Diagnosis to Cure

In Brand from the Inside, experts Libby Sartain and Mark Schumann discuss the importance of strong internal brands, as well as how to diagnose yours for potential "health hazards" and then treat them. Their "Essential" guide takes you through the process of creating, applying, marketing, and nurturing an employer brand. Let's get to it.

Create: Crafting Your Employer Brand

To effectively create an employer brand, you must:

  • Set ground rules. Before you meet with your cross-organizational team, determine what you want to accomplish - and how you want to do so. Share the rationale behind this work and why a brand is critical to the overall health of your business.
  • Do your homework. Collect input from internal and external sources, from your own customer brand promise to competitors' websites. What can, and should, your brand be? What is your Big Idea (e.g. Heinz: "to do a common thing uncommonly well")? Why do you exist, and why should your employees care?
  • Identify aspirations. Clarify your ambitions. How far, and in what direction, can you take your company? Employees need to be able to envision a future that is bright with possibility. Think from the perspective of your people and ask yourself, "What's in it for me?"
  • Articulate your employer brand. Using the input you've gathered, create a sentence that mirrors what it means to work at your business. For example, Amtrak proclaims, "The future rides with us."

    If you need help, try filling in the blanks of this sentence: "At [blank], we promise to deliver to employees [blank], expecting in return that our employees will deliver [blank] to our customers." It'll get your creative juices flowing and help you articulate your promise to your people.

Apply: Connecting Your Brand To Each Stage of an Employee's Relationship

Sartain and Schumann write, "Your brand must be an everyday reality - one pervading all aspects of an employee's experience." What are the stages of an employee's relationship with your company, and how can you apply your brand at each?

  1. The prospective employee notices the business. Maybe a prospect hears about you from a friend, through social media, or on a job search website. This experience creates an initial impression. They ask: do employees like their jobs? Does the company seem ethical and fair? Do people have the tools and support they need to perform? Use this initial touchpoint to connect with prospects.
  2. The individual considers it as a place to work. Successful recruiting depends on aligning your promises and offerings with the wants and needs of prospective employees. A strong employer brand speaks to people with shared values, creates buzz, and effectively communicates your "employee value proposition."
  3. The candidate applies for a job. Candidates can see how the employer brand comes to life inside the company. At this stage, your brand has the power to influence people's perception of your business, whether or not they get the job.
  4. The candidate joins the company. Use onboarding and orientation to "solidify the brand impressions people carry over from the earlier stages." New hires are watching to see that paperwork is handled efficiently, that their questions are answered, that they feel welcome - and that their perception of the brand is, in fact, aligned with the reality.
  5. The employee works for the company. Processes and tools must work, and employers seek to continually answer the employee's vital question: "What's in it for me?" Can they develop the skills they need? Do they have a chance to contribute to something meaningful?
  6. The employee leaves the business. Former employees will talk about their experiences with others. Rely on your brand to continue the relationship, starting with a "rewarding" exit interview.
  7. The former employee remembers the experience of working at the company. How they will remember is entirely dependent on the employer brand. Former employees have great influence on prospects and customers. Ensure that the relationship remains positive.

Marketing: Communicating Your Employer Brand

How can you properly communicate your employer brand so your audience gets the message loud and clear?

  • Highlight the emotional relationships that employees can enjoy with your business. Make the connection between customer and employee experiences so they know what they can expect from you.
  • Rethink employee communication. Ensure information is relevant and personal to your audience. Speak to employees directly, and communicate their important role in the company's future.
  • Don't spin. Employees want the truth, but many believe they're not getting it. Maintain as much transparency as you reasonably can, and make honesty a priority.
  • Make sure your leaders own the message. Do your senior leaders/managers live up to the brand promise? If not - why should anyone else? Be sure immediate supervisors are also bought-in to the brand: most employees care about this relationship over those with senior level leadership.
  • What's in it for me? Answer this with every message. Why should people be here? No, really; they're wondering. Tell them.
  • Use your personality. Your people differentiate your business; celebrate the facets of the company's experiences that differ from competitors. "Create a new tone, a new feel, and a more emotional approach in your communications."

Your brand work is never done! Once you have built a strong employment branding strategy, keep nurturing it.

Nurturing: Taking Care of Your Brand

You've done the difficult work of diagnosing your brand, preparing yourself to fix any issues, and working to communicate your unique value at every stage of your audience's interaction with your business. But as Sartain and Schumann write, "It's still not time to celebrate yet."

To ensure your brand remains healthy and robust:

  • Document your work. In other words, write down the recipe for the secret sauce in a brand guide that covers why you need a brand, what objectives it supports, what promises it makes to your people and your customers, and how it applies to recruitment, HR, communications, marketing, operations, etc.
  • Approach employment branding as a change process. As you move your people from where they are to where you want them to be, make sure to picture the end state, assess the current state, articulate the actions you must take to move towards the end state, craft a compelling story for your audience about the necessity of change, and measure your ROI.
  • Support your brand. You can do so by coaching leaders to ensure they represent the desired values, tying new programs to the brand promise, embedding your brand into every employee message, and involving employees in the process.
  • Measure your brand's impact. Is it making a difference to your employees and customers? How do you know? Look at customer reviews, operations data, social media, news coverage, and other sources for information.
  • Keep it up. Integrate feedback into your strategy, and don't get discouraged. It takes time and concerted effort to build a great employer brand. And it takes a team.

Developing the secret sauce for your organization may seem overwhelming. But here, too, Sartain and Schumann's book delivers another useful message: take it step by step, just like you would with a recipe. In doing so, you'll have the key to accomplishing key objectives and realizing those "real results" for your employees and your company.


Larry Hart

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