The Essentials Of Building An Employer Brand
Everything you do can be copied. Your processes, duplicated. Your corporate structures, replicated. Your innovative products, mimicked. Your value pricing, your technology infrastructure, your corporate structure, imitated. In a commoditized world, the only unique advantage your organization has is its people. A strong employer brand empowers you to attract, retain, and inspire top employees - talent that then enables you to meet your promises to consumers.
US companies spend nearly $190 billion on advertising and marketing each year; these dollars are designed to reach out and grab consumers' attention, to raise their awareness, to induce people to buy... to build a powerful customer brand. But, as Libby Sartain and Mark Schumann point out, "if your brand doesn't live on the inside, it can't thrive on the outside." You have to start on the inside - with employees - and work your way out.
Sartain and Schumann, authors of Brand From the Inside: Eight Essentials to Emotionally Connect Your Employees to Your Business, explain: "Any business, in any corner of the world, must create an experience to engage its employees before it can expect those employees to deliver the brand to customers."
Sartain and Schumann wrote Brand from the Inside in 2006; the need for a strong employer brand has only grown more pressing. According to Universum's report, "2020 Outlook: The Future of Employer Branding," employer branding has become a strategic imperative. CEOs and executives rely on their internal brand to:
- Secure long-term recruitment needs (a critical issue given the increasing skills shortage).
- Build global brands.
- Differentiate their organizations from competitors.
A powerful employer brand - think Zappos, Google, Apple, Amtrak, P&G, L'Oréal, and Adidas - creates "emotional connections with the people who make a difference to your business. Your employees." It also empowers you to attract and recruit the type of people who will drive your business forward. It draws talent in, gaining their buy-in through the potency of your promise to them. In turn, they will help you deliver on your promise to consumers.
How do you brand from the inside?
Discovering the Power of Brands
In their straightforward guide, Sartain and Schumann provide a compelling roadmap for building an employer brand. The first step: understanding what a brand is and the power it can wield.
"Brands make people do things." Brands motivate folks to buy Coke instead of Pepsi or get their java fix from Dunkin' Donuts instead of Starbucks (and instead of brewing their own coffee much cheaper at home). They do so by crystallizing a promise or value in a very simple way: Dunkin' Donuts, for example, is the coffee "America runs on." Starbucks "inspires and nurtures the human spirit," one latte at a time. Every business has a brand, and that brand's purpose is to sell. Some of the ways they accomplish that:
- Connecting customers to a big idea. Great brands go beyond products and services to touch consumers on an emotional level. Nike, for instance, provides "inspiration and innovation to every athlete." And, "If you have a body, you are an athlete." Makes you want to go run, doesn't it? Or buy some sneakers.
- Maintaining consistency. If you're an athlete at a Nike store, you're an athlete when you visit their website, and you're an athlete when you lace up your trainers for a workout. Strong brands reinforce their message, influence customers at each touchpoint, and make sure every experience "sticks." They also stand for something - an ideal or ethic- ensuring their appeal will last longer than the most current trend.
- Creating emotional ties. Strong brands create emotional connections. To continue with our Nike example: the company offers more than shoes. They offer an inspirational - and aspirational - message. You are an athlete. You can just do it. And when you do just do it, it tends to solidify customer loyalty - a key element of success.
A brand tells consumers what they can expect from their interactions with an organization. Now what about your employees? What can they expect?
What's In It for Me?
After you've learned the power of a brand, the second essential is "Commit." Sartain and Schumann explain: "Employees are asking a variation of the same question asked by customers: 'What's in it for me?' (Everyone's favorite radio station... WIIFM!) Why should they buy into the brand?"
To answer this question, your employer brand must:
- State your promise to your employees. You commit to providing them with a certain experience; they commit to helping you deliver the customer brand.
- Support your business strategy. The strategy is the reason behind your employer brand. What are you trying to do? When people buy-in, they give their all.
- Define what your customers' experience. Doing so creates an emotional connection between employee and customer, ensuring all touchpoints reinforce the brand promise.
- Define what your business needs from employees. What do you need from them in order to deliver on your customer brand? What is their role in your overall strategy/mission?
- Define "on-brand" behavior. How are employees expected to act to ensure brand consistency across all internal and external interactions?
- Connect what happens outside with what happens inside. You work to provide customers reasons to buy from you; here, you need to give your people reasons to work with you.
- Define your business as a good place to work. What makes you an employer of choice? Have you ever considered entering local "Best Places to Work" competitions?
- Define what your business believes. Articulate your company's values so employees have a sense of working towards the greater good.
- Define your desired emotional connection with employees. A great brand helps employees envision a future with your company; it creates a connection and spurs them to become brand advocates/ambassadors.
- Help you recruit, and re-recruit, employees. In the "talent war," a compelling employer brand is your most powerful weapon.
Competitors can copy anything but your connection with your employees. Leverage a strong employer brand and start realizing greater returns on your biggest investment - your people.
Now that you understand the importance of an employer brand, how do you begin to build one that helps you achieve key business goals? We'll tackle that next.