The Employer Brand Experience
Adapted from the book Finding Keepers: The Monster Guide to Hiring and Holding the World’s Best Employees by Steve Pogorzelski, Jesse Harriott, Ph.D., and Doug Hardy. Published January 2008 by McGraw-Hill.
An employer brand is the full physical, intellectual, and emotional experience of people who work there, and the anticipated experience of candidates who might work there. It is both the vision and the reality of what it means to be employed there. It is both the promise and the fulfillment of that promise. The employer brand radiating out of your organization’s name inspires loyalty, productivity, and a sense of pride... or it doesn’t.
In marketing terms, a brand’s image is grounded in three dimensions:
- Functional benefits. What the product does, for example: “this Canon digital camera takes good pictures” and “this particular model is great for portraits, video, and long-distance shots.”
- Emotional benefits. How a product makes the customer feel, for example: “I feel happy when I see this beautiful shot of my kids” and “I feel loving and fun when I e-mail these pictures to their grandparents.”
- Reasons to believe. Validation of the product’s claims, for example: “Canon means reliability and ease of use” and “reviewers on CNET.com rate the Canon digital camera as excellent.”
A solid employer brand is grounded in the same dimensions:
- Functional benefits. Tangible rewards of working at the employer: salary, health care, a clean, safe workplace, and a convenient location; for example: “XYZ Co. has great compensation and has a beautiful office near my home.”
- Emotional benefits. Intangible rewards: mission, pride, status, job satisfaction, companionship/collegiality, belonging to a “winning team,” and so on; for example: “I’m proud to work for XYZ Co.—my pals and I make the best widgets in the world.”
- Reasons to believe. Validation of the employer’s claims; for example: “my friend says XYZ Co. is a great place to work” and “the local news station calls XYZ Co. a hot company for talented people.”
Note that functional and emotional benefits are used for “positioning,” which means defining the unique combination of attributes that define the product (or employer). XYZ Co.’s positioning says that it has a winning culture combined with strong tangible rewards, which in combination with other attributes creates a unique identity. XYZ’s competitors will have different cultures, locations, compensation packages, and so on.
Branding includes deliberate messages about the company. For example, PepsiCo, which employs 153,000 employees worldwide, promotes the tag line “PepsiCo—Taste the Success!” to candidates to convey the excitement of working at this global company. On its corporate recruiting Web site, PepsiCo says its workplace experience is a combination of “Powerful Brands, Passion for Growth, Culture of Shared Principles, Commitment to Results, Ability to Make an Impact and Quality People.” At that sales meeting, Sharon embodied those qualities in her behavior.
Candidates form powerful impressions of employers based on what they see and hear. “I work for PepsiCo” means something different from “I work for Microsoft,” “I work for Fox News,” and “I work for the city council.” The employer brands at these organizations are crafted to attract certain kinds of talent, temperament, and values in candidates. Their positioning is unique and distinctive.
Employer branding is not just an initiative of big companies, because everyone can (and does) develop a reputation. Ask a landscaper about three local lawn service companies and he’ll tell you the differences among them -- this one says you’ll work with the best crew chiefs; that one says it pleases every customer every time, and the third one isn’t much fun but pays just a little better. Those are employer brands just as real as Nike’s.
You have an employer brand whether you know it or not. It touches all moments of the candidate and employee experience, from the first time a candidate hears your name until the day he or she retires from your company. It’s your reputation outside and inside the organization. It’s there for you to neglect or manage. And it’s the cornerstone of finding, hiring, and holding keepers up and down the organization. In other words, it’s fundamental to the all stages of the Engagement Cycle.
The idea of an employer brand has gained currency in the last few years among business leaders, but the average manager doesn’t have a developed view of what it is and its importance to the organization. The Economist magazine found that executives defined an employer brand as the expression of a company’s distinctive employment experience. More than 70 percent of respondents in the United States and United Kingdom expected that developing a strong employer brand leads to employees recommending their organization to others as an attractive place to work, and also to higher employee retention.
The employer brand is an authentic description of an experience, similar to a consumer brand. It includes pay, working conditions, culture, job title, intangible rewards, and the emotional connection employees have with the organization and manager. It tells candidates who you are, what you want, and what you stand for. As a marketer attracts customers with a compelling product brand, a company attracts candidates with a compelling employer brand.
We think an employer brand is more than a one-way description of “what it’s like to work there.” It’s a multidimensional conversation among the company’s leadership, its employees, candidates in the marketplace, alumni, and even outsiders such as the press, bloggers, and anyone else who has an opinion. The employer brand includes
The company’s professional reputation
- A description of company culture
- News reports about the company, both good and bad
- Word-of-mouth statements about the company
- A description of the company’s future
- How the employer’s brand compares to the competition
Beyond conversation, it’s also a set of subjective candidate experiences, such as
- Applying for a job on your Web site or via e-mail
- Interviewing for a position
- Talking to employees and walking through the workplace site(s)
- Using products, services, or customer help
- The company’s impact in the candidate’s community
What emerges in the candidate’s imagination is a fuller story than any recruiting slogan can capture: it’s an experience.
This might all sound a little esoteric, but in fact it’s simply recognizing reality. Candidates pay attention to an organization’s reputation and compare it to other reputations. They ask employees what it’s like to work there. In the quest for quality, employer branding is the foundation of attracting the right people. This is where the thought you’ve given to the new candidate comes together with the urgent need to bring great talent into your organization. The new candidate, as we’ve noted, is empowered to compare your organization to others, and he’ll start with the employer brand.
Here’s a typical hiring situation in which the employer brand makes a difference: A mortgage broker, already employed at a bank, gets a call from a recruiter. “Come work for this leading financial services firm and make a lot of money,” says the recruiter. Instantly the mortgage broker begins to weigh the reputation of the firm against his current employer... are they prestigious or unknown? Are they thought of as a sweatshop or a fun place to work? Will he be proud to approach customers with that name on his business card? Does he know people at the firm, and are they happy to work there? If the answers aren’t right, he might not even be receptive to the recruiter’s pitch.
He might even think of their advertising, charity affiliations, and location — all relevant factors in trying to judge the experience of working there.
To imagine the power of employer branding, think also of how hard it is for organizations in crisis to attract talent (except for turnaround specialists). A reputation as “a lousy place to work” is part of the death spiral that afflicts failing companies. It’s a grim but true reminder that reputation matters.
People have affinities for brands. People who use Apple computers, iPods, and other devices respond to the brand’s hip image. You feel different driving a BMW than a Hyundai in part because you associate yourself with the brand, and that colors your experience. Don’t you respond in a similar way to the organization where you spend 40 to 60 hours a week?
Your employer brand is a standard against which you can judge whether all the tasks around attracting, acquiring, and advancing talent are working together. If your efforts are unified by the right employer brand, you will look for the right people, create the right employment advertising, do the right networking and other outreach programs, and explain the advantages of working for you versus your competition. You’ll capture the candidates who share your values and will succeed, and take a pass on candidates (even talented ones) who won’t work out.
Furthermore, an authentic employment brand is a challenge to your organization’s management to walk the talk — to manage daily work according to a set of values and standards that identify your company. This means employees know who they’re joining, what they’re expected to do, and how they will be judged.
Do you see that your employment brand is in fact the heart and soul of your company? It’s really an articulation of why you exist, why you work, and why you work here and not some place else. It’s that important.