How to execute a successful branding strategy from theory to practice
Billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban warned back in March that how companies handle the coronavirus crisis could affect their brand for decades to come. “Not only is it a safety issue; it’s a business issue,” he told CNBC’s “Markets In Turmoil” special. Every decision a leader makes for their company, especially during a global crisis like the one currently facing markets, has the potential to impact how that company is viewed as an employer. Implementing planned-out and well-executed employer branding is of the utmost importance now more than ever.
The year 2020 represents a tipping point for not just how companies operate but how they portray themselves to the market, to clients, and to prospective hires. A lot has changed, and rapidly, in the models of professional collaboration and the very essence of what defines an organization. In addition, the digital revolution and the cultural demands of today’s younger generations, taking place in an era of exposure and transparency, have led to an unprecedented shift in employer branding.
A company’s ability to build a value proposition that boosts its appeal as a workplace is a critical success factor. The marketing strategy and brand must communicate the policies, principles, and values of an organization’s human capital management. This requires a refined and insightful effort in several dimensions — substantial or symbolic — from management processes to benefits and models of compensation that is attractive to both current and potential talent. It is essential that as an employer the organization views its people as customers who must be attracted, motivated, and emotionally committed. This is about changing the mindset of an employer focused on operating processes and efficiency in which professionals “need to be” to that of an organization where they really “want to be.” If they are satisfied and motivated, they will invest their time, energy, and skills for the duration of their time there.
The function of attracting talent is increasingly aligned with the marketing workflow. It defines the organization’s positioning, invests heavily in reinforcing the positive attributes of its brand, segments the market with a view to define the most relevant targets, and chooses communication channels to address key messages. Just as products and services have to position themselves before their customers, organizations should do so with their professionals.
The employer image is a fundamental asset for companies in attracting the talent they need. This specific process, increasingly promoted at a global level, is called employer branding: the creation of a brand image that encompasses the attributes the company values in its role as an employer in terms of human capital management with an impact on internal and external stakeholders. It addresses perceptions of employees, potential employees and other interested audiences, regarding the organization’s reputation.
The big question, of course, is how to execute an employer branding strategy from theory to practice. Based on my experience, I can recommend a roadmap of the following five stages:
Firstly, it is necessary to diagnose the current status of the organization in terms of mission, vision, values, strategy and, culture and the level of engagement of its human capital. Once this is known, a branding project can be built that will have an effective impact.
Define Employer Value Proposition (EVP)
As a second step, it is necessary to define the purpose and strategy of the brand. The essential core will be the employer value proposition (EVP), which consists of a set of benefits that a professional receives in exchange for the skills, knowledge, experience, and engagement he/she brings to a company. This is the essence of an employer, which must be unique and inimitable. The EVP can have several ingredients, exemplified in the figure below, and the organization must define where it can and wants to be, differentiating and assuming its competitive advantage.
Brand Activation and Communication
Because it is essential to take into account all emotional and sensory interactions with the audience, an employer branding strategy must be activated and based on an integrated vision of communication. This communication encompasses the internal and external spheres, both tangible and visible (office layouts, workspace look and feel, career websites, social media, university roadshows), as well as intangible (leadership styles, informality level, collaboration and decision-making styles). Everything is a touchpoint, a sum of perceptions to produce a strong and hopefully consistent idea of the employer. Dimensions such as work-life balance and social responsibility are also be relevant at this point.
Align HR Processes With The Employer Brand
People management processes are contact points through which the brand and its attributes are put to the test. These contexts involve people, places (physical or virtual), processes, and respective perceptions that promote the connection between the brand and its target audience, providing conditions to create an impression of the brand. These questions can be included in the employee experience — that is, everything that involves the employee, providing them with positive experiences in the way they work, how they are rewarded, and how their career develops. We are talking about key processes such as recruitment and selection, onboarding and integration, skills and career development, leadership model, performance management, compensation and benefits, and celebration rituals. Lastly, in the off-boarding process, former employees can become brand ambassadors and contribute to the company’s reputation. If a leader wants to promote their company as an example of collaboration and innovation, these attributes must be visible in all people processes.
Manage And Monitor The Brand
Once the brand is activated and processes are aligned, it is necessary to guarantee longevity. It is important to define metrics of awareness, reputation, engagement, and others to carry out a regular analysis of results and trends and, not least, to ensure the training of all those directly and indirectly responsible (namely the company’s leaders), to ensure sponsorship and direct action, increasing the value and impact of the employer brand.
Whether we like it or not, everything we as business decision makers do communicates something, and everything we communicate influences something. We are at a time when the level of exposure is high, making it virtually impossible to guarantee opacity about what is going on inside organizations. There are already platforms such as Glassdoor and Indeed that rate companies on their attractiveness (working conditions, compensation, work-life balance, and the like), and the personal experience of those who have worked there (a kind of Yelp for employers). This, once again, shapes the perceptions and preferences of professionals in the crucial act of go or no-go decisions. In addition, it’s relevant to mention the new work trends like remote work as a variable increasing the importance of having an employer brand.
If we don’t work in a structured way on our company’s image, outside perceptions will naturally emerge without our control, which can lead to dysfunctional images. Building an employer brand with personality, differentiation, and consistency is in fact, today, a mandatory challenge in the business ecosystem, to be faced and overcome with success.