This must seem like a strange thing for me to say, considering I’ve built my career in the field now widely known as employer branding. In fact, I have many colleagues, clients and friends who also identify with it being their area of work and expertise. So I need to be very clear – it’s not the work that happens in this area I object to, but simply the phrase itself and world of confusion it often leads to.
For me, the phrase ‘employer branding’ has become problematic. For a start, it implies that organisations have a ‘brand’ as employers that is somehow something separate and distinct. Call me a purist, but I’m not comfortable with the labelling. I like to keep things simple: your brand is your brand. It’s what people think and how people feel about your organisation. And in this day and age, that will often influence whether people want to buy your products and services, as well as whether they want to work for you. Nowadays, the concept of having a reputation and desirability purely as an employer, is becoming increasingly outdated.
Of course, when it comes to marketing strategy, that’s when the differentiation kicks in. You always need to think about your audience. What do you want them to think, feel or do? If you want them to work for you (as opposed to buy your products or services), you make sure you tailor your campaigns accordingly.
Branding, as I see it, is all about understanding who you are, what you do, how you do it, and arguably most importantly, why you do it. To a degree, at this high level, it doesn’t really matter whether you’re thinking about customers, employees or potentials of either. The most successful organisations are those who start with understanding their ‘why’, their purpose, and then build and manage their brands and cultures around that. Because when brands and cultures fuse, everything else falls into place.
So, back to my original controversial statement…firstly, let’s not talk about ‘employer brand’ when we mean marketing. And then, let’s give all the great ‘employer brand’ professionals out there the status, visibility and support they need (and deserve) to do the fabulous job they do: to harness the power of their brands and influence their cultures to help their organisations attract and retain the right talent.
We need to start working in a much more joined up way across Marketing, HR, Comms and Operations to build more effective organisations. We’re now living in a world where your culture is your brand and your brand is your culture. Where reputations can be made or broken in the blink of an eye, particularly through social media. Add to this the incredibly fast pace of technological and societal change, and it’s not hard to see why many organisations are struggling to keep up.
As branding and communications professionals, we need to bring simplicity, streamline messaging and keep it on point, so it can cut through all the noise. To help the brands we work with define and articulate what their purpose is clearly, and to capture their spirit. And then to take action by communicating all of this in meaningful, yet consistent, ways to whoever it is we want to be talking to.
I’m so excited about the opportunities this way of thinking and working opens up for everyone. Anyone else with me?
*I’d like to thank and credit Peter Wakefield, who inspired me to write this when I read his great and similarly titled article on ‘employee engagement’ back in August 2017. (Yes, it’s taken me a very long time to pluck up the courage to write and post this!)
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