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You are how you brand: create a powerful employer brand to bring current and prospective employees on board with your organization's mission and values.

We communicators love our toys. Every time we get to use a new communication approach or vehicle, we are like kids in a toy store. We can't wait to play. Mastering a new technique satisfies a creative curiosity that is simply a part of who we are and how we work. And it's probably been that way since Gutenberg introduced his first font.

In recent years brand has emerged as the new toy in our playroom. It's a fresh way to tell an organization's story. A retail approach to package business issues. A creative way to market corporate identity.

Yet there is much more to brand than first meets the eye. In fact, we shortchange its potential power if we limit brand's use to a logo or a tag line. Brand is most effective, on the inside of a business, when it supports the organization's strategy for recruiting, retaining and engaging people. But that only occurs when we share our passion for brand with others who focus on the talent strategy that is a part of any business.

"The key to leveraging a brand throughout an organization is to make it the glue that brings people together," says Libby Sartain, senior vice president of human resources at Yahoo!, the Internet company known throughout as one of the world's leading brands. "This is not something for communicators to own or for marketing to own or for HR to own. Brand is something we share, and when effectively used, it will create emotional connections with all the people a business needs to attract, retain and engage."

So how can we as communicators look beyond the surface as we consider the power of brand? Last year Yahoo! HotJobs polled its online users--people who go to the web site to look for jobs--about the importance of brand when deciding whether to work for a company. Here's what they had to say about brand, and what we can learn from their perspective.

Sphere of influence

In its 2005 poll, Yahoo! Hot-Jobs learned that 90 percent of people looking for jobs online consider it very important or important to be able to support a company's brand and products.

It's not enough for prospective employees to be familiar with what a business does or what it offers to a market. People want to align with and support the brand and products of that business. For the communicator, that translates into a simple but pivotal goal: to help employees understand and believe in what the organization promises and delivers to customers.

A business actually has two brands: a brand as a place to buy (the customer brand) and a brand as a place to work (the employer brand). On the outside the brand is all about the choices customers make every day--what to wear, eat, drive and so on. Customer brand influences how consumers think and buy, want and do, consider and choose. That power is why brand is the target of billions of marketing dollars each year.

Internally, brand is all about the choices employees make every day--whether they come to work and how they contribute. To make this happen, the employer brand must answer the question "What's in it for me?" for the employee. It can affect what employees tell people about their workplace, the same way that customers recommend (or don't recommend) businesses to their friends.

While the essentials of brand are the same inside or out, the magic must happen inside an organization before customers on the outside can experience it. That's why brand is an essential strategy for a communicator.

Advancing the relationship

More than 94 percent of people looking for jobs online say they must very closely or closely understand and believe in what a company they might work for does.

It's not enough for people to understand and believe in the brand; they must also align with what the company is all about. For the communicator, the lesson is about authenticity: to be able to clearly, candidly and credibly explain why the organization must exist.

A brand is at its most powerful when it reaches beyond a product to represent an idea emerging from the soul of a business. That is, when purpose reaches beyond the sale to advance the relationship and to engage the customer, initially on a functional level for being reliable and then on a more emotional level. Real brand power occurs when the brand inspires you, when you connect with the "big idea" the business and brand stand for.

The same is true for employees. That's why an employer brand needs a functional side that is all about practical, day-today tasks and an emotional side that's all about what the business believes in. The emotional side offers employees a way to value the paycheck, and enhances the day-to-day work experience.

Delivering on the brand

More than 89 percent of people looking for jobs online say they must very closely or closely experience as an employee what the company promises to customers.

It's not enough for people to believe in what the brand represents; they also want to experience what the business promises to customers. For the communicator, the lesson is about delivering that experience: to facilitate opportunities for people on the inside to experience the brand on the outside.

Any employer brand must bring the customer brand to life. This only happens if the employer brand defines how the organization uses employees to deliver its brand promise to customers. That means more than simply posting an external advertisement on an internal bulletin board. Such an advertisement may define an expectation, but it will not, no matter how creative, define what must be delivered. The employer brand must define the skills and behavior that deliver the brand.

At FedEx, for example, the employer brand is expressed as "the purple promise." Eric Jackson, vice president of worldwide corporate communications for the company, describes how "'the purple promise' embodies the discretionary effort the business needs from its work force to meet customers' expectations. It is our willingness to make every FedEx experience outstanding, with equal commitment to deliver on that promise inside and outside of the organization."

While a customer brand focuses on specific products or services available externally, the employer brand can highlight distinct experiences or opportunities available internally. It can frame the experience a business creates for employees so they can deliver what the brand promises to customers. In fact, the only way an employer brand can authentically reflect a business is if it articulates the organization's identity, mission and values.

As Dean Rodenbough, corporate communication director at Hallmark, observes, "Mobilizing your workforce to regularly use your products and advocate their use to others can have a powerful impact on employee engagement. Moreover, when employees understand the impact of your products and brand and how your consumers interact with them in the marketplace, it makes it easier to mobilize your workforce in support of new business priorities or strategies." That requires a business to search its inner soul before it begins to package to employees.

"What's in it for me?"

More than 90 percent of people looking for jobs online say they must very closely or closely understand the value of working for a company.

It's not enough for people to understand, believe and do. They must value as well. At the core of just about any talent strategy is the need for prospective and current employees to have a positive answer to the question "What's in it for me to work here?" For the communicator, that means facilitating an experience that creates results when employees endorse the value proposition the business offers.

The employer brand gives communicators permission to personalize the story of the relationship just as the customer brand personalizes the relationship with a product or company. This includes what a business offers in return for employee commitment to deliver the brand to customers. Says FedEx's Jackson, "If you take care of your people, set expectations, offer incentives, respect and reward them, they will be aware and willingly provide the discretionary effort to deliver service levels customers want, which will in turn allow the company to deliver premium returns to shareholders, as well as reinvest in your workforce's changing needs."

Clarity and repetition

More than 93 percent of people looking for jobs online consider it very important or important to be able to support a company's values.

Lastly, it's not enough to believe in the business or the customer. People looking for jobs to engage them emotionally want to believe in what a business values, and they want to feel that sense of pride in knowing that the place they work for does something right. This provides the communicator with a lesson on clarity and repetition. Consider this a "soft news story" that must be creatively repeated and reinforced.

A company's values are at the core of its employer brand. If it doesn't happen inside, it can't happen outside. The employer brand is about people who feel a sense of ownership in the business, its values and its aspirations. The brand articulates the values of a business. Successful recruitment, retention and engagement depend on how an employee's values align with those of the business.

"At Hallmark, our brand is one of our greatest assets, and our employees are the guardians of our brand reputation," says Rodenbough. "To that end, the communications team, in partnership with marketing and human resources, focuses on educating employees about the company's mission of enriching lives and how our brand attributes serve as a lens for decision making in our day-to-day jobs."

Jackson adds, "When done right, and consistently delivered, an employer brand elicits an emotional response from customers that's very powerful. For us, this emotional response feeds our employees' desire to do whatever it takes to satisfy our customers."

Perhaps the ultimate lesson of employer brand is how it can influence the tone and approach of communicating with employees. It can provide the subtext of every message an employee may receive to address the "what's in it for me?" issues that employees bring to work. No matter the topic, from the performance of the business to the painting of lines in the parking lot, the underlying message is always one of value based on the specific direction of the employer brand.

In the end, you are what you brand, how you brand, and what you bring to your organizational effort to brand from the inside.

Mark Schumann, ABC, is a managing principal for Towers Perrin and the former global communication practice leader for the firm. A member of the IABC executive board, he is the winner of 13 Gold Quill Awards and a frequent speaker at IABC events.
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Author:Schumann, Mark
Publication:Communication World
Date:Jul 1, 2006
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