What is employer branding and how can it help grow your business?
Karina Townley

3 minutes

What is employer branding and how can it help grow your business?

Employer branding is the process of promoting an organisation to attract, recruit and retain talent. Though a longstanding concept in HR, it’s moved significantly up the corporate agenda as businesses understand they need to do more to attract and retain valuable talent in challenging conditions.

Having a solid employer brand is a must for any company that wants to succeed at the talent game. Increasingly employer branding is seen a vital tool to attract not just permanent employees but flexible workforces too as businesses seek ever greater business agility.

Defining your Employer Value Proposition, identifying proof points and then showcasing real employee stories, helps to create a sense of pride about working for the business and reduces attrition while also drawing in the right kind of prospective talent. Given that employer branding can reduce employee turnover by 28% and boost employee engagement by 120%, investing in an employer brand is a no-brainer.

The typical job candidate of today is more mobile, autonomous and knowledgeable than ever before. If the employer brand doesn’t stand up to scrutiny and reflect the true employee experience, talent will see right through it. Authenticity is key.

According to a study by Corporate Responsibility Magazine (CR Magazine), 69% of job seekers would likely turn down an offer from a company with a bad reputation — even if they were unemployed.

In the age of widespread social media usage, online review platforms such as Indeed and Feefo, and increasing work-life integration, safeguarding and strengthening a brand’s reputation has never been more important.

What is employer branding?

Despite being in use since the 1990s, the term “employer brand” has often been misconstrued by businesses looking to enhance their candidate-facing image.

The CIPD describes the concept of employer branding as “the way businesses differentiate themselves in the labour market to attract talent.”

With talent shortages becoming increasingly acute, differentiating a business from competitors — in the eyes of clients, customers and potential candidates alike — is much more than a question of aesthetics. Employer branding is a strategic necessity.

It’s useful to distinguish the employer brand from the consumer brand. The consumer brand is how an organisation delivers value to clients and/or customers via key elements such as mission statement, tone of voice, design colours and logo.

While the employer brand often leverages these elements, it also combines them with creative storytelling and a robust Employer Value Proposition (EVP) to demonstrate why a company should be the employer of choice for candidates in the sector.

Employer branding is no longer a case of creating an inspirational narrative and listing employment offerings on the company website and social media channels, however. Without first-hand, verifiable feedback, candidates have no way to separate fact from fiction.

In today’s always-on, 24/7 business environment, branding the business as a great place to work boils down to the day-to-day experience of employees and what they say about the organisation. Encouraging employees to do most of the branding themselves, then, is the essence of employer branding.

What does a good employer brand look like?

“Your brand is what other people say about you when you have left the room”
— Jeff Bezos

Getting top talent through the door is undoubtedly important, but there’s more to the employer branding process than hitting hiring targets. Here are some best practices to turn employer branding into a worthwhile activity that drives business growth.

Telling a compelling story

The most crucial aspect of employer branding — on which all success hinges — is the perception of a company among prospective talent.

The most direct way to influence perception is to appeal to people’s emotions through creative storytelling. According to research, telling stories is up to 22 times more memorable than facts. By capturing a company’s uniqueness and vision in a thoughtful, memorable and authentic narrative, employer branding can plant the brand firmly in the minds of top candidates.

Creating a UX-friendly careers page (replete with employee testimonials, company values and the perks of the job) is a great way to convey this, as are company events and awards ceremonies that celebrate the business’ most valuable asset: its people.

A recent trend among the best employer brands is making a company’s most talented people accessible to candidates at the job application stage — through channels such as chat sessions, ‘live’ videos on social media or informal outreach events.

By being given the opportunity to speak to potential future colleagues, candidates are made to feel connected and valued within an organisation before joining.

Getting buy-in from employees

Though targeted towards a specific candidate, a good employer brand should display the company’s credentials to a broad audience through a range of channels, including official communications, office visits, social media, and, most importantly, word of mouth.

That’s why employer branding cannot be a top-down endeavour. It requires buy-in from all employees, from the CEO to the contractors who clean the canteen. If pressed, individuals in a company should want to be brand ambassadors and paint a positive picture of their employer in an out-of-work setting.

Reflecting company culture

This doesn’t mean holding employees to a code of silence, either: if an incorrect picture of day-to-day life at the company is being presented, people can spill the beans once they leave the company. And, as the recent Web Applications UK bullying saga demonstrated, it doesn’t take much to completely tarnish a brand’s reputation on social media.

With networking being so important in the labour market of the future, people are likely to recommend or denounce a company to a job-seeking friend, family member or colleague based on the merits of employer brand alone. Moreover, bad experiences are more likely to trigger an emotional reaction than a good or “okay” one. For people to leave positive feedback online, the candidate experience needs to consider all candidate touchpoints.

In this sense, employer branding is a dual activity that involves building and maintaining an inclusive culture and then truthfully sharing it with a candidate audience. This isn’t a quick win — it needs to be constant.

Tapping into values

Brand loyalty underpins the new economy. Consumers, particularly those in the Millennial and Generation Z cohorts, have an increasing affinity with consumer brands that stand up to ethical scrutiny (aside from age-old marketing strategies such as slick commercials and celebrity endorsement). Before purchasing a brand’s products or services, people seek authenticity.

The same principles can be applied to employer branding. Just as values-driven consumers can spot an unscrupulous brand a mile off, candidates can uncover the true nature of an organisation’s working environment with a simple Google search. Leadership must live and breathe the values it espouses.

Harnessing technology

As with any competitive area of business, deploying the latest tech is crucial in people management. Making full use of integrated platforms and data insights will speed up workflows, bolster collaboration and demonstrate to tech-savvy, digitally native candidates that the company embraces innovation and change.

Perpetuating a pattern

Employer brand doesn’t finish with an employer brand identity and EVP. It requires a constant, drip-feed approach which needs to be visible, evolving and current. With business priorities frequently flexing in line with the changing job and economic trends, the employer brand needs to do the same.

As an ongoing exercise, employer branding should be a holistic, self-perpetuating process. Investing in an attractive Employee Value Proposition while neglecting the interview process, for example, will lead to a propositional mismatch — an imbalance that employees (and, by extension, candidates) will no doubt pick up on.

A strong employer brand, therefore, should be the foundation for all people strategies. It should take into account:

  • The entire end-to-end candidate experience (from job adverts to onboarding/following up with rejected candidates)
  • Appraisals and management styles
  • Company culture
  • Diversity & inclusion (D&I)
  • The use of technology across the business

By optimising these bases (all of which are major flashpoints for potential discontent), employer branding can drastically improve the employee experience — and draw in more candidates in the process.

Conclusion: how does employer branding enable business growth?

In these uncertain times, allocating time and money towards building a positive employer brand may seem unrealistic for many business leaders. Others may have dabbled with elements of employer branding, but seemingly lack the resources to create a holistic Employer Value Proposition.

Though certain skills and industries continue to hold sway in the talent game, any business can create an EVP based on many different pillars depending on what they stand for. By forging an EVP around core values, businesses can attract candidates who also have similar priorities.

The pillars of an EVP can be anything from company heritage to L&D; from global mobility to being ethical and responsible. At Guidant Global, we employ our “EVP pie” when running client workshops. Building on pillars such as career progression, innovation and teamwork, client stakeholders can add proof points to each of these areas and develop their EVP further.

From Series A startups to century-old multinationals, employer brand is the most cost-effective way for businesses to consolidate a robust, sustainable talent pipeline — and employer branding success stories prove this.

Aside from hogging the headlines and garnering critical acclaim, Heineken’s stylish “Go Places” campaign acted as a manifesto for prospective talent. By focusing on the candidate’s personality and professional ambitions in a way that resonated with the target audience, Heineken received over 300% more job applications via LinkedIn than in previous years.

Etsy took a different approach by actively demonstrating the company’s values in action. By celebrating its unique six-and-a-half-months’ paid parental leave policy and showing the positive effect it had on employees, the company set an inspirational example to other businesses and attracted a niche candidate audience.

Finally, Unilever’s inventive Power of U campaign encourages candidates to share their own stories of how they bring purpose and passion to their work. By individualising the recruitment process and setting an inspirational, aspirational agenda that enables prospective candidates to showcase their personalities, Unilever lives up to the four pillars of its Employer Value Proposition: “Purpose Power,” “Be the Catalyst,” “Brilliantly Different Together,” and “Go Beyond.”

With a laser-focused commitment to enhancing the emotional, intangible aspects of the candidate journey, it’s perhaps little surprise that Unilever is the #1 employer of choice in more than 40 markets.

As these examples demonstrate, effective employer branding doesn’t have to be complicated. It simply needs to drive home an honest narrative — both internally and externally — that makes people want to work for a business. Candidates and employees seek companies with a strong culture, clear values, flexible working arrangements and the opportunity to make a difference. Most of all, they want an emotional connection with where they work.

Yes, employer branding requires investment, collaboration and strategic thinking. But by putting the human element at the forefront of all business processes, the brand reputation will take care of itself.

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