It is vital for brands to differentiate in today’s increasingly crowded consumer space but the same principles apply to the employer and employee relationship, where brand communications and marketing are just as important to retain and attract talent.
The reasons for marketers rating their workplace highly are varied, and not always what you might expect. Marketing Week’s Employer Brands project has researched some of the UK’s top employers for marketers, finding, for example, that even at the brands paying the highest salary, income is the aspect of their job with which employees are least happy.
Marketers score their salary an average of 3.4 out of 5, the lowest of the 15 metrics we asked about in a survey of more than 1,300 people. Hardly any companies receive an average score above 4, even though the salaries that companies claim to pay in our separate employer survey differ widely. This suggests raising salaries would not be a quick fix to make a brand a more appealing employer.
The aspect marketers are most positive about is their colleagues, scoring them 4.3 on average. Brands without a collaborative and supportive atmosphere are therefore likely to fall a long way behind the competition in the battle for marketing talent.
Why employer branding matters
Research from Totaljobs, which surveyed 100 employers, finds that 91% say brand is important to the recruitment process. The reasons for investing in employer branding vary, as 39% say the main objective is to improve the external perception of the company, 25% aim to attract candidate applications and 20% say it is to improve employee retention.
Although these reasons could be considered universal, the nature of the workforce today means that catering for the needs and goals of a diverse set of people is a challenge. However, there are ways of capitalising on that diversity.
Direct Line Group, one of the companies featured in our Employer Brands showcase, is “taking a progressive stance around the recently emerging notion of neuro-diversity”, according to marketing director Mark Evans. This means recruiting talent and building teams from people with a range of life experiences and mindsets.
He says: “It’s critical to communicate that you’re coming to [work at] a place where people can be the best versions of themselves, rather than a clone of an established norm. We are focused on ensuring that we have a diverse workforce.”
A consumer brand needs to work in harmony with an employer brand. In fact, it should be difficult to distinguish the difference between the two.
Tom Pepper, LinkedIn
The group has “deliberately created” a culture where personal experience is as highly valued as professional expertise, and ideas and thinking are recognised and rewarded. An example of this can be seen in its company-wide ‘Ideas Lab’, which Evans says has generated thousands of suggestions to date.
This human approach to employer branding is important, according to John Salt, group sales director at Totaljobs. He says: “Great employer brands tend to have a human touch in what they do, communicating the brand in an emotional and interactive way, which can lead to significant loyalty from current employees, as well as attracting new staff.”
He adds: “Employees are your biggest advocates, so creating a great employer brand is also about making them feel valued.
Consumer and employer branding align
Tom Pepper, UK director of LinkedIn Marketing Solutions, says: “A consumer brand needs to work in harmony with an employer brand. In fact, it should be difficult to distinguish the difference between the two.”
LinkedIn believes there is a direct correlation between people’s experience as a candidate and how they perceive a company and its product.
Pepper adds: “Think in particular about a big consumer brand. If a customer has a negative experience with that brand, they’ll likely be deterred from applying for a job with that same company, and vice versa; a poor interview experience is likely to have a negative impact on a customer’s future interaction with that brand.”
Javier Diez-Aguirre, vice-president of corporate marketing, CSR and environment at technology brand Ricoh Europe, agrees with Pepper and believes that “becoming an employer brand cannot be an isolated activity”.
He says: “Becoming a brand employer must be integrated. It must be reflected in every facet and interaction the business has, entwined through all operations from back office to front line.”
Ricoh uses its heritage to engage with consumers and colleagues alike, and external and internal communications are closely aligned with business strategy, according to Diez-Aguirre. “Our brand statement of ‘Imagine. Change’ is testament to that and our programme of internal activities, which make use of social interests such as photography, is built around our business strategy,” he says.
Direct Line Group runs internal and external campaigns simultaneously. For every external communication campaign, the company gives equal attention to internal integrated communication plans.
Evans says: “At the time of the launch of the ‘Fixer’ campaign, we made a huge effort to connect our people with the brand promise, asking them to be ‘on it’ and to ask themselves WWWWD? (what would Winston Wolf do?). As a result, we have seen an underlying improvement in net promoter score as our people ‘fix’ our customers problems, often in ways that you could never plan for if you attempted to.”
Similarly, Sky, one of Marketing Week’s Employer Brands, carries the values of its ‘Believe in Better’ advertising strapline through to its employer branding. In its employer survey response, the company cites its internal recognition awards of the same name, with a set quota of these reserved for the marketing team. Prizes include once-in-a-lifetime holidays, family breaks and electrical devices.
Another Employer Brand, HomeServe, admits it has been on a transformation journey since experiencing “a significant reputational challenge” a few years ago, which has required the brand to align its internal and external communications to focus on the customer. It has created an “authentic and open culture” on the principle that “if you take care of your people, they will take care of your customers, and the rest will take care of itself”.
In terms of communications for a specific purpose, Pepper at LinkedIn says well-known brands face a further hurdle when trying to hire people in an area that might not be resonant with what they are known for.
For example, retailers such as Marks & Spencer and John Lewis are increasingly looking to hire tech talent, “yet most consumers would see them as high-street retailers first and foremost”, says Pepper.
He adds: “Hiring tech talent changes who their competition is and the brand they need to portray to that audience, but this is when an employer brand comes into its own. Communicating a business’s values and purpose through a strong employer brand should be consistent, regardless of the specific roles they are looking to fill.”
Storytelling is a huge trend in consumer marketing but there is crossover in employer branding, as these same values that are being conveyed to potential customers can also be a tool for the brand as an employer.
But Salt at Totaljobs warns that before brands start the marketing process, “you should know who you are as a company”. He says this can be a challenge, especially for smaller, newer companies, but that “defining a company proposition and figuring out your point of difference from the competition is the starting point for creating your employer brand”.
Salt advises to keep employer branding messaging “simple and consistent across all channels from your website to social channels, when speaking or networking at events, or meeting with candidates face-to-face”.
He says: “One key challenge is effective communication; a company could have an amazing brand but this is wasted if it’s not communicated in an effective and engaging manner. Developing a great employer brand requires planning and investment, just like any other brand.”
Pepper adds: “This can be as simple as a fully branded job advert, which showcases the best of what makes your business unique. Including videos, striking imagery and engaging content goes a long way in securing applications from the most sought-after candidates.”
However, Pepper at LinkedIn says that although “having a clear vision and telling a compelling story right from the top of an organisation is essential”, a focus on creating the right content and sharing it across appropriate channels is also important.
He warns, however, that content is most credible when it comes from employees rather than the HR team or senior leadership. Pepper says: “Your employees are your best brand advocates and many of them will already be active online, so don’t be afraid of encouraging them to share elements of their working lives on their personal channels in a way that’s appropriate to them.”
He adds: “Not everyone will feel comfortable about the blend of professional and personal personas, so respect that and focus on enabling it to happen organically, rather than mandating it.”
Marketing Week’s Career and Salary Survey 2017, published in January, suggests that some employee needs are not being met in the marketing profession. The data shows that having a good working environment is important to 69.9% of marketers, even more so than the opportunity to advance their career (67.8%), fair financial rewards (65.7%) or job security (48.4%).
A similar feeling of dissatisfaction is felt in other areas. Only a quarter of marketers feel their company offers them job security, with just 14.6% being offered opportunities to advance their career, and a mere 11.2% believe they are being given fair financial reward.
Saurav Chopra, co-founder and CEO of employee motivation brand Perkbox, explains that “employer branding needs to work on two levels: you are looking to attract great talent and then once you have the talent, how you engage them across the whole employee life cycle”.
He says: “One of the things that we focus on is being clear to potential employees and to the market that we are a mission-driven business, to improve workplace culture and environment. That mission resonates with a lot of potential employees and customers because that element is really important.”
Chopra suggests that many young companies do not focus on setting that purpose and mission early enough in the life of the company: “They do it much later, but it’s more important to do it sooner rather than later.”
He says employers need to focus on employee development. “What we talk about and what we sell is an employee engagement platform that drives employee wellbeing, so that is about financial, physical and emotional wellbeing,” explains Chopra.
Candidates are interviewing companies as much as companies are interviewing them.
Mark Evans, Direct Line Group
Potential dissatisfaction could increase as the demanding character of the millennial workforce adds to the pressure on employers.
Chopra champions transparency across organisations with employees, and informs them about all the developments that happen within the business, whether they are organisational changes, financials or challenges that the business faces. He says: “Given the millennial nature of today’s workforce, they seek that transparency.”
Evans at Direct Line Group recognises that the career expectations of millennials are “exceptionally demanding” because “they have been raised to a cultural mantra and new norm that you should follow your dreams and can achieve anything”.
He also says there is a huge amount of competition for talent happening at the same time where “candidates are interviewing companies as much as companies are interviewing them”.
Evans adds: “As with everything else in the world, there is an expectation of progressing very rapidly, whereas in reality managing a career is as much perspiration as it is inspiration.”
Direct Line Group therefore invests in its graduate programme and in the marketing function. “We took the decision to put our graduates into existing roles from day one, giving them a fantastic opportunity to get stuck in rather than create work for the sake of it,” explains Evans.
Chopra agrees that the needs, aspirations and expectations are different and says this can be challenging, particularly as work for millennials “is not a 9-to-5 job, they want to be passionate, they want autonomy and to learn and grow”.
He says: “The challenge is how do you create a system that tailors its reward, recognition and employer brand and culture to meet the needs of that diverse workforce. From an employee benefits standpoint, how do you create an employee benefits system that tailors itself to the needs of the different workforce?”
Chopra believes that it works “if you have full alignment in internal and external company objectives”. He says: “I don’t believe these two goals are contrary; they are aligned.”
At PepsiCo, one of the Marketing Week Employer Brands, keen attention is given to a flexible work culture, based on research that long hours are unhealthy and do not improve productivity. According to its survey response, the company encourages staff to spend time with their family on Friday afternoons during the summer, and rather than offering compressed hours where staff work five days’ hours over four days, it provides the tools and opportunity to work from home.
Direct Line Group’s Evans concludes: “There is a striking similarity to marketing 101 – you need to have a big idea that galvanises your target market to be attracted to you and to want to stay with you.”
He adds: “You want missionaries, not mercenaries.”
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