Industry Trends

To Build a Strong Employer Brand, HR and Marketing Need to Be in Sync

employer-brandEmployer brand. Chances are good that’s a term you’ve heard before. And hopefully it’s one that’s taken seriously in your organization.

The term “employer brand” itself has been around since the mid-1990s; it refers to an organization’s reputation as an employer, as opposed to the main marketing-driven corporate brand. But over time, with social media and other channels being introduced and blurring the lines between “official” and “unofficial” communications, it’s gotten harder to distinguish between the employer and corporate brand. For that reason among others, it’s become even more important than ever for a company to manage and maintain its brand, and to ensure that it’s consistent with employee experiences. That’s made it critical for people across the organization to be on the same page when it comes to branding and messaging — especially HR and marketing.

Nowadays, LinkedIn profiles, Twitter handles, Facebook pages, Yelp reviews and other social media profiles identify where people work and the experiences they’ve had with an organization, so the things people share publicly (work-related and not) can help attract new customers and employees. Employees are ambassadors for your organization whether they want to be or not. And an increasing number of HR professionals and recruiters are using social media to recruit and vet new talent, whether those potential employees are active or passive candidates. Likewise, potential customers and employees are looking to channels like social media to research new vendors and employers.

But it goes beyond social media: From websites and collateral to events and advertising, the ways people find and learn about your business have increased, making it critical that HR and marketing are not only aligned but work together to be successful. How do you accurately reflect the culture in the corporate brand, employer brand and related messaging and make sure it connects the thoughts all the way across the company? The best companies consider these guiding principles as part of their corporate strategy.

Encourage the right behavior

In many cases, living up to and building the foundation of the brand starts with HR, who is directly responsible for getting the right people in the door. Ideally, these are people who want to be a part of developing the culture, and creating one where people want to be a part of it and share it.

By way of example, the brand we’ve tried to create in our practice is a personable and friendly one — one that focuses on employees and clients but speaks to the range of services we can provide, and is summed up in the tagline “Boutique experience. Global scale.” We’re committed to hiring the types of people we want to work with, and who our clients will respect and want to work with as well, so we communicate with that kind of voice on social media and in our other communications. And marketing and HR work together to ensure that we are living up to our brand and who we say we are through employee and client satisfaction feedback. (And of course, we make sure our voice and brand fits with the larger IBM brand as well.)

Like so many consulting groups and service firms, we know our people are our business and our brand. We also pride ourselves on finding innovative solutions for our clients’ challenges. So we want our corporate brand and our employer brand to share those qualities. To that end, we say we’re passionate about our clients, and we want the people we hire to have exceptional client-facing skills. It’s a great parallel between what we say and how we act.

And, what we hear often from our team members is that they feel empowered by clients to bring new and creative solutions to the table. Our consultants know that we want to exceed clients’ expectations by any measure necessary. So that serves as our corporate compass. Which is to say, if consultants do something, it’s because they know it’s the right thing to do — and that they’ll be supported. Our marketing and client success team measures our clients’ satisfaction and then works with HR to recognize and reward the people who are contributing to high scores. So there are incentives behind the behaviors we want to encourage. That’s important.

Lead by example

A brand is a corporate initiative, regardless of who it’s targeted to. This is what your organization stands for. This is why you exist. So a key aspect of achieving synergy and successful execution is to have buy-in at the executive level. Ensuring leaders are communicating the right messages and modeling desired behaviors is critical to encouraging support from the entire organization. HR and marketing can both pay attention to ensure this is happening.

When successful, it trickles down to the employee level and they feel a stronger connection to the organization. Remember: In this knowledge-based economy, people have a choice. Regardless of whether you’re a service business or a widget-making company, at the end of the day, people want to work for and represent a brand they’re proud of. As an employer, you want people who are excited and proud to go to work and want to wear the shirt, proud to carry the messenger bag, and are proud to tell their friends and refer them. When you create such a culture, and it’s organic, it’s so much stronger than base pay, and is an even stronger recruiting tool.

An authentic brand

The employer brand is not something created in isolation by HR, nor is the corporate brand fluffy marketing speak. It’s real and it needs to incorporate both to come together successfully. To that end, people don’t need to be robotic, mindlessly promoting “the brand.” It’s important that they feel comfortable being themselves. Because if people make the brand, they should be encouraged to be people. Individual people in aggregate make up your employer brand. Which is why hiring like-minded employees that live and breathe what your brand stands for is critical.

Naturally, aligning messages can have its challenges. But the more HR and marketing work together to create messages that are authentic and true, and can communicate them across departments and channels, the stronger the employer and corporate brands will be.

Marketing & Client Success Leader, IBM Workday Consulting Services.

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