One of the livelier debates on our fledgling CommScrum LinkedIn group arose when Sean Trainor posted a discussion with the provocative title, “Death to Employer Branding.”
The crux of his argument? The term “Employer Brand” is essentially a ruse cooked up by agencies (particularly of the recruitment variety) to create and own their own space and, to a greater or lesser extent, to package old wine a sexy new bottle. There is no such distinct entity, says Sean. There is only one brand, with multiple stakeholders.
As someone who considers himself a joined-up thinker, I don’t disagree. Except that…
If you look past the label (which will always be used and abused by unscrupulous types) and focus on the underlying principle, the concept of an “employer brand” has done us a great service in elevating the importance of employees as a critical audience with whom a brand must resonate if a business is to be successful.
Given the heritage of brands and branding as fundamentally revolving around a business’ reputation in the minds of its customers, the big risk with the “one brand, many audiences” perspective is that it tends to subordinate employees.
Indeed, the conventional wisdom has it that “employer branding” is essentially an act of alignment – i.e. with the corporate brand as the starting point, the job of the employer brand is to reflect/translate/distill what it stands for into the deal on offer for current and prospective employees.
However, consider, for example, the fascinating experiment conducted by HCL Technologies, covered by a recent webinar on the Management Innovation Exchange (thanks to fellow CommScrummer, Deb Hinton, for pointing me in its direction). Consider the ever-increasing service/knowledge orientation of business today. Consider Jim Collins’ golden rule of “First who, then what” from biz book classic Good to Great.
Notwithstanding the fact that I’d be tempted to update the latter to “First why, then who” (a nod to my previous post), for me, these things all conspire to make the conventional wisdom look a bit arse-about-face.
Taking Geoff Barbaro’s comment that a business is (or at least ought to be seen as) a vehicle for achieving together what people would find it hard to achieve on their own, then it surely follows that it’s employees, not customers, to whom the brand must speak to first – an expression of the organisational “why?” that gets the right people on the bus and (just as importantly) keeps the wrong people off it?
In short, whether or not you agree with the specific label of “employer branding”, the assumption at its heart, and the insights that it generates, perhaps ought to be what represents your brand’s true north.