Read the full interview on Employer Branding from Peter Clayton’s Inside Recruiting Channel podcast on Total Picture Radio with Anne Gilmore
Combining experience gained globally as a corporate executive and consultant in Europe, Asia, and North America, with Arthur Anderson, RBS and HSBC Investment Bank among others, Anne Gilmore Bridges Strategic Human Capital Management with marketing and branding expertise.
Welcome to Total Picture Radio. This is Peter Clayton reporting. Joining me today to discuss employer branding, its impact, and importance is Anne Gilmore, Vice President of Strategic Branding at GK Brand, a global strategic branding consultancy specializing in brand strategy and brand architecture, visual brand identity systems, product and company naming, and interactive design.
Anne, welcome to Total Picture Radio.
Anne: Thank you, Peter.
Peter: So that’s a lot of brands there. What is an employer branding and how different is it to a corporate brand?
Anne: If you assume that the corporate brand is the big idea or is a brand promise that speaks to your consumer, whereas an employer brand has to be differentiated because it’s speaking to a completely different audience, it’s speaking to your employees.
Peter: So what if I’m running a company that just has business with the Department of Defense, I’m not a consumer-driven organization, is it still important to have an employee brand?
Anne: Employees need to feel that they are tied in to something that’s bigger than themselves. I think its just part of our human nature that, you know, it empowers us to feel that we’re working for something that’s maybe larger than ourselves. So to have an employer brand that connects people on an emotional level, that tells their story that resonates within people, I just think is incredibly important. It’s important on many levels and particularly as a return on investment.
Peter: There is something else that I think is really interesting here. A lot of companies today are out there trying to recruit exactly the same people. Whether you’re a Deloitte, whether you’re Coca Cola, or P&G, the A-players are always employed. They always have a job because they’re that good and there is that much demand for them, and the recruiters have been gone away, they’re still out there and what they’re after are those A-players. How do I, as an employer, keep my A-players?
Anne: I think you’ve just made a case for why employer branding is just so crucial because you have to be out there, and you have to be seen to be actively and continuously looking at your employer brand and how that speaks to who you want to identify in the marketplace, and it is a competitive landscape, and the type of A-player talent that you want to attract, you want as much as the next person. So you have to have something that really differentiates you, and you have to be very clear about what it is that is your unique value proposition.
You can only establish that if you go through an employer branding process. It gives you the information you need to really hone in on what makes you unique, what differentiates you from the crowd, and what really speaks the truth about who you are and who your people are, and I think once you are clear about that and you are clear about your values, you just automatically attract the people to you that you need to really take your business to the next level.
Peter: Along with that, I mean this is clearly a global marketplace we are competing in today. So can an employer brand globally speak to an employee-base and can be consistent. Can the same message work in China, Japan, US, and UK across the board, or do they have to be different messages?
Anne: Having worked on different continents, I would definitely say that there were different cultural values that come into play. I think on one level, there is an overarching kind of mission and vision, but within that, there are cultural values that really speak to people’s different nationalities and different social backgrounds that I think you have to be cognizant of, and I think any sophisticated employer brand has to take into account those variations. To have a one size fits all, I think is not the way to go.
Peter: Anne, in your experience, how does an employer brand actually work to help an organization attract talent as well as retain and engage employees? That’s a big thing to be doing today, you know, to do all of those, right?
Anne: Absolutely it is, Peter. I think to have a very strong employer brand really puts you up that in terms of finding and attracting the top talent for your business without any question of a doubt. It elevates you to a different position. Immediately, candidates know that they’re talking to a top tier employer by the look and feel of everything that you’re putting out there from a recruiting point of view.
Peter: Here is something else and we’ve all seen this, okay, especially when you’re talking about a company that sells to the consumer, right? You have the advertising department over here and they’re using the big ad agency and they’re out there producing million dollar commercials to entice the consumer to buy whatever it is that they’re selling, and then on the HR side, you’ve got somebody with a prosumer video camera and $2 having to make the employee motivation video and hopefully find somebody who can cut the thing together and make it look halfway decent. There’s a huge disparity between the two but yet, aren’t your employees your customers too?
Anne: That is very much the case and, you know, that has been increasingly the case with social media because social media gives every employee the opportunity to be a consumer, and it’s all about your reputation to sell the employer brand and to offer an environment that creates this experience of the employer brand. The amount of efforts and energy that goes into creating an employer brand has to be as strong as the consumer brand if you’re looking to really maximize and leverage the full benefit of the people that you’re bringing on board.
The key about employer branding is that it’s really to find the emotional connection that really gets people to join, and in a lot of organizations, that’s missing. Even in a down economy there is like survivor stories, it is like good stories and we’re just suckers for stories.
Peter: You bring up an interesting point because I am a huge advocate of stories. I think that’s how for how many hundreds of years we have used storytelling to engage people on an emotional level, and certainly when you look at television commercials, that’s what they’re trying to do. They’re telling a story and they’re trying to engage you on an emotional level.
Peter: So shouldn’t we be doing the same thing for employer branding and shouldn’t there be some sort of consistency between what’s going on on that TV commercial and what we’re saying to our employees.
Anne: I think some of the best employer brands really capitalize on that, Peter. I totally agree with you. I mean stories are archetypal. They speak to something that’s very primal and it’s on a very deep level, and I think the best things that organizations can do, particularly with their employer brand is really speak to the story that they have to tell, and to really engage employees on that emotional level, to connect with them. Even in a down economy, there are stories to tell, stories that resonate with people that can really drive up the engagement factor, that can really raise morale and instead of it being a focus on the negative, I think to focus on the positive and that there’s a spirit within an organization that can really be captured within an employer brand and to build a really robust business strategy around that, I think is really the way to go.
Companies have been slow to embrace the value of branding for employees, and I think largely they have relied on that corporate brand to convey the brand promise to employees, but in this new normal that we’re experiencing, there has been this big shift in values. One of the things that employers really need to do right now is to take an inventory and to reevaluate where they stand with regards to how their mission, vision, and values now speak to employees, as against 18 months ago.
Peter: Anne, in your experience, how does an employer brand actually work to help an organization attract talent, as well as retain and engage employees?
Anne: Reputation and reliability are very key and very important factors for any employer. In terms of attracting talent clearly throughout the recession, I think a lot of corporate recruiters will attest to this, there has still been a demand for talent. So an employer brand that is a strong brand really works to attract the ideal talent you want, and deflects the talent you don’t want, so it acts as a very important tool. In terms of engaging employees, one of the things that there’s a lot of data morale is at an all time low and engaging employees is very much at the top of the agenda for a lot of HR people.
One of the things that we have come across is that giving employees a voice who has really shown to have a great impact on employee engagement and one of the ways that we have found with some of the clients we’ve been working with is that when you go in to revitalize or reposition an employment brand, part of the consideration given to the process of including employees in the work that we do really pays high dividends.
Peter: Last year, recruiters were telling me that employees… people who had jobs, okay, were cemented to their desks. They were not going anywhere, they were terrified of going anywhere, they did not want to be last in first out. This year, it’s flipped, and now the recruiters I’m talking to, they’re all saying I have no problem getting someone to listen to a new job because what’s happened with a lot of people – the ones who have remained, the survivors out there that are still on the island, that still have a job, what’s happened is they’ve gone through maybe three or four layoffs.
So the first layoff what happened is now they’re doing the job of three people, and then another layoff comes across, and now they’re doing the job of six people. And so what happens now is when the executive recruiters of the world call people up, they’re doing the job of six people. By the way, they didn’t get a raise. So when Iris calls these people up and says hey, would you be interested in a one-person job that makes more money than you’re making right now? Where do I sign up?
As the economy starts recovering and as companies start hiring again, that is going to become really critical.
Anne: I totally agree. There’s such a mismatch between the idea that people are our most important assets, and then the economy changes and it becomes all about cost-cutting, employees expendable. We’re in a situation where the requirement for talented people is not going to go away; in fact if anything, it’s increasing. It behooves employers to really pay attention to this.
Peter: When an organization says that they need to reduce head count, to me that really says that they don’t have an understanding of what talent really is within their organization.
Anne: I agree, Peter. You know, I think, this mismatch between people are our most important asset, and the actual idea than headcount becomes something to eliminate in a down economy is really a confusing message and lacks the authenticity that’s really required in a strong employer brand that has to have the flexibility to deal with different economic scenarios.
The one thing that we always stress when we go in to do any projects is the research around a company’s beliefs. We’re very clear on this that authenticity is the things that you say and that the things that you do, and they become the things that you believe in. An organization’s set of values and beliefs are just incredibly important to uncover so that this authenticity remains even when circumstances aren’t so favorable.
Peter: What is the relationship between an employee brand advocacy and engagement?
Anne: I think we’re really finding it’s about giving employees a voice and giving consideration to employees. Part of the process that we work through with our clients is getting very clear about who they are what they’re known for. It’s very well known in branding that it’s what differentiates you from the crowd, that that’s the opportunity to develop your brand around it and to attract people. In the scenario where you have strong brand advocacy, it interfaces totally with engagement because you are very clear about who you are and what you are in business for, and why you are attracting the people that you have on board and in turn, they have this clarity about their role that they play in delivering the overriding goal or the overriding success of the business.
Peter: It seems to me, Anne, in the studies and statistics I have seen that this is even more important with the Gen-Yers who are coming into the workplace today. They are the consumer generation and to them, this kind of stuff is really important and it plays a role in who they decide to go to work for.
Anne: Absolutely. The Gen-Yers are definitely consumers of jobs, and that changes the playing field, I think, for the rest of us.
One of the issues that employers have to deal with right now, sort of many fold, not only within this economic context, but one of the things that we’re finding is that when we’re working with our clients is that the messaging has to be targeted. We’ve got four different generations now in the workforce. So the messaging has to be very relevant to each of these generations.
Going back to what I was saying earlier about values, baby boomer values are different from Gen-Y values, and we have to really reflect that in any messaging that we put together.
Peter: GK Brand, historically, you guys have gone in, you’ve named products, you’ve come up with the entire package of design and a whole implementation of this stuff comes out, and now you’re involved in employee engagement because you cannot separate it anymore, because of all other things we’ve been talking about. So, if I’m a… let’s say, a VP of HR at a $200 million corporation and you’re coming in to help me and I’m saying to you look, we’re a train wreck. We can’t keep Gen-Yers, we’re blocking social media across our firewalls, we’re getting badmouthed on Twitter, we’ve tried to get somebody out there to do social media for us, but it’s not cohesive, coordinated. How can you help me create an employee brand that is actually going to help my organization attract the kind of employees that we’re trying to attract?
Anne: I would start by saying we’re really here to help and we’ve seen those scenarios many times, so we have the expertise to offer you to alleviate those issues for you. We have a process that’s very sound. We have this research process that really goes very deep and starts looking at and addresses some of these issues you have.
The first part of any conversation we have with the client is really asking a lot of questions and we have a whole questionnaire that we would ask the client to fill in before we even begin looking at other aspects of the organization and other issues that are pressing problems.
The first phase of any project is research driven. We take an audit, we look at competitive analysis, industry analysis, we do a lot of in-depth research within the organization itself, we talk to a lot of the employees, we do a lot of talking, a lot of asking questions, and a lot of listening.
It’s the listening and it’s the asking questions that really probes deeply into some of the issues that comes up with amazing information that we can then present, and then from that, we would, together, craft a strategy that addresses these issues. And as you say, they can run the gamut from anywhere from your social media issues, to how you’re going to attract the particular talent you need for your particular industry.
Peter: What haven’t I asked you that you think is important for people to know about employee branding and how it works to help support the entire organization?
Anne: I think there is some confusion in the marketplace about what employer branding actually is. I think one of the things I feel very strongly about is that a corporate brand – and there is many very strong corporate brands out there that don’t necessary have an employer brand in place; they attract people purely by the corporate brand. I feel that the benefit of having an employer brand, particularly now, is that you really need to speak to your employees, now more than ever because there’s a very disgruntled workforce out there, and it makes complete financial sense to have conversations where you have alignment with your employees.
Peter: Anne, thank you so much for you taking down to speak with us today on Total Picture Radio.
Anne: It’s a pleasure. Thank you, Peter.
We’ve been speaking with Anne Gilmore, Vice President of Strategic Branding at GK Brand. Be sure to visit Anne’s feature page in the Inside Recruiting Channel of Total Picture Radio, that’s totalpicture.com for resource links and much more information.
This is Peter Clayton reporting. Thank you for tuning in to Total Picture Radio.