A couple of weeks ago we published a post discussing the return on investment delivered by a strong employer brand, featuring comment from Kirsten Davidson who is head of employer branding at Glassdoor, and Stephen Cheliotis, CEO of The Centre for Brand Analysis.

In addition to discussing this ROI, both Kirsten and Stephen made some further points about the differences between an organisation’s consumer brand – the image presented to stakeholders outside the company, such as customers – and its employer brand i.e. the image presented to existing and potential employees.

We thought it would be useful to share their views in as much detail as possible. Today, we hear Kirsten’s insights. Keep an eye out for part two with Stephen later this week.

Kirsten, what is an employer brand?

Put simply, your employer brand is how you are known as a place to work. In the same way that every experience a person has of a brand influences their likelihood to become or remain a customer, so each experience affects their attitude towards that business as a place to work. This, in turn, influences whether they will apply for a job or the company’s ability to retain them as an employee.

Each experience affects attitudes towards that business as a place to work

Why are more and more people talking about employer branding?

The level of knowledge people have about the inner workings of companies has dramatically increased in recent years. This is largely thanks to the growth and evolution of the internet, which has created a fundamental shift in the way firms interact with all stakeholders including prospective candidates.

People now have access to significant volumes of information about potential employers, gleaned from a wide array of sources such as company websites, social media and sites like Glassdoor – home to thousands of anonymous employee reviews. As a result, it is increasingly important for brands to understand and influence how they are perceived as an employer, hence the growing focus on employer branding.

How is a company’s employer brand different to its consumer or corporate brand?

Employer branding isn’t a new discipline; it’s about looking at things through a fresh lens. You’re measuring it using different metrics when compared to consumer branding and the outcome is different. The bottom line isn’t about selling products or services. Instead, it’s about how the company relates to employees; how quickly can you can hire and retain people; what kind of experience are they having; and how you can communicate that experience accurately and consistently.

It’s about how the company relates to employees

Whilst they are different it’s also important to highlight that, in an ideal world, a company’s employer and consumer brand should be closely aligned. However, that’s not always the case in the real world, largely because branding has traditionally focused on the customer experience and less on the employee experience. Things are changing, though. Many companies are starting to place greater emphasis on their employer image, and translate their consumer brand in a way that brings it to life internally. So today they are different but I think going forward we will see consumer branding and employer branding become one and the same thing.

Why it is important to align your employer and consumer brand?

If employees are not having a good experience then people will find out; they will talk about it. What happens inside goes outside, what happens outside comes inside – it’s a fluid experience and there has be a smart thread running through all of that activity.

When customers and the external world see a disconnect between a company’s brand and the true experience of working there, it sends a clear signal that something isn’t right to employees, customers and the larger ecosystem. That can cause all kinds of issues.

A company’s employer and consumer brand should be closely aligned

How can companies better align their consumer and employer brands?

Smart CMOs should be thinking about the employee experience. It’s a big piece of the brand puzzle and there has to be a very close working, healthy relationship between HR and marketing to get that right. Marketing teams that move ahead without speaking to the HR department are missing out.

Insights generated by the hiring process, for example, can be invaluable to a company’s marketing strategy. Let’s say that one insight is that engineers don’t perceive the company as being innovative. That has a big impact if the marketing team is trying to address why customers don’t like a product.

At the same time, marketing has a lot to offer in return. HR these days must master the art of bringing people in and giving them a good experience; marketing is a function that already knows how to do that. Marketers have been creating personas for a long time. They think about how to meet consumer needs at every point in the funnel; how they slice and dice the different places the consumer is going; and how they deliver a positive experience throughout the product journey. If marketing teams can line up with HR and deliver that same kind of sophisticated experience to the employee it’s a slam-dunk.

Who should be in charge of that process?

Today, employer branding tends to sit in the area of the organisation that realises its importance. A lot of times that’s HR, but more and more it’s marketing. Sometimes it’s employee communications, which can fall under HR or marketing. The insights, metrics and analysis are really an HR function, in terms of bringing in the right talent and measuring their effectiveness and satisfaction, but the tools and techniques are strongly informed by a marketing mindset.

Marketing should get involved and not leave HR hanging on this, but at the same time they should recognise that HR are the employee experts. I think these functions are blending; one thing I would say is that if I were an HR professional, I would be attending a lot of marketing conferences to gain some understanding about how I can deliver the brand experience internally. Similarly, if I were a CMO, I would be going to HR conferences and getting curious about the employee experience. I’d look for ways to measure and monitor the impact of the employee voice on my brand.

HR must master the art of bringing people in; marketing already knows how to do that

Can you give any examples of companies that are getting this right?

AirBnB is a company that really understands this connection. Their brand identity is all about sense of belonging anywhere. This is as evident in the employee experience as it is in the customer experience. For example, one of the benefits is that every year each employee gets a $2000 stipend to travel and use AirBnB accommodation. That’s very cool; it’s also very clever. $2000 isn’t a huge amount to the company, but it is a lot to an individual. It additionally means that the employee becomes a customer that is engaging in the mission and values of the company. They feel connected and loyal because of what the company allows them to do. They’re also more informed about the consumer’s perspective and can feed that product information back into the organisation.

This kind of approach is indicative of a company that understands the link between what it stands for, in terms of products and services, and how that is brought to life internally for employees. It really is a winning combination; it creates a deep relationship between the consumer brand and the employer brand.

How can companies take a first step in the right direction?

Focusing on the entire process can be daunting. Instead, my advice is to pick one small area for improvement and figure out how the various teams can work together to make it better. For example, you may decide to enhance your on boarding and orientation. That first time someone walks in the door is a key magic moment. It’s worth taking the time to make that moment special. Ask how the brand can be brought to life at this pivotal point, and what each department can do individually and collaboratively to make a positive change.