What’s employer branding? Ask your HR, communications or brand teams the question and you’ll get a lot of responses. Some see employer branding as a means to better attraction and retention. Others see it as a set of deliverables—new banner images and boilerplate language to update LinkedIn pages and job postings.
These views aren’t wrong. For many companies, “branding” is a noun, a project to be completed. But that approach overlooks the real potential and power of employer branding. Because branding work is never done. Not really.
That’s why I view branding as a verb. It’s a practice, part of an ongoing and intentional way of working designed to build relationships and trust among employees at every level—and grow commitment to employers. Seen through this human lens, employer branding isn’t something you have; it’s what you do. And it requires continuous care.
Employer branding is about the promises you make to your employees—the culture you strive to create, the values you uphold, the highest vision you have for the company, and your vision for how employees will contribute. Great employer branding also provides strategic foundations for many business decisions affecting employees and the workplace. It identifies the investment priorities affecting your people.
This view of employer branding empowers teams to do much more than, say, reskin the Work with Us page of the company website. It can lead to a three-year reskilling program for valued employees at a company whose industry is shifting. It can point to the need for a health and safety campaign that decreases on-the-job accidents and develops a stronger safety culture.
Great employer branding sets the tone for how the whole company communicates. It can affect how comfortable and safe employees feel bringing their authentic selves to work. And it can even have a critical impact on workplace safety and mental health.
How do you get to this higher employer branding echelon in the first place? My advice is to find the right workplace narrative. An Employee Value Proposition, or EVP, is a good place to start. Developing an EVP can be a laborious process with many stakeholders. But positive results come from the process itself.
That’s because, to create a great EVP, you must take steps to understand your employees, what they want, their challenges, and how and why they contribute value to the business.
This could look like anonymous surveys that ask about employee pain points. Or you might create focus groups that are tasked with proposing improvements to known employee challenges.
After you’ve gathered information, you must think about how to address employees’ concerns. Experiment to find what generates the best insights and how to get grassroots input (and buy-in) from a cross section of employees.
In developing better employer branding, you are doing the work of employee engagement. The EVP that results from a careful and active employee-participation process will produce a narrative that has better potential for success—because you took the time to ask for, listen to and incorporate employees’ perspectives.
Your EVP narrative becomes the constant and unifying story of every employee’s experience. Its affirmations and values can be embedded into nearly every touchpoint, including job descriptions, benefits communications, social media posts, annual review processes and internal copy. It shows up in communications between employees and managers, from executives to the whole staff, and among teams and colleagues. You start to live it. The more people who live it, the stronger it becomes.
Brand thinker Marty Neumeier says, “A brand is not what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.” In other words, employers can’t control the brand; they can only influence its perception. That’s why it’s important to check in with employees to make sure that what they’re receiving and how it made them feel are in line with your employer branding vision.
Get in the habit of living your employer brand and you’ll be better positioned to respond when the company changes direction or goes through a merger—or the world sends your industry into upheaval. When you understand your employees well, know what works and have their trust, you’ll be in a better position to lead them through whatever comes next.
Need help with your employer branding? Get in touch. Our Employee Engagement Practice partners with organizations to create connected, human-centered workplaces that are more satisfying for employees. And more productive for businesses.