Love & Work (Part 7) – Employer Branding

Employer branding is gaining attention as companies are starting to realize that employees are more than just numbers on a payroll. Jan Denys dives deep into the classification of the components of an employer brand. But the real question is: who owns it?

Jan Denys, whom we know from the first part in this series on Love & Work, recently launched another book, this time on employer branding. The book focuses on the main components of an employer brand and measures the importance of each of them.

In the below One Minute Interview, Jan explains why employer branding is becoming more important: the decline of young people in the workforce, the end of lifelong careers, and the rise of social media.

What is a Brand?

But before we dive into employer branding, let’s have a look at the basic components of a brand. One thing is sure: it’s more than just a logo.
A brand is the image that you want to create in the mind of the customer. It is your promise to deliver the outcomes and benefits to them.

According to marketing gurus like Philip Kotler, a brand can deliver up to four levels of meaning.

  1. Attributes: A brand first brings to mind certain product attributes. For example, your product’s name may suggest such attributes as standardized quality, better customer service, and so on.
  2. Individual Benefits: Customers are not interested in individual attributes. They want benefits. Therefore attributes must be translated into functional and emotional benefits.
  3. Values: A brand also says something about the customer’s values. This is the translation into the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me).
  4. Personality: A brand has a personality. You just need to ask: “If this brand were a person, what kind of person would it be?” A brand attracts people whose actual or desired self-images match the brand’s image.

Who Owns Your Brand?

We didn’t address the key question yet: ‘Who owns a brand?‘. Although opinions may differ here, the digital economy is proving that a brand is owned by its consumers. And – as a consequence – all of the four attributes are owned by the consumers.

Since the internet has become a social place, branding requires trust and community building as its main characteristics.

First, branding opens an “emotional bank account” for each customer. The account status displays the value of the relationship between the product and the customer. Trust is the currency of this bank account. As it is the case with a financial bank account, deposits and withdrawals are made that affect the value of the relationship.

If a product sticks to its promises, people will make deposits of trust, and the value of your brand will grow. When you make mistakes, the “emotional reserves” will compensate for it. Most of all, how you respond to mistakes will have a ripple effect in the community that affects the value of the brand.

Second, community building is becoming increasingly important under the influence of social media. If the value of the brand is high, more people will want to open an emotional bank account, because depositing trust on your brand gives high returns. That is how you create community: you provide an image, and then you walk your talk for each individual stakeholder.

Employer Branding?

When talking about employer branding we should note one big difference with consumer branding, i.e.: the relationship between an employer and an employee is different than the relationship between a consumer and a producer.

In this respect, Denys found that the typical meanings that are communicated by an employer brand are: wages, job-security, financial health, work atmosphere, job description, future prospects, international career, training opportunities, quality of management, work-life balance, location of the company, focus on environment and society, products and services, values, innovation, dominant position in a sector.

Without any surprise, following the current demographics and risk-aversity of Belgians, a research into the top employers brands yields the list of usual suspects: traditional multinationals like IBM, Coca Cola, Janssen, etc.

The Real Question

The highest volume of active people on the labor market are baby boomers and pre-eighties people, which – in my humble opinion – is why Jan’s statistics turn out so traditional.

However, unmistakably, the digital economy is changing the power balance of consumer brands radically. This leads me to suspect that the same dynamics will dominate on the labor market as well.

Think about it: if producers no longer have ownership of the meaning of their consumer brands, to what extent do they still have full authority over the meaning of their work?

The balance of ownership is shifting to such an extent that it would have been wiser to add a question mark to the title “Your Job, Your Work”. This is why I suggested to Jan that the topic of his next book should be  ‘Employee Branding’.

Notwithstanding this critique, I found this book is an enrichment in finally outlining the components of an employer brand while at the same time quantifying their importance.

  • Pim Vandijck

    Luc, now you are touching a point on which I have build up some good practical experience over the past 6 years and I would go further than the above article. Many companies talk about employer branding (EB) and invest awfull lots of money into it, but they forget the very basics of it. EB is about creating an image of your company as an employer. Afterwards you’ll have to prove every day to your new hires that the image you talked about in your EB campaign is reality. The new generation (now between 20 – 30 years old) will punish you very hard if you don’t live up to the EB image by leaving your company (often seen unfortunately). They will go even further. They will spread “bad” messages through the free new (free) media you can’t manage like blogs, youtube, facebook, … about your company which might crash down your expensive EB campaign.
    So my message : be honest, don’t over-marketeer your company in the EB, and work every day to live up to the promises you made to your employees. If you do so, the new hires will create your EB by telling their friends about your company and the opportunities you gave to them. Cheers, Pim

  • Thanks Pim – fully agree. One more argument to start talking about Employee Branding instead of Employer Branding!