Want to see a room full of marketers roll their eyes? Speak the words, “employer brand” and stand back. You might as well be lecturing teenagers about condoms.
I know this because I’m good at embarrassing teenagers and I was that eye-rolling marketer seconded to an employer branding project about ten years ago.
Now there is rarely a shortage of doomed corporate initiatives marketers can be volunteered to participate in, and I was mighty pissed that I didn’t get something transformational or at least with a big lunch budget.
It seems the VP of HR went to a conference and heard about employer branding. He came back all full of excitement for the possibilities and a couple of directors were promptly dispatched to take some training and get to work.
It was not, of course, very long before the chief marketing officer caught wind of the project and had a giant hissy fit. As is so often with the case with a C-suite tantrum, a tiger team was formed. Me, a bunch of HR people, a consultant (who I’m convinced got lost on her way to the kick off for a different project), and a lawyer.
I spent the first meeting doing my best to pretend the whole thing wasn’t happening and staking out my territory as the Great Protector of the Brand. I was not at all helpful because I honestly didn’t understand what we were attempting to do.
It might have been the rather nice hummus at the third meeting or it might have been some form of Stockholm Syndrome, but at last it clicked. I finally understood what the whole thing was about, why I should care and why a good employer brand might actually help me hit my targets for that year with a lot less effort.
I stopped being a pylon, we got busy, did some research and came up with a few really interesting territories to define our employer brand. It was almost fun. We kept going and came up with some pretty strong employee value propositions. Decks were made.
You will be unsurprised to learn the project fizzled out not long after.
I can’t say I was heartbroken, and I will confess that I didn’t really think about employer brands a whole lot for the next few years. But now that we have a tough labour market, a picky workforce, and endless issues with engagement, employer branding is on the agenda again, and here is my advice for keeping it off the failed project pile:
1. Get marketing involved early. Send them to the training, give them the whitepaper, whatever it takes to get them onside and understanding what the heck you’re doing.
2. Your EVP is the beginning, not the end.
The project I was on stalled, in part, because our deliverable was a brand and a value proposition. Make sure your project has that as its starting point, with further deliverables that bring the brand to life – recruitment marketing strategies, internal communications, etc.
3. Tie it to the strategy and goals.
Employer branding will be considered a fluffy bunny project until it’s connected to something bigger and measurable (like recruiting costs or turnover rates). My project floundered because we didn’t do a good job of demonstrating how a strong employer brand would reduce recruiting costs, increase overall brand equity and improve customer service.
4. Sell it to your overlords – repeatedly.
A lot of projects lose steam because they lose executive visibility. Out of sight, out of budget, so to speak. Never assume that just because you have an executive sponsor, anyone much above your pay grade is paying attention to the employer branding project. It’s just not as interesting as this month’s OPEX, next month’s divestiture or next quarter’s balance sheet. If I had to do my failed attempt again, I’d have put in some serious one-on-one facetime with the senior leadership to help them understand how the project was relevant to their area.
5. Fund that sucker!
No project ever thinks it has enough budget or resources, but it’s particularly tempting to get stingy with something like an employer brand. I mean, how hard can it be? While it’s not exactly up there with digital transformations, it still deserves a project manager, some consultants who know what they’re doing, possibly some research, facilitation, design, testing, and other stuff if you’re going to come up with a workable brand and a plan to implement it.
6. Make marketing own the employer brand.
At the end of the day, marketing needs to walk away with the remit to nurture, protect and build the employer brand. Stop rolling your eyes, marketers. You know deep down this matters and you sure as hell don’t want HR managing anything to do with the brand.