• Transform magazine
  • April 30, 2017

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Inside out branding

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Employer brand management nurtures brand advocates from the inside out. Its ultimate aim is to generate legions of loyal and happy employees who are willing to espouse positive brand experiences to external stakeholders. Yet reaching this point requires a strategic process, which differentiates according to which sector a business belongs, as well as the audience it is trying to engage.

With this in mind, the latest online seminar held by Communicate magazine in association with Bristol-based brand engagement agency, Synergy Creative, focused on how developing an effective process and strategy is behind the creation of a successful employer brand concept. Featuring speakers from global cinema chain ODEON, multinational software corporation SAP and global hotels company Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG), the webinar covered the approach to employer branding specific to each organisation, and the steps taken to engage internal stakeholders.

Maintaining an employee-centric employment value proposition (EVP), whereby the employee is placed at the centre of the employer branding process, facilitates the development of an external brand which is attractive to potential future colleagues.

Current employees are more likely to see their own value reflected in high levels of interest and application – if this approach carries on throughout the employment journey, a positive domino effect will be created.

As Brooke Nolan, communications director at Synergy Creative, says, “Your employer brand should be a true, authentic representation of what it’s like to work in your organisation. Start with insight and then make sure this shines through in your EVP and creative theme.” And, if insight emphasises a positive employment journey beyond simply the attraction and recruitment stages, the company must ensure everyone in the organization is involved in creating a desirable experience.

If employer branding works from the inside out, authenticity – or lack thereof – will be apparent throughout every stage of the organisation. Matthew Jeffery, VP head of global sourcing and employer branding at SAP, agrees that authenticity is crucial for an organization to ensure its message is portrayed positively to external stakeholders

Jeffery says, ‘Branding is about honesty, authenticity, realism. This is especially true when it comes to employment brands. An employment brand is not what a marketing department broadcasts it to be. It is what employees and candidates are saying in the market.  We can’t control that as conversations reflect reality. Our job is to reflect the truth about what our employees say and feel.”

At SAP, digital is a key arena in which engagement can be measured and employer branding can be driven. While many companies now measure customer and employee engagement according to the amount of likes or followers their social media accounts have, in reality, Jeffery says, it is the people following the links which really matter. And that means creating an EVP different to the original content churned out by companies on a daily basis.

For SAP, says Jeffery, “It’s about our people, and their stories, and how senior leaders have got into their position, and how women have managed to balance being a Mum, and being a senior executive on our board.”

Honing and refining its employer brand strategy was a necessary step for ODEON to ensure the business was able to develop positively in the competitive service environment. With 1.8mn guests visiting IHG hotels each week, equalling 80mn per year, Kathryn Pritchard, group chief people officer, ODEON, explains the importance of establishing a coherent business strategy in which its employees were central.

As well as an evidence-based approach to developing its EVP, with a cross-organisation ‘high-performance culture’ at its core, Pritchard says listening to feedback from employees themselves was crucial in constructing a sustainable employer brand process. She says, “We ask, we listen, we plan, we act, and that underpins how we built the EVP, and actually how we built the products, processes and steps that are part of the EVP – and increasingly how we evolve it.”

This did not only hinge on employees being attracted and applying to the organisation, however. Central to the development of a pragmatic and reflective EVP was the experience of those embedded into the organisation – as well as those who had decided to move on. Unusually perhaps, a new organisational language became what truly reflected ODEON’s business and principles. Pritchard explains how the company’s Brand Heroes initiative rewards employees who make significant contributions to the organisation – given the temporary and often part-time nature of its workforce, this was crucial method to ensure the company could instil a sense of pride in its employees.

Pritchard says, “’Brand Heroes’ is a really important part of our proposition, because this is about taking people, the most talented people in our cinemas, and giving them an opportunity to really develop their skills. Essentially they are indicators of potential, just made very culturally sensitive to our businesses, and the brand heroes become a bridge between internal capability and career development and guest experience – and what our brand means in terms of guest experience.”

By making all employees aware of how their own behaviours can coalesce with what is expected of the brand itself, initiatives such as ODEON’s ‘Brand Heroes’ drive home the importance of creating concrete links between the external organisation, and the internal culture generated through a camaraderie and collective effort.

Pritchard continues, “We have taken a long term approach to our employer brand and EVP, which is now being used to slowly but surely transform every part of our colleagues’ journey with us. Having a process in place is so important to ensure consistency and stay on track. This clear vision, combined with the highest levels of creativity, motivation and energy have resulted in happy colleagues and significant business results.”

Lianne Corriette, another professional in the service sector, agrees. Corriette is global employer brand director at IHG; for this company, longevity and measurement are the key behind the development of a strong employer brand process.

With three different CEOs over the past ten years, it would be tempting to think that the employer branding process has changed along with the management. But, says Corriette, this is not the case – and building up a strong process was only the beginning of the IHG employer brand journey. She says, “What we have had is one relentless focus on people. Or us at IHG, it wasn’t always about creating something new – sometimes, for us, it was about refining something we were already doing, getting better at it, and adding more value.”

Employer brand management does not have to begin as a daunting, new process, therefore. It can be built off what is already present, a concept made better – or simply a new way of considering the organisation, and the people within. Corriette continues, “For IHG our employer brand process has been a constant evolution. Listening to feedback, gathering data and taking action. Innovation has not always about creating something new. Sometimes you have to refine what you already have. It’s about getting better and adding more value. And through the years that’s what we’ve done.”

For Synergy Creative, creating an employer brand experience that matches with brand touchpoints allows each stage of an employee’s journey to become an opportunity to reflect on their value in an organisation – and how the organisation values them. Nolan says, “Think long term and break down the siloes between the different areas of your business responsible for employer brand. There’s no point having a strong employer brand for recruitment and attraction if this picture doesn’t match up with reality once they join. Think about how the employer brand can be used across the entire employee journey.”

For anyone wishing to start their company into the employer branding space, Jeffery says, “The best employment brand advice? Be honest. Be real. Be transparent. Let your employees tell their stories. And engage, engage, engage. Engage with candidates on social media, in communities, at events, in the interview process. Transparency, engagement, relationships… the underlying key to great employment branding.”

Synergy Creative specialises in employer brand, internal communications and employee engagement – particularly when helping define, design and implement an employer brand. Its work with ODEON & UCI Cinemas won ‘Best ongoing commitment to employer brand’ as well as the Grand Prix at this year’s Employer Brand Management Awards. Click here for more information.