• Transform magazine
  • March 26, 2017

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Opinion: The new employer brand generation

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Ahead of next week's Employer Brand Management conference, Callum Gill discusses employer branding for the next generation. The conference will be held on 6 December in London.

It’s indisputable that the human race is currently undergoing a period of ultra-rapid technological advancement. We’ve advanced our technology more in the last 50 years than in all the preceding years of recorded history. The fact that this statement will be true again in another 50 years is absolutely staggering. For brands, this change has undoubtedly come with its equal share of opportunity and threat but, in my humble opinion, organisations concerned with both external reputation and employer brand have focused far too much on the moving parts, circuits and screens rather than the organic component: the people.

Generic, sweeping labels are not my thing. I much prefer working with our clients to create a bespoke set of employee archetypes that are fit for their business but, as a starting point, the Baby Boomer, Generation X and Millennial labels have enough meat to them to be worth considering.

The organic component that brands need to focus on the most at the moment is the Millennial generation. Young people, Generation Y (or any other label you care to attach to them) are on the march. Millennials comprise around 36% of an average workplace today. By 2020, this will be around 48%. By 2030, 75%. It’s not uncommon for businesses to have a five year plan that touches all operational areas including employer brand; many of the organisations we work with have current plans due to end in 2020, when half their workforce will be Millennials.

However, 66% of Millennials expect to leave their employer within the first two years of employment. Over half believe that all organisations have no interests beyond making money. And 64% believe that businesses only focus on their own agenda and any expressed consideration for CSR is nothing more than PR. These are worrying preexisting narratives which companies must subvert when it comes to employer brand for the Millennial generation.

The ‘self-centred’ and potentially mercenary attitude often attributed to Millennials has been created by a series of lies told to this generation by society, the government and brands. Lies such as, ‘Work hard, get a degree and you will be spoilt with job opportunities.’ This generation has developed a healthy scepticism and the mealy-mouthed, hyper-earnest spiel pushed out by a lot of organisations is not taken at face value. Millennials want an honest and open conversation with potential employers. They don’t want to read a narrative about your fantastic customer service while you’re simultaneously being handed out fines by watchdogs for catastrophic failures in this area. They want to speak to people, not logos. They want input, feedback and, above all, honesty, even if it’s bad news.

If you want success in creating a relatable employer brand for Millennials, the ingredients are easy, it’s just quite hard to get done. You need to tear up your corporate style guide, wage war internally against toxic nostalgia, mirror the patterns of communication that Millennials receive daily, and create a flat hierarchy of channels through which you can open dialogue. People under the age of 25 are more likely to judge a brand by its Twitter presence than by its corporate website.

These things are hard to get done as, historically, the higher you move up the chain in an organisation, the arbiters of employer brand positioning are often not part of the Millennial generation. Reticence and a belief that change will damage employer brand often lead to watered-down approaches or sticking to the tried-and-tested methods of employer brand marketing. In this scenario, your best friend is evidence. The digital natives you want to attract with employer brand are some of the most willing to be surveyed and provide feedback. Generate cold hard facts to back up a shift in approach and brand narrative.

Of course, investment is needed in the technology and platforms required to reach Millennials with the right tone of voice. But, with only a few years before the vast majority of potential employees come from this generation, the right investment and the right strategy now seem like the only options for organisations who still want a viable employer brand come 2020.

Callum Gill is head of insight and innovation at drp

The Employer Brand Management conference takes place on 6 December at 30 Euston Square. Speakers from the likes of Unilever, Diageo SAP, Aviva, Odeon and Dixons Carphone will discuss the employer brand in times of change. Book your place now.