• Transform magazine
  • November 29, 2023


Talent show


In order to retain the best employees, companies need to build strong talent brands. The challenge is for communicators to develop a strategy that encompasses the internal culture, employer brand and the business objectives. In an excerpt from Jody Ordioni’s upcoming book on talent branding, she explores the biggest challenges companies face when making these decisions

According to Fortune’s 2017 ‘Great Place to Work Report,’ employees who said they have a great place to work were 13 times more likely than average to say they want to work there for a long time. The research also showed that a high-trust culture led to turnover rates that are 50% lower than industry competitors. Employees are looking for a meaningful and personal atmosphere where their efforts really matter, and in order to attract and retain top talent, employers must build a strong company culture that reflects its core values. In other words, they must build a strong talent brand.

Although this book is devoted to talent branding, in reality there is really no such thing. Your company only gets to have one brand. It’s not as if you can have a consumer brand that targets consumers, a talent brand that targets employees and an investor brand that targets investors or donors.

The reason for this is that you only get one reputation.

People don’t isolate their opinions of a company when considering it as an employer, a product maker or service provider. They distill, weigh and assess everything they know about a company and formulate one attitude toward it.

Walmart’s dubious reputation as an employer doesn’t just hurt its talent acquisition efforts; it deters some people from shopping there. Similarly, the Samsung Galaxy Note recall didn’t just hurt the South Korean conglomerate’s sales figures; it made attracting top software engineering talent very difficult. There is a high correlation between consumers’ admiration for a company’s products and services, and their desire to work for that company. In fact, according to LinkedIn, North America’s top ‘100 InDemand Employers’ in 2015 were Google, Apple and Facebook. It’s no surprise then, that these companies are among the top 25 brands in the world.

There is tremendous mutuality between a consumer (or product) brand, and the talent brand. In 1994, the Harvard Business Review wrote about the service-profit chain. The underlying premise was that job satisfaction drives employee retention, customer satisfaction, loyalty and revenue growth. This relationship still holds true today.

A talent brand is critically important to an effective corporate marketing strategy. Every company has a brand. Every brand has value. Millions of marketing dollars are spent each year on establishing brand awareness in the minds of consumers. But it is the employees who have the greatest power to make or break a brand.

Employees shift the message from a concept to a positive or negative customer experience. Employees generate the energy and ideas that produce business outcomes.

Savvy chief marketing officers (CMOs) are starting to pay attention to this. They’re dedicating campaign budgets to setting up the brand promise – the consumer’s expectation of the type of experience they will have. This is called the customer experience. (Think American Express; think Emirates Airlines). In some cases, it’s woven into the message of the marketing campaign. ‘Shop here because our knowledgeable team of professionals will simplify the process of buying a car.’ Or vitamins. Or appliances for a new home. Some companies (like online shoe retailer Zappos) may have a harder task of trying to create an exceptional virtual customer experience. But in each of these examples, success or failure lies in how well employees perform. And it begins with hiring the right people.

If you are recruiting new employees, or even if you’re not, talent branding plays an important part in the organisation’s broader branding efforts, and within high-performing companies there is a strong partnership between HR and marketing. CMOs of large retail organisations often conduct employee research that reflects their desire to understand the customer through the lens of the employees.

They also understand that, thanks to employee discounts and their affinity for their company’s products, it is the employees who might make up the largest customer segment within multi-store retail chains. As the face of the brand to customers, these employees are also key to bringing the brand to life. In these instances, HR truly comprehends how marketing efforts are furthering the business goals of the company.

But in other companies, HR may view the CMO or marketing team as a group that’s typically too busy to assist with their talent acquisition or employee communications needs, and is only called upon to approve logos, colors and fonts. To foster more collaboration between these two groups, start with knowing your organisation’s brand drivers and consider how they intersect with employee actions. Then make sure that employees know the customer promise, understand what is expected of them in delivering it and feel that they can personally make a difference.Talent branding makes a strong emotional connection between an organisation, its culture and the talent it needs to drive business forward.

A powerful talent brand will help a brand reach the right audience with the right messages, to hire and keep the right talent to help the business achieve its goals.

“Talent branding makes a strong emotional connection between an organisation, its culture and the talent it needs to drive business forward. A powerful talent brand will help a brand reach the right audience”

And today, that’s more important than ever. Unemployment has fallen to low levels. It’s a seller’s market if you’re a nurse, an industrial engineer or a software developer looking for a job virtually anywhere in the world. And once great people have been hired, the work does not end there. It’s just as important to retain them and to keep them motivated. According to the Conference Board, just over half of US workers said they felt dissatisfied with their jobs in 2014. It’s no wonder that when CEOs were asked about the biggest challenges facing their organisations, they answered, ‘talent management.’

Hiring and retention have become increasingly difficult as talent professionals are bombarded with more competition for their time, and countless overlapping outlets and options for message delivery. Added to the challenge, companies are marketing to a new generation in the workplace; Millennials consume, process and spread these messages in a completely different way. That’s why business leaders need to learn how to build a talent brand. This will be a critical driver in attracting top resources and fostering employee engagement.

The talent branding process begins with carefully examining the organisation, the culture, the internal population and the drivers of successful business outcomes. It also considers the latest and most effective media, methods and trends used to attract, acculturate and retain top talent. The talent brand will become the backbone of your carefully crafted, credible and inspiring communications.

To fully understand talent branding, let’s begin by understanding the concept of employer branding. The term ‘employer branding’ was first introduced in the 1990s, and has come to reflect the process of defining and promoting a company’s reputation as an employer. Employer branding began as an effort to understand how current and former employees felt about their company and unravel why the people you’d want to employ would choose to work for you.

The factors that shape an employer brand include a variety of attributes: company culture, career opportunities and development, rewards and recognition, as well as the prestige of products and services and the mission of the organisation itself. At the highest level of this employer brand construct sits the employer value proposition (EVP), the single-minded expression of an organisation’s unique offerings as an employer, coupled with its expectations for employees.

Talent branding is the next iteration of the employer brand – the fulfilment of a promise of the employee experience. It is informed by every interaction with employees in the organisation, from pre-employment vetting to post-employment separations. More significantly, a talent brand is a dialogue of that experience, owned by every past, present or potential employee and visible everywhere.

Just as the consumer brand tells the public what a brand stands for, or a personal brand reveals what an individual stands for, a talent brand has the greatest impact on how an organisation is perceived by its talent. If the employer branding defines the promise it makes to its employees, the talent branding reveals how successful it is as an organisation at truly fulfilling that promise.

Talent branding is more than a tagline, it’s a philosophy. It’s not a single sentence, or a series of vague qualities like success or innovation. It’s not bullet points. It’s not something as simple as an image or a color palette. It’s a framework built around the relationship between your organisation and its employees. It’s the promise you make to your workforce. It speaks to everyone, from the CEO to the newest hire, as well as to jobseekers who are approaching your company for the first time. Much like a consumer brand, that sentiment can often be expressed in one sentence that serves as a point of entry for the larger promise within.

At Southwest Airlines, it’s, ‘Welcome aboard the flight of your life.’ At IBM, it’s an enticing question, ‘What will you make at IBM?’ At Pepsi, the talent brand is boiled down to one word, ‘Possibilities,’ which is repeated throughout their employee communications.

Talent branding is specific. It’s much more than the overused, underwhelming phrase, ‘Our employees are our most important asset.’ A sentence like that doesn’t set any organisation apart; it has become a time-worn cliché that doesn’t really convey anything.

Talent branding is unique to your organisation’s culture. Your company can’t just steal a cool talent brand from another company (or worse, a competitor) and apply it to its own culture. The dissonance will confuse employees and scare away candidates. Your talent brand is specific to your company. It can’t be applied anywhere else, since nobody else has your company’s unique history, direction, values and goals. It reflects your special culture and represents all that your employees have contributed over the years. It’s also specific to this moment in time. Additionally, talent brands can change as the company’s mission, culture or goals change.

Talent branding is carefully considered. Talent branding is not cobbled together in a day. It’s not something the CEO can write, send to recruiters and put into effect immediately. It can’t be assumed, conjectured or copied from the ‘About Us’ section of an annual report. Talent brand marketing can’t simply be ‘good enough,’ a placeholder or something that can be put off until the budget allows. That strategy won’t engage employees or attract the right candidates. Talent branding is created through a proven process. Often a third party with experience in the field is retained to tackle the challenge with a field-tested plan and process.

Talent branding is difficult. Talent branding is not just a reinforcement of the status quo. Creating a talent brand isn’t always easy. It generally can’t be done by recruiters or HR staff, who have little experience in constructing a brand architecture and an employer value proposition. It’s not something that can be handed down from the c-suite as a fait accompli, with no input from the staff.

Talent branding is honest. Talent brand research asks questions about an organisation’s culture and the employee experience. Often, the process takes unexpected detours that can lead to brutally frank feedback and genuine discoveries. The result is truthful and accurate, and can help steer the right employees to your organisation – and steer the organisation in the right direction.

Talent branding is valuable. Talent branding is not extraneous. It’s not a luxury for brands that already enjoy a good reputation with the public. It’s not only for corporate giants or global brands. It’s not an administrative exercise that can be dismissed as unnecessary by local businesses or nonprofits. Talent branding is crucial to the bottom line.

Talent branding isn’t simple and it isn’t superfluous. It’s necessary, educational and valuable.

When talent branding is done well, your messages will become an inspiration and incentivise employees to become living ambassadors of your culture and brand, and passionate contributors to the success of your organisation. They will stay longer, work harder, attract more talented professionals to join your organisation and entice more customers to your business.

The Talent Brand: The Complete Guide to Creating Emotional Employee Buy-In for Your Organization