They may be engaging with their target consumers, but just how relevant are brands to their employees? New research suggests that brands should be giving as much attention to their employer brand as they do their external-facing consumer brand.
Wouldn’t it be nice to think we had reached a point in time where organisations were taking a holistic view of the way they build and manage their brand? Where they don’t just want to deliver great brands for customers but they also want to ensure their brand has the required currency with all stakeholders?
Sustainability in its widest sense is a key driver – not least in a world where trust is undermining the faith we have in all of our institutions, including business.
One particular stakeholder group of course is internal: employees. So often the lynch pins in the customer experience but also typically at the heart of the communities a brand is operating within.
The latest findings in the Prophet Brand Relevance Index however suggest that this holistic approach is not yet happening. And the brands that consumers see as most relevant are not always great employer brands.
‘So what?’ You might say. We’re talking about different audiences with different needs. Valid point. Research does show that consumer expectations and employee expectations differ – but they cannot be mutually exclusive.
Quite the contrary, the focused growth on employer brands, and the increased appreciation that consumer and employer brands are two sides of the same coin, means that surely there is an opportunity to build a win-win for these stakeholder groups as a priority. And logic would suggest by doing so brand owners set themselves up to meet the needs of wider society and drive results that satisfy owners and/or shareholders alike. You might think about it as the ‘service profit chain’ delivered through great brand management.
Let’s look more closely at some specific brands. Tech brands in particular sit comfortably in the top spots of the Index, sought-after by consumers and more able to deliver on their ever-rising expectations; they’re winning in the relevance stakes. Both in the UK – and globally – Apple, Amazon, Netflix et al are an integral part of our everyday and something we couldn’t now imagine a world without.
Google, ranked 4th in the world as a great place to work by Glassdoor in 2017, continues to stand apart. It has always focused hard on what it takes to attract and retain top talent – and defined pretty early on what they offer a ‘Googler’ and what they expect in return.
It is probably as a result of this that they made no apologies for one of the most onerous recruitment processes in their category – their argument being that they recruit for mutual success even if it takes up to 15 interviews to establish that. This may now all be mythology but it became part of the aura of what they stood for and has travelled with them as they have built their operations around the world.
How important is employer reputation?
But not all of these tech organisations enjoy great employer reputations and in the past year have attracted a lot of damning publicity, from lack of diversity to workplace bullying, particularly within Silicon Valley. Pool tables, comfy bean bags and sweet treats only go so far. It’s fascinating to see how the dominance of the tech brands gets infiltrated when you start to explore the ‘distinctively inspired’ dimension of how we score brands in our Index.
Trust is clearly a huge factor, especially at a time where we are searching for reassurance that brands, and the organisations behind them, are on our side.
The brands that rise into the top 20 have enjoyed great employer reputations over the years – notably some of the retailers with strong consumer loyalty in the UK – the likes of John Lewis, Waitrose, M&S, Boots (No. 7). Interestingly, not all of these organisations are being judged as ‘modern and in touch’ by consumers and yet they continue to be real magnets for talent – both locally and nationally in the UK.
Many leaders within these organisations are undoubtedly looking over their shoulders at brands like Amazon as their serious competition, yet when it comes to employer brands theirs are arguably far stronger. What is it that they appear to have within their deal that is missing for many of the disruptors in the world of leading brands?
Trust is clearly a huge factor, especially at a time where we are searching for reassurance that brands, and the organisations behind them, are on our side. This comes of course through the matching of reality with expectations.
Do staff think their companies are living up to brand promises?
A study recently undertaken by KRC Research on behalf of Weber Shandwick, showed that across the world only 53% of employees believe that their organisations are living up to ‘the deal’ they talk about publicly – in other words for 47% of employees there is a mismatch between the employer brand story and their workplace experience.
If you add in purpose – as another manifestation of trust – you start to see some of the tech brands rising back up to the top. Skype and WhatsApp, for example, inspire consumers with a purpose they believe in and they do exactly the same for their employees. Software engineers at both organisations are attracted by what they see as the unique and positive impact their platforms have on people’s lives around the world every day.
One final insight on trust. It would appear that consumers are prepared to prioritise product and/or service relevance over trust issues in a way employees would be unlikely to do. Who would have thought Volkswagen could bounce back from the emissions scandal in the way that it has?
Our data shows that belief in their product is at the heart of their recovery. Despite the ongoing stories of the challenge of changing a culture where ‘wilful blindness’ allowed the fraudulent fixing of carbon emissions data to happen in the first place, and with two employees to date in prison for their part in it, their latest financial results are impressive.
Ultimately, for too long the value of the employer brand has been under-appreciated. What brands are slowly realising is that it demands the same attention and strategy as any consumer brand.
What should employer brand managers consider?
So what is it employer brand managers should be focusing on?
- Make the connection with your master brand - because whilst your audiences are different, you are typically talking about ‘one brand’ and that demands holistic consideration. However, that does not mean ‘one size fits all’ – an employer brand has needs it must meet in its own right – and as we have seen a strong consumer brand does not necessarily equal a strong employer brand.
- The importance of trust and the power of purpose – these clearly have meaning for consumers but they have even greater importance for current, potential and past employees. A strong and sustainable employer brand is based on the reality of delivering a perceived ‘deal’ – across the entire employment experience. Employees, even more so than consumers need to believe – and purpose plays an increasing part in that mix.
- Not everyone forgives and forgets – from the consumer perspective, brands like Samsung and VW might have been able to recover from a trust deficit but the gap between expectations and reality is unlikely to be tolerated by employees. Evidence would suggest too many organisations are walking a fine line – and employer brand managers need to take action.
Effective employer brand management is all about turning culture into a competitive advantage. It’s the one thing that any organisation can harness and the one thing that any organisation can makes its own.
About Helen Rosethorn
Helen is a Partner at global consultancy Prophet, leading the culture, change and engagement discipline. As an expert with over 25 years’ of experience in the field, Helen has helped brands including Anglo American, Enterprise Holdings and AbbVie to harness the power of people in their organisations.
Prior to joining Prophet, Helen was CEO of a specialist company in talent consulting within the Omnicom Group. A prominent international speaker and writer, Helen is also author of ‘The Employer Brand – Keeping Faith with the Deal,’ a recommended reading text for HR and Org Change students worldwide.