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What makes an employer’s brand?


How would you describe the brand you work for? Is it attractive? Do the products you sell make it what it is today? Perhaps it’s your company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) morals which separate it from the rest of the competition? Let’s pose the simple question; what is it which defines you as an employer’s brand?

If you are in business to secure the very best talent your industry has to offer then the profile and reputation of your brand is crucial to your success. Many companies have their brand image at the top of their boardroom agendas, and rightly so; for if anyone comes into direct contact with it, when applying for jobs for example, then they too should encounter the same values for which you are renowned.

With the landscape of the UK employment market rapidly evolving with highly skilled candidates in stiff competition for job roles, employers must carefully review the image of their organisation and how this is perceived by the masses, both externally and by their current staff. Do candidates look closely at an organisations’ culture, company image and research their values? Those of a high-calibre certainly will do.

With a General Election just around the corner, recruitment in the retail sector is expected to witness significant improvements in 2015 and this will once again thrust the topic of employer’s brand firmly in the spotlight as they look to secure the services of the very best.

What is an employer’s brand?

Let’s say it is a company’s personality, character and the promises it makes to its employees and potential candidates along with partners and stakeholders. A consistent employer brand begins a relationship with a candidate that is based on familiarity, which with further exposure, grows into trust, loyalty and ultimately, the desire to work there.

The candidate will eventually grow certain of the company’s values and expectations. They like what they see and know what to expect. They come to see the company as an employer of choice, fulfilling for them a set of needs they believe they want in an employer. This often results in the employee feeling ‘at home’ and in the presence of a ‘second family’. They feel comforted and as a result, their productivity levels increase and performance of the business improves.

In specific terms of the retail sector, it was discovered a couple of years ago that employees in the retail space put the value of an employer brand over salary when it came to choosing a job . A survey found that 86% of retail professionals were attracted to work for their current company due to its reputation as a good employer, showing how crucial employer brand is in attracting the best class of candidate.

The benefits of having an effective employer’s brand are vast. With a clear and concise direction for the brand, the organisation in question can potentially cut the costs of recruitment having retained its top talent. In turn, it also increases motivation amongst its enthused crop of employees who know that they work with and for the best.

So who are the employer’s brand pioneers?

Research in November 2014 saw Google, John Lewis and Apple claim first, second and third spots respectively in new LinkedIn research of the twenty ‘most attractive’ employers in the UK — clearly highlighting a battle between US technology brands against that of the UK’s biggest retailers. New entrants on the list were Harrods at 16th and Rolls Royce in 18th. This is clearly positive news for the retail sector.

The competition for UK talent, both domestically and overseas, is intense; and it is no surprise that those brands investing in their employer brand are now seeing the fruits of their labour come to fruition.

Let’s look at John Lewis. The company is widely regarded as the brand which sets the example and tone for the rest to follow. We’ve even heard high-profile politicians such as Nick Clegg state that what “Britain needs is to become a John Lewis economy.” It is statements such as this which certainly suggest the brand is stable and attractive to potential suitors.

Firstly, John Lewis’s business model is perhaps one of the most respected in the world and lauded as a best practice example of employee-employer relations. Even during the darkest of economic times, the brand is still able to attract the best candidates on offer. The brand’s business strategies are carefully aligned with how it trains it staff and consistently delivers on its brand promise.

What John Lewis does well is understand its audience and demonstrate the ability to be nimble by changing tact when the spending trends of different demographics evolve. It is able to create customer focused policies that communicate the employer brand to consumers. In other words, it has cleverly built up two separate and successful strands; an employer brand and a consumer brand.

Training and development can become critical in ensuring that valued members of staff remain contented. In today’s increasingly challenging business world, companies across all industries and sectors have a choice of recruiting or nurturing their own talent. The latter, whilst perhaps more complex, will bring rewards in abundance to the individual, the business and eventually, the brand. John Lewis ticks all of these boxes.

How do you improve an employer’s brand?

In some cases there might be the unfortunate circumstance where a company simply might not be getting it right and in other instances, an employer’s brand might have succumbed to negative headlines in the press or severe misdemeanours on social media.

In February 2013, HMV staff staged an online protest at the collapse of the retailer by using its official Twitter feed to “live tweet” their own mass firing.

Then there was the high-profile issue with Findus and its lack of comms response after it was discovered its lasagne contained 100% horsemeat. With the story arguably one of the largest national and then international crises of 2013, the way it was handled by those involved on Twitter and Facebook was intriguing viewing.

Tesco and Waitrose, regardless of size, both had their reputations on the line. However, by responding almost immediately and apologising to the UK public via various media outlets, both brands came out of the horsemeat crisis relatively unscathed.

On the flipside, it took Findus well over a week after the scandal broke for the brand to make a statement — which sadly gave the impression that the company had been overtaken by the events themselves.

With new liabilities and new mandates for elevated levels of transparency and accountability, such stories can be used as examples to finally inform and educate company directors the world-over that social media isn’t just a novel stakeholder and consumer outreach tool; it is actually the new normal in the modern-day business operations environment; and potential candidates use such platforms to research and determine who are the real winners and losers when it comes to being a stand-out employer’s brand.

The failure to conform to employer brand guidelines and delivering an inconsistent message means you fail to deliver your best impression to future employees. What’s more, it is a waste of all the time and resource ploughed into developing your employer brand in the first place.

To that end, there is really no right or wrong answer to improving an employer’s brand. What is vital, however, is taking complete control internally and ensuring that company key messages and objectives are soundly communicated globally and to use the latest technologies to gain visibility and simplify the delivery of a global employer brand strategy.

Attracting (and retaining) the very best

Businesses are expanding; jobs are once again being filled. The number of people out of work is dropping and the Government has recently introduced further measures to tackle youth unemployment. The outlook is positive.

However, it’s down to the brand itself to display a level of empathy towards their employees; a level which goes above and beyond their salaries. This positions an organisation as an employer who is concerned with the satisfaction levels of their staff. Flexible working hours and the option to work from home — a new norm in the business world — can be appealing to those with family responsibilities or long commutes.

What’s more, battling against a workforce demographic that is continuing to change, candidates have the freedom to determine how they wish to work. As a result, it’s imperative businesses adapt their workforce management strategies to address the different needs and desires of current and future employees.

With the UK workforce set to expand, employing and then retaining outstanding talent is a top priority for the retail sector. With an increasing number of opportunities becoming available, candidates will find themselves in a stronger position and businesses will have to work harder to make themselves stand-out in a competitive job market by ensuring a stringent employer’s brand strategy is firmly in place.

The next issue…

Following the publication of this issue we will be conducting a significant employer’s brand survey and we will be revealing the results in the next edition.