create compelling stories with your employer brand

July 11, 2016 Steven Brand

In developing a successful, sustainable and memorable employer brand, we need to write stories less for ourselves and much more for our readers

I attended a Guardian Masterclass event recently, on enjoying the novel-writing process. It was gifted to me by my wife as a gentle shove to help turn one of my half-baked, half-formed ideas into an actual, finished story. Fear not, should I ever actually achieve this feat, I pledge to force no man, much less you, kind reader, to digest  the thing. It shall live in a drawer and I shall go about my business.

Anyway, back to the course.

Among the many insights I took away from the session (including the fact that published, successful writers don’t represent a more creative breed of human being, simply a more persistent one) was the idea of designing a cast.

Essentially this involves deliberating over the make-up of your supporting cast to ensure that they bring out different attributes, emotions and behaviors in your hero. This cast provides the proof points of the hero’s brand. They may include the villain, whose vanquishing affirms the hero’s bravery; the soul mate that brings out vulnerability; and the treacherous old friend that brings out a thirst for revenge. Without any of these characters, our hero is nothing more than a narrator’s statements:

  • He was brave
  • He loved fiercely
  • He vowed vengeance

The declarations above ask us to believe in something but offer us no proof.

Employer brands that rely heavily on corporately orchestrated and controlled messaging do the same, and likely face an equally skeptical and disinterested audience.

does your EVP interest the reader?

We bring our stories to life not so much by designing our cast but by segmenting our audience. Every time we consider a particular type of candidate — by skill set, gender, motivation, education or any one of a thousand other segments — we should consider the story they are most interested in hearing. Will they be moved to action by the chapter on mobility opportunities, or the one on leading-edge technology? Will it be the culture of the business or its plans for global domination? The complete story is summed up in an organization’s employee value proposition (EVP), but any good EVP will allow the flexibility for that business to target their message and meaning to a specific audience. These are your chapters.

We should aim even further. Once we know our audience, we can decide not only on the chapter of our story that will resonate most effectively with them, but also the best narrator. I’m a huge advocate of employer communications sitting with existing employees as much as possible. Technology can make this a reality, and it is worth the investment for every organization serious about attracting and retaining the very best talent. And if they are not serious, they should question what they can do to become so.

The right narrator gives you a real person and a real voice to tell the story, dramatically improving the chance that it will stick with the reader. It is a story for which they have first-hand experience so it can’t help but be authentic and honest. Add to this the fact that most narrators feel empowered when their employer asks them to speak in this way (most often to their own networks cultivated across Facebook, LinkedIn and countless other social and professional networks). The benefits easily outweigh any legacy concerns around risk or governance.

At its heart, this about sharing who you are, not in a single, shouted monologue but in a hundred individual conversations.

An author selects characters precisely to draw important facets, facts and behaviors from a protagonist.As brand directors there are things we can learn here. We cannot tell our whole story to everyone, nor should we try. But by understanding our target audience — their character, motivations and desires — we can aim to tell the right bits to the right people at the right time.

And if employers can manage that more often, we’d surely all live happily ever after.


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