| 6 min read |
When Simon Barrow formalized the term “employer brand” in 1996 as part of his brand management work, he was very clear on how critical he thought it would be: “a consumer brand is often a lifestyle choice whilst employer brand is about life itself; it’s about future, self-esteem, self-worth and those around you.”
And isn’t it just as true nearly 30 years later? We want to belong to organizations that mirror our values and beliefs: our own chosen communities. We want to work with organizations that care about us as individuals and grow together — moving well beyond the old industrial revolution paradigm where one worker is just a replaceable body, one among millions with no leverage but to obey leadership.
Today, employer branding has become more than the management of our reputation as employers: it is the litmus test for our true colors. Do we keep our promises? Do we keep them during times of turmoil? Do we keep them for everyone, across genders, cultures, backgrounds, ages, abilities and personalities?
To do or not to do: this is the question. And it is a very simple one. The answer is always “to do.”
A company that betrays its own employer brand is betraying its people, and people do not easily forget. People will not return when you need them. And, critically, people with a negative experience and memory — or those who have simply heard about those negative experiences — will stop buying from you.
First fact: your employer brand is more than your reputation; it is your identity.
if a brand is your identity, what is a talent brand?
I come from consumer marketing, and in B2C — even more than in any other marketing domains — target audience segmentation is key when determining how to articulate the brand/product by audience, region, need and want.
During the last 15 years, I have managed employer brands in-house. Department and regional leaders have complained to me that their specific talent does not understand or resonate with the generic employer brand — and every time, I agree. Commonalities create unity, but generic statements just generate indifference. This provokes two great questions for HR, talent and employer brand leaders alike.
One, why do companies tailor their product and brand approaches to their many audiences, while employer branding remains so monolithic, so generic, so removed from real-people contexts and differences?
And two, how does an organization avoid creating a second and third employee value proposition (EVP) or employer brand (there can be only one) while managing the relationship between it and specific talent target audiences and their diverse backgrounds.
I soon learned as a passionate brand, marketing, talent and HR leader that I needed to be able to tailor employer brands and EVPs without fragmenting. I wanted to segment the messaging by target audience, without losing coherency of the whole messaging architecture. To inflect tones and words without losing the overall identity.
We can define this as creating “talent brands,” as they take the employer brand and flex it to the specific talent segment, building an end-to-end experience from “hi” to hire and — if done properly — to retire.
This leads us to our second fact: you can have one employer brand and, at the same time, still build a specific relationship with different talent segments through talent brands. The employer brand identity is one but can communicate, relate and reveal itself in different ways with different people without losing itself or its impact.
the many colors of snow.
If the EVP and the employer brand are the identity, and we call this identity the “snow” of a company, talent brands are the many colors and textures of that same snow.
We think snow is just snow, but it’s not. Snow can be white, icy blue, azure, ash, cerise, emerald, red, yellow, brown, and so on. And it can be fluffy, icy, powdery, melting, bumpy. It can come as a graupel, mogul, flurries …
People who live in very snowy places use many snow lexemes (variants of the same abstraction) for all the phenomena others just call “snow,” (the lemma). Even in English, we can use snowflake, frost, flurry, and so on for tens of variants of the same unit of meaning. Snow is hence the lemma, the chosen word for the group of lexemes.
Our talent brands are the lexemes and the employer brand is the lemma. They all stem from the same unit of meaning, the same abstraction, the same identity.
The employer brand is the chosen common identity and talent brands are the inflections, the articulations that will resonate with technology people in China versus technology people in the U.K., or even with developers versus DevOps in the same country. Every single professional community needs slightly different nuances. Talent brands are genuinely all the colors of snow.
Talent brands, in fact, require the same deep knowledge of behavioral science, psychology and big data as consumer marketing. They are experiences that humanistic marketers (in between HR and marketing) can ideate, develop and manage enabled by technology. They are tailored, from one overarching ecosystem, to resonate to all different job families, locations and diverse communities.
We have our third fact: if the employer brand is one, talent brands are as many as the cultures the company needs, includes, embraces and respects. In fact, talent brands impact the richness and diversity of the population of a company as it recognizes how different people need different experiences while all working in unison toward their shared values and purpose.
where do talent brands sit?
Culture and Purpose are business imperatives. At the end of the day, businesses are made of people working to offer products or services to other people. Leadership ultimately owns brand, employer brand and talent brands, while their marketing and HR functions enable and support them. In our experience, talent brands work better if they stem from the strongest possible collaboration between these two.
HR understands the experiential side of a talent brand, and marketing knows how to make the messages resonate specifically with that target segment in that specific location, at that unique moment in time. Talent acquisition, as a best practice, should then leverage talent brands the most, making sure promises are kept throughout the overall working experience from “hi” to hire to retire.
So now we have our fourth and final fact: all the different lexemes (talent brands) coexist in harmony within one identity to drive impact together when marketing, talent acquisition, HR and employer brand leadership are working collaboratively and in line with business goals.
how do you avoid following the white rabbit?
How do you create and manage a talent brand without getting lost in a fragmentation of your identity and falling down the rabbit hole of too many twists and turns? Here are 5 simple rules to follow:
1. Generic and common are not the same.
Make sure your employer brand is the common denominator for all of your people, not just a generic concept that resonates with no one but the corporate process that generated it.
2. Build your Many on One.
Once you have an authentic common identity and culture, you have the strong foundations to segment your talent brands and related people experiences.
3. Inflection does not mean difference.
A talent brand coexists in the same semantic universe of the employer brand. It's a local dialect based on the same language, a different metaphor in the same symbolic universe. Basically it is the same but different, as it talks directly to specific target audiences by job family, skill or location.
4. There is no talent brand without an experience of it.
This is not only about advertising and targeted talent marketing. Make sure the promise is kept through selection, hiring, onboarding and everything else in close partnership with the right technology.
5. Each single talent brand is like a hologram, it contains the information about the overall brand.
The snow might be white or blue, but it is still and always will be just water in solid crystal form. In simple terms, the “cloud architecture” specific talent brand contains all the info about the technology proposition in a company, the employer brand and the overall culture and identity. Talent brands are different articles of clothing cut from the same piece of fabric.
If you want to learn more about employer branding or discuss how to develop your own talent brands, please contact us.
about the authorMore Content by Francesca Campalani