How to Create a Meaningful and Memorable Employee Brand
Today virtually everyone has a following, because almost everyone uses some form of social media. According to the Pew Research Center, the average number of Facebook friends is 338*. How many employees does your company have? Multiply that number by 338 and you have a conservative estimate of their potential impact on your brand.
When you consider other social channels, employee review sites, online forums and face-to-face interactions, that number could be much higher. Are employee feelings good, bad or indifferent towards your company? What are they saying about what it’s like to work for you? What is the reaction to what they’re saying about what it’s like to work for you?
Most people are aware of the link between internal and external customer satisfaction at the time of interaction with the customer, but today employee satisfaction (or lack thereof) can affect how your brand is perceived more than ever before. Employee experiences, feelings and thoughts can be shared anywhere, at anytime, to almost anyone. Employee perceptions are powerful, which is why employee branding is so important.
If you’re considering creating an employe brand or are looking at employee marketing, keep reading. In this simple ‘how-to’ article we share our insights, recommendations and practical tips for memorable and meaningful employee marketing strategies. Digitalstream’s process for employee branding has taken ten years to develop and draws on the contributions of both HR and digital marketing best-practices. Before we dive in though, let’s start by looking at the similarities between corporate and employee branding.
What are the Similarities between Corporate and Employee Branding?
The process for creating an employee brand is not dissimilar to that of creating any other brand. With both you are:
- Defining your value proposition
- Defining your target personas
- Sending clear and consistent messages to reinforce your value proposition to your target personas
- Creating a unique visual identity to reflect your value proposition and key messages
- Building know, like and trust factors
- Providing opportunities to connect with you
But first it starts with clearly defining what it is you have to offer; in other words, defining your employee value proposition (EVP).
Define Your Employee Value Proposition
We’ve noticed that many companies invest a lot of time thinking about what they want to say to their customers. They are very clear about their customer value proposition which they realise is important for attraction and engagement purposes. But far fewer have an employee value proposition. Some haven’t really thought about what key messages they want to send employees. While some have thought about them, but are not communicating messages in a way that’s meaningful. EVP creation doesn’t need to be complicated, nor does it need to be clever, punchy or ‘on-trend’. It does however need to be genuine and heartfelt.
Think - Grow, Work, Earn and Belong
We encourage you to think about these four themes when looking at at the value you provide your employees. Why these themes? Because they cover most perspectives. For some employees training opportunities are important (grow), for others a sense of belonging (belong), while for some it’s fair pay (earn) and having the tools and resources they need to perform their job well (work). Let’s explore each theme a little further by looking at possible examples to each one.
- Grow is clearly training and development focused and emcompasses things like having a strong orientation and onboarding process, or accreditation programs you’re a part of. It can be formal training like ‘learn while you earn’ programs, trainee programs, workshops: in house and external. It can be a mentoring program, or well structured on-the-job training with clear learning goals and resources. It can also be having someone on hand to provide help and support, like a buddy system.
- Work covers things like your physical environment e.g. modern with nice facilities. It can cover resources and tools to get the job done well. It can include work practices like variety and flexibility, clear processes and systems. You may include behaviours you value, recognise and reward as a company like innovation, creativity, initiative and accountability. It can also be the work itself and your organisations purpose.
- Earn covers things like benefits, competitive pay, pay for performance systems, bi-annual or annual reviews, free car parking, lunches and so on. It can also include feelings around work security and guaranteed hours.
- Belong essentially is about how it feels to work for your company; in other words, your culture. Consider the emotions that may come to mind when you think of a great work environment e.g. fun, supportive, caring, strong sense of community and helping others. It’s about the people that work there and how they interact with each other. It can also include living values like diversity, inclusiveness and acceptance. It could be working for a company that is community focused, or feeling like you’re making a difference through the work that you do. Or it could be wellbeing initiatives to support emotional and physical wellness.
But these are just ideas to get you started. If you really want to know what makes you a great employer, ask the people that work for you. It really is that simple. The best way to do this is by running the exercise below.
The EVP Exercise
We encourage companies to run a workshop with a cross representation of employees to ensure they cover all perspectives. At this workshop, ask participants a broad question like ‘What makes our company a great place to work’, and then group answers according to the themes of grow, work, earn and belong.
Here’s an exercise I’ve run in the past that works really well.
Give each participant a pile of post-it-notes. You really need at least 20 participants for this to be fun and effective, so don’t hold back on invitations. Ask each participant to write ONE example on EACH post-it-note as to what makes your company such a great place to work. Give it a good 30 minutes and encourage discussion amongst participants. Then gather up all the post-it notes, and as you read out each one place it on a wall or white board according to the themes of Grow, Work, Earn and Belong. You’ll come up with your own list to the one above, and no doubt it will be a lot more fun and colourful!
Celebrate What Is Good
Not only is this a practical exercise for EVP creation, it’s also a great way to generate some excitement about your workplace. It’s not often we’re encouraged as employees to think about what makes work great. When we’re not making a concerted effort to practice gratitude and notice what is good, it’s very easy to let negative thoughts slip in. Instead we focus on what we don’t like and what we want to change, even if your workplace is regarded as one of the best in the world. This is because people get used to almost anything in life - bad and good. Dr Sonja Lyubomirsky is an expert in the field of positive psychology, and provides an example of Google employees who when they first started working were in awe of the many perks like:
Free hot lunch and dinner every day, an abundance of snacks, guest authors visiting, and plenty of games and toys (including a drum and guitar room). They can even bring their pets to work. They said that these perks seemed awesome when they first began their jobs but that they lost no time becoming accustomed to them and even found things to complain about (e.g., “Not the crab cakes again!”). p122.
You may even want to ask employees what it is they would miss most if they were to leave. As they share their responses, pay attention to the different messages coming from various employee groups as this helps you to map your employee personas; which brings me to the next part.
Map Your Employee Personas
Just as you would map buyer personas in order to better understand them, so you should map your employee personas. Some examples of personas include seasonal employees, seasoned employees, part-time, return to work, students, international and ex-pat. The needs of each persona may be different, and so you may want to tailor the messages you send when engaging each one.
Once you have an understanding of each persona type, listen to the work stories of each group and encourage them to share examples of what they appreciate about their workplace. Stories are a powerful way to build engagement, and have a part to play in communicating your EVP. Let’s explore this further in the next section.
Share Meaningful Stories to Connect with Each Persona
As a facilitator, I recognize storytelling as a skill called ‘revealing’. All good facilitators know that a sure way to captivate an audience is to reveal something via a story. Choose a story your audience can relate to with a compelling message and theme. Ask - how does revealing this story relate to your EVP and the themes you’re trying to impart?
Nowhere is story telling more evident today than through mainstream news media, except they are positioned as ‘opinion pieces’. But we in marketing recognise them for what they are - ‘click bait’. I only share this example to illustrate how compelling storytelling is, and am not implying you should use them for this end - far from it. Employee stories should be authentic and relatable. Be sure to look beyond career progression stories too, as not everyone is interested in a promotion. In fact for some people this is the one thing they don’t want!
I clearly remember being told the career progression story of the General Manager of Operations when working for a large retailer. He started out in dispatch, moved into sales, onto a trainee program and then Store Management, Regional Management and eventually the top job in Operations. Yes it was inspiring. Yes it was interesting. But in all honesty how likely is it to happen today? Not very. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be told, because it was a powerful story; but it’s important to temper it so that people don’t have unrealistic expectations. Because the other big no-no in both marketing and HR is to over promise and under deliver. That gets you into all sorts of trouble!
See what I’ve done here? I’ve shared a story to reinforce a key message. For many employees feeling a sense of belonging and connection to their customers and fellow colleagues is what matters most. While for others it’s the security of regular hours, or flexibility around time off when they need it. Or it could be working for an employer that makes a contribution to charity and is community focused. The point is to share stories that all employee personas can relate too as this helps to create a sense of belonging for everyone.
Develop Your EVP Collateral
Okay, so now you’ve run your workshop and have a clear understanding of 1. Your employee personas, and 2. What makes your workplace a great place to grow, work, earn and belong, it’s time to for the fun part - developing your EVP and branding to showcase it. This is where companies like ours step in; creating branding that depicts your key messages. Here are some of the key elements we would include.
Develop a Catch Phrase
This can be used on stand-alone careers websites and to brand internal communication such as training programs, engagement surveys, internal portals and so on. You could incorporate your catch phrase into a logo for your employee brand. You could also use it when giving team presentations and running recruitment centres. Here are a few examples of employee catch phrases.
- ‘Retail as a Career’- The Warehouse
- ‘Join the adventure’ - Mainfreight
- ‘Have the freedom to do extraordinary things’ - Toyota
Perhaps focus on a theme that dominates if you have difficulty with this exercise, but a professional branding company should be able to guide you.
Create a unique logo
This is about creating a visual identity for your employment brand. An identity that incorporates colours, symbols and key messages about what it’s like to work for your company. There is a commonly held view that your employee brand should be aligned to your corporate brand, but we would challenge you to consider creating a separate brand identity altogether because 1. Your audience is different and 2. Your messages are different. Your EVP logo can be used to capture the essence of what it’s like to work for you, to quickly connect with your employees and create a sense of belonging. EVP logos can take the place of company logos on employee related collateral and digital channels; or they can appear alongside the company logo. Your colours shouldn’t necessary be the same as your corporate ones either. What are the primary thoughts and feelings employees associate with your company. If you could colour them, which colours would you choose? Colours elicit emotion, so choose carefully.
Capture images that tell the story of what it’s like to work for you
Images are used to reinforce key messages, and show what it’s like to work for your company. We would advise you to choose images in line with the themes of Grow, Work, Earn and Belong and each of your employee personas. We would encourage you to avoid stock images and the temptation to make them too ‘polished’.
I recall a meeting with a GM where he said he wasn’t happy with the photos we’d taken of his staff. He felt they were too ‘candid’, and weren’t showcasing the ‘best of them’. I’m sure you can read between the lines here, but what resulted was carefully staged photos with younger, attractive staff in professional makeup less representative of the actual workplace demographic. Photos no longer captured the spirit of the company, and what it is was really like to be a part of it. My favourite photo of Emily the longstanding receptionist at the entrance of the building was vetoed, as he felt it looked like we were welcoming people to a care facility for the elderly!
Create a Standalone Careers Site
Now you’ve defined your EVP, mapped your personas, created your own distinct employee branding and logo and chosen appropriate images, it’s time to showcase it all on a dedicated careers website.
The benefits of investing in a stand-alone careers website are many. You can use it to:
- Communicate your EVP and key messages around why you are an employer of choice
- Communicate your values, so you attract candidates that are a better fit
- Showcase commonly recruited roles, so potential candidates know what’s involved e.g. a day in the life of a...
- Promote hard to fill roles and start building a talent pipeline through ‘expressions of interest’
- Celebrate employee success stories and show a clear pathway for development
- Attract higher performing candidates by creating desire and interest in working for you
- Instill a sense of pride and belonging in existing team members
- Share stories from each of your employee personas e.g. return to work, international candidates, students and so on.
Essentially a good careers website tells the story of your company, and what it’s like to work there. But let’s not forget that it’s also a recruitment tool. It should allow you to easily post vacancies and enable candidates to apply online.
Develop an Employee Marketing Calendar
We’ve noticed that when new career sites launch there is a lot of interest, but after a few months that starts to wane because nothing new is added to it besides job postings. Imagine if you could sustain that level of interest all year round? What would that mean for employee engagement and internal communication? One of the ways you can achieve this is with an employee marketing calendar.
For example, what are the key events in your recruitment calendar? If at the start of the year your focus is on recruiting interns, create a strong online presence with employee interest stories focused on internships such as ‘a day in the life of an intern’, career progression stories, the intern training program and what it entails, and so on. If at the end of the year the focus is on seasonal recruitment, post news and events related to that. You’d of course link these to your social channels as well. You don’t need to create extra work for yourself. There are some really simple templates that make this easy for you and interesting for your target audience. For example, you could ask five questions of a long-standing seasonal worker. Choose questions of interest to potential seasonal employees like: What skills have you gained in this role that have helped you in others? What do you enjoy most about your role? How would you describe the team culture here? The funniest thing a customer ever said to me was...
Consider other events in the employee experience like: community initiatives that involve staff and fundraising, team building events, new training programs, new career success stories...the possibilities are endless. Posting and sharing important milestones and events are powerful. Regular publishing of stories like these helps to engage current and potential talent. They are also really interesting, especially in large organisations as they provide insights into other areas and the people that work in them.
In conclusion, employee satisfaction doesn’t just affect customer satisfaction anymore, but how your brand is perceived on a large scale. Employee branding allows companies to carefully consider the value they provide their employees (EVP) and to communicate key messages about why theirs is a great place to grow, work, earn and belong. We get used to almost anything in life - the bad and good, and so employee marketing helps remind us of the good, and what we would miss if we left. Creating a standalone career website is a one way to bring all your elements of employee marketing together; and to form memorable and meaningful connections with employees - past, current and future.
We’d welcome your feedback on this article, and also your thoughts around employee branding. If you’re interested, we’ve included a link to this checklist of features and benefits of best-practice careers websites.
2014, February. Smith, Aaron. What people like and dislike about Facebook. Retrieved from URL: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/02/03/what-people-like-dislike-about-facebook/