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Getting your Employer Branding Right

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Employer branding is a term which has been bandied about the corridors of human resources departments across the length and breadth of the UK for several years. It is nothing new. But what is new is its escalation in importance. As the country finally manages to escape the trappings of the recent global recession, it is emerging to find what is, arguably, one of the most competitive environments for a generation; one where employer branding is taking on a whole new meaning.

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics revealed that unemployment levels for the three months to July 2013 fell by 24,000 to 2.49 million – a fall from the 2.7 million figure at the end of 2011 which was the highest level for 17 years. And earlier this month, the Confederation of British Industry found that optimism in the UK’s financial industry has reached a 17-year high as lenders, insurers and brokers recruited new staff during the same period at the fastest rate since 2007 – the much hyped green shoots of recovery have well and truly blossomed it would seem.

So what does this mean for employers? Put simply, it means that employers must work hard to improve their employer brand to ensure they remain competitive and well-placed to attract the best talent for their organisations.

Two years ago, the CIPD found that three-quarters of all UK employers had made efforts to review their existing employer branding, most commonly through employee surveys and developing their own careers sites. The survey determined that how an organisation’s employer brand is perceived both by existing and potential new employees had become one of the top three objectives for Human Resource departments throughout the country.

But achieving an effective employer brand is not just about creating brilliantly crafted recruitment advertising, fancy website or series of career microsites, or even about implementing a series of employee engagement initiatives. It is much more than that and involves a long-term approach rather than a short-term ‘quick win’ based on certain criteria and some more practical considerations, such as the key elements that prospective applicants are looking for in a recruitment advert:

1. Job role – is this a job that I can and want to do?
2. Salary – does this job meet my salary expectations? Is it enough to tempt me away from my current employer?
3. Location – is it where I want to work or will I need to commute?
4. Company – do I want to work for this organisation?

The first three are the basic ‘hygiene’ factors common to all recruitment adverts, whilst the fourth is all about the strength of your brand – the crucial factor that you want candidates to buy into. Your branding needs to emotionally resonate with employees á la Innocent Smoothies.

Innocent has long been a mainstay at the Best Workplace in the UK awards, and for good reason. They have successfully built an enviable reputation by offering consumers something different to what already exists. Their offices, Fruit Towers, has AstroTurf for carpet and the reception area is furnished with park benches and this quirkiness is also reflected in both their recruitment and product advertising ,which is deliberately designed to be simple yet impactful at the same time:

Hello, we make lovely natural fruit drinks like pure fruit smoothies and fresh
yoghurt thickies. Everything we produce tastes good and does you good.

Whilst this may perhaps be an extreme example and impractical for most business environments, the point is that Innocent have created a brand ‘personality’ that people resonate with and attached a value to what they have to offer prospective employees and customers alike – their employee value proposition.

Employee value proposition (EVP) is essential to creating an effective employer brand. It enables you to communicate what you do as an organisation, why you do it and what your values as a business are. It is an opportunity for you to connect with your target audience and to demonstrate not only what you can offer them, but more importantly encourage them to make a difference to the organisation. Examples of how this works in practice are plentiful.

Indeed, despite the widespread backlash against many of the UK’s leading institutions during the recent financial meltdown, investment bank Goldman Sachs successfully distanced itself from many within the sector. Their commitment to “creating the most outstanding HR service in its sector” and inviting applicants to “help make the difference” has enabled it to not only retain but also enhance its reputation as an employer of choice, particularly for graduates who have propelled Goldman Sachs to become one of the top 3 employers of choice for graduates seeking a career within the banking and finance industry.

Cancer Research UK is another example of how an employer encourages applicants to make a difference.

As the largest charity in the UK, Cancer Research UK ‘sells’ itself on two key messages: it’s kudos among the Times Top 100 graduate employers, and a powerful call to action, “Be part of an organisation that’s leading the fight against cancer”. Ernst & Young also use this to great effect by positioning themselves as an organisation whose future growth is ‘driven by people who use their natural strengths at work’. Their recruitment campaigns ‘sell’ the notion that their employees’ careers will “Go from strength to strength” and that together, both the firm and the individual will go “further, faster”.

EVP is one thing, but the existing ‘power’ that your brand already has is another. What is your position in the marketplace, what separates you from your competition? Does your brand provoke an emotional response? For example, although both Cancer Research UK and Goldman Sachs share the ‘you can make a difference’ mantra, how this translates will differ from person to person. Then there is brand appeal. Is your brand image reflective of how the business sees itself?

For example, if you consider yourself to be a modern and forward-thinking organisation, does your corporate ‘look’ support this or is it looking dated? Does your brand carry credibility and equally applicable to different target audiences, and is there a clear link between your brand and the expectations of your current employees? Perhaps your employer brand exists but needs more ‘oomph’? If that’s the case, then perhaps this great article will help.

Employers need to view their recruitment and brand advertising as two sides of the same coin. The recruitment process is exactly that – a process which is specific, deliberate and aimed at reaching the right people, in the right way and at the right time. So consider the publications or websites that your ideal candidates read, determine whether your current advertising is really selling your company, does it give strong, powerful reasons for candidates to apply? With a mix of creativity and some brand application, your seemingly uninspiring packing or administration job might become your “priceless” recruitment advert.

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