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Employer branding: a hot topic?


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I recently read an interesting blog post on Brand For Talent. The author, Libby Sartain, says that organizations across the globe are struggling with their reputations as employers. Those employers need to engage their workers as fans, while reaching out for new workers as the economy begins its turnaround. She also asks: is there a difference between corporate branding and employer branding? Well, according to Sartain, there is. While companies such as Apple and Nike are able to rely on the power and strength of their corporate brand to attract talent, this is not the case for companies with less powerful brands.

I found several definitions of employer branding, so let me give a general idea: “employer brand” can be defined as the image of your organization as a “great place to work” in the mind of current employees and key stakeholders in the external market (active and passive candidates, clients, customers and others). “Employer branding” is therefore concerned with the attraction, engagement and retention initiatives targeted at enhancing a company’s employer brand.

Why is it such a hot topic? And is this a real issue in Canada?

Well, it seems so. According to many recruiting websites in Canada, a positive and successful employer brand leads to greater retention and recruitment of top-notch employees and results in overall higher company productivity.

According to the study titled Taking the Pulse: Talent Branding, some 75 percent of HR leaders believe competition for talent is greater than it was five years ago. Looking ahead, 84 percent believe that competition will be greater in five years. Moreover, 55 percent of respondents consider it a priority to segment their message and their market. At the same time, while 97 percent say—to some extent—their organizations have developed employer brands, only 43 percent believe their corporate cultures support the employer brand—a key factor in worker engagement. Further, 65 percent believe the employer brand has been effective in engaging current employees, and 63 percent cite it as helpful in recruiting the right people to the organization.

Australian brand management strategists, The Right Group say, “Over the last five years, the concept of Employer Branding has gained traction as a necessary requirement for the attraction, engagement and retention of talented employees.” And “In today’s business climate, employer branding is no longer a short-term project initiated by HR to aid attraction and recruitment; it is now a way of life for successful organisations. … The role of employer branding is to provide a coherent framework and focus the priorities of an organisation’s people strategy.”

Other factors have played up the notion of employer branding, such as yearly “Employer of Choice” awards in various countries including Canada. With the results of these competitions highly publicized in the media as well as HR publications, it’s clear that the concept of employers as brands is a hot topic.

To illustrate, in Canada you have the “50 Best Employers in Canada”, “Top 100 Employers (Canada)”, “Great Places to Work Canada”, “Canada’s Best Diversity Employers”, and “Human Capital Leaders” (Canada), among others. And once a company wins one of these awards, they display it on their corporate website, or send out a press release announcing how proud they are to have won a variety of awards from publications and associations from around the world.

How do you achieve positive employee branding?

According to, “It’s about becoming the Tide or Crest or Coke of employment. Example—you’re out of detergent. You go to the store and stare at hundreds of options, but one pulls at you on an emotional level. The good, tried, tested, and true, the one mom used, the logo and colours jump out at you…price isn’t an issue because you have faith in it—you reach up and choose the familiar, the trusted. That’s what good advertising is all about—creating an emotional connection and assuring loyalty.”

Taking the Apple and Nike example from Brand For Talent, “The big idea behind the design and innovation at Apple and the empowerment at Nike radiates through the organization, and both organizations have been able to attract, engage, and retain top talent through their master brand strength. Both Apple and Nike, however have cultures that support their brand promises and convey to workers what they must do to deliver on the promise. The ‘big idea’ behind the brand engages workers and consumers alike.”

What I can conclude is that the employer brand has to fit the corporate brand. One cannot exist without the other.

If a company doesn’t explicitly create an employer brand, then its corporate brand will stand in for the employer brand. However, that corporate brand has to be so strong that it encompasses everything in everybody’s mind. This means that just having a corporate brand might not always be appropriate when it comes to the goals of retention, engagement, recruitment, and whatever else; so it’s important that companies recognize that fact, think about how others—be they customers or current or prospective employees—experience their brand, and then decide if they have to develop an employer brand distinct from their corporate brand.

There are steps to determine the parameters of a distinctive employment brand: it’s necessary to undergo a comprehensive evaluation process. This includes having a corporate brand, identifying what factors impact your employer brand, analyzing previous results, setting goals, defining a possible employment brand, substantiating the employment brand proposition and, possibly, conducting a focus group.

Successful employee branding depends on an organization’s employees to project the overall brand. By recruiting selectively, communicating effectively and delivering targeted training, you can better develop employee branding. Once your employees understand your brand and objectives—and buy in—they’ll be in a better position to act as ambassadors for your brand.

In addition, understanding that it’s the job of the whole HR department to market your company as a top employer is crucial. Just like a marketing department, all HR professionals, from recruitment to management, are in charge of ensuring the employer brand is relevant, unique to you, consistent, understood, and promoted by the whole company, particularly the front line, when it comes to recruitment.

The Right Group warns, and this is very important, that a primary issue is that many organizations fail to link their external employer brand communication messages with their internal employment experience, rendering their employer brand “inauthentic”.

This reminds me: your company’s stand on compliance, corporate governance and corporate social responsibility will directly reflect who and what your organization is; and your customers and employees recognize this, which makes it an important part of your employer branding. Furthermore, making sure your organization complies with its legal obligations, communicates and protects its employees’ rights under the law, and avoids unnecessary employment lawsuits will help you maintain an untarnished reputation.

Remember, the actions and activities of organizations are becoming more visible due to the increasing number of people joining and posting comments on social and business networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Employees and job applicants will continue ranking companies based on a higher level of internal insight into the company gained through discussions on online communities. As a result, businesses that promote ethical, responsible practices and good employment relationships will, in the long term, continue to feature high on the “best places to work” lists, and these lists will become a more reliable source as an indication of a “best place to work”.

Do you have an employer brand? How did you find it? And, did you really need it?

Yosie Saint-Cyr, Human Resources and Compliance Managing Editor

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Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B. Managing Editor

Managing Editor at First Reference Inc.
Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B., is a trained lawyer called to the Quebec bar in 1988 and is still a member in good standing. She practiced business, employment and labour law until 1999. For over 18 years, Yosie has been the Managing Editor of the following publications, Human Resources Advisor, Human Resources PolicyPro, HRinfodesk and Accessibility Standards PolicyPro from First Reference. Yosie is one of Canada’s best known and most respected HR authors, with an extensive background in employment and labour across the country. Read more
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