Employer brand is an organisation's reputation as an employer. The term was first used in the early 1990s, and has since become widely adopted by the global management community. Minchington (2005) defines employer brand as "the image of your organisation as a 'great place to work'". The process of employer branding is concerned with talent attraction, engagement and retention strategies deployed to enhance your company's employer brand.
Just as a customer brand proposition is used to define a product or service offer, an employee value proposition is used to define an organisation's employment offer. Likewise the marketing disciplines associated with branding and brand management have been increasingly applied by the human resources and talent management community to attract, engage and retain talented candidates and employees, in the same way that marketing applies such tools to attracting and retaining clients, customers and consumers.
The term "employer branding" was first publicly introduced to a management audience in 1990, and defined by Simon Barrow, chairman of People in Business, and Tim Ambler, Senior Fellow of London Business School, in the Journal of Brand Management in December 1996. This academic paper was the first published attempt to "test the application of brand management techniques to human resource management". Within this paper, Simon Barrow and Tim Ambler defined the employer brand as "the package of functional, economic and psychological benefits provided by employment, and identified with the employing company". By 2001, of 138 leading companies surveyed by the Conference Board in North America, 40% claimed to be actively engaged in some form of employer branding activity. In 2003, an employer brand survey conducted by the Economist among a global panel of readers revealed a 61% level of awareness of the term "employer brand" among HR professionals and 41% among non-HR professionals. The first book on the subject was published in 2005, and the second in 2006. In 2008, Jackie Orme, the Director General of the UK Chartered Institute of Personnel Directors confirmed the growing status of the discipline in her opening address to the CIPD annual conference, with the observation that: "When I started out in the profession, nobody talked about employer branding. Now it's absolutely integral to business strategy—resonating well beyond the doors of the HR department". Similar recognition of the growing importance of employer brand thinking and practice has also been recently in evidence in the USA, Australasia, Asia, and Europe, with the publication of numerous books on the subject.
While the term "employer brand" denotes what people currently associate with an organisation, employer branding has been defined as the sum of a company's efforts to communicate to existing and prospective staff what makes it a desirable place to work, and the active management of "a company's image as seen through the eyes of its associates and potential hires".
Employer brand management
Employer brand management expands the scope of this brand intervention beyond communication to incorporate every aspect of the employment experience, and the people management processes and practices (often referred to as "touch-points") that shape the perceptions of existing and prospective employees. In other words, employer brand management addresses the reality of the employment experience and not simply its presentation. By doing so it supports both external recruitment of the right kind of talent sought by an organisation to achieve its goals, and the subsequent desire for effective employee engagement and employee retention.
Employer brand proposition
As for consumer brands, most employer brand practitioners and authors argue that effective employer branding and brand management requires a clear Employer Brand proposition, or Employee value proposition. This serves to: define what the organisation would most like to be associated with as an employer; highlight the attributes that differentiate the organisation from other employers; and clarify the 'give and get' of the employment deal (balancing the value that employees are expected to contribute with the value from employment that they can expect in return). This latter aspect of the employer brand proposition is often referred to in the HR literature as the "psychological contract".
Employer branding and internal marketing
Internal marketing focuses on communicating the customer brand promise, and the attitudes and behaviours expected from employees to deliver on that promise. While it is clearly beneficial to the organisation for employees to understand their role in delivering the customer brand promise, the effectiveness of internal marketing activities can often be short-lived if the brand values on which the service experience is founded are not experienced by the employees in their interactions with the organisation. This is the gap that employer brand thinking and practice seeks to address with a more mutually beneficial employment deal / Psychological contract.
Brand-led culture change
Compared with the more typically customer centric focus of Internal marketing, internal branding / brand engagement takes a more 'inside-out', value-based approach to shaping employee perceptions and behaviours, following the lead of the highly influential 'Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies' study published in the mid-90's. This sought to demonstrate that companies with consistent, distinctive and deeply held values tended to outperform those companies with a less clear and articulated ethos. While brand-led culture change is often the stated desire of these programmes their focus on communication-led, marketing methods (however, involving or experiential) has been prone to the same failings of conventional internal marketing. As Amazon.com's founder, Jeff Bezos, asserts: "One of things you find in companies is that once a culture is formed it takes nuclear weaponry to change it". You cannot simply assert your way to a new culture, no more can you assert your way to a strong brand, it needs to be consistently and continuously shaped and managed, which is one of the primary reasons many organisations have turned from the short term engagement focus of internal branding initiatives to more long term focus of employer brand management.
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