Yes, pay, benefits and culture are critical when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent. But an employer’s brand also plays a vital role. Matt Handford, the SVP of People for Hootsuite, the world’s largest social media monitoring platform, explains the key elements of a company’s brand strategy — and how such a strategy can be an invaluable part of attracting and retaining talent.
In a world where attracting and retaining talent is one of the core issues facing companies today, what steps can be taken for an employer to be strategically positioned to leverage the best talent pool in their market? It can be a daunting task, and one that doesn’t have a singular route to success, but one avenue that is seeing more importance both among employers and potential employees, is how well a company’s brand stands out.
According to a study conducted by the Harvard Business Review, employer branding has become strategically more important to CEOs, HR and marketing leaders with a third looking to build their global employer brand by 2020. Clearly there is an understanding that a strong brand is important, but how can companies develop a brand that resonates and feels authentic to potential employees? Consider three key elements that support the backbone of any brand strategy.
1. Build a Strategic Plan
It should go without saying that in order to develop a strategic and effective brand persona, there needs to be a plan behind it. First off, it’s critical to understand that a brand is not the perks or salary associated with working at your company. While perks like dog-friendly offices, free beer, extra vacation and ping pong are elements of creating a positive workplace it does not, and should not, define you as a brand.
Take a critical look at your current brand and define what you want to be known for; when a potential employee thinks of your company, what is the ideal perception you want to create? By thinking from that perspective, you can work backwards and develop steps to increase your brand’s strategic positioning until you are attracting the type of talent that aligns with your vision. Ultimately you want to capitalize on what makes your brand unique, and build from there.
Keep in mind that this strategic vision should look towards the long-term, with multi-year goals. You’ll want to create both short and long term strategies that work in tandem, and review those goals to actual results and the effectiveness in building your desired brand persona.
2. Implement that Plan with Integrity
Once you’ve developed your strategic brand, how you choose to implement that strategy is important. In fact, just because you want your company to be perceived in a particular manner, doesn’t mean that it will. The best brands are ones that live up to their persona and are able to develop a brand strategy that is built with integrity and trust.
Trust is a critical element in ensuring your brand strategy remains intact. While trust is often associated with a social science, people actually appear to have a complex biological reaction to trust, that increases oxytocin levels which thereby strengthen our bonds with the subject (think “brand love” or brand loyalty).
Conversely, people seem to have an almost innate sense of when a brand is being inauthentic, which can have a lasting effect and damage future prospects. Take into account how your brand strategy works into your realistic activity as a company, and what you can do to reenforce authentic brand experiences.
We consider an authentic brand experience as offering a ‘window’ into the company. Essentially giving the public an opportunity to peek behind the curtain and get a glimpse into the true nature of what it means to be a part of that company. It’s important that this ‘window’ be as transparent as possible; as mentioned, any disingenuous attempt to cloud the reality of your business will eventually be discovered.
3. Empower Employee Advocacy
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, you need to provide an outlet for your employees to champion your brand. As with most any other brand or product nowadays, the single most ‘trustworthy’ source of information comes from our peers. Research conducted by Edelman found that employees ranked higher than CEO’s, board members or senior management when it came to brand credibility.
Encourage current and future employees to champion your brand, showcasing the elements of what makes your workplace stand out from the rest.
You’ll discover that there will be those that embody the true nature of a ‘Champion’, with a common passion for broadcasting your culture, getting involved with causes that matter, and spearheading ideas that can help bring to life your employer brand. By empowering these individuals, you’ve created an advocacy program that has far reaching effects both internally and externally.
Champions don’t exist in a bubble, and require company support and the tools needed to broadcast their message. Ensure that a company Champion has the ability to share their voice, both internally and externally.
Ultimately building a strong brand strategy takes time and a serious commitment to understand what your company represents and the talent it wishes to attract. By taking the time to think critically on the issue, a company can develop a brand that no longer struggles to attract and retain talent, but draws in those that are aligned both strategically and culturally.
Matt Handford is the SVP of People for Hootsuite, the world’s largest social media monitoring platform, with more than 16 million users worldwide, with customers representing more than 800 companies in the Fortune 100.