The 6 pillars of employer branding

In order to attract and retain talent in 2024, your business needs a brand built on a foundation of internal values, clarity of vision, and a culture that is more than just what you say it is, wrapped up and communicated via an Employer Value Proposition (EVP).

Added on:

July 10, 2023

File under:

Branding

Written by:

Ben Stanbury

In order to attract and retain talent in 2024, your business needs a brand built on a foundation of internal values, clarity of vision, and a culture that is more than just what you say it is, wrapped up and communicated via an Employer Value Proposition (EVP). An EVP can be described as 'the promise you make to your employees' and forms part of your 'employer branding' which differs slightly from the more traditional term of 'branding'.


Firstly, let's clarify some definitions. Your 'brand' is how your company is understood and positioned in the mind of your audience. It is the culmination of any brand strategy you may have done, and the conversations you had about how you wanted your company to be perceived.

Branding (aka brand identity design) is the visible aspect of your brand. It's your brand identity system, such as your logo, fonts, and colours, and also includes your website design, language, and tone of voice. Consider brand identity as your brand strategy made visible, the part of your brand that your customer sees, hears and interacts with.


Employer branding is something to be considered when trying to attract talent, and in most cases, will be refined after brand strategy, and brand identity design. Employer branding can be defined as 'the act of positioning your firm in such a way as to be an attractive proposition for job-seeking talent'.

Employer branding can be defined as 'the act of positioning your firm in such a way as to be an attractive proposition for job-seeking talent'.

Employer branding is a necessary balance of having an attractive brand identity design, demonstrable brand values, and a work culture and reputation that speaks of these values. It's making sure your company walks the walk, as well as talks the talk.


It can be argued that employer branding dips its toes into three important functions of any business that needs to employ staff. These are its brand identity and online presence, its company culture, and how the firm approaches recruitment, all of which are necessary functions of a business that seeks to grow, attract and retain staff.


In this article, I'll discuss the foundations on which employer branding sits.


Internal and External brand

A company's brand is split into two sections, the internal (invisible) brand and the external (visible brand). Employer branding straddles both the internal and external brand, so first let us look at the foundations that are routed in the internal brand.


Company culture and values are borne from the internal brand. As discussed in this article, the internal brand is developed with your company directors and covers the less tangible 'reasons' and 'whys' behind your company. It encompasses your purpose, mission (day-to-day commitments) vision (long-term aspirations) and the values your firm holds dear. The essence of your company culture and values would have been conceived in these early conversations around the internal brand.


Company Culture

Your company culture could be described as the personality of the business and how you nurture or cultivate your staff, and perhaps answered best in the question What is it really like for staff to work at your company day after day?


Gone are the days when a potential hire would be attracted to a role simply through the allure of pay package and holiday allowance; today, reputation will attract talent, and company culture will (in part) retain them and have a huge impact on how happy they are.

Gone are the days when a potential hire would be attracted to a role simply through the allure of pay package and holiday allowance; today, reputation will attract talent, and company culture will (in part) retain them and have a huge impact on how happy they are.

Your company culture will include things like the atmosphere of the working environment, working with other people in teams, and even how you structure management hierarchies.

A cursory Google of 'the best companies to work for in 2023' will give you some ideas of the kinds of firms leading the way when it comes to nurturing staff and attracting them with a reputation for fantastic company culture.


Values

Some of the values your company hold close to its heart may be visible on the outside, while others will be part of the internal brand (ultimately influencing your company culture). Your brand mission, what you strive to achieve on a day-to-day basis (aside from simply making money), and your brand vision (your long-term goal) will form the core of your company values. However, these will also be demonstrated in your commitment to charities, causes, and environmental and social programmes.

More frequently we will see firms wearing their charitable causes on their sleeves (or, should I say website footers), from the B1G1 scheme that is popular with professional service firms, to the commonly found Ecologi memberships, and Certified B Corp status.

Younger talent will seek to work for firms that align with their own personal values, so demonstrating your commitment to the environment and workplace equality for example will be a point of consideration for these potential employees. As discussed in this blog about employer experience (EX) by the rec hub, employees increasingly demand businesses be involved in more sustainable and ethical initiatives that matter personally to them. The article goes on to point out "Businesses request more from their employees, so employees demand something more in return. In most cases, people are no longer willing to accept the conventional parts of an organisation. They start a new position believing their experience within this organisation will be empowering and meaningful".


Virgin Atlantic recently demonstrated its ongoing commitment to its values and culture by allowing staff to wear whatever uniform they choose, "no matter their gender, gender identity or gender expression", as well as introducing optional pronoun badges for its crew and passengers.  In a similar vein, Yvon Chouinard, founder of global clothing brand Patagonia recently gave away the entire company to a trust that ensures all of Patagonia's profits are poured into a scheme that combats climate change and protects undeveloped land. As a company valued at over $3billion, this is more than a gesture, but a belief system, one that stems from the very heart of the firm's internal brand and culture. Bravo Patagonia.


Reputation

Often the word 'reputation' is used to describe the essence of a company's brand which I believe is accurate. A brand is, in the words of Mary Neumeier "a person's gut feeling about a product, service or company" or, to paraphrase Jeff Bezos "what people say about your company when you're not in the room" 'Reputation' is a broad word, and one I believe correctly thought of as a stable-mate to the word 'brand'. Yet your company reputation is something that is largely out of your control and will be built up (or dismantled) largely by your audience, and the opinions of the people you serve and employ.

Online reviews will serve to create your reputation and can have a profound effect on how your company is viewed. Think about when you're searching for a restaurant to visit when on holiday. Do you visit the restaurant with an overwhelming majority of one-star reviews? Of course not, its reputation has helped you form an opinion... You'll likely never visit, and if you ever get asked about it you'll probably say 'I heard it's a terrible restaurant...

As an employer, your reputation as a place to work may be evident on websites like Glassdoor, and The Job Crowd, or in replies to your social media posts. Your reputation will also be born in the opinions of existing and exiting staff, how they have viewed their time working at your company.

And while it is true you can't please all the people all of the time, ultimately your reputation will be earned as a result of the actions you take, such as how you treat and nurture your staff, how they feel if they move to another company, the media platforms that you choose to advertise with and the causes you support.

Your onboarding process and employer value proposition should serve as an indication of what new employees can expect in the immediate and longer-term when they work at your company, so consider how you might resonate with the kind of workers you seek to attract.


Website presentation.

In a previous article, I discuss how customers experience your brand in the reverse order to which you create it. Your internal brand and its values are the first steps in creating a brand strategy, leading ultimately to a brand identity design and website.

Yet your customers and future employees will often experience your website as their first touchpoint with your company. Your website is your most powerful marketing asset, bringing together the strategic thought processes, your tone of voice and where your company will wear its value on its sleeve. So, it is important that your website makes a good first impression, obviously from a usability perspective, but also in the way it talks about career progression, its company culture and how it demonstrates its company values. Think about how you present your meet-the-team pages and the style and tone of the photography. Consider too, the Work with Us or Careers page and how you discuss the evolution of roles in your firm.


Brand identity

Although it could be argued that an employee will look beyond the superficials of brand identity when making the decision to work at your firm, your brand identity (along with your website) are key differentiators. They are likely to be the first things a potential employee experiences, creating an initial impression and leading to comparisons to other firms seeking talent in your sector. How do you look and sound compared to other firms in your industry? Do you have a brand tone of voice that would appeal, and are you differentiated via your branding?

So while company culture and your employer value proposition will have a strong influence on whether an employee will want to work with your firm it is still important to make a good initial impression at the first brand touchpoint.


The Employer Value Proposition

Your Employer Value Proposition (EVP) is at the heart of your employer branding and reflects the parts of your brand strategy concerned with attracting and retaining talent. Your EVP will clarify your offerings such as compensation, benefits, career development, work environment and culture. Each of these topics will be split into smaller sub-categories, discussing, for example, salary, bonuses and pay rise under the 'compensation' banner and promotion and training under the 'career' banner.


The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) defines an employee value proposition (EVP) as "part of an employer's branding strategy that represents everything of value that the employer has to offer its employees. Items such as pay, benefits and career development are common, but employers also highlight offerings that are currently in demand—like technology, remote work and flexible scheduling"

In a Linkedin Talent Solutions video, Michelle Horde-White describes an EVP as "your brand promise [to your employees] ... it's who we say we are as an employer... it has to be inspirational, not aspirational"

It's important then to understand your EVP should not simply be a promise made to potential candidates at the recruitment stage, but rather an employee experience, something that is felt by employees throughout their careers and delivered to them by your company culture.

It's important to understand your EVP should not simply be a promise made to potential candidates at the recruitment stage, but rather an employee experience, something that is felt by employees throughout their careers...

Employee branding is multi-faceted and its seeds will be sewn in the initial conversations had in your brand strategy workshops. It combines your branding, marketing, reputation and culture, and is ultimately proven in your success in acquiring and retaining talent in the workplace. Your EVP should be considered a vitally important tool in your employer branding cannon, acting as a promise, not just in the present, but as your recruited talent progress in their careers and have the experience of working at your firm.

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