Successful employer branding combines the solidity of professional corporate communications with visionary storytelling that’s rooted in the work community’s reality. By blending both, it can endure the toughest part of the task – the channel, which is anything but controllable.
Repetition, repetition, repetition. That’s what communicating is so much about. And when you have repeated your message so many times that you’re sick and tired of it, then maybe – if the odds are favourable – some of the people you were trying to reach have got the message and even got it right. The Finnish professor Osmo A. Wiio’s law on communications says it all, stating that “human communication usually fails except by accident”. Even so, communicators persistently try to override that principle through well-defined and distinctive key messages, by telling the same story in different contexts, and adapting it to different stakeholders’ needs.
Clarity and consistency are also of great importance when it comes to building employer image, not least because this field is mainly about people. That reality makes it all even more difficult – it involves less precise facts and figures and more individual perceptions and emotions. This makes de facto acts speaking for themselves and impacting on the actual employee experience crucial.
Another challenge is that clarity and consistency demand prioritisation. If you want to be able to highlight certain themes during the employee journey or repeat them in your messaging, then you cannot have too many chosen themes. No surprise then that many employee value propositions include three to six themes. However, many of the EVPs we have seen during the past years are difficult from the communications point of view and for building a distinctive image. Why? Because they are so generic that there is no point in communicating, much less in remembering them at all.
Do more than just reflect the current reality
Great employer branding should be based on, but should not simply reflect, reality. A great employee experience can strengthen the employer image, and vice versa. This is a dual and ongoing process, and great employer branding is about nurturing this process. It is all about development and movement, not about a one-time projection. To achieve greatness, you need to do more than just listen very carefully to your people to understand where you stand today. You also have to dream big and build an inspiring story that is bold and distinctive. Aim for a narrative that is simple enough and based on just a few core themes. Then review how these themes are reflected during the employee journey and identify what acts are needed to both amplify and energise.
To succeed, you will need both experts on employee experience, including leadership and HRD competence, as well as experts on employer image, including marketing and communications competence. I dare say that with only the first group on board, you will have a lot of processes in place but no one knowing about them either internally nor externally. With only the second group in place, the situation is even worse – packaging without content will not survive in today’s open communications environment.
The channel is the main challenge, and the opportunity
And here we come to the toughest part of employer branding – the channel. The fact is that each and every one in your people network – not only those employees with permanent contracts, but also all your temps and your freelancers, your ex-workers and those who applied for a position they never got – make up your employer brand channel. In this area, you can forget about defined groups of spokespersons with tough media trainings and endless checks of materials by different departments. In this area, rough and authentic person-to-person communication is the reality.
Today, communicators spend much effort to get the entity – the company or organisation – to look good. Tomorrow, communicators will need to get all their people to look good and spread a consistent, yet authentic message. For that to be doable, the whole employee journey, from recruitment to engagement all the way to the alumni phase, need to rigidly repeat, repeat, and repeat, both in acts and communications, what is really important for you – what your vision of your work community is. And then your employer brand will succeed.
Pelagia Wolff heads one of Miltton’s corporate communication teams and focuses on employer branding and financial communications. Pelagia believes in transparent, engaging and inspiring communications. She wants to take part in building a successful Finnish working life by supporting her customers in developing strong employer brands. Miltton is Finland’s leading communications agency offering a complete range of marketing and communications services to its clients.