Employment Branding Redux - by John Sumser - HRExaminer

The great thing about the HRExaminer is that it provides a place for a dialog between and about such mutually exclusive potions.

>Over the past several weeks, we’ve been exploring the topic of employment branding. It’s murky territory for some. We’re lucky to have the best minds in the business on our team.

The newest member of our Editorial Advisory Board, Felix Wetzel, is in a position to understand the issues. As the marketing leader at Jobsite, he has developed some of the most interesting company branding campaigns in the history of the industry. Wetzel’s work includes ‘the best advertising investment in history’, a large bet on a British football team. In Wetzel’s execution, he integrated and positioned the Jobsite Brand (rather than simply placing it as has been the case in most job board ad gambits.)

Wetzel knows company branding. He also sells a lot of employment marketing.But, Jobsite has no employment branding product line. Job board ads do not require an employment brand (although many would argue that they are better off with them)

In his piece last week, he said that putting energy into the employment brand was a waste of time; that there was no such thing. Felix precisely describes the world as seen from the eyes of a seller of job advertising who builds his own brand. We were left wondering whether or not Felix’s view is a function of the British employment market where third party agencies do most of the work. Employment brands simply wouldn’t be as useful in that contest.

David Kippen, who led TMP’s employment branding efforts for many years, takes just the opposite view. Kippen articulates a view of the brand as an empty symbol created to hold the projections of the various stakeholders who interact with it. In Kippen’s view, clarity about employment branding can only be achieved when it is clearly (and financially) separate from the employment marketing function.

Kippen’s exploits include the conception and delivery of Marriott’s online game used in employment branding. His position plays well in large multi-national operations where consistency and focus are hard to achieve. Scale requires the level of sophistication and discipline that are Kippen’s concern. As scale decreases, however, it’s inevitable that employment branding, marketing, workforce planning and requirements development all collapse into a single function. Most companies don’t have the resources for disciplined branding in their main business let alone the employment segment.

Kippen comes to the conversation with the perspective of an employment brand builder. By focusing on the design and execution of the brand, Kippen’s teams (at Evviva) use ethnographic methods to make sure that the right audience is targeted. From there, more tactical processes can be laid on the basic brand.

The great thing about the HRExaminer is that it provides a place for a dialog between and about such mutually exclusive potions.

Doug Rushkoff, the contrarian social critic, says that brands have become tools of accountability.

Brand always had two functions. One of its functions was to mask the long-distance industrial-age reality behind a product because people’s personal relationships with producers were being replaced by the plain, brown-box relationship to mass-produced goods. That was one function: to humanize factory products.

The other function of the brand, though, was to create accountability. The difference between a branded product and an unbranded one, was a branded one, you knew who you could go to. They’re there. It’s their way of owning the product, both in the bad kind of way and the good way. We’re standing behind this. So the we’re-standing-behind-this aspect of branding I think still holds.

[But] it’s not about creating a mythology around the way a product was created, so it’s no longer “these were cookies made by elves in a hollow tree.” That’s not the value of the brand. The value of the brand is where did this actually come from? What’s in this cookie? Who made it? Are Malaysian children losing their fingers in the cookie press or is this being made by happy cookie culture people? At that point, all these companies come to people like me saying, “We want to become transparent. We want a transparent communication strategy.” And I’m like “Well, are you proud of what’s going on inside your company? Are you proud enough to pull up the shades and let people see inside?” It’s that easy. 

That captures the lion’s share of the territory where Kippen and Wetzel agree. Social media and other 21st Century communications tools create an environment where the inner workings of the company can become known to anyone with an interest. As the years go on, a company’s reputation becomes the ground on which branding battles are played.

Think back to the article on 9 Employment Branding Buckets. The purest employment branding story can be told when the prospects are new to the industry and the company. The more experienced the player, the more that reputation matters. Sophistication, in the coming years will involve helping prospective employees weave their own narrative through the maze of often conflicting stories about the company. As we leave the industrial era disconnect between product and consumer, reputations and brands will become increasingly intimate

In organizations and humans, reputation is a complex thing to manage. Most of the employment branding efforts I’ve seen trade in overly archetypal pictures of the company culture, creating mythology where the reality s more of a ‘pants on one leg at a time’ sort of thing. Like job descriptions that plead for Mr. Right to come and take the job, employment brands tend to be saccharine and thin veneered.

My view is different than either Kippen or Wetzel. The employment brand is a narrative that accounts for the company’s reputation while delivering the right part of that story to the right audience. Every company has one; they are better when driven by data and an examination of the audience.


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