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Consumer and employer branding: How do they work together?

Justin Lowe Apr 11, 2019 11:15:00 AM

The idea of a brand is not a foreign concept. When someone says, "What do you think about Nike?" you probably have an answer. That opinion is one that has been formed by information gleaned from marketing, news media, social media, word of mouth, or personal experience. But not all brands are created equal and not all brand types target the same target audiences. In fact, companies usually have two brands operating at once. Customer or consumer branding is your outward-facing brand, i.e. how customers react to you on the market. This is ultimately measured by a host of factors such as impressions, knowledge of a brand, and, most importantly, sales. Employer branding, on the other hand, is how you brand yourself as a place to work. Think about coding for Google. Now think about driving for Uber. What you conjured up in each example is the company’s employer brand. Employer branding is ultimately about attracting top talent to fuel your talent acquisition process and communicating the benefits of working for you to job candidates.

So if every company has these two brands (and they all do, whether you actively work on it or not) how do you manage both effectively? And how should your approach to one inspire how you handle the other?

What do both of your brands need?

Turns out, while your brands might be sending different messages, there are a few ways in which they should align. Here are a few tips to make sure each brand is working as effectively as possible. Areas both employer and consumer brands need to embrace include:

Authenticity and communication: Whether you're speaking to customers and prospective employees, you want to be authentic. That means explaining clearly to customers what they’re getting and how they can return it if they don’t like it. With candidates, you need to lay out clear timelines and explain next steps and keep them updated on where they are in the system (even when people get rejected from a job, they can still have a good candidate experience if they were clearly communicated with and treated with respect). 

Reputation matters: A company's reputation can impact external or internal brands alike. A public crisis, for example, might send potential new hires running for the hills along while your customers jump to a competitor. When your company hits a bump in the road, take care to think about how your response will effect both brands. 

Campaigns: Both customer and employer branding are often managed via campaigns. You can argue that employer branding is more a function of having good managers throughout a business, which will then mean employees leave more positive feedback about the business on review sites LinkedIn, Glassdoor, etc. But oftentimes companies do launch “employer branding campaigns” to highlight aspects of their culture when they’re entering a hiring mode. Obviously, campaigns often face customers. So the presence of campaigns connects the two types of branding and should, in turn, connect your marketing and HR departments in order to share the accumulated knowledge of what works and resonates well for the company in the public sphere.

Planning and central points of contact: Similarly, it’s logical to have a central point of contact/manager for each project, be that a marketing director for consumer branding and a recruitment director for employer branding. Both types of branding should always have formal guidelines, rules, and staffing in order to be as effective as possible and decrease any lag in messaging if there's any turnover on the team. 

Read more: Your candidate experience has impacts on your employer brand. Here's how to make every interview count.

Embrace the idea of “employees as customers”

One of the most important areas of where the brands converge, however, concerns your shared approach to both customers and employees. Often when brands start thinking of current employees as “internal customers,” they have more success with employer branding and the hiring process. For example: How often do you solicit feedback from customers? Often, probably. How often do you solicit the same feedback from employees? In many companies, they never do! No feedback is a small slice of work when viewed on a day to day basis, but in the long run, no feedback also means less happy employees, which means poor reviews of the company online, which means subpar employer branding. 

When you “treat employees as internal customers,” it basically means you:

  • Solicit feedback and input from them

  • Value their time (i.e. don’t make them do paperwork all the time)

  • Treat them with respect

  • Listen to their ideas for bettering process

  • Provide them opportunities for growth, akin to “subscription upgrades” for your customers, etc. 

Once you think of employees this way instead of “people who do work for the company and sit over in this area,” you can more easily embrace some of the inherent concepts of employer branding.

Pro-tip: for a strong employer brand, track these 5 metrics

Once you value your employees as customers, how do you boost your employer brand?

There's a few steps you can follow when it comes to giving your employer brand strategy a refresh:

  1. First off, provide opportunities for training for both managers and employees. Help employees learn new skills and help managers be better at their jobs. This provides a good baseline.

  2. Encourage employees to share elements of their work experience online and on any blogs or channels they contribute to. Encourage them to bring friends and former colleagues to certain work events. 

  3. When hiring, provide an email template that employees can send to former colleagues or network connections explaining the company culture and methods of your business.

  4. Incentivize employees to help recruit by giving them tools to explain the brand easily -- and consider a referral program with incentives as well.

  5. Have your values front and center on your website. Hell, even paint them on the walls of your office to show you're serious about walking your talk. 

  6. When you see negative Glassdoor reviews or negative LinkedIn mentions, respond to them thoughtfully. Don’t just delete them. Simply acknowledge the problem, offer a solution or apology, and let that be seen by others who later see the troublesome review. Job seekers are savvy enough to know there are different sides to a story. If they see a company being defensive, it makes the review more valid. 

  7. Make sure the culture and the approach to work is easily explainable by your current employees (and definitely by your recruiters).

Why this all matters

Managing both of your brands effective is tremendously important financially for your company. When you have a strong employer brand, companies report a 43% reduction in cost per hire, for example, and/or 50% more qualified applicants applying. And unlike consumer branding, employer branding is a relatively-level playing field. While a huge company might have more resources to throw at campaigns, you can have an amazing local employer brand just by being, well, a great place to work and having your small amount of employees spread that cheer around. You don’t necessarily need money (though it helps, of course.) You just need to start with making your company a great place to arrive every day, and the process will begin from there. 

So next time someone in your office brings up branding, remember there are two types you should always be aware of and when managed together, they can help pave the way to a better workplace.

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Topics: Talent Acquisition, Employer Brand

Justin Lowe

Written by Justin Lowe

Justin is the Director of Marketing and Sales at the McQuaig Institute where he helps companies refine their corporate culture and grow their human capital.