(Still) Time to Be Greedy – Why Your Firm Needs a Brand Called “You”

This is the last in a series of three posts dealing with “brand.” A piece on employment brands in general and a post on personal brands preceded,  and this item provides some examples and how to’s. As someone who’s been in the people (and teams) coaching business for over 25 years, and also been directly responsible for hiring thousands of people through roles running large staffing / recruiting operations, I have a pretty good idea why some firms recruit well (and others don’t), and how people can take their best foot forward as either a job candidate or consultant / vendor.

With Warren Buffett’s thought ("Be fearful when others are greedy, be greedy when others are fearful") in the heads of people who think a recovery and a resurgent employment market is around the corner, it may be time to dust off, or tart up those employment brands. Those who don’t – should the recovery hit – will wish they had.

The Holy Grail of branding is a singular thematic brand that effectively communicates with all the different stakeholder constituents of an organization: job candidates, customers, employees, investors, competitors, and the broad marketplace as a whole. And

Such an approach is uncommon for firms to tackle, harder to construct, and rare to see: what most of us experience on the employment side are disjointed examples with little effective connection to the products, service or organization as a whole.

Why is this important?

Employment branding works, and well-done employment branding works wonders.

You’re only as good (unless you’ve got the secret formula to something like Coke) as the people you can recruit and retain. A well-done employment market approach provides the unified approach to recruiting that effectively communicates to candidates and engages current employees.

It distills you (the business of the business), how you do it (values and philosophy) and other aspects of the your organization into a language that candidates and other stakeholders understand. That approach makes activities such as recruiting, selection, promotion, and performance management simpler, and crisper because you’ve staked out a roadmap for what, and how, and why you see them being done.

The pay-off?

You attract a better quality of candidate that more specifically meets your requirements, discourage candidates that are not great fits AND you affirm / remind current employees the things that are important to do as they perform.

Job candidates (as well as current employees, investors, vendors, and customers) don’t exist in separate silos, partitioned off from each other. The messaging that you use for one – albeit different perhaps in tone or context – should have similar if not compatible messaging so you can 1) give the same message, 2) leverage and support any other communications

What work stands out?

If there were an Pulitzer prize for this type of craft, the work by Scott Bedbury would take it. The Thrive campaign he created for Kaiser has served for as an umbrella brand for a host of activities – including employee recruitment and the re-engagement of Kaiser employees – something that David Kippen , now with TMP, managed with in his internal communications role with Kaiser Permanente Human Resources

The campaign sharpened the focus as to what Kaiser stood for, the value sets to which it aspired, and the lens through which it viewed itself. Now in its 6th year, the overarching ad campaign continues provide that umbrella focus: job candidates are signing up with an organization that cares, is committed to people living a healthy life .

Bedbury’s axioms about customer advertising apply broadly to employment advertising. This list is from his book A New Brand World: 8 Principle for Achieving Brand Leadership in the 21st Century

  1. Relying on brand awareness has become marketing fool’s gold – smart brands are more concerned with brand relevancy and brand resonance
  2. You have to know it before you can grow it – most brands don’t know who they are, where they’ve been and where they’re going
  3. Always remember the Spandex rule of brand expansion – just because you can doesn’t mean you should
  4. Great brands establish enduring customer relationships that have more to do with emotions and trust than with footwear cushioning or the way a coffee bean is roasted
  5. Everything matters – even your restroom
  6. All brands need good parents – unfortunately most brands come from troubled homes
  7. Big is no excuse for being bad – truly great brands use their superhuman powers for good and place people and principles before profits
  8. Relevance, simplicity, and humanity – rather than technology – will distinguish brands in the future

So how do you start?

  • Find someone who can drive this approach – either internally or externally – someone who knows a lot about brand, organizations / organizational development, marketing, and recruiting. Pam Hamel, who helped resposition Chiron for me in the mid-90’s as we able to be competitive with Genentech in the recruiting wars – and with 1/10th of Genentech’s budget – comes to mind as someone who is terrific in this space.
  • Research recent hires, more tenured hires, and senior leadership (they’re paying for all this) on how they see the things. Ping me and I’ll send you a copy of a survey (not sexy but very helpful for gathering data) I used at the world’s largest asset management company’s.
  • Work on distilling how you are and what you want to be into as simple (though not simplistic) piece as possible.
  • Test, retest, and try out different concepts. Think about how the kernel of an idea plays to would be employees, current employees, customers,

Does this approach always work?

If done well, yes.

No, if execution and follow-up gets dropped. (Here’s a how not’s part.)

Thoughtful, well-done branding helps companies put their best, authentic, foot forward. It helps attract more qualified candidates, communicates to the broad variety of stakeholders for a firm, and helps to engage current employees.