When we talk about branding we talk of look, feel, voice, in short, the identity of a product or service that ultimately attracts target consumers. What is often less discussed is how the same principles can be used to attract employees. While the former is the ultimate goal, the latter and getting the right people is how you’ll make that happen. Just as we position products and services to target the right consumer, we should position companies and workplaces to attract the right talent. Attracting people that will support your organisation’s purpose, values and beliefs is what employer branding is all about.
What is employer branding & why is it important?
Today, the way an employee feels about their workplace is more important than ever before. A 2019 Glassdoor survey found that 56% of people prioritise workplace culture over salary, and 73% would not apply to a company that didn’t share their values. Pay and benefits are no longer a primary driver for the majority. Instead, a company’s mission, values and culture have become the key sticking points in attracting and retaining talent. However, having a coherent purpose and culture is half the battle. Communicating it effectively and honestly is the other half. As a result, when employees buy into the identity communicated by the employer and this matches the subsequent reality of working there, turnover becomes much less of a concern. Indeed, Deloitte’s 2020 Global Marketing report found that purpose-driven companies had 40% higher levels of workforce retention than competitors.
The current landscape of employer branding today
Employers often focus on how to hire the right people for their business, and today, with the help of HR Analytics and data, it easier than ever to do so. But let's take a step back and look at the quality of the pool of applications the hiring manager is selecting from.
Given the wealth of information available on the importance of employer branding, it’s surprising to see the lack of it in the marketplace. In a recent survey, a leading recruitment solutions provider found that nearly 40% of US companies do not have an employer branding strategy. A further 20% of companies said they were unsure of their branding efforts. In total, that’s close to 60% of companies without an employer branding strategy or unsure whether they have one or not. Either way, employer branding is still not as common as one might expect. Statistics on employee turnover also hint at a lack of employer branding effort. Jobvite, an international recruitment agency found that nearly 30% of new recruits leave a new job within the first 90 days, with 32% citing company culture as the culprit. The real culprit? A mismatch between expectations created by employers and reality experienced by employees.
Hakkasan: a case study in effective employer branding
I reflected upon this concept in an exercise I did in the context of my current employer, Hakkasan Group, a global restaurant and nightlife group. Just like branding products and services, employer branding is the result of a series of large and small elements coming together to create an identity for the employer. I brainstormed on ways to reinforce our employer brand and thought it would be interesting to share one of the results.
The concepts of exclusivity and mystery are central to our company’s DNA, none more so than with our flagship brand, Hakkasan, taking the example of the first outpost of the brand, Hakkasan Hanway Place. Starting with the element of mystery: to get to the restaurant, you have to walk down an unassuming, concealed side alley in central London. You are greeted by a large black door set against grey slate, engraved with a small logo that acts as the only signage. Once inside, it’s dimly lit with the occasional soft, neon strobe and spotlights, and the air is thick with incense smoke. As you walk through the restaurant, you catch fleeting glimpses of diners’ faces through the wooden lattices that divide the space into several sections.
As for exclusivity, Hakkasan has always been a restaurant ‘to be seen at’, frequented by the glitterati. In the past it was notorious for its queues and the difficulty of getting a table. When it first opened, photography was prohibited in the restaurant. Whether it’s trying to secure a table, the highly-prized ingredients used or the exclusive partnerships we have with many of our wine suppliers, exclusivity permeates the experience.
This paradoxical play between wanting to be seen and escaping to a hidden, mysterious space is central to the brand. As an employer branding effort, I see an opportunity to bring out these important brand elements during the recruitment process. Rather than a traditional email or phone call, the invitation to an interview could be sent out in an unmarked black envelope by post. The letter could contain a mysterious riddle with the answer revealing the time and date of the interview. From an employer branding point of view, the black, unmarked envelope arriving by post reinforces the idea of mystery. Moreover, few companies would communicate this by post, bringing in the element of exclusivity. The riddle reinforces enigma and concealment. I believe this recruitment practice would set the tone for what the Hakkasan brand is about, and people who are intrigued and play along might just be a better fit to work at Hakkasan.
The above example might seem gimmicky to some, but it’s a small, cost-effective way to position Hakkasan during the recruitment process. It expresses some of the company’s core beliefs in what makes a restaurant experience special and what they are working towards. It also serves to differentiate Hakkasan as an employer, through a small, creative twist in the recruitment process.
Engaging successfully in employer branding
As seen in the case study above, employer branding doesn’t have to be about starting big. Small, purpose-led initiatives can help strengthen your brand. When relatively new to the concept of employer branding, a good place to start is by being inquisitive and reflective. The first step is to refocus on your company’s purpose and identity, and understand whether there is a shared purpose within your organisation. Ask your current employees why they chose your company, what gets them out of bed every morning, what is the company’s purpose in their eyes?
Next, understand to what extent this core purpose and these values are supported internally. What is your management style? How do you measure and reward success? How do you communicate? Do you use key performance indicators beyond financial measures? In short, do your internal processes support or hinder your identity as an employer? Then, analyse how you communicate externally to job-seekers. What are your recruitment ads like, what is their focus? Is your culture being properly conveyed? Is your true purpose coming through?
The final step is to make these three pieces fit. What is the unanimous purpose that drives your employees? Do you foster this in your work environment? Do you accurately communicate what you are all about to potential hires?
To summarise: 4 core steps for employer branding in recruitment
- Understand your organisation’s core purpose and values in the eyes of your employees.
- Review your internal HR processes and work culture, do they support your purpose and values?
- Audit how you communicate your purpose and workplace externally.
- Align these 3 to create a coherent, comprehensive employer brand.
The secret ingredient? A coherent brand identity & HR process
We’ve seen how creating and communicating a company identity built around a purpose is gaining in importance. People today need to buy into something more than the final number on their pay check. However, many companies are still not responding to this trend, largely because they undervalue the importance of it, but partly because they are unsure on how to build a successful employer brand in the first place. It doesn’t have to be so complicated. As expressed in the case study, employer branding can be as simple as tweaking small elements within your HR processes to bring your purpose to life.
However big or small the initiative, the important thing is coherence. There must be a red thread between your organisation’s purpose, the way you do things and how this is communicated. Organisations that understand this today will be the success stoires of tomorrow.