Employer Branding Is Shaping Corporate Future
The balance of power on the job market has shifted. More and more companies compete for the applicants' favor and see themselves under pressure to establish an attractive brand presence. Consequently, successful employer branding is gaining in importance, creating competition between companies for the best talent, and owing in part to a shortage of skilled workers in industrialized countries. More importantly, probably, companies are beginning to understand that their success is largely determined by their employees’ performance.
Employee demands have seen significant change over recent generations. People now put great emphasis on aspects such as flexible working conditions and a healthy work-life balance. More than ever, perhaps, employers are driven towards progressiveness by recognize and meeting these demands. On a very basic level, then, employer branding means building a positive image as an employer. Like a product brand (such as Coca-Cola), employers are themselves envisioned as brands, representing positive values for (potential) employees, and marking an employer’s singularity. With more than 3.6 million companies in Germany alone, however, standing out as unique from the crowd of possible employers is anything but easy. Since 97% of these companies are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and lack the necessary resources, employer branding plays only a minor role. Yet, even SMEs may build an employer brand, be it through university marketing or by sponsoring sports clubs, boosting local awareness and/or popularity levels.
“At the core of the entire recruiting communications strategy should be the single promise that the company’s image and values are entirely grounded in reality.”
Building a precisely outlined employer identity, then, is the heart of the matter. Employer branding is still a relatively young approach that has its origins not in human resources, but in marketing. More precisely, employer brand marketing is primarily aimed at addressing a certain target group, but also at supporting and improving existing product or company brands. In addition, it is essential that the employer brand is consistent with all other branding activities on the company's website. In contrast to the ad hoc measures of personnel marketing (e.g. filling a position), these strategic and long-term efforts are about building and permanently maintaining a positive employer image. If the company is largely unknown, first steps should consist of presenting an attractive employer and improving the brand’s image. Yet further challenges in employer branding may arise from the effects of internationalising individual business processes or even entire branches.
Successful Employer Branding
Presenting a successful employer brand should start with an analysis of the business requirements, and the skills needed to implement them. Companies should know their target groups well: How do they think about the company’s image? Which phase of the decision-making process are they currently in? The deeper the understanding of the target groups, the more effective the communication. At the core of the entire recruiting communications strategy should be the single promise that the company’s image and values are entirely grounded in reality. In order to achieve this, the messages conveyed externally must also be personified within. Satisfaction and motivation levels are bound to rise once employees identify with their employer’s values, spirit and narrative. These messages can be conveyed via a multitude of channels, be it social media, blogs or even corporate events. Maintaining a consistent employer branding strategy, internally and externally, will thus avoid confusion and ensure authenticity. By selecting the right KPIs (key performance indicators, e.g. measuring brand attractiveness or association), companies can set annual targets. Relevant KPIs could include the number of applicants, the number of clicks received by an online job ad or how long on average employees stay with the company. In addition, successful employer branding will not only positively effect communication channels, but also improve ROI (return of investment) levels – consumers are generally more willing to pay for brands or products they can identify with.
As mentioned before, employer branding is a relatively new approach to recruiting. Acquiring and keeping the best talent in an increasingly competitive work environment thus has valuable potential for executives as well. Functions of the approach include (but are by no means limited to):
- Performance Management (assessing individual and team performances)
- Talent management (filling critical job positions)
- Building a unique corporate image
There are several channels for positioning an attractive employer:
- Social networks
- Employer evaluation portals (e.g. kununu, see this CURE blog post for more information)
- Corporate website
- Image campaign ads and brochures
- Word-of-Mouth (WOM) recommendation
In order to address young people, recruiting efforts are shifting more and more to the social networks. Particularly the so-called "digital natives", i.e. the generation which grew up around the internet, present an intriguing target group – companies aiming at winning over this generation must inevitably rethink, possibly even change their strategies. Job openings are therefore increasingly advertised on social networks such as Facebook or business networks such as XING or LinkedIn. In addition, HR professionals are expanding their roles as well by actively sourcing suitable profiles on said business networks. The recruiting process thus takes a new shape which favours a two-fold development: Increasing applicant quality while at the same maximizing cost-efficiency.
Several figures support these findings. Employees recruited through LinkedIn, a study finds, are 40% less likely to leave the company in the first six months, while 75% of all applicants research their potential employers before applying. Moreover, potential applicants give three times as much credibility to evaluations of former employees than to the information provided by the company itself. Employers should therefore regularly ask their employees to rate the company. It can hardly be stressed enough that treating employees fairly and decently is an important prerequisite for such beneficial ratings. By establishing trust in a future employer, so-called brand ambassadors can further contribute to a company’s public image. Additionally, social media lends itself readily, if not even ideally for image promotion campaigns. By keeping in touch with the community, companies can thus make a lasting impression on target groups. As mentioned before, companies competing for the best and brightest are facing tough competition, making it necessary for them to stand out from the crowd.
Case Study: Be-Lufthansa
One such example of successful and “here-to-stay” employer branding is the German airline Lufthansa. With their “Be-Lufthansa” campaign, Lufthansa has pioneered employer branding on the German market and already won several awards, including “Best Career Website”. Among the channels used by Lufthansa are social media, a blog and a corporate website tailored to the needs of their target group. In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the aviation industry’s reputation endured a severe blow that also brought about strong economic repercussions. The 2015 tragedy of its subsidiary, Germanwings, in 2015 also confronted Lufthansa with a severe ‘shitstorm’ and damage to its reputation. As a result, Lufthansa decided early on to concentrate not only on its product brand, but also on its employer brand.
Based on this vision, the network created a central point of contact for all applicants, candidates and those interested in a career: www.be-lufthansa.com. The company's homepage contains information on the various career paths as well as application procedures. The website also provides mock recruitment tests or video tutorials regarding online applications.
Another channel used is social media. In the comments section, the Be-Lufthansa community managers answer questions about careers, application deadlines or specific aircraft types. Users can even chat with the Social Media team. Lufthansa puts special emphasis on specifically addressing target groups in order to further develop their employer brand and stand out from the crowd of competitors on the job market.
Worst-Case Study: Employer Branding As (Almost-)Fail
With a rap video, the police force in North Rhine-Westphalia dabbled in inspiring young people for a career with the police – to undesirable effect. While the YouTube video received more than 700,000 clicks in less than a week, the initiative was mostly ridiculed and heavily criticized. Particularly criticism from within the police had been underestimated, with several policemen fearing a severe drop in authority. Despite everything, the video attracted a lot of attention on the net. And even if the desired positive feedback was not achieved, applications following the campaign allegedly saw a marked increase.
Sustainable Employer Branding Is the Future for Companies
Successful and sustainable employer branding therefore depends on plausibly communicating (and, thus, reflecting) corporate identity and values. Employer branding that lacks this plausibility easily sacrifices employer credibility, as the second example above shows. Communicating a false image will almost inevitably have disastrous effects as well. Once applicants note a drastic discrepancy between the image conveyed and the reality at hand, dissatisfaction (if not downright disillusionment) beckons – and with it the probability of a job change. Not only does this carry economic repercussions, but also casts a damning light on corporate reputation once former employees start reviewing companies online. The key, therefore, to successful and lasting employer branding lies within an employer’s authenticity and honesty towards both its employees and the public.
“The key to successful and lasting employer branding lies within an employer’s authenticity and honesty towards both its employees and the public.“
List of References
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