Listen Up↑ Internal branding: New focus on ’employer’ brand management

A recent survey of brand managers, internal communications staff, and corporate communications managers by Emperor and Communicate magazine illustrates a changing dynamic in how organizations view the importance of brand management as it relates to their employees, and the changes in internal communications software that this new dynamic might require.

In a startling shift from just two years earlier, the 2017 study shows that internal comms professionals now see the top priority for so-called ’employer’ brand management (versus external brand management) as higher employee engagement among the existing workforce. In the 2015 survey, respondents cited recruiting skilled talent as the most important factor.

It’s a subtle yet telling evolution in corporate thinking. While attracting new employees remains a crucial goal, business leaders are recognizing that their employer brand’s power may ultimately have greater payoff in how it helps to retain good workers. As the accompanying survey article notes, “Employer brand has moved beyond recruitment marketing and has truly become a corporate priority.” Hence the investments in brand management and internal communications software.

Support both your brands

Efforts in employer brand management are every bit as important as those done to boost a firm’s external brand. A five-star reputation among clients and prospects will only carry an enterprise so far if its reputation among workers is poor. Disengaged employees are less productive, less loyal, less everything you’re looking for. Word of a lousy corporate culture will spread quickly outside your workforce via social media and scare off those new recruits you’ll need when your unhappy workers head for greener pastures. Of course, all of this carries costs to the bottom line, which will soon enough impact clients, growth and profitability.

The report shows half of respondents plan to spend more on employer brand activities, but much can be done at little or no cost to instill a culture that better engages and retains workers. Focusing on corporate social responsibility (CSR), for example, fosters a lasting bond between employees and employer, a shared sense of purpose, and greater teamwork when coworkers can get together outside the office and give back to their community. Internal communications software and other programs to promote diversity and inclusion also help create an environment where workers feel a stronger sense of belonging and camaraderie.

Some firms appoint ‘brand ambassadors’ to help spread the message about what the corporate brand stands for and what each employee can do not only to better understand but actually live and breathe the brand. While ambassadors certainly lead by example, they can also reach fellow employees through live or virtual town halls, video content, internal communications software, and other digital delivery campaigns.

Connect employees to the brand

One company I worked for did this effectively during a re-branding and brand management initiative a few years ago. Following a large merger between two firms, a new external brand (name, logo, etc.) was rolled out to customers and the general public. It soon became apparent, however, that more needed to be done to connect thousands of staff members with the new brand. Corporate values, vision and mission all needed to be clearly defined and communicated to bring employees on board and empower them as champions for the newly combined business. Brand ambassadors — chosen for their natural leadership abilities, regardless of job title — were appointed at offices around the globe to reach people within local geographies and/or business units. They helped explain and model behaviors the company defined as integral to the brand and essential to its success, a success in which we as employees all played a vital role.

Lesson learned? Absolutely. Despite a smooth launch of their external brand years earlier, it wasn’t until the effort targeting employees — and a strategic focus on the power of employer brand — that the company truly was able to declare the merger a success.

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