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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Employer branding and Generation Y (well, all generations)

The Caymanian Compass features an article about employer branding and Generation Y.

The article notes that a 2004 study by Deloitte Consulting LLP and the Institute of the Future found six basic workplace values that this generation holds. These are:

1. More loyal to the same company than Gen Xers
2. "Craves a sense of purpose and meaning"
3. "Desire access to mentors"
4. "Want to work in a tech-savvy environment"
5. "Open social networks...are important to them"
6. "Work-life balance"

How does this translate into branding?

Deloitte uses the “Develop–Deploy–Connect” model:

1. Develop people by offering "real-life learning opportunities"
2. "Deploy key individuals by working with them to identify...deep rooted skills, interest, and knowledge, and then use that information to help find the best fit"
3. "Connect them by providing the tools and guidance they need to...build networks"

The article cautions that "your employer brand must reflect" this model, noting that branding "can't be done simply by communicating a set of ideals, particularly for the cynical Gen Y group that has been bombarded by advertising messages all their lives."

Rather, employer branding "comes from the actual practices that make up an organisation." These include:

1. "The products and services you offer"
2. "Workplace culture"
3. "Points of differentiation from competitors."

I'm not sure that I see how the "develop-deploy-connect" model has anything to do with branding, but I do agree that branding is more than just providing a series of messages. The brand has to live in the product/service offering, in the culture (through vision, mission, and values) and in positioning (points of differentiation). But here again, I'm not sure I see the difference between the product/service offering and points of differentiation--to me these are one and the same. So the brand lives in the culture (which can be the unique way that the organization develops, deploys, and connects) and the positioning. And this is true not just for Gen Y, but for all generations.

Which brings me to a book I just finished reading. It's called Brand From the Inside, by Libby Sartain and Mark Schumann. The book purports to tell you how to build an employer brand, through eight steps. But I thought this book was a lot of nonsense gibberish. I didn't get the message at all. The authors don't provide one single concrete example of employer branding that makes any sense to me, with the exception of FedEx's "Purple Promise" and the "Freedoms" that Southwest provides to its employees. Plus they repeat themselves over and over again.

Here are some examples of the vague advice this book gives:

1. "Your employer brand must define what your business needs from your employees." (p. 31)Well, duh! But why not just call it the overarching brand and have employees contribute to that?

2. "Your employer brand must define on-brand behavior." (p. 36) Again, duh! What do you think an employer brand should do, define off-brand behavior?

3. "Your employer brand must connect what happens outside to what happens inside." (p. 37) This advice is just silly. There is only one brand, and it connects everything.

After reading this book, I am starting to think that the concept of employer branding makes no sense. There is not one brand that faces the public and another brand that faces employees. There is a single brand, and everybody has to understand it, internalize it, and contribute to it. That means the culture reflects it, as well as the positioning. No special accommodations should be made because you're talking to an internal audience rather than an external one.

I also disagree with the authors' advice to make a so-called "business case" for employer branding because no models are yet available (that I know of) that can determine the value an employer brand adds to the business.

At the end of the day, as former chief marketing officer at Coca-Cola Sergio Zyman might say (as in his book The End of Marketing As We Know It), you brand your business because it helps you to make more money from your customers. You tell your employee what the brand is all about--you show them what it's all about--because it will help you to drive sales. That is the bottom line. That is their motivation--to help the business succeed. All this other nebulous stuff about energizing the workforce with an emotional commitment is just pie in the sky. You can present benefits statements wrapped in a brand until you're blue in the face--but I think employees see right through it. Everything the company does should be about selling to the outside, not selling to the inside. Your employees are already sold on the brand (or else they should be), and that's why they work for you.