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How important is employer branding?

By David Ogilvy
 

"Your brand is what other people say about when you are not in the room"

– Jeff Bezos *(Founder of Amazon.com)

The demographics of our workforce are changing, and it is highlighted by the exit of the baby boomer generation and the entrance of Generation Y workers. The evolving needs and values of today’s workers make employee recruitment more challenging (Backhaus & Tikoo, 2004).

One thing which is clear is that organisations have realized that if they don‟t go that extra step or walk that extra mile to keep their customers happy and satisfied, it won’t take long for their customers to shift loyalties. It is a well known fact that much attention has been given to the marketing strategies from the last couple of years. One of the main reasons for this is because the companies want to attract customers and retain the already existing ones. It is essential to understand the important role played by the ‘brand’ for an organisation and the amount of effort an organisation needs to take to manage the brand they have created for their company. It is important that employers work on developing their brands towards the product they are going to market or towards the corporate overall (Backahus & Tikoo, 2004).

Employer branding is a relatively new approach that the organisations have started focusing on for recruiting and retaining the best human capital; it is all the more necessary now than it was in the past, knowing the competitive market environment that the firms have to thrive in. Managers can use employer branding as a roof under which different and relevant employee recruitment and retention activities can be clubbed, so that it becomes a well coordinated and aligned human resource strategy. The process of integrating recruitment, staffing, training and development and career management activities under one roof would definitely have a substantially different and a much higher positive effect than each of the processes would have on its own (Bckhaus&Tikoo, 2004).

It was not long ago that the concept of employer brand was new to the firms, and now it has become a very important part of the Human Resources practitioners (Sivertzen et al., 2013). In its entirety, employer branding does go far ahead of many traditional HR practices and takes the form of an umbrella, which provides structure to previously separate policies and practices. It is quite obvious that understanding the concept of employer branding involves a mix or coming together of the fields of marketing and HR. According to Martin et al., (2005) the concept of employer branding was discussed first by marketing academics and after some period of time, from HR academics. As ‘branding’ is traditionally found within the marketing sphere, it is not therefore an obvious field of study from an HR perspective. Despite this, understanding its growth, the employer branding concept seems to be becoming a major issue for HR academics to overlook, and also there is wide availability of what employer branding guides as well as annual employer branding conferences have to say about the importance of employer branding.

Organisations strive to be attractive employers, with the goal of hiring competent employees. Recruiting is defined as an organisational activity that affects the number and type of applicants who apply for an open position (Sivertzen et al., 2013). Job seekers are likely to look for various factors when they are going to apply for jobs and one of the factors that is going to play a major role in shaping their decision is the company reputation. Reputation is defined as a set of characteristics which are socially constructed for an organisation, based on the organisation’s previous actions (Sivertzen et al., 2013).

In the recruitment literature, it was found that the employer brand image is a particularly significant predictor of the early decisions made by the new recruits about the firm and their employers (Backhaus, Tikoo, 2004). It is also seen that employer brand image positively influences both applicants perceptions of recruiter behaviours and post-interview job and organizational attributes. Therefore one understands how significant it is for the employers to ensure that a positive ‘image’ of themselves and the firms are being sent to people inside and outside the firm . It is important to understand that recruitment experiences are taken as ‘signals’ of unknown organisational characteristics (Sivertzen et al., 2013). For example, job applicants, when they enter the organisation, obviously do not have detailed information about the organisation, so they are likely to infer the employer brand values based on their experience during the recruitment process for e.g. an organisation that emphasizes promotion and salary may be perceived as valuing dedication to career (Knox & Freeman, 2006). Also, Goltz and Giannantonio found that recruits evaluate an organisation in a positive manner when their recruiter is friendly in nature as compared to someone who does not comes across as a friendly person. So the way the recruiters come across to the employees also makes a huge difference on whether they send a positive image about the firm or not (Backhaus &Tikoo, 2004).

It is well established that one of the prime purpose of employer branding is to maintain a positive image of the firm, so as to be able to attract high potential or performing employees as discussed by Berthon et al. (Sivertzen et al., 2013). The concept of the employer branding (EB) can be understood as the degree to which a company comes across as attractive or unattractive to its current (Berthon et al., 2005) and potential employees (Schaleger, 2011). Therefore, it is understood that a strong EB would generate favourable attitudes in potential employees.

Consumer research has shown how intangible aspects of brand image can be described using personality traits (Keller & Lehmann, 2006). This is precisely why the application of human behavioural characteristics to employer brands is not surprising at all; in fact understanding this process from a theoretical lens would show how the employer may function as a significant factor in shaping the social identity and self-concept of the employees (Keller Lehmann, 2006). Highhouse et al., (2007) drawing on social-identity theory, could show social-identity consciousness (understood as concern for social adjustment and value expression) may be a basis for understanding the effects brand personality could have on employer brand attractiveness. Therefore, the brand personality of a potential employer brand may play the role of an agent through whom a person communicates status in comparison to others (social adjustment), as well as ethical values and moral standards (expression of values). Lievens and Highhouse were the first to apply the concept of brand personality to an employer branding context. They investigated both the potential applicants for a position in the bank and the employees in the bank as well; they were able to build a slightly modified version of the brand personality traits proposed by Aaker. Most specifically innovativeness, competence and prestige could explain incremental variance over the characteristics of functional job, such as compensation or advancement opportunities, and much simplified differentiation between different bank employer brands (Aggerholm et al., 2011). In these studies, the impact of various characteristics of brand personality varied, however very slightly in the context of military, which implies a greater relevance of not just excitement, but also of cheerfulness and prestige (Lievens, 2007). Additionally, studies have shown that brand personality must be sincere and competent for actual applicants and employees (Lievens, 2007), and that employee’s identification is best predicted by brand personality traits with the military employer brand (Lievens, 2007).

Based on the corporate character scale developed by Davis and his colleagues, the scale could indicate agreeableness specifically and ruthlessness could be indicated to some extent; these are definitely relevant characteristics for the work satisfaction and affinity of managers in different industries, while chicness and enterprise (being exciting and daring) indicates loyalty (Schlager et al., 2011). This first research result seems to imply the applicability of the concept of brand personality to some extent. However, little is known about the relationship of brand personality to other relevant variables such as employer brand affect and trust; although according to consumer research, aspects of brand personality do not just increase emotions but it also increase the trust factor that an employee has towards a brand (Aggerholm et al. 2011). This argumentation is in line with the research that has focused on distinguishing various forms of customer brand relationships. In general, brand relationships can be considered to be multidimensional and cover not just cognitive elements but also emotional or relational dimensions. In their review Louis and Lombart, have shown that brand personality affect perceptions as well as emotional aspects, such as affecting brand attachment .These findings definitely play a very critical role in building a theoretical model and definitely has the potential to enlarge the variance explained in employer brand attractiveness, the latter being a significant variable for successful employer branding (Backhaus &Tikoo, 2004).

The economy is getting tougher by the day and every penny counts. Employer branding, when done right, can do much more for a company than just getting the right employees. It’s time to think like a marketer and treat one’s company as a commodity not just to the customers, but also to the job hunter (Tolan, 2014).

“Nothing will kill your reputation in the labour market faster than doing a great job advertising a work experience you don’t deliver”.

 

* David Ogilvy
Founder
Ogilvy & Mather

References

1. Aggerholm, H.K.,Andersen, S.E. & Thomsen, C.(2011). Conceptualizing Employer Brand in sustainable organizations. Corporate Communications: An international journal, 16(2), 105-123.

2. Backhaus, K., &Tikoo, S. (2004). Conceptualizing and researching employer branding. Career Development International, 9(5), 501-517.

3. Berthon, P., Ewing, M. & Hah, L.L. (2005). Captivating Company: Dimensions of Attractiveness in Employer Branding. International journal of advertising, 24 (2), 151-172.

4. Highhouse, S., Thornbury, E.E. &Little, I.S. (2007). Social–identity functions of attraction to Organizations. Organizational behavior and human decision processes, 103(1), 134-146.

5. Knox, S & Freeman, C. (2006). Measuring and Managing Employer Brand Image in the Service Industry. Journal of Marketing Management, 22, 695-716.

6. Sivertzen, A.M., Nilsen, E.R. &Olafsen, A.H. (2013). Employer branding: Employer Attractiveness and the Use of Social Media. Journal of Product and Brand Management, 22(7), 473-483.

7. Martin, G., Beaumont, P., Doig, R. & Pate, J. (2005). Branding a new performance discourse for HR? European Management Journal, 23(1), 76-88.

8. Schlager, T.,Bodderas, Mareika., Maas, P. &Cachelin, J.L. (2011). The Influence of the Employer Brand on Employee Attitudes Relevant for Service Branding: an Empirical Investigation. Journal of services marketing, 25(7), 497-508.

9. Lievens, F. (2007). Employer branding in the Belgian army: The Importance of Instrumental and Symbolic Attributes to a Company‟s Attractiveness as an Employer. Personnel Psychology, 56 (1), 75-102.

10. Tolan, J. (2014).Make them want you: The importance of Employer Branding. Business Insider

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