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The future for Employer Branding - maybe

posted by Alex Hens
7 January 2009

What follows is a response I wrote to a “discussion” that came from a question raised on a LinkedIn Group on Employer Branding (I scaled down the response on LinkedIn though – I generally see that environment as more about questions & answers than a forum for debate). The question was posted asking (basically) if anyone within the Employer Branding Group had any research on the measurable effects of an employer brand on an organisation’s bottom line. Steve White (from TMP) thought his Head of Planning & Research had some work on it, but as of writing this post other examples weren’t exactly forthcoming, which got me writing about my personal experience, opinion and hopes for the evolution of Brand as a single entity in the emerging hyper-connected world: Recruitment and employment experiences touch a person more directly and intimately than any other channel of communication – that is surely an incontrovertible fact. It still blows my mind that organisations who pump millions into marketing and branding haven’t cottoned onto this and invested accordingly in their Employer Brand – instead leaving it to generalist HR departments to try their best to understand, establish and promote with their ever shrinking resource and broad remit, viewed (as I generally believe they are) as a business necessity but all the same pretty much just an operating cost (despite the glib “people are our greatest asset” statements that seem to spew forth with regularity from CEO annual statements). If TMP’s Head of P&R does indeed have such research then I applaud them for nailing it down and following it through. I’ve always been amazed that those companies who actually do invest in significant Employer Branding activities seem to stop short of the ongoing investment to comprehensively track the fundamental effect and returns of their efforts. Even long served recruitment industry Employer Branding experts I’ve listened to and spoken with seem to never have delivered the complete circular service to prove actual ongoing ROI measurement – which I think if you were to start now with current tracking & measurement technologies and a broad enough remit and reach would be quite startling and incredibly compelling. One of the contributors to the LinkedIn discussion mentioned that some published research done by Tesco discovered the difference in sales volume between stores with high and low levels of engagement (although it wasn't stated how that was qualified though) was no less than 36%. Whatever the specifics of that research piece a few years back I produced a site for Tesco (HR) and their driving force was pretty much to keep the price as low as possible – so I wonder at what point Marketing departments start to realise how powerful the employment and recruitment experience is as a key brand influencer and appreciate the opportunity that is quite literally right under their noses to manage and leverage accordingly. Recruitment Advertising has for so long played the role of being the poor relation of “proper” Advertising and Marketing Communications and perhaps it’s a form of snobbery that prevents businesses Marketing Departments looking into themselves rather than at “sexy” external reach campaigns, but as Social Media continues to bring conversations online (and therefore eminently more broadly influential and at the same time trackable) maybe the day when Marketeers get to understand the influencing power that many brands have available through their own workforce and recruitment activity is finally approaching. So I too hope that Steve White opens up whatever research TMP may have in a web2.0 collaborative style – maybe it’ll give renewed impetus to unlocking a greater appreciation of what a brand is all about: an enmeshed product and employer entity that is as much individual and peer conveyed experience & perception as it is straplines, PR and marketing cleverness. Of course with greater attention from Marketing and the budgets they carry then the face of HR would change from being what is effectively IMHO&E a ‘department of doing’ to being a key group of specialists within a newly created division called Engagement. Engagement would be headed by a C level representative who truly understands (and critically can illustrate) the £s & pence effect to the businesses bottom line of really treating “people as our greatest asset”– creating a business that in this highly connected world truly embraces the full power of people engagement right across the communications spectrum. Hey – why not start the year with some near hallucinatory day dreaming and far reaching predictions. Seems to be the thing that breaks bloggers back into the new year. :)