Thursday, 18 February 2010

TRU London: Employer vs Employee Branding


    OK, so it’s day 1 of (TRU) London.  And I’m still waiting to co-lead a track on employer branding vs employee branding:

“Following on from the popular Recruiter Cast debate “Is the Employer Brand dead?”, this track looks at the issue of employer branding. How to stand out as an employer and how recruiters can use employer branding. Has employer branding is turning in to employee branding as a result of the social media explosion and the growth of the personal brand. Branding experts Nick Price, Michelle Fischer and Sarah White from the U.S. will be debating all the issues in this key area.”


I didn’t see, and have not been able to track down, the Recruiter Cast debate, but it seems to have been one that followed on from TRU London 1.  See Bill Boorman’s summary of his learnings:

“Employer brand no longer exists.

My thoughts on this after I had contemplated [Keith Robinson] @Siteadvisors question is that he is probably right. Social media opens access to all that is being said about an employer directly or indirectly, but most of what is being said is being said by the employees directly. (There are Facebook groups dedicated to this.) In my opinion, social media makes personal branding much bigger than corporate branding unless you are a giant in the Pepsi or Coke mode. Most of us aren’t. It’s key that you are listening to what your employees are saying about you. You can influence this by reacting appropriately, changing things and getting the right things said about you by the personal brands within your organisation. Employee engagement is key in this and has more to say about how attractive you are to potential recruits than the glossy websites.”


Bill then went on to do a further post, Employee Branded?, and a guest post on Mike VanDervort’s The Human Race Horses blog,  The Employer Brand Is Dead?

“ I again outlined my view that employer brand was now employee brand and that the issue  was that the employer brand was set by the employees and what they were saying on Facebook and other social media. Keith added his view that employee brand was much bigger than this and was the D.N.A. of the whole organisation from the board down.”


Gareth Jones then posted on his blog, Inside my Head: ‘Real time’ engagement – the employer brand dilemma…

“Social media does without doubt have a potentially huge effect on the employer brand but I don’t think we will see it turn into the “employee brand” as Bill suggests.  Nor will it become a ‘new role for HR’ as it’s already in the HR mix, and has been for many years.”


Gareth seems to accept that corporate / product brands have become ‘customer branded’, but doesn’t accept the case for employees:

“So will social media shift the balance of ‘brand power’ to the employee in a similar way to customers?  Well, as much as I would like to think so, I dont think it will because the customer and employee relationship are fundamentally different in two key ways:

  1. Choice - If I take exception to the way Coke delivers the ‘customer experience’, there is always Pepsi.  Or some other brand pretender. Either way, I still get my cola fix. I can even buy a different brand everyday without impunity.  But I can’t do the same with employers.  Even the most talented and sought after can’t afford more than one or two ‘mistakes’ on their CV before the prejudice and hypocrisy of the recruiters cause them to start muttering about capability and poor judgement.
  2. Bad can be good – some people want a house to be perfect when they buy it, others are happy to buy a wreck – simply because they see the potential in it.  As an employer crown slips, even if it falls far, it will eventually become a ‘turnaround’ situation or something similar and a different set of equally talented individuals will queue up to join.  However, if Tesco starts serving up putrid meats at the deli counter I’m hardly likely to keep on buying it on the basis that I can see an opportunity to make it better!”


Right, well I’m guessing that we probably won’t end up discussing any of this in the session today, even if it does take place, but if we do, what are my ideas?


Well, I agree with Gareth that there is a difference between the corporate / product and the employer brand.  But for different reasons.  To me, the key point is that employees talk to each other – and this means the environment is more complex, emergent, subjective, and less controllable, than the consumer one.

Now OK, the consumer environment has changed too, largely as a result of social media, which is why I think we’ve got to ‘customer branded’.  But in most sectors ,customers still don’t talk as much or as easily as employees.

So  what does this mean about ‘employee branded’?


This is how I think employer branding works (although obviously a more mechanical description than it really is):


Running through this from left to right:

  • You need to start with a clear focus, a good idea of what the organisation is about (mission / vision / BHAG / strategy – or values / mojo etc – which provides the basis for Keith’s DNA)
  • You need to ensure that this is translated into an employer value proposition (EVP).  This EVP needs to be developed to fit your employees, but it’s even more important that it supports your BHAG / mojo (which of course, should also be informed by, and developed through discussion with, your employees).  The EVP should also influence your employees ie you’ll recruit people who appreciate the offer that you’ll provide.
  • You then need to deliver this EVP (or a tailored version of it) to each employee.  This is the difficult bit.  Firstly because the delivery is done by your line managers which you can’t completely control.  And also because delivery is down to your employees’ judgement about what has been delivered, ie its a relative rather than an absolute quality.
  • It’s the result of the delivery of this EVP which provides the basis for your employer brand (with some ability to accentuate the positives and the direction you’re travelling in).


So how much of this do you control?

  • BHAG / mojo: yes
  • EVP: yes (although clearly you need to listen to your employees and seek to meet their needs)
  • Delivery: not totally, but yes, to a large extent (even with social media)
  • Employer brand: because of the above, largely, yes.


Net result - employer branding has still got my vote.





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  1. OK, so no surprise that we didn't really discuss any of this.

    To the extent that we did, the focus of the track session seemed to be very much geared towards listening to employees (and the use of social media) as the basis for employer brand.

    So I think we (the room) probably came to the conclusion that companies have been employer branded.

    What do you think?

  2. It's an "unconference," Jon, participants are supposed not to care what any expert thinks they should be talking about.

    One thing I learned about employer branding was in talking with Doug Berg, founder of jobs2web, for my current Radio Show at

    The do some frighteningly close tracking of applicant behavior and found they spend nearly zero time on career sites reading all that branding bushwah.

    They just go right to the job listings. For what's that worth.

  3. I wasn't complaining Bill - I understand the format. (And we didn't discuss any of this because I didn't steer participants towards it.)

    Re the bushwah, I don't think this has got anything to do with employer branding.

    What is important is the image of the company that the employee has their in heads and which informs their reaction when they see the job listings (to this extend, Bill is right that companies have been employee branded).

  4. Jon,

    A really enjoyable piece of writing and thanks for a mention. I will send you a link to the CareersCast debate.

    Funny I spend a fair time on US radio show either defending job boards or The Employer Brand and on the later they really don't get it.

    I speak with highly intelligent recruiters who see it as "bushwah" they don't get the fact that the potential candidate maybe looking at that company post or career site because they've been touch by the employer brand's viral and like a virus just because you can't see or measure it does not mean it has no influence.

    The Employee Brand is a "Brand Me" marketing tool and in some senses should have the same output as the employer brand except it makes a recruiter more inclinded to "touch you".

    Enjoyed meeting you and would at some stage like to chat in a more "organised environment"

    Great writing.


  5. Thanks Keith, great to know that you think so, and yes, would love to catch up some time. Hope to get on one of the recordings at the next TRU as well!

  6. Hi Jon,
    Good article. I think social media has provided a convenient outlet to relabel/misinterpret employer branding as purely influenced by this alone. The frustration is that this is just another medium for communication, albeit one that has a large and immediate audience, but is taking too high a precedence. It justifies debate, but shouldn't detract from the wider employer branding issues.

    In many respects employer branding has suffered from an image problem cultivated by misinterpretation and misapplication. We shouldn't forget that the substance of what an employer brand should embrace is founded on already well-established HR principles and application (or at least it should be), but its when it's tied into recruitment and the external target audience that it has the potential to lose it's way and disconnect from the fundamental values that should be integral to an organisation's being and relationship with its employees.

    "Employee" Branding and "Employment" Branding are confusing the issue again. I don't get this personally. I think employee branding is personal branding as by its definition to be "employee" branded, if you like, means being tied to the employer which ultimately means you have to be aligned to the values of the employer. As soon as you don't, then it's about your own personal viewpoints which is about 'personal' branding.

    "Employment" branding is the definition that I've heard used more in the States and is generally referred to the external marketing of a job - i.e. the recruitment communications.

    Anyway, much to debate and discuss. I feel that employer branding is in a state of flux and there are aspects that do need tightening up.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jon, and I look forward to more discussion.


  7. Thanks Nick, some great points here.


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