Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Employer Brand Must Be Like Makeup: Immaculate

Do you know a company called Praxair?

I didn't. Until they contacted me for an interview. Naturally, I deployed a full-scale investigation on them and discovered lots of interesting facts. For instance, Barron's lauded their profitability model and honored them for being "good corporate citizen". They are in the Top 10 chemical companies in the world; one of the largest industrial gases companies worldwide with annual sales of €8.2 billion in 40 countries. For eight consecutive years, the company has been selected as a component of the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index and is the only industrial gas company in the Carbon Disclosure Projects Carbon Disclosure Leadership Index.

So how come nobody knows about Praxair?

Employer branding is tricky business. It's an art on the verge of both HR and Marketing, none of which are exact sciences. It is distinct from pure branding or PR in two aspects: the intent is different (attract talent)and the target segment is that very talent, as opposed to customers, partners or suppliers. There might be an overlap but not necessarily.

The advantages of having a strong employer brand are obvious (lower attraction & recruitment costs, higher overall brand equity, credibility and strong communication influence if needed, etc.). The drawbacks are few but significant: money, time and efforts are needed - those resources that so often are most scarce. Hence, proper due diligence is needed at the point of contemplating an employer branding intervention. Cornell University suggests using this decision tree to understand what type of effort you need to make to position your company on the labor market optimally:

Rules of engagement apply, i.e. all usual marketing channels and tricks go: traditional (print, university presence, career fairs), virtual engagement, guerrilla tactics, etc. Depending on the type of talent you want to attract, you will be choosing the messages and the channels; after all, a brand is what others think of you, so you need to pay special attention to segment the audience well. It is an important point, and I would like to emphasize it. As Marty Neumeier put it, one is not what he thinks he is, but what others say he is. By sending wrong messages to the wrong segments you might produce adverse results and harm the situation even more.

During my interview with the VP of Talent Acquisition at Praxair, I asked her about the reasons for  her company being virtually invisible for prospective employees. She jumped up, hurried to her desk and fumbling through presentation print-out started to explain quite passionately how that is going to be her next big project. She joined Praxair in February 2011, so she must be just finding her feet there, but I am glad that the issue of building a strong employer brand is on her radar screen.
In closing, I would like to put in a caveat that it is not enough to design and launch an employer branding campaign. The real challenge lies in making your own employees true ambassadors of your brand - only then you can claim that your employer branding efforts have been successful.

And one more… remember that old fable and its moral that you can fool one person all the time, all people some of the time, but you cannot fool all people all the time. No matter now beautifully you present your EVP to the public, it had better be very close to the reality. In our networked world truth comes out very quickly. If you don't believe me, check out Glassdoor.com

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