Fast-changing market dynamics and evolving consumer expectations have made building an authentic brand more important than ever. Gone are the days that a brand can be viewed merely as a catchy tagline. Consumers and employees have become dramatically more sophisticated and aware of whether a company’s words — and more importantly, its actions — align with the brand it promotes. If you don’t pass the sniff test, both will quickly look elsewhere for a company that does.
These seismic shifts in brand marketing offer HR a strategic opportunity to get in the game like never before. HR professionals now face an unprecedented opportunity to help develop a convincing employer brand, while also repositioning the HR function as a critical strategic partner within the organization. Here are four ways HR can help drive transformative change through building a strong employer brand:
1. Build the brand from the inside out
The old approach of getting marketers and consultants together, convening a few focus groups, and cooking up core messaging that resonates outside the conference room worked reasonably well in the era when companies spoke at customers and employees instead of speaking with them.
Today there’s a new paradigm: Build your brand from the inside out as a means of defining and leveraging your company’s core essence in authentic and dynamic ways. Achieving that requires stepping outside the marketing department — and company walls — to elicit insights from data gathered across your organization, partner network and community.
From an HR perspective, it’s critical that employees are engaged in this inside-out process to offer a diverse perspective that assures the employer brand is aligned with the reality of the workplace and culture. When alignment occurs, employees sense they are working for an organization they can trust and believe in — a critical component when it comes to retaining and attracting top talent.
2. Think like a marketer
Too many HR professionals have resigned themselves to more transactional and compliance roles, focusing on pushing paper and keeping the company out of trouble — squandering their opportunity to lead transformational, inside-out change.
To combat this requires adopting a marketing mindset, focused on identifying which company strengths, culture and character attributes resonate most with employees, and then finding ways to build on and promote those attributes in ways that deepen engagement and advocacy.
At its core, successful marketing is focused on maintaining ongoing communication and connection with key stakeholders in ways that build trust and affinity. Applied internally within an organization, that same approach can generate enthusiasm and buy-in to create a contingent of brand advocates from every part of your company. There’s an easy way to measure success of this effort: track what current and former employees say about your organization on social media and sites such as Glassdoor. There, you will quickly see the unvarnished truth of whether your brand holds authenticity.
3. Invite yourself to the table
Having spent my career in various marketing roles, I can say from experience that a decade ago the function garnered little respect at many organizations. Marketing was viewed as a necessary evil, and was often the first to face the chopping block when hard times hit. Fast-forward to 2014, and marketing has become a vital strategic partner within the C-suite. While changing market dynamics have played a significant role in driving this change, another major catalyst has been the proactive efforts of marketing professionals who knew they could deliver significant strategic value and weren’t afraid to make it known.
In many ways, HR today finds itself in a role similar to that of marketing a decade ago. The fast-moving shifts in employee and consumer sentiments have created an environment in which HR professionals are ideally positioned to play a transformational role that can ripple through the entire organization. Not only can HR be on business leaders’ radar, but they can also be the catalyst for improving business performance through better employee engagement, cultural alignment and leadership development.
4. Enlist employees as brand advocates
There’s a sleeping giant in every organization: the employee workforce. If you actively engage employees in the process of defining and promoting a brand that effectively aligns with your culture while presenting an authentic view of your company, many will organically join what amounts to a de-facto sales force. They will sell your company — and its products and services — simply through their engagement and enthusiasm.
The key, however, is to make sure you are sincere and committed to hearing what they have to say, and open to their insights before you roll out a brand campaign. HR and marketing can work together to engage people across the organization to build a brand that feels just as authentic inside the organization as it does outside to your prospects and customer community.
Original version of this post was published on May 27, 2014. Emily He is the Chief Marketing Officer at Saba.