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Staffing Management: Show Off Your Brand

Stephenie Overman   1/4/2006
 

Staffing Management, Oct - Dec  2005

Vol. 2, No. 2

One companys employer branding initiative allows it to clearly communicate to prospects what it offers and whether they are a good fit for the company.

Royal Philips Electronics tells potential customers that its brand offers “technology that touches people’s lives.” Echoing that message, the giant electronics company tells potential employees that they can have an opportunity to work in an environment where “you can touch lives every day.”

Jo Pieters, vice president recruitment for Philips, who works for the company’s corporate human resource management program in Amsterdam, says that message is a powerful part of its recruiting strategy.

“On a business trip in Arizona, I saw a picture of a woman who had a heart attack at the airport. The airport had defibrillators. She survived. She was [shown] carrying the defibrillator that saved her life. On it, it said ‘Philips,’ ” Pieters says. “To be part of a company that literally saves people’s lives makes you feel proud. The things we bring to market that improve people’s experiences—that makes you proud.”

Communicating Your Brand

That sense of pride is part of Philips’ employer brand, what Pieters refers to as an intangible “collection of perceptions in the minds of people” about the company. It’s an important factor in attracting the 10,000 to more than 15,000 professional workers that Philips hires each year for its locations in 60 countries.

The employer brand is a key part of a company’s recruiting strategy because the brand effectively communicates to prospects who the company is, what it stands for, how people get things done, and how the company is differentiated from competitors, says Libby Sartain, SPHR, co-author of Brand from the Inside (Jossey-Bass, 2006).

Sartain, who is senior vice president of human resources and also has the title of “chief people Yahoo,” describes the employer brand as the way a company “builds and packages its identity, from its origins and values and what it promises to deliver, to emotionally connect employees so that they in turn deliver what the company promises to customers.” 

It’s not just about slapping a logo on some company communications, Sartain says. The employer brand must be extended “so prospects know what your business will promise to employees in return for what they would bring to your business.”

The employer brand “can actually attach meaning, value and personality to what your business offers to employees,” Sartain says, “resulting in a compelling promise to prospects that clearly communicates what they will experience if they join.”

The brand creates demand among prospective employees, helping a company compete for talent, she continues. “It can create the positive buzz. It can be a framework for how a business communicates its value proposition. And it can articulate what a business believes in and stands for.”

Clearly articulating the employer brand “can encourage candidates to self-select—and to decide to pursue a prospective employer only if the employer can match their values, culture and passion,” Sartain says.

Make sure the message communicated to potential employees is consistent, says Christopher Collins, assistant professor of human resource management at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. “Marketing research finds that if there’s not a consistent message, people tend to be mistrustful.”

And “make sure you’re communicating what you can actually deliver,” Collins says. If the employer brand is not accurate, “people will feel lied to” and turnover is likely to be high. “Consistency and realism,” he emphasizes, are the keys to successful branding.

Linking Consumer, Employer Brands

Like Philips, Pitney Bowes Inc. links its employer brand with its consumer brand. The company, which started as a postage meter business more than 80 years ago, is seen by customers as “reliable, secure, trusted and innovative,” says Christine Donahue, director of customer communications.

“My role is to take the [consumer] brand and make sure that we mirror it internally, that we make sure employees understand how customers see us. We want to make sure employees understand the brand they are delivering,” Donahue says.

“The value proposition for employees is similar to the one for customers. We’re not eBay; we can’t go out there as the hottest new growth company, the most glamorous,” Donahue says. “But we are desperately needed. There’s a need for our solutions.”

For employees and potential employees, Pitney Bowes’ attributes “translate into things like integrity, stability, diversity,” Donahue says. Recruiting materials stress the company’s strong record on diversity, its stability over the decades and the recognition it has received as a developer of leaders.

Pitney Bowes spokesman Peter Kerr notes that when he was recruited, “I knew the values by word-of-mouth. A former employee described Pitney Bowes as a wonderful company to work at. People get to know [the company] from employees, former employees and retirees. There’s a general ether out there in which the values float.”

That word-of-mouth has existed for many years, according to Donahue, and “the brand has stayed very stable.” But as Pitney Bowes has expanded and made about 50 acquisitions, “our capabilities have grown a lot,” she says. “In 2004, we had more patents than Apple Computer. We want to make sure candidates understand that we are a technology leader.”

Adding that element is part of the way that “the brand evolves,” Donahue says. But even as it evolves, it retains its foundation. “It’s always still trusted, reliable and secure. We don’t want to lose those because they are so valuable.”

Philips Shapes Its Brand

Before Philips started building its employer brand in 2002, “we had an incomplete knowledge of our ‘consumers’ and we had an incomplete message” that was leading to confused employees and job applicants, according to Pieters.

So Philips convened focus groups, benchmarked successful companies and spoke with branding experts. That led to the creation of the Employer Branding Project Team, assembled to answer the question: “What is our value proposition and our employer brand?”

The company was repositioning its consumer brand at the same time, which emphasizes that it sells products that offered “sense and simplicity, technology that is as simple as the box it comes in,” Pieters says. The message Philips wanted to convey to consumers was that the company brings “meaningful technologies to market, technology that touches people’s lives.”

Philips linked that consumer message to its message to employees and potential employees, he says, offering “a working environment in which you can touch lives every day” and promising “we touch your life every day, through meaningful programs, processes and opportunities.”

To help keep its brand consistent, the company created detailed online guidelines with templates for all communication media and tools and an online image library.

It tested its brand with a pilot project in 2003 in China, where “the perception was we are not able to attract talent. We had great difficulties in a number of functional areas—marketing, technical areas and so forth,” Pieters says.

“The first thing we agreed on was, let’s find the facts and put the facts on the table. Let’s avoid discussions around perceptions,” he says. To that end, Philips conducted extensive labor marketing research in China, to determine where the company’s ranked as an employer-of-choice and why.

From its research, Philips learned that its main competition for high-quality employees were other non-Chinese corporations such as Procter & Gamble, IBM, Microsoft and Intel, plus one Chinese company.

“We learned how people looked at our company. We found that people knew us as a big international company in electronics. But there it ended. People had no idea who we were as an employer or what our value proposition was for them,” Pieters says. In addition, the people surveyed “gave us feedback saying ‘it’s difficult to get in contact with Philips people.’ They said ‘You are distant.’ ”

At that time Philips’ ranking as an employer of choice was below the top 20.

In response to its research, Philips created a consistent but simple campaign that it rolled out to the top Chinese universities, detailing the company, its brand and its employment opportunities.

“We wanted to create awareness. We did that through a number of activities, such as bringing in Philips senior business managers and young people who we had hired one or two years ago from the same university. We made it easy to talk and meet with Philips people in person or through virtual chats.”

After the first year, Philips again measured its ranking as an employer of choice, and “we saw our labor market position was in the top 10,” Pieters says. The company expanded and fine-tuned the employer-of-choice program and measured again; the company ranked as one of the top five employers in China.

“We don’t have results this year, but our ambition is to be one of the top three employers of choice,” he says. “We prefer to be No. 1.”

Execution

In addition to its university program, Philips has surveyed experienced professionals in China and is putting an action plan in place to disseminate to them targeted information about the company and its career opportunities.

Philips’ experience in China shows that “If you have a clear employee value position and execute it in the right way, it doesn’t have to be complicated and doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Do the simple right things based on research, based on understanding your customer, and you can achieve results quickly even in a market as competitive [and] difficult as China is,” Pieters believes.

Overall, what Philips has learned from its experience in employer branding in the past several years “is the need to create a shared road map from the start,” he says.

“Position the employer brand to create a total employee experience based on a clear value proposition. Be bold, take a global approach, do your homework. Roll out your employer brand with concrete applications that make it immediately clear what you are talking about.”

Stephenie Overman is managing editor of Staffing Management.

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