David Kippen | APRIL 19, 2016
WE’VE SEEN a very bad trend over the past few years. Platforms, content marketers, even some agencies, have been telling their clients to “DIY” their employer brands. But a DIY brand is a terrible idea. Really. Just don’t do it.
Why? Whether it’s the employer brand or the master brand, a brand is not a paint job. It’s a foundation. You might decide to repaint your own living room on a DIY basis but would you pour your own foundation? Unless you’re a general contractor with a day job in talent, of course not. The same logic applies to your employer brand. Unlike an ad campaign, where you can try to paint over cracks, your employer brand needs to last. Things are built on it. On average, the employer brand lasts in service between six and ten years. And when it’s time for a change it’s not because you’re “bored” with the employer brand: it’s because the business has changed, the competition has changed, and what differentiates you has changed.
During that six to ten years you might have run dozens of different targeted ad campaigns, content marketing blitzes, promotions and events. Each of them built off the brand and its equities, each with a short, purposeful shelf life. Some of these campaigns may be good targets to take DIY learnings. Any project that gives you the opportunity to do A/B tests, to gather real-time feedback on turns of phrase and images that resonate is an opportunity to sharpen the ad message. And if you have the staff to manage them, social campaigns are an excellent way both to get into dialogue with the marketplace and to figure out what sticks and what doesn’t. If you don’t have the bandwidth to manage them, a good social agency won’t cost much and it will give you this feedback, too.
Why are employer brand projects expensive? Same reason foundations are. They both take a lot of work. And there are no shortcuts to a good job. But the analogy doesn’t end there. Both your employer brand and your foundation start with planning and excavation. Your contractor has to have an architect’s plan before he can start. The team has to safely shift a lot of dirt before they can start to pour your foundation. Similarly, your agency has to develop a “site specific” plan for your brand based on your sector, your master brand, your hiring needs, your locations and they have to sift through a lot of data—turnover, hiring, employee survey, recent campaign data, future hiring needs, global workforce planning, etc.—to enable them to have the right conversations with leadership, with your workforce and with the talent you hope to hire.
Before the pour, the contractor has to bend rebar to support the cement. Before they can create, your agency has to distill all those data points into a cogent narrative “brand story” and develop a creative brief. The creative process is a whole lot more complex than a typical cement pour. But even here there are important similarities. When the cement’s wet, it can be worked. Curbs are cut. Surfaces smoothed. Textures added. When the creative’s still at concept stage, colors, typeface, images…they’re flexible. They need to work together, but the system’s still dynamic. But when the process is done, both the cement and the creative are set in stone. They have to be. They’re what everything else will be built on.
Finally, before you can start building the rest of the structure, it has to be approved. If it’s a home foundation, a building inspector has been along for the whole journey. The inspector will have approved the plan, inspect the dig, check the rebar for spacing, inspect the concrete for cracks. Your employer brand has a similar approval process. Your brand team will want to be sure that the architecture of your employer brand fits in with the neighborhood. They’ll check everything carefully. And if it’s not up to snuff, they’ll send the work back to square one. So what may start looking like a way to save money will end up costing much more time. And even internal time has a real cost you need to manage.
But the most important reason to do it right isn’t whether the brand team likes it or not. It’s that your employer brand has an incredibly important job to do. Its job is to make people take action. To do that, it has to change minds. And to do that, it has to understand what you really offer and what the right-fit talent really wants.
Employer brand work isn’t cheap. But unlike a website or campaign, it pays for itself fast. There’s broad evidence that top employer brands save up to 21% on salary cost compared to unknown or poorly-managed employer brands. If you hire selective talent, highly compensated talent, or high volume talent, those savings alone will repay the cost of your brand project in a few months. And there’s more. A strong employer brand drives day-one engagement. Day one engagement is the single most significant predictor of engagement at two years and retention. So a better employer brand increases engagement (increasing workforce value) and decreases turnover (lowering cost). Bottom line, doing the work properly is both a good idea and a good investment.
Dr. David Kippen serves as Chief Strategist and CEO of Evviva Brands. With a background spanning advertising and communications and a client base spanning the globe and including top brands in every sector, Dr. David Kippen is a world-renowned leader in brand strategy. David’s past clients include Amazon, Ameriprise Financial, Bain & Company, Blackrock, Burger King, Chevron, Coca-Cola, Dell, Dignity Health, Disney, Energy Recovery, E.ON, HP, HSBC, General Mills, Intel, Kaiser Permanente, Kentz, KLA-Tencor, Lam Research, Marriott International, Methanex, Moss Adams, Microsoft, Nokia, Premera Blue Cross, Teva, T-Mobile and Xilinx.
David earned a PhD in English (rhetoric) from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Prior to founding Evviva Brands he was Head of Global Brand Strategy for TMP Worldwide.
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