Why is Your Employer Brand More Important Than Your Consumer Brand?
Who would you rather work for?
- United Airlines or Southwest Airlines?
- Google or Yahoo?
- Vons/Safeway or Trader Joe’s?
Odds are high that you have identified the better employer with each example simply through word-of-mouth or direct customer experience. Or, you might be seriously interested in working for one of these organizations so you have read employee feedback at Glass Door or Indeed.
The war for talent is back. Unfortunately, many leaders assume their organizations can act in much the same way they did twelve years ago. We find that many employers could use basic good manners in how they treat candidates who are either seriously or not being considered for a position. For business reasons, talent acquisition ought to embrace the kind of world-class customer service practices that the market will talk about.
But, the biggest existential challenge in today’s employment market is transparency.
The biggest impact on talent acquisition is transparency. All of the sales pitches in the world won’t overcome bad word-of-mouth and or consistently negative reviews online. Today, with little effort, savvy candidates quickly learn how your organization treats its talent and whether the statements about culture are real. Transparency is beginning to introduce issues of survival for many organizations.
Once the word gets out, the premium talent runs when they hear your name. As CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, in a now legendary act of desperation, spent over a billion dollars acquiring smart start-ups. But, she wasn’t pursuing unique technology or new markets. She couldn’t get the premium talent required to turn Yahoo around. Think of it. When Stanford’s best graduates hit the market they might be thinking, “Google, Apple, or entrepreneurship?” But Yahoo? Some of the world’s better candidates would view a stint at Yahoo as a career killer. They envision a tribe of stagnant stakeholders that torpedo change. One client indicated getting anything done there was a bit like trying to get fresh bread in Russia.
For Yahoo as well as other employers, the employer brand determines what an organization become. For example, we live at the beach in California. There is a market within 300 yards of our home. But, we usually drive 5 miles to buy groceries at a market that easily charges 30% more. Why? The grocer next door routinely generates reviews on Yelp like, “The employees in this store ought to be placed on suicide watch.” At the other market, employees remember our names and do whatever they can to help out. They smile and look you in the eye. They love to work there.
The nearest Trader Joes is 10 miles from our home. We drive in once-a-month to get supplies. The average tenure of the company’s cashiers is twenty-one years. While their prices compete with commodity oriented stores, the customer experience is as good as any luxury brand.
CEOs are responsible for defining and leading their culture. When a CEO defines or allows their organization to become a commodity, they will spend most of their time trying to generate enough profit to keep the shareholders happy. All too often their strategy includes, “Just how much can we irritate the customer before they go away?”
If you can’t attract the best talent in your industry, you will never achieve category leadership. Your employees will actively or passively practice disengagement. Customers will have lower rather than higher expectations, which isn’t a good place to start any relationship.
Everyone knows this. With the advent of Glassdoor and Indeed, any savvy employee can find out what it is like to work for you. They know if your internal treatment of employees is vastly different from the promises in your ads. If you think an employer brand isn’t a big deal, think of the segment of workers that aspire to work at certain organizations and the workers that view work as “just a job.”
Today’s savvy CEOs will not tell human resources to “fix the engagement problem” or “improve the quality of candidates.” They will answer basic questions like, “Who do we want to be?” “When people think of our employees, what comes to mind?” “If we want to attract the best talent in this category, what kind of culture do we need to build?”
I have individual human resource clients from all of the world. When we begin a career marketing campaign I make it clear he or she will vastly improve the odds of success by answering a few questions. Perhaps the most critical question is, “Has the CEO taken ownership of the culture?” If not, they probably ought to keep their bags packed.
Employer brands are not perfect. However, the great ones are designed to attract the very people that fit into the tribe. The Walt Disney Company has gotten a great deal of mixed feedback in the market. In the 80s, word was that if you didn’t come into work on Saturday, don’t bother coming in on Sunday. And yet, the organization is filled with lifers. In the midst of delivering a leadership program at Disney, one of the executives asked, “What do you believe is Disney’s employer brand?” I thought about it for a moment and responded, “The employer brand is to attract the talent that creates magic at great profit in the midst of chaos.”
The room went silent for a moment and then broke out into gales of laughter. For someone who loves that, they will stay at Disney for years. If they don’t, they will find the environment insufferable.
This past year, United Airlines reminded millions of consumers of the cynicism and contempt that permeates their culture. Lost and dead pets, customers dragged out of their planes, unruly environments, lost and damaged baggage. Today, many travelers will only board a UA flight is there is no alternative. The company doesn’t have an equipment problem, it has a talent problem. But, one CEO after another places cost-cutting ahead of customer experience and employer brand. The results speak for themselves.
Uber might have been one of the country’s most successful start-ups in many years. But, their contempt towards female employees and drivers has led to perhaps the first time in business history where consumers are mindfully selecting Lyft because its spiritual and moral principles are superior.
Bottom-line? There are no shortcuts in building a great organization. People will sustain your success. Talent will make you a category leader.
Why has the employer brand become more important than the consumer brand?
Because the consumer brand is what we sell.
The employer brand is what we become.
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