(first published by CHRO SA on 2 April 2019)

Employer branding isn’t only for recruitment purposes. Celeste Sirin highlights other misconceptions.

Every country across the globe is currently experiencing its own unique labour market challenges, irrespective of whether it’s the USA with its four percent unemployment rate or South Africa at a stubborn 27 percent.

Ironically both countries are presently sharing similar difficulties. We are not sitting with a lack of skills but a mismatch of skills, which means that companies are finding it difficult to fill their critical vacancies. Within the USA, the pendulum has swung favourably towards the candidates, with companies going to great lengths to compete for best-in-class talent; while simultaneously working harder to recreate more desirable employer value propositions to retain their critical scarce skills.

South Africa is faced with the opposite scenario. There are its ever-increasing levels of unemployment, further fuelled by retrenchments and company downsizings, yet companies are finding it progressively tough to fill new, emerging and sought-after skills to match the evolving, automated and digital workplace demands.

This being said progressive companies are turning towards employer branding and recruitment marketing strategies to assist them in attracting, engaging, nurturing and retaining top talent. The community of global employer brand leaders is steadily growing, with companies witnessing positive results and ROI through providing the right focus.

The uptake from our South African Leaders is somewhat slower, which can be due to a combination of our economic climate, the impending elections and the lack of misunderstanding and misperception of what employer branding really is and why it should be adopted as a business best practice imperative.

These are the five most common misunderstandings around employer branding that I feel are most pertinent in the South African labour market:

  1. Employer branding is a human resources responsibility

Employer branding is usually championed from within the human resources department as it is considered to be a talent-related initiative and function.  There are, however, opinions that marketing and communications can also be the custodian. While this might be the case, employer branding is in fact a business practice which must be endorsed and adopted by the CEO and exco, who in turn implement and promote it throughout all functional heads and line managers within their organisation.

Additionally, each employee is responsible for delivering on the employer brand promise as it supports their company’s mission, vision and values. Nowadays companies are calling upon employees to become more actively involved in employer branding activities (such as word-of-mouth referrals, employee reviews, employee video testimonials, social media story-telling etc.). Companies are quickly realising that employees have a significant role to play in embodying their employer brand, with the employee voice being considered as three times more credible than the CEO’s when it comes to providing authentic information on what it’s like to work at a company.

  1. Employer branding is intangible and cannot be measured

One of the main reasons why CHROs struggle to receive buy-in for their employer branding initiatives is because they are being continuously challenged on how an intangible activity like employer branding can possibly be measured and impact bottom line profitability. Companies utilise various metrics to demonstrate ROI through implementing a strong employer brand strategy. These can vary from cost to hire, conversion ratios, staff retention, time to hire etc.

LinkedIn provides ample evidence that a strong employer brand can reduce a company’s cost-per-hire by 50 percent, with recruiters improving on their time to hire by one or two times faster. BCG Group affirms companies witnessing performance levels of 2.4 times higher revenue growth and 1.8 times profit margin increases through a strong employer brand presence.

A sound employer branding practice enhances the operational costs and performance of the company. Moreover, it is a strategic investment in the development of the company’s value and brand reputation.

  1. Employer branding is the same as your corporate brand

Your employer brand is who your company is as an employer, what it’s like to work there, the company reputation and internal ethos and generally the human element that drives the success of the business. Your consumer brand and your employer brand make up your corporate brand identity and reputation. The two are not the same, with your employer brand being a facet of the larger brand.

As with your consumer brand where your product/service is packaged, marketed, promoted and communicated through various channels to your targeted customer audience, so should your employer brand receive the same focus. Notwithstanding, the fact that your employer brand acts as an extension to your corporate brand, it is unfortunately viewed more as a cost centre with the consumer brand as the profit driver, thus receiving preference.

Both the consumer brand and the employer brand are interconnected, with organisations often overlooking the fact that customer service excellence extends beyond just the customer, but through to candidates, employees, alumni, service providers and all stakeholders connecting with the corporate brand. Therefore, companies need to align their approach to a unified one-brand way of thinking.

  1. Employer branding is a once-off campaign

Most organisations view employer branding as a tactical once-off campaign executed to address short term objectives such as rectifying a bad brand reputation/review, building a pipeline of talent, conducting a once off staff satisfaction survey, implementing a talent attraction strategy geared towards attracting a critical-skills set etc. While all these tactical initiatives contribute to building a company’s employer brand reputation, a long-term and ongoing approach needs to be calculated.

HR leaders often see this as a daunting task but if scoped and approached correctly, they will be surprised at how these collective activities start to build a strong employer brand presence and momentum. For companies to achieve a focused approach towards employer branding and reap the full rewards that this business practice has to offer, it’s advisable to not merely include it as a KPA or line item on a HR team member’s job description, but to appoint a custodian who will take a holistic approach and full accountability to deliver on it.

As CHRO’s begin to receive acceptance of this best practice, we will hopefully start seeing the emergence of newly appointed employer branding specialists as we have seen in other progressive countries.

  1. Employer branding is only for companies that are seeking to attract talent

Many companies are under the misapprehension that employer branding should only receive attention when their talent acquisition managers are looking to recruit. Building a strong people brand starts from within, where CHROs need to attend to the well-being of their employees through their life-cycle from the moment that they are on-boarded until they exit the organisation.

With the right inward approach, companies will reap the rewards of an engaged workforce which will impact on bottom line productivity and lead to a 28 percent reduction rate in the organisation’s turnover. Presently, the focus for South African CHROs should have shifted towards providing employees with the emotional support and attention through these uncertain times. With every company being people-led, this is essential to companies maintaining profits, and reaching business objectives, while remaining competitive.

Every company has an employer brand whether they like it or not. With the right focus and awareness CHROs can be extremely influential in supporting their corporate brand identity and reputation.