When Spedan Lewis took control of the UK retailer John Lewis in 1929, he didn’t start the journey towards high-street domination with slick advertising campaigns. His initial priority was to turn his employees into partners with a radical ownership structure that gave them a share of the company profits, aligned their interests with that of the business and made the John Lewis Partnership a place where the most talented and capable could see the value in working.
In other words, Spedan Lewis knew that any brand he could create wouldn’t be of much value without a talent brand to match.
There’s never been a better time to follow his example, and not just because John Lewis, with its annual turnover of £10bn and profitability of £376m looks like the type of business you want to emulate.
In the transparent economy that digital media are creating, your talent, corporate and consumer brands are indivisible. Fail to nurture any one of them and you’ll be giving up valuable marketing assets, sacrificing credibility and storing up trouble for the next time you face a challenge. And as top talent emerges from the global recession with a sharpened appetite for working somewhere they actually feel a part of, you would also be seriously compromising your ability to recruit.
The business of creating and managing a talent brand too often falls through the gaps between the marketing and HR departments. In reality, it needs to be co-created. It’s impossible to maintain a worthwhile talent brand unless the experience of actually working for your business matches the promise you put forward. Yet it’s equally impossible to create one without applying the marketing skillset to communicating the essence of your organisation.
Here are five reasons, why any marketer should be seeking to take a more proactive role in their talent brand right now:
Because the transparency talent craves is exactly what your other brands need
The type of talented, incisive people that most businesses want to employ, aren’t going to settle for a rose-tinted version of your company. They want to know what you’re really about, what challenges you face and how you are going about meeting them.
The good news is that this is increasingly what consumers demand as well. Like the best talent and the savviest shareholders, they simply won’t believe an idealised version of your business. Patagonia’s boldly transparent sustainability strategy is just one example of how a business that treats its consumers as it would a valued employee (being open about what’s really going on) tends to be rewarded with increased loyalty and sales. Transparency is essential for an effective talent brand – and in the social media age, it’s essential for any other type of brand as well.
Because employees are becoming your best marketing asset
Research from Edelman has proven that employees (not CEOs, marketing directors or brand spokespeople) are your single most credible voice in the market. They’re close to your customers – and your customers believe what they say. Social media magnifies that potential enormously. On LinkedIn, the companies with the highest Content Marketing Scores are those that make most effective use of their employees to put the word out.
When your talent brand and consumer brand are advancing together, you know that you’re putting people into customer-facing situations who know what you’re about and believe in where you’re doing – and that makes it a lot easier to use employees as a frontline social media asset as well.
Because you need advocates for when times get tougher
It’s easy to think of employees as marketing assets when things are going well, salaries are rising and your company has tangible momentum behind it. It’s a different matter when sales take a dip, when your people feel competitive pressure and worry about their future, and when customers are asking questions they don’t like answering.
It’s at times like this when recruiting people who bought into your vision from the outset can be worth its weight in supportive blog posts and proactive comments. And motivated, aligned employees are the most effective force for policing and restraining disgruntled workers using social as a platform for sounding off.
Target CMO Jeff Jones’s post in the aftermath of the brand’s credit card debacle drew a lot of support from third parties – but imagine how much more effective it could have been with engaged employees feeling empowered to add their own comments.
Because values mean more when you recruit on the basis of them
When brands sit down with us to plan marketing strategies on LinkedIn, creating and communicating a values-led organisation tends to crop up pretty early in the conversation.
Marketers and CEOs alike know that your vision and values are no longer just copy to fill up the early pages of your annual report. Whether you are a B2B or a consumer brand, people will choose to do business with you, or buy your products, on the basis of them – and on their judgment of whether your values mean something or not.
It’s a lot easier for your company to live and breathe its values when you embed them into the way you attract talent in the first place. And doing so is also a pretty good test of whether your values are as true and meaningful as you think.
Because you should be happy for employees to share a space with your CEO
Social media doesn’t require you to have a C-Suite pass before you start acting as a representative of your business. Aligning your talent, consumer and corporate brands helps to ensure that employees of all levels are singing from the same sheet. One of the great strengths of LinkedIn as a content platform is the way that it enables your CEO and your employees to share a space when it comes to putting the word out and sharing your point of view. This is all the more powerfully effective when you have a story that’s aligned across different audiences.
Because recruitment pipelines need marketing skills too
Perhaps the most compelling reason for marketing to get involved in talent brand management, is that your business needs every competitive edge it can muster when it comes to recruiting the right people.
The best talent prospects are attracted by good salaries and compelling benefits packages, but also by businesses that resonate with them as individuals – that are going in the same direction that they want to. Use the full marketing skillset to build a vision of a business that people want to be a part of and you’ll be providing your HR team with the best possible reason for getting you involved.
Josh Graff is senior director at LinkedIn, Europe, Middle East and Africa.