When we think of marketing, it conjures up images of promoting a brand or service to customers, or persuading more people to buy what you sell. However, a significant marketplace that we tend to ignore is another “market” that offers invaluable potential for promotion of your brand: your employees. They are the people who can make your brand come alive for your customers.
Employee branding is a crucial positioning strategy that can help determine the reputation of an organization. It has been defined by Miles and Mangold as “the process by which employees internalize the desired brand image and are motivated to project the image to customers and other organizational constituents.” Simply put -- employee brand is the image employees present to customers and other stakeholders. Impactful employee brands need to be created and nurtured by a wise "people marketing" tactic.
Consider some of the software giants who are envied worldwide for the perks they offer to staff, their cool workplace culture and how they value and recognize innovation in employees. The brand projected by the employees connects seamlessly with the external brand, positioning these companies as aspirational employers.
Internal and external brand communications and messaging needs to be aligned. A mismatch between these messages can prove confusing and it may color the perceptions of the company’s integrity in the employees’ mind. This confusion can even get reflected in their external dealings, which can go a long way in discrediting a brand.
Another noteworthy point is that such branding, where undertaken, has generally been associated with high-profile careers, but the truly progressive and inclusive companies must also start looking at building brand identity for all levels of employees including their blue- and grey-collar workers. Thus far, this category has been seen as too far removed from the culture of branding. But, in truth, like every other employee, blue collar staff add infinite value to the company, and businesses can benefit substantially by developing and honing their brand identity. Categorized as semi-skilled, unskilled and skilled, these workers not only form the mainstay of labor-intensive industries such as infrastructure and manufacturing, auto & ancillaries, warehousing, and pharmaceuticals but also of the burgeoning e-commerce and logistics industry that work across the spectrum. It is vital for businesses to change the way they view and treat blue-collar workers and make them feel valued brand representatives both to drive meaningful engagement as well as build the reputation of their brand.
It must be noted that in today’s virtual world, not treating blue-collar employees with dignity can do more harm than the good that comes from offering the best perks to your white-collar staff. This is one of the reasons why every major MNC ensures that labor conditions in offshore factories meet certain basic standards. So while employee branding methods have been deployed for white-collar staff, truly progressive firms must also start looking at focusing on their blue-collar task force as well.
There are many touchpoints that can be activated by businesses to cultivate employee branding, which, in turn, enables employees to live the brand vision in their day-to-day activities.
Building Employee Persona
Collecting data from across employees to create a representative group with similar attributes goes a long way in building an employee persona. These traits can be of qualitative or quantitative nature. Once firms have the data, the brand’s core values could be reiterated through employee behavior, experiences and characteristics to represent the brand’s core values. In the context of blue-collar staff, the ethno and demographic study of this layer can offer a lot of information related to their lifestyle, domestic requirements, affiliations, social needs, and intrinsic motivations, which in turn can help develop marketing strategies to target a vast, hitherto untouched audience.
In many ways, the so-called semi-skilled laborers have skills that are more refined and noticeable than white-collar staffers. The physical, demonstrable evidence of one’s talent and experience is something that businesses can build on. Redefining engagement differently with this category of workers can reap huge benefits for organizations in establishing their global identity as progressive, sustainable businesses.
Employee alignment with organizational vision and values
Employee branding is the best way to help employees make a powerful emotional connection to the products and services a company sells. When employees believe in the brand, they work harder and stay loyal to an organization. Unified and inspired by a common sense of purpose and identity, they feel confident and also project the same confidence in the brand externally. Further, in India, as businesses expand their reach into tier2 and tier 3 cities, what better subjects could they get to testify for their product or service than their own blue-collar staffers who often hail from these cities. Once again, a seldom considered point is that a disengaged labor force can prove detrimental to companies; and conversely where companies show regard and value for their support staff, they prove to be incredible brand ambassadors for business in untapped territories.
Hiring in tune with organizational culture
Recruiting is another area that can serve as a touchpoint to build employee branding. Assessing potential hires’ personality traits during interviews to see how they correspond to a brand’s core values helps preserve and promote a brand’s singular identity. Extending the same principles of assessment when hiring blue-collar talent can do wonders for the productivity and cultural statement of an organization.
In addition to this - extending the same process and criterion for hiring all levels of workers will help with establishing the professionalism and integrity of an organization, establishing it as one with progressive and inclusive values. So, for example, when blue-collar workers upload their skill sets on recruitment websites focused for them, with dedicated account managers, it will allow companies to select and screen from a wider dataset of talent. The improved auto screening of CVs using AI algorithms written especially with their skills in mind will help source the right candidates in these roles, while allowing employees to showcase their skillsets and warm the respect they deserve.
Once hired, extending help like paperless onboarding, automated payroll systems and such employee benefits will help build trust within employees and the brand value of the organization will spread by word of mouth in this sector.
Ensuring compliance documentation and retention management are other areas that establish professionalism and will help build loyalty, while motivating employees towards enhanced productivity.
Create a brand that provides sustainability
Engaging your employees to build a sustainable business and promoting a sustainable work-life balance for every employee is now an essential for any progressive business. Respecting human rights and the needs of its employees ensures greater engagement and improved productivity, which in turn fosters brand loyalty. Employees who feel engaged and appreciated inwards, also project the same image outwards. Any organization who wishes to build its image should make every effort to incorporate brand values into everyday experiences, so that employees “live” the brand at all times.
Remember, such employee touchpoints mirror consumer marketing touchpoints, where every point of interaction with the consumer is an opportunity to reinforce the brand.
Role of technology
Technology has a deep impact on employee relations and branding. Tools such as virtual technology, social networking, and online portals make employee engagement limitless. Technology can be used to foster collaborative working, improve work-life balance and enable organizations to communicate efficiently. If used right technology can help employee engagement and thus brand marketing greatly. Workplaces that do not allow technology to become intrusive or all all-encompassing esp in the post-pandemic WFH environment will prove to be true leaders of the new normal. At the same time a valued labor workforce can help a brand penetrate into the social media networks of tier-2 and tier 3 cities, where their staff can prove to be an influencer for the brand.
Digital landscape - changing techniques for employee branding
The growing use of virtual spaces of engagement and widespread penetration of social media plays a huge role in building employee branding and by virtue of that brand image. Blogs and posts by employees about things they learnt at work or something they choose to share about their employer immediately offer a personalized glimpse into the brand. If an employee has a large network this has its own unique advantage but even employees whose networks are closer knit circles of friends and family offer tremendous social media marketing value to any brand.
See how many new startups use social media to showcase the workplace on Instagram and Twitter through their handles as well as employee handles. In cool and trendy workplaces, employees are often tempted to share pictures and videos of their work life offering authentic previews of the work environment.
When companies understand that across the spectrum, employee branding is basically an extension of employer branding, they will begin to see value in the practice. For, employer branding is basically the process of managing and influencing your reputation as an employer. It will automatically translate into attracting and retaining the right talent that will help position an organization as an employer, and by that virtue, a brand of choice. Organizations that grasp the significance of investing beyond the 40% of the employee population to include their grey- and blue-collar taskforce will emerge as the pioneers of using employee branding as a true marketing strategy.