From Brand Reputation to Brand Experience

Posted on Mar 2, 2016

Abraham Lincoln said: “Character is the tree, reputation is the shadow.” The ultimate strength of an employer brand lies in the character of the organization. Marketing can amplify this character, but it can never replace it. For this reason the most essential and enduring measure of employer brand strength lies in the perception and experience of current employees, just as the health and vitality of a consumer brand ultimately depends on the consumer brand experience. 
A number of leading companies have begun to measure the strength and consistency of their desired employer brand experience in the same way companies measure the external strength of their desired brand image associations.

This needs to start with the candidate and on-boarding experience. When it comes to talent you cannot assume that successful applicants will necessarily take your offer of employment, or if they do, that they will stick around long enough to repay your investment in recruitment and induction. Conversion rates in some fast growing markets have been frustratingly low, even among well-known multi-nationals, as well qualified candidates weigh up several competing offers. Likewise, in markets all round the world there is an unfortunate tendency for employees to finish their first year at an employer far less engaged than they started it. It's therefore vital to seek feedback from applicants, candidates and new joiners to ensure their experience is in line with what you intend, and what they expect.

Step 1. The Candidate Experience.

Companies should monitor candidates’ experience of the application and selection process to ensure that it leaves a positive and professional impression. Ideally this should also include some form of image analysis to determine whether the process has reinforced the expectations of the employer brand communicated through the company’s recruitment marketing. You should be aiming to leave unsuccessful candidates as positive about your employer brand as successful ones, and where suitably qualified ensure that they remain in your talent pool ready to take up more suitable positions if they arise in the future. Research suggests that the overwhelming majority of candidates reporting a positive candidate experience also claim that they would refer others to apply to the company. Given the ease with which people can now broadcast a dissatisfactory experience across their personal and professional networks, the potentially negative consequences to your employer brand are also significant. Despite the clear benefits of monitoring candidate experience, the evidence surprisingly suggests that this form of research is still only conducted in a minority of cases.

Step 2. The On-Boarding Experience.

As above, the basic tracking measures should include satisfaction with the on-boarding process and an evaluation of whether the experience reinforced desired impressions of the employer brand. Ideally, the feedback period should ideally extended to include the longer period of orientation that takes place over the first 3-6-12 months (depending on the importance and complexity of the role).

The three key outcome measures which should be used to determine the overall success of on- boarding and orientation are:

- Engagement. There is a tendency in many organizations for engagement levels to decline during the first year of employment. While it’s understandable for the initial ’honeymoon’ period to produce very high levels of engagement, the organization should keep track of the decay rate, and rectify sources of dissatisfaction. 

- Retention. Attrition levels within the first 12 months can indicate a number of potential issues that may need to be addressed by the organization. These could include hiring people with the wrong cultural fit, significant gaps between employer brand expectations and the reality of employment, or a poor on-boarding process. 

- Speed to Performance. While this can be difficult to measure, some organizations calculate how long it takes an employee to ‘get up to speed’ with their new job, and the time it takes to make a return on the investment involved in recruitment and on-boarding someone to a new position. 

Step 3. The Employment Experience

Most leading organizations conduct some form of employee engagement survey, and this provides a rich source of potential data for evaluating the current health and vitality of the employer brand, as well as the relative performance of priority EVP attributes in comparison to industry and high performance company norms.

One of the most common approaches is to create an Employer Brand Experience Index or EVP Index. This involves adding a sub-set of questions to the overall engagement survey that specifically relate to the EVP pillars or explicit employer brand promises made by the organization. The Index is derived from the aggregate scores from each set of pillar questions, providing one overall metric summarizing the current health and vitality of your employer brand from an employee experience perspective.

The three key outcome measures which should be used to determine the effect of this employer brand experience are:

- Motivation. Do employees feel motivated to go the extra mile for the organization?

- Loyalty. Are employees committed to building their career with the organization?

Advocacy. Would employees recommend the organization as a good place to work?

The most important measure from an external employer brand reputation and recruitment perspective is advocacy, since the preparedness of employees to communicate positively about their employer through social media and refer good candidates have increasingly become the bedrock of effective social marketing. The other common term used for this measure is the Net Promoter Score, which represents the net sum of positive employee advocates and negative detractors.

This Net Promoter Score needs to be kept in balance with employees’ motivation to perform, as it is possible that the wrong kind of advocacy could also result from a comfortable but low performing work environment.

Some people have begun to question the inclusion of ‘loyalty’ in the definition of engagement as it tends to be more influenced by the external context. Over recent years it could be argued that employees intention to stay with their employers has been more influenced by the poor economic environment and a risk-adverse desire for stability, than heart-felt loyalty and commitment to their employer brand. Likewise, in fast growing emerging markets, engaged employees may still be highly vulnerable to the many alternative opportunities open to them elsewhere.

More recently, Towers Watson has introduced the concept of ‘sustainable engagement’, which includes measures of well-being. Given that employees can sometimes be too engaged, prone to over-work and burn-out, I believe this is a welcome addition to engagement thinking.

These engagement measures represent the desired behavioural outcomes of a strong employer brand, in the same way that application and positive word of mouth represent the desired outcomes of a strong employer brand reputation and effective recruitment marketing.

Written by: Richard Mosley

Richard Mosley is widely recognized as one of the leading world authorities on employer brand development and management. His first book, ‘The Employer Brand’ (Wiley) published in 2005 has become a global best-seller, and the sequel: ‘Employer Brand Management: Practical Lessons from the World’s Leading Employers’, published by Wiley in September 2014, tracks the evolution of the discipline over the last 10 years, highlighting the latest best practices and trends that are likely to shape the future of recruitment, employee engagement and HR / talent management

Richard’s thinking draws on over 25 years’ experience in both brand management and HR consulting, and has led global employer brand development projects for a host of leading companies including Bacardi, BP, Coca-Cola, Ferrero, GSK, HSBC, Lafarge, LEGO, L’Oreal, JTI, Met Life, Nokia-Siemens, PepsiCo, Santander, Unilever and Verizon.

Today Richard serves as Global Vice President of Strategy at Universum and Senior Advisor for the Employer Branding Academy.

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