It pays to brand an organization's HR
Branding is not about getting your target market to choose you over the competition, but it is about getting your prospects to see you as the only one that provides a solution to their problems
HR branding is much more comprehensive than employer branding and HR managers have to carefully define the employer value proposition to the employees
The two critical assets that support a company’s short-term stability and long-term success are brand equity and human capital. Organizations have long recognized the power of brand management for attracting and retaining external customers; it is only recently that companies have begun to realize the benefits of HR branding. In an economic environment where turbulence is the norm, branding helps organizations drop anchor and survive the ruthless competition.
Human Resources Management (HRM), as a discipline and profession, has time and again felt the need to reinvent itself. HRM is one of the rare management disciplines, which has always been at pains to explain its role to other management specialists. In fact, it has often attempted to justify its existence variously as advisors, experts in handling HR, aligners to business and currently total solutions providers on the HR front. HRM practitioners have often wondered whether there could be a more focused way of projecting the discipline vital for its practice and existence.
HRM practitioners often plunge headlong into actually doing things rather than first defining what they are doing, leading to speculation as to their area of application or specialization. Much of this is due to the nebulous nature of HRM functioning; however the practitioners are also equally to blame. It is high time that HRM discipline sets to rest the issue of its fundamental raison d'être once and for all. It is said that ‘Perception is the ultimate reality’. Being good is not good enough; people need to understand and perceive you to be good. The problem is that HRM discipline has failed to build a brand and advertise itself properly.
Branding is not about getting your target market to choose you over the competition, but it is about getting your prospects to see you as the only one that provides a solution to their problems. The America Marketing Association (AMA) defines a brand as a name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers. What a good brand does is: Delivers the message clearly; confirms credibility; connects to target prospects emotionally; motivates the user; and concretizes user loyalty.
A brand usually resides within the hearts and minds of the users, consumers, clients and prospects. It is the sum total of their experiences and perceptions. Some of the experiences and perceptions can influence a consumer/user and some can’t. A strong brand is invaluable to win customers. It is essential to spend time and invest in researching, defining and building one’s brand. The brand is in fact the source of a promise to the consumer; it’s a fundamental piece of communication and one cannot do without it, which is why marketers place a lot of emphasis on brand building and invest money and time into it. A brand lives on even after a product is no longer used. Everyone in India still remembers Dunlop Tyres, Metalbox, Rajdoot Motorcycle, Kelvinator Fridge, Murphy, Bush, EC TV etc. Remember, how Coca Cola hardly had any problems when it was re-launched in India, because of its fantastic brand recall.
Brands are very valuable and sometimes even get put on balance sheets of companies. When Tata Motors bought Range Rover from Ford, they had to pay $2.56 billion for the brand. Some would say even the US dollar is a brand. In the current economic scenario, it has been noticed that brands do better than unbranded products. Branding of products and services is easier to understand but does it have any relation to HR?
In fact, HRM discipline requires a well thought out strategy to ensure that the discipline and the professionals who practice it get the correct branding. However, there is a fundamental dilemma here: Should one concentrate on HR branding for the discipline per se or HR branding for the organization? The orientation in both the cases may be different though the core essence would be the same. Since the HRM discipline is in its infancy compared to other disciplines, only stray attempts have to be made by institutions, professional bodies and practitioners themselves to brand itself. However, can those who are entrusted with HRM in any organization afford to wait till others do the rescue act? Of course not!
HR branding is, however, much more comprehensive than mere employer branding, which some organizations do undertake. Many a times, an organization’s marketing team needs to work in tandem with the HR team to understand and ensure that the common values of the organization internally and externally are in sync. Savage Branding & Corporate Design, based in Houston Texas, defines HR branding as an emotional attachment that makes employees long-term partners in achieving a company’s goals.
The brand rings true when it is reinforced across all touch points that employees encounter in the organization they work for. One is often confronted with a formidable section of management thinkers as well as HR practitioners who question whether HR branding is really that important. To get a precise answer, one must understand that for the external branding to be effective, the unique corporate culture of the organization needs to be aligned with the external branding. And what builds the corporate culture? HRM of course! HR branding is actually the fundamental sealant, the Vander Val forces, so to say, which hold the organization brands together. Without HR branding, the brands of an organization would get scattered. Brands essentially deal in emotions and HRM branding is all about the emotional connect.
So how does one go about doing HR branding? First and foremost, HR managers need to ask if the company treats its employees as well as it treats its customers. The HR managers have to carefully define the employer value proposition, what are the employees going to derive beyond salary and benefits from working in the organization. The effort, needless to mention, should have the support of top management or else it’s bound to be ineffective. The fight for talent is becoming quite intense and so this is where HR branding will help an organization in its acquisition and retention strategy.
The organization’s compensation strategy should meet the market norms; competitive offerings always enable the right talent acquisition. Once the brand is created, there is a need to stick to it. An organization has to assess the characteristics of the employees who have remained with the organization for the longest time as also those employees whom it lost before it wanted to. It has to then assess whether its employees with long tenure are top performers. The HR brand has to be extended to the potential employees through campus shows, trade association meetings, networking events etc. It remains to be seen how HR branding can enable employees to become the company’s brand ambassadors.
When branding yourself remember that you must create a strong and consistent brand. You cannot skimp just because it's about you. HR professionals have to start thinking like their marketing counterparts – through the 4Ps of Marketing – Product, Place, Price and Promotion. The Product would be the organization brand or culture; Place would be the work background; Price would be the reward or recognition used to attract talent; and Promotion would be the communication through which HR would send messages to reflect organization’s culture.
Today, in organizations, HR brand statements need to explain how HR creates value for customers and the stakeholders. There needs to be clear standards of performance by employers, which are aligned with the brand. HR professionals need to be rewarded based on their performance in delivering the brand and line managers will need to support HR’s brand intention. In turn, HR systems need to facilitate consistent HR brand performance. Much of what has been stated is done by HRM practitioners in some form or the other in organizations but there is a lack of coherence, declared intentions and a systematic, time-bound measurable approach. The positive fallouts of HR branding are too many for organizations to ignore.
Strong brands are clear about what they are and what they are not, which is why branding yourself can be an easy process. The key to successfully branding yourself is to first establish a personal brand identity. Once you have done that, focus the message on who you are and what you stand for within your chosen field. The time has come for when HR needs to brand itself and it needs to do that fast, before someone else does it.