Jason discusses the trend towards putting talent issues ahead of external branding activity.
Over the last 6 weeks, as part of some pretty big and complicated communications projects, I've been able to speak to CEOs from a range of international corporations and B2B organisations. One of the conclusions I've come to is that we've reached a significant tipping point in terms of how boardrooms are employing the services of brand advisers. If I were a traditional marketing or HR director - or one of their typical branding or advertising agencies -I'd be worried.
I'm currently working with three businesses whose top brass have recognised that talent issues are so critical to their respective organisations (and therefore their own fortunes) that this is where they have decided to commit their brand investments first. Before more traditional external branding activities happen. In fact most are hoping and expecting that the work done in the employer brand area will shape and inform any subsequent 'customer' branding activity. Whether it's 35 per cent employee churn they're addressing, a demoralised workforce they're trying to re-energise or just a plain and simple need to recruit 30 per cent more people in the next 9 months to realise growth targets, the business need is critical boardroom stuff indeed.
In each organisation the CEO has publicly prioritised the talent agenda as a central part of their business vision (if they didn't instinctively know it already from their many years in business). The growing body of research and heavyweight business magazine coverage has clearly had an effect. They also know that brand and ongoing communications have a vital role to play in attracting and inspiring their people - so long of course as they're backed up with some real action that makes a difference to the way their people feel and behave.
So why are CEOs beginning to prioritise Employer Branding? There are a number of factors at play in my view, including the obvious one that it might be perceived to be easier, cheaper and quicker to do employer branding than 'customer branding'. But the main drivers are reflected in the Economic Intelligence Unit's finding that CEOs rate talent as one of the top 3 business-critical issues that keep them awake at night - alongside the state of the economy and getting access to capital. There is a growing realization amongst CEOs and their right-hand men and women that finding, keeping, aligning and inspiring talent is the key to achieving their business visions and strategies.
You only have to look at consumer advertising trends to see how employees define customer experience, advocacy and, ultimately, business performance. The ad agencies are putting employees front and centre of consumer campaigns and brand promises more and more - from Honda to Halifax and those helpful chaps at Nat West. It's a well trodden path.
And it's surprising that the ad agencies are famously unable or unwilling to offer serious advice on how to do employer branding or employee engagement in a meaningful, sustainable manner to help businesses deliver on those shiny, smiley promises.
It's no wonder that employer branding issues are increasingly being seen as too big and important for the HR director. This is business-critical stuff that needs broad, strategic business 'nouse', real brand marketing skills and some proper investment over the long term.
It's a long overdue change of the corporate mindset. Plus, it's early days and the fallout is uncertain. But I for one am excited about the possibilities. I'm off to write some hopeful letters to a few embattled CEOs.