It’s time to focus on your employer brand

Senior HR practitioners reveal how the employer brand can boost recruitment, engagement and culture...

Words by Dan Cave | Design by Jon Balallo

Words by Dan Cave

Design by Jon Balallo

In the world of business, branding usually refers to two things: the consumer, or corporate, brand and the employer brand. Although both interlink and interweave, it is the employer brand that HR should primarily be concerned with. So, what is it? Well, the employer brand, according to branding experts Fabrik, includes everything from advocacy programmes, to recruitment messaging and internal communications strategies, dictating organisational reputation for, primarily, employees and candidates but also consumers and other stakeholders too.

It sounds like a lot – in fact, it sounds like everything an HR department might do impacts the brand –and not all firms might be aware that they’re actively creating a brand. Whilst most will recognise the efforts of some firms in the branding space – think of SAP winning or getting gold standard in five categories at Employer Brand Management Awards 2019 or Google investing so much into its culture that it gets three million CVs a year from candidates – smaller companies might think, ‘Well, I’m not actively thinking about the employer brand, and don’t have a team working on it, and am definitely not offering workers a frothy coffee machine and thousands of pounds worth of perk perks on joining so I’m not creating a brand’.

A brand is created by how people remember and talk about a company when the marketing team aren’t in the room…

Sorry to say, but this is just wrong. Whether the HR function, or business, is actively involved in curating an employer brand or not, all companies have a brand. As marketing expert Richard Michie, CEO at The Marketing Optimist, tells HR Grapevine: “A brand is created by how people remember and talk about a company when the marketing team aren’t in the room.” A brand, in many ways, is just a byword from how an individual thinks of your company; it just might be that HR are mostly interested in how current workers and potential recruits think of the firm – with massive benefits for firms that foster a positive brand image.

In fact, Office Vibe research suggests that companies with a positive brand can massively boost their recruitment processes – driving up numbers of applicants and almost halving the cost per hire. Robert Ordever, Managing Director at workplace culture experts O.C. Tanner Europe, understands this. “Getting it right is key from a HR perspective, as a company with a strong employer brand will attract and keep high calibre talent. Jobseekers are doing their ‘homework’ on employers. They are digging deep to find out all about the employer’s brand and if the company’s culture is a ‘turn off’, then they will simply look elsewhere, regardless of how attractive the pay and benefits package is,” he explains.

And although it might appear that the employer brand has the biggest impact on recruiting – think of that huge Google CV number as well as 2019 research from Allegis Group and HR Grapevine which found that 89% of HR practitioners believed brand was either an important or critical part of talent attraction – according to the experts it can also impact other key areas of HR practise. One of these is staff retention. Ordever adds: “A strong employer brand will spark a sense of cause and purpose in employees, connecting them more strongly to the organisation and their co-workers. Staff will be engaged, feel a strong sense of belonging and be determined to succeed for themselves and the organisation they represent. This sense of belonging will mean they’ll remain at the organisation for longer.”


Beth Rowlands, Head of Talent & Skills at Fujitsu, agrees with this thinking. She also believes that if the brand is working to attract talent and keep talent that should help drive HR’s strategy. “An employer brand should enable an organisation to attract, retain and harness the talent it needs to deliver both its customer promises and achieve its own strategic goal,” she says. In order to do this effectively though, HR needs to understand how the employer brand interplays with the consumer brand. “They should have commonalities in areas such as vision and mission, and values and culture,” Rowlands adds. 

“Where the overlap occurs there are extremely powerful reasons and opportunities to combine the two from a talent attraction, retention and employee engagement perspective. Even though an individual who is considering applying for a job will not be experiencing the organisational services or products, they are more likely to be attracted to apply if they align to what they see.”

Employer brands that really work


Despite walkouts from activist employees, Google is still positioning itself as the place where talent has to head. With three million applications a year, the Silicon Valley information giant invests a lot of time researching what makes a great company, culture and working environment. According to Workstars blog, this means: “They have created an emotionally safe environment where employees know what they do has meaning and impact, and where they can rely on each other to deliver high-quality work.”

John Lewis

Despite ongoing lockdowns, which have battered the high street – even before the coronavirus pandemic the traditional high street was struggling – John Lewis is still seen as a firm with a great employer brand. It stays at the top of great place to work lists and was still the UK’s most attractive employer up to 2016.

Part of its ongoing employer branding success can be attributed to its profit-sharing arrangement with its partners (employees) as a way to encourage a unified team that is able to feel part of the company’s success.


BrewDog is a brand on the up. As well as being open about how it makes mistakes, its mission to improve the planet and its working culture, the firm also openly prioritises staff wellbeing. As well as quirky benefits – such as being able to bring your dog to the office (when it is open) – it has a comms programme aimed at improving how its staff are doing.

As Karen Bates, People Director at BrewDog, told HR Grapevine last year: “We have scrapped our plans of all the stuff we were doing and adapted them to how we can do wellbeing with a home working workforce at the moment.”

An employer brand should enable an organisation to attract, retain and harness the talent it needs to deliver both its customer promises and achieve its own strategic goal…

It is the interplay of engagement and brand – engagement being something which contemporary HR thought believes boosts productivity and business outcomes – noted by Rowlands that Alex Arundale, Chief People Officer at software firm Advanced, said can be underwritten by a strong brand. “Engagement is a large part of what defines a business and its offering,” she says. “In fact, it’s the backbone of any culture and the culture of a business can be a major differentiator. An engaged workforce will naturally identify with a strong corporate brand, and as it is the output of employee efforts which define customer satisfaction, it’s really important that insight HR teams can provide is leveraged in the brand building process.”

All of these insights – focussing on how an actively curated employer brand can drive better engagement, strategic achievement, retention and recruitment – are seemingly boosted when HR gets an active say in branding. This is easier said than done as most know that HR can often be sidelined in branding discussions. To counteract this HR Grapevine speaks to the experts in another feature in this piece. “The HR function needs to push itself forwards in areas where traditionally it has not contributed,” Pamela Shoemith, Senior HR Business Partner at Gazprom Energy, tells HR Grapevine.

Click here to find out more.


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