‘How do we make our employer brand authentic – but also aspirational? What’s the right balance?’

I get asked this a lot by people who want to develop their employer brand. 

In some ways, the answer is the same that you would give for a consumer brand. I am writing this on my MacBook on the day that Apple is launching its new iPhone X. Despite the fact that the new facial recognition feature did not work for poor Craig Federighi, Apple delivers an authentic experience that is aspirational and compelling for millions of people around the world. They have a great story to tell, but they certainly don’t lack aspiration. Importantly, the way they balance those two things in their brand is closely tied to the products and the customer experience. The same should be true for an employer brand.

A good EVP balances what leaders want to be able to say about companies with what employees actually say makes it a good place to work. Our research uncovers that and compares it with what attracts and engages candidates. In that way, we understand and balance the company, the job and the audience – three core elements of any brand.

Strength           

What is true and compelling about us today – what is authentic

Stretch             

What is realistic and achievable over the next 2-3 years – what is aspirational

Strain              

What is our leaders’ long-term aim – what is more of a future term plan

We don’t include anything in an EVP that falls into the Strain category. You don’t want to say something about a company that is not true. So really it is a mix of Strength and Stretch. But that mix can vary depending on your particular balance of the company, the job and the audience.

We wrote an EVP for OSRAM a few years ago that, at the time, was very aspirational and offered significant Stretch. That worked because the lighting industry was changing dramatically. OSRAM was moving into lighting solutions, away from classic manufacturing. If the EVP had focussed too heavily on the business as it was, it would have failed to attract the talent needed for change.

For many B2B organisations (without the benefit of a household consumer brand) the challenge is to build their reputation by sharing what is special about them. At about the same time we worked for a little-known life/material science company called DSM who needed to build their profile. They had a great story to tell – but no-one knew it. Our challenge was to build on the new, compelling corporate brand and create a framework for showcasing the great work that they did every day to the talent they needed to attract. This was much less aspirational than OSRAM: this was all about building a name using the great stories they had to tell right now. They were recently named as #2 on the Fortune Change the World list.

Here are three rules of thumb for thinking about the balance of authentic and aspirational messages in your employer brand.

  • Talk about your Strengths. Focus your content strategy on strengths that are relevant to different audiences. This needs to be done at the level of the job/job family.
  • Improve on your Stretches. Align your people strategy and change plans to close the gaps. Your EVP research and insights can show you what you need to do to improve the employee and candidate experience. As you make improvements remind people how this is helping to get closer to describing the experience you captured in your EVP.
  • When you close the gap, start again!

This way you’ll create an EVP that works for your business aims – not just one that meets template criteria that aren’t relevant to your position and your challenges. 

Managing Director, AIA Worldwide Consulting

With more than 25 years’ experience as a HR professional under his belt, David works with global clients to help them engage effectively and meaningfully with their employees, enabling companies to grow and thrive. Before arriving to lead the agency’s consulting offering, David held senior HR roles with Coca-Cola, Lloyds TSB and Tesco.