Is the term ‘employer brand’ a misnomer?

It’s a phrase that has been around for years, yet different people define it in different ways. Some think it’s just about a slogan or ‘tag line’, others equate successful companies like Virgin or Google with it, But what IS an employer brand? And should it be called that in the first place?

Take a can of Coke or a Mars bar, or a Ferrari if you like. Each are made to a constant formula or recipe. They never vary. They are proper brands (or in the case of the Ferrari each car is a certain model in a brand range). They cannot or should not vary. There’s no emotion involved. They have no personality. They are products pure and simple.

Let’s create an organisation. Any organisation. We’ll say this imaginary company is made up of Human Resources – training, personnel & payroll; Marketing – Sales, Customer Service & Advertising; Finance - Bought Ledge, Sales Ledger etc.; and Production – Packaging, Distribution, Maintenance & Quality Control.

Straight away we have a scenario where we are dealing with a lot of people - and a lot of different people at that. Personality, emotion, ambition, upbringing, background, social skills etc. etc. – every one of this company’s employees has all of these, and each of them different. The loud person who shouts when speaking on his mobile, that strange woman from accounts who stinks the place out when microwaving her lunch every day, the sneaky one from HR who puts all their holidays in the office diary a year in advance, including Christmas, without telling anyone. Yes we have all met and worked with those sort of people – and will continue to do so in the future. They exist in every company. And that’s why it is impossible (in my very humble opinion) to have such a thing as a consistent employer brand - there are too many variables. The ingredients are never the same in any two departments if you like.

Yes, you can shout from the rooftops about what a great place your company is to work at, you can be totally consistent with your communications materials, both internal and external and you can schmooze with people that apply to your vacancies in the hope that they won't bad mouth you when they get turned down. You can treat your staff wonderfully, pay them well, give them bean bags to sit on in a rest area and provide free breakfasts etc., but there is always the possibility that despite your best efforts, personalities will get in the way at some point.

That’s why to me employer brand is a bit of a misnomer. Sure, you can have visions, values, ethos's and mission statements and try and ensure all of your people are singing from the same hymn book so to speak BUT (and it’s a big but) as long as companies are made up of individuals rather than automatons it is impossible to have a brand per se, because a brand, to me at least, is a consistent thing. It doesn’t change. It’s the can of Coke or the Mars bar or the Ferrari I first spoke of.

Maybe we just need another word or words to replace the word 'brand'. Employer 'wish list' anyone?

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