The Grand Coalition of Marketing and HR

Employer branding is the key to integrating all the elements of marketing under one brand. Antonella Mei-Pochtler, a senior partner and managing director in the Vienna office of The Boston Consulting Group, and Rainer Strack, a senior partner and managing director in the firm’s Düsseldorf office, spoke with Wiebke Sokolowski, a brand expert and BCG alumna, about how to unite marketing and human resources to make one branding a reality.

One Branding: Uniting the Employer, Corporate, and Product Experience

Employer branding is a Sleeping Beauty that has now been awakened. What is it, and why has it become so crucial to the executive agenda?

Antonella Mei-Pochtler: Employer branding represents a company’s brand promise to the people who work there, the people who want to work there, and the people the company wants to recruit. Branding used to be highly product oriented, but now it has to be much more strongly “lived” within the organization. The growth of service components in many businesses reinforces this. Also, corporate branding has become more important for positioning on the stock market. This means that a company has to act in a unified way, and for this, it has to get its people more involved. Every company needs to define its unique advantages for employer branding and then work hard to cultivate these differentiating factors ever more effectively.

What characterizes good employer branding?

AMP: For one thing, good employer branding is consistent inside and out. For another, it is continuously evolving in a learning system.

Rainer Strack: Authenticity is decisive. No longer can companies make promises outside that they can’t keep in-house. In the Facebook era, more internal information makes it to the outside world. Employer branding also has a lot to do with cultural change. This means that employer branding, while deeply anchored in company culture, must also be the link to company strategy.

So is employer branding more about culture than communications?

AMP: Employer branding is about both culture and communications—and should, therefore, not be reduced to a slick campaign just because it’s easier and more visible to execute. It’s important that the internal reality and the ultimate goal be communicated authentically in the outside world. This is what can make employer branding so hard and process oriented and why it can take so long to achieve.

RS: Many companies go about it the wrong way—a fast campaign carried out by a communications agency—while neglecting the strategic and cultural aspects.

If people looked at an employer brand as a doctor examines a patient, how would they determine how “healthy” it is?

AMP: The most telling parts of the “checkup” are whether enough outstanding candidates are applying for the right jobs at the company and whether employee retention is strong and voluntary attrition is therefore low. But besides the numbers, how the topic is lived and experienced outside the company—whether the company’s self-perception matches outside perceptions, or whether there’s a mismatch—is also decisive. This can be determined by conducting employee surveys and comparing them with external market research.

How does employer branding relate to corporate and product branding?

AMP: The branding of the future will require much stronger integration of the various areas: corporate, product, and employer branding will have to interact much more strongly. They will all have to be of a piece in order to achieve their maximum effectiveness. That’s the concept behind one branding. At the center of all this are the people who carry and live the brand.

RS: I see employer branding as the second link in the HR value chain—after strategic HR planning. Once the demand for talent has been determined, an employer-branding strategy is the next step, followed by recruiting and onboarding. Speaking for the HR side, I would say that HR is the one that has to take charge of the HR value chain—with the understanding, tools, and methods of the marketing side.

AMP: I believe that the interface between employer branding and corporate and product branding can be defined only in dialogue. First, the management team has to be clear about the integration of the brand disciplines and to lead the discussion about who will define what, who the client is, who the supplier will be, and whether there will be a need for a “spider” to coordinate the network from the center and connect the various strands. This role—as a shared-services function—can be exercised by a central head of marketing for all products, divisions, and HR.

Then the questions are, which competencies are needed, where are they located, and how can they be brought together? In my opinion, the HR department has to articulate what is required. HR also has the closest ties to company culture, strategic HR planning, and recruiting. Marketing, on the other hand, has the ability to correctly interpret market research information about the external brand perception of an employer. Still, HR and management also need to be involved. What’s important is how they all work together: one branding thrives on the close integration of disciplines.