When you think about branding, human resources (HR) is likely not the first thought that comes to mind. Instead, you envision slick advertising campaigns and instantly identifiable logos that inherently promise value, quality, and a desirable image or personality.
When you think about the world’s most successful brands, names such as Google, Coca-Cola, and Apple emerge—brands that have transcended their category of product or service to become icons. But if you look closely, these brands have another commonality. They consistently top annual "Best Places to Work" lists. In addition to brand recognition, they have a strong company culture and highly engaged employees.
How Human Resources Can Influence Your Brand
Many might argue that strong brands attract strong talent, but strong brands are also built by strong talent. HR plays a key role in hiring that talent and putting the proper programs in place for ensuring it is cultivated and grown. In performing their job, HR professionals should embrace their role as internal branders through the following five items:
- Reward programs
- Communication and messaging
Companies that invest the time and effort in their employees' careers are rewarded with motivated and dedicated hard workers who care about their companies' success. These companies experience high productivity and profitability and low turnover and absenteeism.
Engaged employees who believe in their companies and feel part of the workplace culture, create value for a brand through hard work and productivity. These individuals then become brand ambassadors for their organization.
Importance of Onboarding Programs
Making a strong first impression with potential employees goes a long way in building a brand. The same is true for your employees. During those first few weeks of onboarding and starting a new job, it is critical to meet or exceed employee expectations.
For example, employees spend significant time engaged in new-hire and benefits-related administration during their first month of employment. A multitude of paper form completion and fragmented enrollment processes can challenge an employee’s expectations of their new organization. This is especially true when processes are inconsistent with an organization’s approach to other aspects of the joining process. A disjointed onboarding process can lead to unhappy hires who may question their decision to take the job.
An example of a proper onboarding process is a company that sends key documents to employees to be filled out and returned prior to their start date. In addition, the company makes sure all devices, such as computers, phones and printers, are calibrated for new employees upon their arrival. On their first day, employees are welcomed by a company that appears to be well-prepared for their arrival.
Technology and Onboarding Programs
Companies interested in making their processes more efficient are investing in technology that streamlines the employee onboarding experience. Some businesses use tactics such as onboarding-in-a-box, where new hires are given tablets or USBs containing all of the forms and applications necessary to enroll in their benefits.
In some cases, using technology to streamline the benefits process can reduce the employee enrollment time from two and a half hours to just nine minutes.
How Reward Programs and Communication Can Affect Your Brand
Just as marketers must consider the customer experience when developing products and programs for their patrons, HR professionals must keep the employee experience at the forefront of reward and communication strategies.
Benefit provision is one of the largest business costs for the majority of organizations and a major driver of staff engagement. But there is a challenge for employers to ensure their employees truly value the benefits package offered and recognize the investment that the company makes in its reward spend. That’s when strong employee communication and branding become key.
Providing the right rewards program and properly communicating the company's investment in that program can be central to incentivizing employee behavior and engagement.
Internal communication programs and tools should be engaging, intuitive and informative, with visuals and language that helps staff better understand the benefits available to them. They should also have a look and feel that is consistent with the company’s public image.
Furthermore, it’s important to reach staff through their preferred communication channels, such as email, in-person department meetings, text messages, or online video guides. HR should do regular audits of their internal communication programs and survey staff to better understand their preferences.
As with communication, one size does not fit all for employee benefits packages. Therefore, it’s important to consider the demographics of your workforce and which benefits are going to be the most important to them. You’ll want to brand those packages appropriately. For instance, a young worker may value more paid time off or a flexible work schedule over the retirement benefits sought by older employees.
Stay informed of benefits trends such as wellness programs and flexible spending accounts. Assess whether these benefits might help your organization stay competitive. Just as the world’s top brands evolve with industry changes, so should benefits packages.
Employees who feel their companies offer competitive benefits packages are likely to share that opinion with others, which, of course, is great for your company brand.
How Culture and Messaging Can Grow Your Brand
Employees want to feel connected to their organization and its culture whether they work at a company location or remotely. Businesses seeking to strengthen their brand among workers must clearly communicate the company’s values, employee expectations, core-culture, and commitment.
Netflix is a prime example of a company that does this well. A PowerPoint presentation released by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, which has been viewed more than five million times on the internet, outlines the company’s talent management strategies, which are based on philosophies such as:
“… talent managers should think like business people and innovators first, and like HR people last. Forget throwing parties and handing out T-shirts; make sure every employee understands what the company needs most and exactly what’s meant by high performance.”
This strategy appears to be working well for Netflix, whose high-performing workforce grew its U.S. subscriber base to 55 million in 2018. Netflix also hit a record 117.6 million subscribers thanks to an addition of 1.9 million domestic and 6.4 million international streaming subscribers.
A challenge facing many businesses, particularly multinational organizations, is in creating a unified global approach to messaging and communication. The employee journey, branding, and messaging must remain consistent and build a global identity.
This is accomplished through harmonizing, branded reward and communication programs with the same look, feel, and structure across all locations. In this way, each time an employee receives communication about policies, procedures or company news, regardless of their location, they can engage with the brand and the company’s key messages.
How Technology Shapes a Brand
The technology an employee uses at work can impact their perception of the employer’s brand. Robust technology that is easy to use, current, and engaging indicates that an organization is innovative.
Workplace technology that is perceived as cool and cutting-edge among employees will help position your brand as an industry leader that invests in its resources.
For example, an engaging smartphone and tablet-friendly portal that employees can access anytime, anywhere, can help reinforce employee interaction, participation, and engagement with your brand. Also using cloud-based technology solutions that are easily integrated can enhance the employee user experience. They allow the employee to move between self-service applications seamlessly.
Additionally, just as chief marketing officers use marketing automation to manage customer relationships, HR professionals can use automation technologies to develop positive relationships with their customers, the employees.
The technologies can identify employee status updates such as address changes, new job titles, or family changes. They can then automatically generate personalized messages to offer congratulations, alert employees to required actions, and aid in benefits selection. This can all be achieved using consistent branding and messages to reinforce employee engagement with the organization.
HR's role in developing and managing the employee-company relationship is important for creating a brand that helps companies stay competitive. An engaged, productive, and inspired workforce of brand ambassadors can have a positive impact on your brand as well as any marketing or public relations campaign. Organizations that approach branding from the inside out will build a strong foundation for success.