During this time of year, it doesn’t take long to realize that we reside in a consumer-driven world; on the heels of Black Friday and Cyber Monday we prepare to move into the frenzy of the holiday shopping season which will, inevitably, lead us to the January end-of-season sales. Whether you’re in the market for a $198 TV from Store X or not, you’re more than likely still viewing the commercials, seeing the Facebook advertisements in your timeline, and receiving paper circulars in the mail.

There’s a lesson in there for HR.

Just as consumer brands position themselves in the marketplace, so too should HR leaders be ever mindful of the positioning of their employer brand – their culture brand – in the marketplace. This requires articulating, clarifying and disseminating an organization’s unique reality to the appropriate audiences via brand positioning, the crafting of creative communications, and the development of strategies to reach candidates and employees and provide them with a call-to-action.

Employer branding has several benefits of course: it serves as a mechanism for attracting talent and can also solidify the relationship between existing employees and the organization. An organization’s brand is not replicable; it’s as unique as the company’s culture.

So if, for 2015, you’re ready to tackle some branding initiatives, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Articulate and Clarify your Brand  

Before sharing your brand you must understand it yourself. Through the effective use of both qualitative (i.e. interviews, roundtables, focus groups) and quantitative (i.e. surveys) data gathered from internal and external sources, you’ll be able to articulate what makes your organization’s brand engaging, compelling, and unique. Partnering with your peers in Marketing or Corporate Communication throughout this process can be valuable as they can assist in the creation of clear and concise messages.

Position your Brand Accurately

When positioning your organizational brand in the marketplace it’s essential to be real, authentic, and as forthcoming as possible. Not everyone can be Google or Zappos with sleeping pods and free lunch; you may need to share something like “We have a traditional work setting in a conservative industry, and we expect everyone to work 60 hours a week.” And that’s perfectly fine. Share an accurate view of what work is truly like in your company. Don’t use stock photos on your career site. Rather, take pictures of real employees working in the actual work environment.

Communicate

There are numerous ways to reach your desired audience, and you should naturally give strong consideration to digital strategies. Pew Research Center found that 87% of US adults use the internet, connecting via a computer, cell phone or other device, although, of course, the extent of usage varies amongst different audiences. As part of strategy definition, ascertain where and when your intended audience hangs out, and develop communication plans to reach them, whether that be via mobile messaging (i.e. SMS), social channels, or more traditional mediums such as mailings, newspapers or radio/television. And don’t forget the importance of involving your employees (your greatest ambassadors!); bring them in early on, train them, and encourage them to spread the message you want to share.  

Create a Call-to-Action

The launching of a brand strategy initiative often includes multiple objectives. Common goals include: attracting key talent, increasing employee referrals, or improving candidate quality. In all instances, however, the goal is to mobilize both internal and external audiences to take some sort of action, whether that is to join a candidate community, apply for a job, or refer qualified connections for employment. You should determine, as part of your strategy planning, what outcomes you desire and define how, when, and where you will enable the audience members to “take action.”

Heading in to 2015 may be the perfect time to begin your organizational branding journey, and the lessons we can learn about branding and storytelling from consumer marketing this time of year abound.

 The development and sustainability of your brand is a competitive differentiator. It must be fully integrated in all HR and business activities, and it needs to be ongoing. This is not a project or a task to be completed and checked-off the to-do list; this is sharing the story of your organizational culture.

And that’s a story you want to tell.

 Robin Schooling, SPHR, with 20+ years of HR leadership experience, is Managing Director /Strategist with Silver Zebras, LLC where she works with organizations to develop integrated HR and Talent management strategies. She has a popular blog at the HR Schoolhouse and regularly speaks at events around the country on HR and business topics.  She’s been named the Greater Baton Rouge SHRM HR Professional of the Year, has served on the Boards of Directors for Geaux Veterans and the Louisiana Business Leadership Network and was named one of the The Top 100 Most Social Human Resources Experts On Twitter by the Huffington Post.  She enjoys a good cup of coffee, has been known to search out the perfect French 75, and gets pretty loud and rambunctious during New Orleans Saints games.

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