How to create & execute a people-based employee branding strategy

A step-by-step case study from Church’s Chicken

There’s a lot to be said about employee branding strategy. Like: how do you build one? What even is an employee brand and why do you need a strategy? Is it worth the work?

Today, we’re gonna focus on how to build, launch, and active an employee (or employer) brand strategy that is (if we can borrow the expression) by the people, for the people.

Karen Viera, Global Chief People Officer at Church’s Chicken, recently shared with us the story of how she spearheaded the creation of just such a strategy for Church’s Chicken. You can watch the full video above, or . . .

Keep on reading for a step-by-step guide to building your own strategy.

What is an employee branding strategy and why do you need one?

In simple terms, an employee brand (also known as a talent brand, or sometimes a people brand) is the brand your employees connect with. Much like you have a brand (or brands) for your customers, an employee brand is a comprehensive and cohesive brand dedicated to your employees. And just like you wouldn’t develop a brand ad hoc, you should likewise make sure your employer brand follows a carefully-executed strategy.

But it isn’t just about current employees. Your employees are your company, and so a people brand affects every aspect of your company. Done right, a talent brand helps your employees better understand why they do what they do, guides them in better channeling your values and mission into their work, and attracts more talent to your company.

As Karen put it: “The goal of the people brand is to inspire, motivate, attract, and retain top talent by communicating a message that creates an emotional connection to the brand and to your company, and fosters organizational alignment.”

What are the benefits of an employee branding strategy?

build the business case for an employer brand strategy

Here’s the thing. Labor is expensive. Up to 70% of a company’s expenses can be labor costs. So if you’re going to be spending all that money on your workforce, you want to make sure you’re getting the biggest return on investment possible. And, since building and launching an effective employee brand strategy helps better focus your workforce, boost their morale, and increase both productivity and retention, it’s a great way to make sure the ROI on your labor costs are as maximized as much as possible.

Another benefit is that it gives HR a real role in the company beyond the traditional hiring and firing. As Karen said, “I also think that creating a people brand is a real opportunity for HR to step out of that comfort zone and contribute much needed value to an area typically owned by finance. It gives us an opportunity to be leaders in our own right, and to contribute to the organization.”

But when evaluating the value of an employee branding strategy, it’s important to not only think in benefits gained but also opportunities lost. What do you lose by not having a strategy? For example, in Church’s Chicken’s case, Karen argued that they weren’t giving their bottom line sufficient attention. By missing out on the “people” side of it, they were missing on countless customer experience and growth opportunities.

results of people-based employer brand

Related: How Church’s Chicken built a winning global people brand [Video]

For your employees, by your employees

involving employees in your employer branding strategy

For something as far-reaching as a talent brand, it can be tempting to keep decisions at the executive level. But it’s important to make your employees the backbone of your efforts. Since an employer brand is really about your people, and your people’s acceptance of that brand is what will determine its success, then you need to make sure you’re listening to their voice. As Karen related to us about Church’s Chicken, “I didn’t want this to be an HR project. I really wanted to hear from the voice of the employees and know what they were thinking.”

Of course, including employees in your efforts, especially on a global scale, can be challenging. But the effort is worth it.

Here’s the framework Karen used for Church’s Chicken.

She started with sending out surveys. Due to the size and global nature of the company, simply getting the surveys filled out required cross-departmental cooperation. She also made sure to check back in on the results to ensure she was fully understanding the feedback she was receiving.

Then, once she had the results in hand, she continued to include the employees in every stage of building the brand. For example, they’d do contests to design the logo, imagining, and messaging for the brand. They even did a contest to name it, with “Our Texas Way” being the winner. The key point is that your employees shouldn’t just have a say in what your employee brand looks like, but be involved in as many aspects of it as possible.

Define and refine your EVP

defining EVP

As we’ve already pointed out, a key reason to build an employee branding strategy is to address something that’s currently missing. And if it’s the case that there is something missing, it can often be traced back to your employee value proposition, or EVP. It’s important that your EVP resonates with your employees, for two reasons:

So that it’s accepted by everyone, and;
So that it’s representative of everyone (this is especially important for global brands, as even an entire department can have difficulty resonating with the needs of a branch in a different country or continent).

Like we stressed earlier, it’s important to include your employees in defining and refining your EVP through surveys. And make sure you stick to the results you get. Often—as was the case with Church’s Chicken—you’ll get some pushback from a specific department or two, who feel that the EVP should be expressed differently.

For example, with Karen’s case, their marketing department felt that their EVP should use the word “connections” rather than “friendships”—the words her employees used. But she refused to budge, as the employees had specifically said friendships. Due to the extensive research she’d done, she recognized that they’d chosen the word because many of them didn’t have family, and were considered their coworkers as family. And she knew they wouldn’t have felt that “connections” adequately expressed that. So she stood her ground, because when your employees share their voice with you, it’s your job to fight to make sure that voice gets heard.

But simply asking them for the words that resonate with them isn’t enough. You need to assess to what degree you’re currently living up to those words. For example, she asked her employees what the number one thing they would change about their work would be, and the number one response was their uniform. They didn’t feel the uniform reflected the brand as they understood it. So making sure you understand the feedback you get, incorporate that feedback, and address areas that don’t reflect that feedback is an integral part of not only building a people-based talent brand but also building trust in the process .

Building a framework

building a framework for your employer branding strategy

There isn’t one framework that’s going to work for every organization in building a people-focused employer brand strategy. Every company is different. But there are two key goals that every framework should have:

  • As discussed, it should be fueled by your employees’ voice, and;
  • It should be representative of your EVP and your brand.

To explain that second point better: Once you define your EVP and values, you need to ensure your brand reflects those values. If, for example, you highlight integrity as a vital element of your EVP, once you’ve listened to your employees and understood how they understand your company’s definition of integrity, the behaviors laid out in your talent brand should be a representation of that definition of integrity.

For more on how Karen built the framework for Our Texas Way, watch this clip here.

Embrace the collaboration

Just in case we haven’t yet said this enough times: building a people-based employee brand strategy takes a village. And that should be recognized. If it takes the entire company to get there, the entire company should get to celebrate its launch. When Our Texas Way launched, they had multiple launch parties, and Karen made sure she wasn’t the one to run them. She wanted it to be clear that this wasn’t her success but the success of the entire company, and the entire company should get to celebrate it.

Where to go from here?

Looking for some more topics on employee branding? Check out:

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