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Written by Richard Long   
Friday, 14 December 2012 09:05

Don’t stop at putting your people at the centre of your employer brand, says Richard Long. Go a step further with immersive recruiting and put the job seeker at the centre of your brand experience. He explains how a mix of shared values and using social media can help create emotional employer brand engagement.

For many years marketers have been leveraging the power of emotional brand engagement with great success—in some cases astounding success. Generally consumers don’t buy products or services based on cold, calculated research and cost/benefit analysis, they buy them because marketers have succeeded in engaging at a deeper level with their desires, motivations and behaviours. In short they have created emotional brand engagement.

I recently read a great quote from Scott Bedbury, the marketing executive responsible for Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ campaign and for leading the global rebranding of Starbucks. He says: “A great brand taps into emotions. Emotions drive most, if not all, of our decisions. A brand reaches out with a powerful connecting experience. It’s an emotional connecting point that transcends the product.”

Think about some of the most successful brands—there is a common theme that runs through them. They connect and engage with their markets on an emotional level and this gives them the edge over their competitors. The focus is on brand leadership and ultimately competitive advantage.

They don’t go out to their market with a list of features and benefits and then allow the consumer to decide. They have a deep understanding of their target markets and strategies to engage with them in multiple ways through the numerous target channels. They seek to create an immersive situation that encourages their customers to be a part of, and central to, the brand experience.

At the heart of emotional engagement is an alignment of values. As part of my current role with Shine Lawyers Australia, I have been lucky enough to lead the development and launch of their employer brand. With over 500 people and offices across Australia, Shine Lawyers is one of the nation’s leading legal firms.

Shine  is an organisation with strong and very well defined values as the foundation of its culture and value proposition. Values are infused through the organisation and shared through a rich tradition of story telling and role modeling by leadership.

The company is very active in the community and is involved with charities, causes and community groups of many types. Values statements such as “always stand up for the little guy”, “stand your ground”, “right wrong” and “there is no greater act of courage than to do what is right” feature at Shine and are reflected in the organisation’s corporate brand and advertising. As its website (www.shine.com.au) states: “Shine Lawyers has gone on to successfully right wrong for thousands of clients through being driven by social conscience and a need to effect lasting positive change in communities.”

The first thing we did in developing the Shine Lawyers employer brand was to ask ourselves the following question: “From an employment point of view, what is it that truly differentiates us from our competitors? Is it the legal services we provide? The answer from a candidate perspective is that what truly differentiates Shine Lawyers from our competitors are our people, our culture and our values.

A few companies around the world have recently begun changing their approach to employer brand. These companies have recognised the enormous opportunities to tap into job seeker emotions to get them more closely engaged with their brand and drive better recruitment outcomes.

Many organisations which have done advanced work on employer brand put their employer value proposition (EVP) as central to the brand experience. More recently, and with the rise of social media, some companies have taken an employee branding approach. Recognising that a key value proposition and differentiator is their people, they put their people as central to the brand experience—ie, this is who we are.

There is a great opportunity for companies to take that much deeper with immersive recruiting. Immersive recruiting puts the job seeker as central to the brand experience (see above). At its foundation are tried and tested marketing techniques; it seeks to create an opportunity for the job seeker to actually become part of the employer brand experience. Social media is a great enabler of this and is an opportunity that should be exploited as part of a broader channel strategy.

2011 was the final year of my MBA study. One of the real benefits of this time was that I read daily about new thinking coming out of other business disciplines and sectors. A trending topic that resonated with me was how thinking and practice around corporate social responsibility is evolving.

Harvard professor Michael Porter and managing director of Foundation Strategy Group Mark Kramer had me hooked on this topic after reading their 2011 HBR article ‘Creating Shared Value’. They describe the shared value approach as different from more traditional corporate social responsibility as its emphasis is on delivering an economic return to the company while it delivers a positive social impact.

Put at the core of business strategy, rather than the periphery, shared value has the potential to drive value for business and society. In this respect, business should view social responsibility as an opportunity to increase economic return rather than an obligation or an expense aimed at creating a better brand image.

This is not a fad. Some of the world’s largest household names are adopting this approach—General Electric, Nestle and IBM are examples. Companies are increasingly placing social responsibility at the core of their business strategies and they require aligned talent who can drive these strategies and maintain their competitive advantage.

I am certain there is an opportunity for HR/recruiting to spearhead this new approach through innovation and collaboration. The focus must be commercial, and there are sound reasons for recruiting leaders to consider it:

  • Employees and job seekers want employers to be doing meaningful work in this space;
  • Allowing an opportunity for talent communities to be involved in your socially responsible initiatives creates brand influence and job seeker engagement;
  • Engage job seekers who have a greater alignment to your company’s values and culture;
  • Ultimately, the aim is to create a deeper engagement with your brand and drive better quality of hire.

So what does this mean for employer brand? My MBA dissertation suggested that we as HR and recruiting professionals should leverage this huge opportunity, and that in the context of employer brand, social media is an enabler. We know that many firms strive to do good in the community. We also know that many of the best job seekers want to know their employers are doing meaningful things in the community. Therein lies the opportunity.

I spoke about this at the ERE Conference in San Diego earlier this year and had some very interesting responses—from those who realised this is a massive opportunity, to those who felt that HR has no place helping their employers be “good corporate neighbours”. HR/recruiting has a responsibility to create economic value for business and my argument is that this is an opportunity to do so, while at the same time supporting corporate social responsibility.

So, how did we incorporate this thinking into our employer brand approach at Shine Lawyers? At the heart of every great employer brand is a great strategy—not a strategy formulated by HR independent from the rest of the business, but rather a strategy that supports broader talent, marketing and business objectives.

To ensure this happened the first thing we did was appoint a cross-functional project team to develop our employer brand that included HR, marketing, operations and line management.

We had some pretty clear objectives:

  • Create a signature employer brand experience—a real differentiator from our competitors;
  • Improve quality of hire and decrease attrition;
  • Build a pipeline of key talent;
  • Create an employer brand that was fully integrated with marketing and business strategy;
  • Be a pioneer in the use of social media and employer brand.

Our intent was to create an immersive brand experience. We wanted to put the job seeker at the centre of the employer brand experience. That experience should be centred around interests and values that are shared by Shine and the job seeker. We felt this would create emotional brand engagement, ensure we attracted the best organisational fit, increase applicant quality and ultimately increase quality of hire.

Rather than take the traditional approach of putting our employer value proposition at the centre of the brand experience, we decided to put our online community at the centre of the brand experience. Shine Lawyers has a strong tradition of supporting grass roots causes and being involved in the communities in which it operates.

We developed our positioning statement “everyday people doing extraordinary things for people, every day”. This positioning statement underpins the brand look, feel and message—it also supports our signature experience strategy.

We saw an opportunity to develop an awards initiative to celebrate and profile those people amongst our online and job seeker community who were doing good things in the community. Great community work that aligns with Shine values, Shine culture and the Shine way.

Our Facebook page (see above) was launched—clearly a Shine Lawyers driven Facebook page; however, not a Shine Lawyers focused Facebook page. The focus is on celebrating, profiling and rewarding those individuals and groups amongst our community who are displaying and modeling values that are aligned to Shine values. Ultimately when people talk about certain values or behaviours we want them to think Shine Lawyers.

Why? First we want to create an online community centred around values, culture and motivations that align to Shine’s to ensure we attract applicants with the right organisational fit. Next we want to start introducing the employment conversation. At this stage people are well aware of who Shine is and what is important to us. People will relate to that or they won’t and that is our objective. Finally we wanted to start promoting roles in a targeted way to those interested in a career at Shine Lawyers because they engage with who we are and what is important to us.

As part of the brand launch we ran an online competition featuring our new television commercial. We asked people to view the ad and comment on why they felt it was important to stand your ground. With ‘stand your ground’ at the heart of our customer brand message, this was a great way to ensure our customer brand and employer brand were linked and supported each other.

We also launched a Shine Lawyers Pinterest page, the focus of Pinterest being on creating online communities of shared interest around photos and images. This helps people to get insights about life at Shine. Additionally a new LinkedIn page was launched along with a presence on YouTube and Google+.

It’s very important to reiterate that social media should be just one element of a best-in-class employer brand strategy. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype and neglect other channels and opportunities. Will social media deliver greater numbers of candidates in the short term? Probably not… Will it assist in delivering employer brand leadership over the long term? Yes, I believe it will.

Likewise its important in the long run to be able to measure the effectiveness of all aspects of employer brand, not just social media initiatives. For Shine Lawyers the key measure will ultimately be quality of hire.

While our initiatives have only recently been launched, we are already seeing encouraging results. As with other initiatives I have worked on in this area, clear objectives and a solid strategy are the foundation. From that point on there’s a healthy mix of science and experimentation!


Richard Long is the talent acquisition leader at Shine Lawyers Ltd.

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