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What Is Your Employment Brand?

Published Monday Jul 8, 2019

Author Bob Kelleher

Often employers don’t have an employee engagement issue; they have a hiring issue. They don’t understand who their employees are, who excels at their firm and why, or even who they should be hiring.

Take, for example, a retail chain that has been struggling with engaging and retaining their employees. The company leaders are diligent about understanding their customer demographics and buying patterns, using external research consultants, video cameras, focus groups, internal research, and interviews to better understand who their customers are and what they’re buying. They analyze everything from the size of the shopping carriage to what happens when you move product from one aisle to another. They understand when customers buy, what they buy, and when they stop buying.  

However, they are completely flummoxed by disengaged employees and an alarmingly high turnover rate.

When leaders were asked why they themselves work for the company, they stumbled. When associates were asked why they stay, they didn’t know. While they thoroughly understood their market brand, they had no clue about their employment brand. The company spent copious time and money to understand their customers, but they had no idea who their employees were.

Know Your Brand
Contrast that retail chain with The Timberland Company in Stratham, which is primarily known for making and selling boots. Unlike the retail chain, Timberland employees are highly engaged and they have a low voluntary turnover rate. Timberland is also highly profitable—a correlation supported by the many engagement researchers, including Gallup, Mercer, and the Corporate Leadership Council.  

What does Timberland do differently? For starters, its leaders truly understand their brand and the behaviors and traits of employees who excel, as well as the types of people they should be hiring. Timberland is a purpose-driven company. Its website cites its corporate responsibility.

Timberland employees (above and below) participating in a corporate volunteer event. Courtesy photo.

Timberland’s purpose is to build corporate social sustainability, while understanding that tomorrow’s companies need to have a bigger purpose than just making money. So, they hire store associates who are in alignment with their mission. They link both product and employment brand. They don’t hire just employees, they hire “Earth Givers,” which links their employer value proposition to their purpose.

To achieve similar results, companies must first define who they are. Why do people want to work for their company? Why do people stay with their company? Who are their stars and what common behaviors and traits do they possess?  

Linking Brands
What do BMW, Apple and Southwest Airlines have in common? They are all exceptional at linking employment and product brand. BMW hires people who are driving enthusiasts to build the ultimate driving machine. Apple hires the most innovative people to make the most creative products. Southwest Airlines hires people who have “fun” in their DNA. These three companies also excel at tri-branding. In addition to linking both product and employment brand, they also get their customers to sing their praises or live their brand. Numerous iPhone users take delight at “trumping” Droid apps with their Apple apps. They’re actually living the Apple brand and are willing to pay more money to be associated with it.  

   Apple President Tim Cook  
Companies such as (from left) BMW, Apple and Southwest Airlines are exceptional at linking employment and product brand. Courtesy photos.

Hiring for the Brand
Employees excel at particular firms because they happen to possess the specific behaviors and traits that are valued by their employer. And although education and skills are important, it is often these intangibles that define success within
an organization.

To better understand who they should be hiring, leadership teams need to define the common attributes of the top 10 percent of their workforce and/or their most engaged employees. This simple exercise is often the first step in helping a firm identify their employment brand. It uncovers a common set of behaviors and traits that are valued at their firms—often without them ever thinking of this connection. Understanding who they are within an organization is the first step in understanding and building an employment brand.

An employee engagement survey is another important tool to help firms identify their employment brand. As a company  creates its employment brand, having the organizational pulse is critical, as is understanding why people work for them.

Bob Kelleher, author of several books on employee engagement, is the founder and president of The Employee Engagement Group. For more information, visit

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