Short answer: Company culture should (and will) significantly impact your employer brand.
Company culture is a phrase we hear a lot, but it rarely is used in a neutral context. It’s either in reference to a negative current state of affairs or an aspiration that is actively being cultivated. So, before you decide how your culture should impact your employer brand, be sure to do some self-reflection to understand where you’re at on the spectrum.
In the past year, I’ve worked with two clients who are each on opposing (extreme) sides of this spectrum. Company ABC had a positive, authentic, joyful, enviable and natural culture (more on that in a moment). Company XYZ had a culture that was deep in the trenches of all the negative things – layoffs, paranoia, plummeting stock prices and a very lean-operating, overworked staff. Their Glassdoor reviews were so bad that they had stopped actively trying to mitigate comments. Plus, visiting their offices was bleak and not super energizing (besides the amazing oceanfront view). I don’t say this to bash the company because they were (and are) developing an employer brand as an avenue to tell their aspirational story and rally their current employees. In fact, those are my favorite types of projects. In this case, Company XYZ’s goal was to find nuggets of positivity and harness it in the form of an employer brand. Every employer has redeeming qualities – it’s just about properly uncovering and articulating them. XYZ needed to re-energize their current employees, remind them why they’re still a part of the team, and speak to what is actively being done to improve the day-to-day employee experience. Once that was done, then they would have brand ambassadors, but also the arsenal to begin telling their story externally. So, our answer was to pluck from those positive aspects, and (this is very important) ensure we told the XYZ story in a truthful way. As you all know, creating a brand that doesn’t match the day-to-day experience is not sustainable and is a great way to rapidly lose new talent. Now, I’m also not saying to ignore the negative aspects – but there’s a nuance here. Oftentimes, what’s negative to some is actually a motivator for others. *Smash cut to me overhearing “One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure” while wandering around a garage sale on a Saturday morning.* For example, plummeting stock prices are not a great sell to anyone. But a hardworking and lean-operating staff could actually be a sell to certain individuals who match that mindset. XYZ needed to acknowledge their culture, but also use it to guide the aspirations for the company operations and the employer brand.
Now, Company ABC came to us, with what we first thought was a pointless exercise, asking for a unifying umbrella employer brand. They had extremely glowing reviews, a strong and positive consumer brand name, and no shortage of proper candidates applying to join their team. However, we soon realized that their current employment communications and marketing was not at all doing this company justice. They needed an employer brand that harnessed their special and energizing culture without making them look like one giant millennial playground (of which it is, but in the most amazing way possible. I’m not kidding. They have treehouses, slides and bikes). But playground slides don’t dictate your culture or tell your story. They, for sure, aid in proving what you’re trying to say, though. ABC had the opposite problem as XYZ. They needed to show the specific, forward-thinking work-related innovations (excuse me for a moment while I wash out my mouth for using that word) happening daily at Company ABC. When we built their brand, their culture was a key proof point. In fact, we married up their culture with the unsuspecting top-tier work to create a strong, sustainable strategy of which many creative ideas could stem. So, in all the obvious ways, ABC was lucky to have a desirable culture, but without it being defined, it could’ve stayed a one-dimensional or misperceived employer.
So, yes, your company culture will definitely impact your employer brand. If you ignore your culture, your employer brand will inherently be bland. I struggled for quite some time on an analogy, so when in doubt, go with dessert. Ice Cream – there are infinite flavors, even the “boring” ones have a flavor. Hello, vanilla, I see you. But if there wasn’t any flavor it’d be just milk or just ice. People love vanilla —you don’t need to be an artisanal, locally-sourced, salted caramel to have curb appeal. You just need flavor. People who like your flavor will flock if you promote and describe it properly. (If you don’t get it by now, your culture is the flavor). It’s the only thing that makes your employer brand unique to you.
Just like any slide deck we make, here’s our concluding Next Steps section:
Do a litmus test with your brand – think of five companies from inside and outside your category/industry and see if their name could be used with your key message/creative outputs. If it’s appearing too generic, then you won’t be able to tell any of the companies apart. So, let’s start uncovering your flavor, its strength, and its appeal in the marketplace – you may have a cronut-level recipe on your hands and not even realize it.
*A Cronut is a croissant-doughnut pastry invented by New York City pastry chef Dominique Ansel in 2013.