Rethinking brand

The passing years have seen countless arguments about the distinctions (or lack of them) between consumer, corporate and employer brands. From my early days of working with branding, nearly twenty years ago, to now a lot of the same conversations and debates have persisted.

Are they the same?
Who should own them?
Are marketing and HR broadly the same thing?

I’ve written before about a lot of the differences, but on the question of brand I think there is a really interesting development;

Particularly that consumer brands are becoming more like employer brands.

It is a curious thing, because over the last couple of decades, the mantra has been that employer brands couldn’t exist on their own and they needed to instead be incorporated in to the consumer offering. Marketing teams swept down to envelop all before them and to start to focus on how they could sell jobs – in the same way that they wanted to sell toasters.

But, of course, what those of us knew who had spent time working in employer branding, was that you weren’t trying to persuade, you were trying to explain. You were aiming to build trust, mutuality of respect and joint exploration of value.

In other words, you weren’t interested directly in the sale, but the relationship.

As trust in companies has fallen, as advertising has become less about show and more about connect – marketing departments have had to realign their approach to their brand be more individually focused. You can see the plethora of articles on the topic.

Which of course is the heart of good talent management and good talent acquisition.

But like some weird 80s hangover from drinking the marketing Kool Aid, too many HR people are professing alignment without really understanding the what, the how and the why. I suspect it goes back to the deep hearted roots of wanting to appear commercial, simply by agreeing.

We shouldn’t be afraid of what we know, we shouldn’t be afraid of what we can contribute and bring. What makes any company a good employer will be different to what makes it a good commercial “partner”. There will be overlap, sure, but to conflate the two is dangerous for both.

There are countless examples of amazing consumer brands that are horrible employers and “challenged” consumer brands that are great employers (I’ve worked for some of them!). Put simply, the motivations, aspirations and expectations that we have as consumers are different to those that we have as employees.

That’s why they are, and never will, be the same.