Talent brand vs consumer brand

Many use the terms employer brand and talent brand interchangeably. It is inherently assumed that whatever the organisation wants to highlight about itself as an employer will be perceived likewise in the talent market. The reality remains far detached from perceptions. Social media has made it evident that perceptions of a workplace viewed from the rose-tinted glasses of an organisation’s senior management is different from actual perceptions that exist on the ground. Thus emerges a new management paradigm for an organisation- the talent brand.

It is important to note the differences between an organisation’s employer brand and talent brand. An organisation’s employer brand is a skilfully crafted message conveying how the organisation views itself as an employer. The employer brand typically includes positive messaging about its work culture, its commitment to employee welfare, and the benefits of working with the organisation. While the employer brand is an aspirational appeal to the market, a talent brand is the actual perception about an organisation from the point of view of its employees. While an employer brand can be idealistic and controllable, an organisation’s talent brand is grounded in facts and resides mostly outside the realms of direct organisational control. A preferred employer is one which is able to close the gap between the employer brand and the talent brand.

Employee as the consumer

From a marketing lens, branding is an exercise to enhance the reputation of a company’ products and services. As social media has increased the number of degrees of freedom for a consumer, the challenge of managing perceptions has steadily grown more complex. While social media continues to penetrate a wider base of consumers, a brand manager strives to convert challenges into opportunities. A brand no longer relies solely on the projection of a positive image but also depends on the management of perceptions. With growing number of complexities, organisations have started to realise that a branding strategy has to couple external messaging with perception management. The principles of branding for consumer brand, therefore, applies equally to the talent brand.
HR’s role in the organisation is consequently evolving into a brand and marketing role where the rules of the consumer market apply equally to the talent market. For an organisation’s HR, it is not difficult to predict that a Glassdoor rating will be as much an indicator of talent management effectiveness as hiring and attrition. This calls for a radical shift in the way HR views an employee – to that of a consumer.

Talent brand- a CEO’s agenda

Across the globe, growth continues to be the golden word for any leadership team. As tough economic conditions continue to prevail, leaders worry about how to sustain a profitable business. Business leaders argue that given these economic conditions, the only way to fuel growth is to get the right people on board and ensure that they are happy. When someone asks the question, ‘what is it about companies that continue to grow despite these tough conditions?’ CEOs unanimously agree that it is talent within these companies that propel growth and profitability. It would be fair to say that the only real engine of growth in such conditions is to have the right set of people on board.

Several compelling reasons exist as to why companies and HR need to redefine their focus on talent branding for sustenance in the future. Among them, the most important reason for growth is the need for innovation. The absence of innovation has seen several exceptional brands meet their demise in an age when the competitive landscape has become a pervasive threat. Several noteworthy brands have perished due to lack of innovation. Research in Motion and Kodak are classic examples of consumer brands which enjoyed high equity but succumbed very quickly to competitive pressures. While their competitors were sharpening their axe by building a strong base of innovators within the company, they failed to foresee the future by basking in the equity of their current consumer brand. Over time, newer and better products emerged in the consumer market and both the brands continue to shrink to this day. Both these industries, in fact, have seen the emergence of strong talent empires that are threatening to polarise the entire talent market in their respective segments globally.

Martin Seligman, an American psychologist’s seminal work on organisational psychology discussed the concept of positive psychology. Positive psychology is an organisation’s investment in happiness, human flourishing, exceptional wellbeing, energy and vitality, and meaningfulness and achievement. While most CEOs and talent heads talk about it, the real test of an organisation’s commitment to positive wellbeing is in the times of crisis. Are CEOs in Indian corporations really committed toward employee wellbeing? The leading management consulting firm McKinsey Corporation in a recent research study argues, “The vast majority of companies still gauge their performance using systems that measure internal financial results —systems based on metrics that don’t take sufficient notice of the real engines of wealth creation today: the knowledge, relationships, reputations, and other intangibles created by talented people and represented by investments in such activities as R&D, marketing, and training.”

Tough times reveal the real cracks in a company’s resource plans. Companies with strong talent brands are more prepared now for economic uncertainties of the future. Data from Fortune magazine’s top 100 best places to work companies in the last 10 years have consistently demonstrated a near 10 per cent difference in year-over-year growth than the market average despite these low-growth economic conditions. The renowned business author, Noelle Nelson, in his book ‘Make More Money by Making Your Employees Happy,’ quotes from the findings of a global employee survey which says that companies that effectively appreciate employee value enjoy a return on equity and assets more than triple that experienced firms enjoy. Is it possibly what differentiates an iconic brand from the rest?

Talent empires- the inevitability

As companies continue to face the consequence of economic corrections, the ability of an organisation to acquire and retain talent will be the single-most factor separating brands that exist and the ones that perish. Some progressive talent brands have already prepared their war strategy for the coming times. What makes some of the smartest talent across the globe flock to a Facebook, Pepsico, or Google brand? Is it their choice drive by the consumer brand or have these brands successfully created a strong perception as employers? Southwest Airlines is a typical example of a brand where employee live and breathe the brand. In the tough and competitive low-cost airline market, its talent brand is a strong driver of its product brand.

While companies brace themselves for the future, it will be only fair to say that a company which enjoys a strong talent brand will be able to attract talent from a larger global talent pool and make them stay longer. The linear correlation between growth and talent will never cease and thus, a company’s market share will be strongly linked to its talent market share. Such radical polarisation of preferences will likely lead to the creation of talent empires. While it is up for argument on whether the establishment of these talent empires is a step in the right direction for the global economy, one thing is certain— talent will be the bigger war field for business corporations compared to the consumer brand. At the centre of the war will be the CEO who will likely lead the aggression against its talent competitors, and will be a living proponent of the company’s employment values. Perhaps it would not be too farfetched to imagine the future CEO holding the talent brand and leading the aggression for talent market share.

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