The Power Of Your Employer Brand [Discussion With Niamh O’Connor]

The Power Of Your Employer Brand [Discussion With Niamh O’Connor]

October 29 2019

Laura & Paul had a fascinating discussion about employer branding with Niamh O'Connor, Brand Strategist at The Pudding.

The Pudding is a commercial and creative brand agency in Dublin. They work with companies to build, re-position and grow game-changing corporate and employer brands.

Read on or listen in to understand the power of employer branding and how to make it work in your business to attract (and retain) talent in the financial services and Fintech industries.

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Podcast Interview

Ok, let's get into the discussion . . .

About Niamh

Niamh O'Connor: Unusually, I started out life as an accountant. I trained with PWC, which is a little unusual perhaps for working in this sector. After qualifying, I moved into their sales and marketing teams. I got a fantastic grounding in business and then I moved to the marketing side. I was never super passionate about accounting so it was lovely to be able to actually transition into a different role within PWC, which was great. I moved I after 10 years then to CPL which introduced me to the world of recruiting and employer brands. It was a totally different side of business for me to see so it was really good.

Then, two years ago, I joined The Pudding then which was fantastic in terms of enabling me to bring it all together, if you'd like.

I head up the brand strategy side of the business. We are delivering brand strategy to a really exciting portfolio of clients that we're fortunate to have. The Pudding then is like a branding company, we call it, which is a mix between a design studio as you probably know it and then also more the advisory side. The management consulting site and we work with brands in two areas really. To simplify, we work with them on the corporate brand site. That's where for example, they might be expanding internationally. They want to reposition their brand to a different segment of customers.

Niamh O'Connor: And we would work with them across all elements of that from the look and feel of it, to their messaging. And then how did they actually bring it to life, which is great. The other side of the business then is obviously the employer brand site. And that's where we effectively get to work on the people side with brands as they look to attract and retain them effectively. So yes, that's what we do.

What Is An Employer Brand? 

Paul: In terms of employer branding, you very kindly did an article for us on our recent retention guides. 

Niamh O'Connor employer branding quote

Paul: What exactly is an employer brand? And why should companies care about?

Niamh O'Connor: Yes, I want to start at the context first because I think the context makes things even more relevant and applicable. As you guys well know we're as close to full employment as we could get, from an economic perspective. And really interesting in that I suppose the number one challenge facing CEOs in Ireland is actually talent and over 80% of them see it as actually inhibiting their growth. Which is really worrying. And just over a part of them effectively then see it as actually missing targets when it comes to business. I suppose that for me is that the business side of it coming to bear, in terms of if you can get people you can't actually in a win inhibitor growth and it will prevent you from successfully growing your business, certainly as fast as you want to. I think that's really interesting.

Niamh O'Connor: I was just a few days ago as well was, I don't know possibly you guys saw it. The Adair HR report. We're looking at 14,000 euros in terms of they're qualifying the cost of and the impact of you losing somebody from your business. So again, I suppose for me the financial side and the impact of it is really key. If you come to what exactly is it? I think there's a lot of misconceptions, it's not bean bags, it's not fluffy, it's not your careers website other than it's part of it. So I suppose how we... the easiest way to explain it is that it's your identity effectively as an employer. Okay? And a nice way to think about it, is really it's the deal or maybe deals is two sales a year, but it's their relationship and the experience that you have as an employee with your employer. That has some functional parts to it. It has some economic, you get paid for example, and it has a huge psychological part to it. So it's how you identify and how you engaged and how you are engaged effectively with your employer. What's interesting as well, as I suppose from an employee perspective, you get developed and you get career opportunities from your employer and on the other side of it, if you think about that deal again, the employer effectively gets your performance, it gets engagement from you. And then I suppose building on that a little bit deeper is it gets commitment from you and loyalty, effectively. And I suppose that's really the magic part because the main objective for any employer brand is you want to be the employer of choice.

Employee Retention Guide

Niamh O'Connor: You want it to be super clear how you are exclusive and you're really different from the competitors and that obviously allows you then to attract talent. Loads of financial benefits to it. I could be here for the day in terms of allowing you to hire faster, get better quality candidates. And I state... again, I suppose that the more traumatic stats always make people sit up I think. But like over 50% just won't consider your brand if you have a bad or poor or not an attractive employer brand irrespective of salary. I think that's so relevant in terms of the context we're actually looking at.

Laura: Yes. We see it all the time and on the salary side we can just to keep, there's not a huge amount of differentiation between different places. People generally can expect to earn their worth in a market like this in particular. It is things like brand and how that's communicated and everything else. And it's like a bad review for restaurants on TripAdvisor. A bad experience can really damage. And so yes, really interesting.

Can Brand Strategy Help Retain Good Employees?

Laura: Retention is key, particularly in today's economy. I can see how the brand strategy will help attract but how would it help retain those good employees?

Niamh O'Connor: Great question. I think it's actually quite clear everyone knows the external side of it because you need to communicate as to why you're different. You need to build up those core assets, whether it's online or wherever it is. And then you need to... often we would see as well, different organizations running specific campaigns to attract specific skillsets. I want to hire 50 developers and I will run something specific to that in terms of content. If I flip then, internal to the organization, and it really is back to that concept of the relationship with the organization. Okay? And if you think about it as a relationship in your own life, there are two sides to it and it needs to be fair.

Niamh O'Connor: And I'm in front of you two guys, you're always evaluated and you're always developing it and it's always evolving. Which is really interesting I think. And that's the case for everyone that you have working in your organization. And you see just under 30% of people, CEOs will try to hire from competitors this year. At any point in time, your existing workflows will be, whether you like it or not, receiving offers from competitor brands. So in terms of thinking about how the brand actually I suppose impacts retention, it's actually around satisfaction with the role and also their commitment. When the values of the organization and the attitudes and the work environment are aligned with what the actual employee wants and values, that's when you have the magic, if you like, of moving towards a place where you're looking at and you're able to actually leverage brand advocates.

Niamh O'Connor: Getting your employees to actually proactively recommend and go out there, they may be out with their friends and a conversation comes up around employers and you want them to be able to say, "Gosh, you have to work at, whatever the brand is." And that's when you know that that experience and that deal is working really well. The more of those you obviously have. There's fantastic report from Deloitte actually about what makes an irresistible employee experience. And I think so many of those elements are wrapped up with, if you like, the employer brand. Employees want to hear about what the brand is. What do we stand for? Loads and loads of research around purpose and alignment of values. Values, not the fluffy ones. So as we know, more and more brands are looking into performance. They want them to be really tangible, otherwise they may just be on the ward because they're not actually real values in terms of how people actually behave. And what gets rewarded in organization as well.

Niamh O'Connor: I think working across, if you like, with that experience and working on it and continuing to develop it effectively will impact the satisfaction of the employee and drive their commitment and loyalty. And that's where you see it kicking in then to retention. Does that make sense?

Paul: Keywords and phrases on a wall don't cut it?

Niamh O'Connor: No. Definitely not. A really nice example of this is probably Netflix. There's a culture book, which is well worth looking at. It's called your deck actually, and you'll find it on SlideShare. But they talk a lot about stars and having stars. What's really interesting about them from a boiler brand perspective is they tell you what they don't want. Okay? They only want high performance and they proactively say that's not for everyone. So you're automatically getting candidates to self select, "That is for me, I do want to work in an environment like this." And they talk about their values in a really interesting way around there, the expected behaviors that people get rewarded on and that they want to see from their colleagues every day.

Paul: Openness and transparency and authenticity.

Niamh O'Connor: Exactly.

Paul: The authenticity side is really interesting for me and you hear a lot about being an authentic leader on the culturing side that we talked about earlier are coming up and authenticity is really, really important. I know for me as a coach in the inner business that I'm authentic and showing up authentically is really important. How important is authenticity in a brand?

Niamh O'Connor: Yes. It's absolutely key is what I would say to you, if you're, I suppose it's like bad marketing is how I would describe it. If you are trying to portray an employer brand, that isn't authentic. Somebody may join, but they won't stay and that's really it. Very simply.

Paul: You get found out.

Niamh O'Connor: You get found out pretty quickly because they're like, "You said it would be like this and nobody talks to each other here." So I think the more authentic it is, that the better it is. And the more authentic and rounded actually how you communicate about the brand to people before they join. I think looking at the different industry sectors, if I think even financial services, it does... I think there's a big opportunity there. It is seen as more tradition, more conservative, if you look at, some of the big brands you don't see a huge level of openness.

Niamh O'Connor: And what I mean by that, is that giving over for BOSH Racine probably more generally and other sectors is taking down the veil a little bit and allowing not perfect content to actually represent it. A lovely example is,, actually they gave their, now obviously they have a lovely industry and they're all about empowering people to travel effectively and they're including their employees. So they gave all their staff GoPro's and they allowed them to actually, go around with the GoPro on and they caught that content. Then used it to promote I suppose, what it's really like every day working for them.

Niamh O'Connor: If you just think about that from a practical perspective, giving all your employees, effective your people, that level of, I suppose, transparency with the brand, it is an extreme version. But you would love... and I think the big opportunity is to actually make things more real and create content that's actually not just the lovely staff photography and the insides of the buildings. That it's actually more authentic to the role. Because at the end of the day here, we are trying to advertise and promote roles and jobs. So the closer you can get to giving people and candidates a proper sentence of actually what the day to day job is going to be like, the more effective it's likely to be. So I think there's a really exciting opportunity for more financial service brands to do that.

Paul: I think that's a really interesting one. So I met a client yesterday and we were talking about something similar and she was saying, perhaps we're seen as this very traditional and stuffy want to change us. But I think a lot of financial services around this kind of feel we need to stick a bean bag in the corner and pool tables and blah, blah blah. But at the same time, like Netflix, is authentic about looking for high performers. If you are suited and booted and that's what you want to be and that's what you should be because there's people looking for that.

Niamh O'Connor: And it's okay to say that. We did some-

Paul: Ownership.

Niamh O'Connor: Yes. Like Onus. I didn't pay for that fall in advance. We did an interesting piece of work with Smyth's Toys recently and it was all about ownership and responsibilities or they ran a campaign around 'You Own It' and it was interesting in terms of working with the guys because it's like there's almost a "Can we say that?" And absolutely you can say that. That you want people who are, who really take ownership, they're really into accountability. There is a certain type of person that wants that, but equally there's certain type of person that doesn't want it.

Niamh O'Connor: I think it's so interesting that Amazon just over talk in March of this year, Google as the number one employer in the US. And if you think about, I suppose what we traditionally associate with the beanbags and the rock climbing walls in the interiors. And if you think about Amazon has come and said, "We just believe in basic desks and we're hugely customer centric." And they have different values, they have a different focus in terms of that aesthetic. So I think it's really interesting that you're seeing that change and you're seeing people effectively seeing through it, to get to cut to the chase, in terms of what the rules and the atmosphere and the culture is actually like.

Paul: Yes, and you talked about self selection and if you can get as much of your brand out there or what it's like to work somewhere and people do self select. I think the importance of that has increased over time. So when I started in recruitment it was we'd have an eighth page out in the Irish Times on a Thursday or a quarter page if it was an exclusive. But the value in a recruiter was, I have contacts that you don't. For both sides, for candidates, I could introduce you to companies and for a client I've a pool of candidates like something did. It's just changed all of that, so now everyone is a lot busier in response to applications, et cetera, et cetera. Whereas if you have more content out there that shows what it's really like to work somewhere, chances are you increase your number of people who are actually engaged in your brand they're very, very engaged at the very start you can then follow that through.

Niamh O'Connor: Yes. And that's where the savings come from. You're not interviewing people who are not fit for the role. You're more likely you're increasing effectively as you're increasing around the recruitment process. So it's better for everyone. You're saving time, cost. It's better from a recruiter perspective as well because the candidates are hopefully more engaged and further down the line in terms of committing to it. That's great. Yes.

Other Examples Of Successful Employer Branding

Laura: I think you've covered it a little bit, but any other examples of where branding worked really well? And actually some that didn't?

Niamh O'Connor: Okay. Always there's the interesting side of it. I think, I suppose for me, it's back to what we talked about with authenticity. Every organization that we walk into is different. They may not think they're different, but they are different. The culture and the environment is different. It's actually, I suppose, brands that are doing probably from an Ireland perspective, Or if someone else here is Irish, Irish brand.

Niamh O'Connor: So I think Boojum do a good job. They know who they are and they know who they aren't. They're very... how they are online is how they are when you interact with them. I think Voxpro did a good job for example, they're likewise, "This is who we are and this is how we work." So I think staying true to what's truly different is really the key of it. And brands who do that, do for success as you talked about Netflix. So knowing and taking the time to actually properly evaluate, get your brand. Okay? Look at it via competitor brand and really stand back to say like why are we different? This is how we are aligned where really if we look at the entirety for operations, why are we different? The entirety of our culture.

Niamh O'Connor: And brands who don't do well, I would say just brands who don't do probably, who just don't have... you already have a brand out there. And I think that's the misconception here is that this is something new or I have to spend money on it. I think you already have a brand, you have it by not having a career site, you have it by your last store rating. So I think it's probably, that's where I would see that the probably missed opportunity for a brand is about and then I think, getting the balance right between creative and business. Okay? Because I do think then you have the other extreme where it's a really creative campaign and after watching it, it's really engaging, but I still don't know what the organization does. So I think you're looking at content and I suppose creating those core assets first and then actually bringing in, I suppose the exciting or the more creative side of it.

Where To Start With Your Employer Brand?

Paul: And I think in terms of employer branding running against something, I would have seen a big rise in interest in pre-recession. And it feels like it's starting to come back at last or the pace of it as they starting to come back at a last. So if you're an employer listening to this and you're starting to think about employer branding aside from getting in touch with your good selves, what should you be doing or thinking about or what practical practical place to start?

Niamh O'Connor: Yes, I think you all, if you have an HR budget, it's just about thinking about it differently. So I think you can always do something. Okay. Even if you don't have a massive budget, there's still steps that you can take on the journey. Okay? There's still collateral improvement, communication, just for your core collateral. People are going out there recruiting experienced hires and graduate hires. What exactly are the communication? And you can look at those basic or core assets and start to improve them. I think if you're serious about it, I would say the first thing is engaging, it needs to be bottom up and top down. So you have to start with those conversations. I see a lot of brands go, "Oh we're a global and that's a reason." That's not a reason. How many brands can say that?

Niamh O'Connor: We are in 50 locations. Again, how many brands can say that? So we've had some really interesting conversations and challenging conversations. I had executive team was around, you come on you pull up competitor sites and they're safe. So I think it's actually at the discussion around why you're different. Is there really is there is a super place to start with this after that then it's really about, I suppose looking at and bringing it to life is probably how I'd describe it. Because from that then comes, I suppose, what value and what's the deal if I go back to that? And how can we really see that and how can we show people that? And then it's, if you'd like, bringing it to life and being as open as possible, like we talked about before in terms of it. It needs to be absolutely aligned to your overall age or it's about in plan.

Niamh O'Connor: You're probably already doing stuff in the organization that actually it would be fantastic for your employer brand if you communicated it. I think that's the best, when you walk into organizations they already have fantastic, maybe awards, recognition awards, that are linked to their values. So I think sometimes it seems the perception marketing sometimes as something separate. You're already doing a lot of things potentially initiatives, your wellness. It's about stepping back from it and making sure that the message is getting out and it's also actually that you're engaging properly with your team and turning.

Paul: Yes. It can be tough when you're stuck in this, you don't see it sometimes.

Niamh O'Connor: Yes. You don't see the super work that happens and you certainly it might not get internally. It certainly doesn't get externally a lot of the time. And unfortunately, then I come to a career as websites that has the stock photography while all of this really exciting stuff happening internally. So-

Paul: We were only talking about this the other day, the careers website or their landing page where you can't find where to apply for jobs. It just baffles me how this works.

Niamh O'Connor: "Please I want to work with you." Yes, absolutely. No, I think it's a huge opportunity. It's really, really, practical. I think it's not about we're fishing around here, there's lots of practical steps I think that organizations can take that actually help them to get... I think it's about communicating it in a way that it makes sense. Does that make sense? So often we would see organizations and they're talking about, "We need to do something on our employer brand." We need to do something that helps us to get great people on your team if you're working in the organization. So it's actually about, I think, how you engage people internally to get involved and to actually authenticate, be a part of representing the organization.

Paul: So I think internal referrals are probably one of the best sources.

Niamh O'Connor: Such a good example, such a good example.

Paul: But if people aren't engaged, some people don't want to refer people, because people take it really personally.

Niamh O'Connor: Yes. Or if they're asked... if they're out at lunch and they're asked and they're like, "No actually, just, I wouldn't really recommend it." You just don't want to be in that space. So, no really big opportunity I think for everyone.

How To Contact Niamh O'Connor and The Pudding

Laura: Thanks, Niamh, for a really interesting conversation today. How can people get in touch with you or the full thing if they're interested in discussing it further?

Niamh O'Connor: Well, the first thing to say is thanks a million for having me on today guys. I really enjoyed and love what you guys are doing in this space. I think it's so refreshing, to be talking about retention with recruiters. So it was really exciting from that perspective. For me, I'd love to have a chat, you know me, with anyone. So you can contact me at [email protected] or through our website (The Pudding) as well, or obviously through you guys, if you wanted to pick up on any aspects of today.

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