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Employer branding: Why it has become essential to attract talent

Employer branding: Why it has become essential to attract talent



By Robert Blain

A recent survey by LinkedIn revealed that 72% of top-ranked recruitment firms worldwide believe that employer branding has a significant on hiring.

And nowhere is effective employer branding essential than Hong Kong. A number of HR professionals in the city have intimated to Human Resources that locally founded brands have an image problem compared to the likes of consistent employers of choice, like Google.

Part of the problem is that some of these local Hong Kong brands – even though financial successful and highly visible – are seen as old-fashioned and patriarchal. This makes it difficult to recruit proven leaders and in-demand talent to their companies. Millennials and Gen Zs also baulk at the prospect.

But of course, it’s not just in talent acquisition that companies that can benefit from a boost to their brand – it improves all sorts of aspects, from an increased customer base to better employee engagement.

Companies in Hong Kong are becoming more aware of the importance of employer branding, for attracting and keeping the right candidates and achieving employee engagement. Giving an organisation a makeover is more than just a matter of putting together a new logo and a new uniform. What’s needed is an overhaul of strategy and culture to be genuinely effective. But how is this achieved?

Human Resources talked exclusively with Adrian Li, strategy director at brand agency Superunion, for his insights on how a company can rebrand – effectively boosting its appeal to employees (current and future) while keeping its integrity intact.

“Above being mentored and paid well, and feeling appreciated, involved and challenged at work, employees want to belong to their organisation with pride and purpose,” said Li.

“That’s why raising an employer brand involves a number of different things that shape employee preferences, including its brand strategy and the internal culture required to make a success of it.”

What differentiates modern, world-class brands from the rest of the pack is a clear definition of what they stand for. Li says that companies should start by examining their external brand positioning; apart from ‘a leading organisation’, ‘maximising shareholder value’ or other clichéd descriptions. But rather, they should be asking: What do they want to be known for in people’s minds to become a unique and compelling organisation? 

“Raising an employer brand involves a number of different things that shape employee preferences, including its brand strategy and the internal culture required to make a success of it.”

“World-class brands then use this to tell powerful stories about themselves, explaining how they partner with organisations and people, work towards a united cause, and of course, add value to lives and help our community progress,” explains Li.

“Interestingly, (successful) brands don’t distinguish between their corporate and employer communications. This might seem counterintuitive, but they recognise that in today’s borderless economy, employees can equally be customers of the brand and vice versa. It makes a great deal of difference to how they go about improving and maintaining their brand perception.”

Hong Kong success stories
Despite the perception of some home-grown Hong Kong companies are as staid, patriarchal and traditional, lacking appeal for to up-and-coming talent, there are a number of notable exceptions.

To be fair, Hong Kong does have brands like travel tech start-up Klook and fintech firm WeLab that represent a new breed of smart and agile local companies.

“As start-ups, they have a clean slate to create the culture they need to succeed,” says Li.

“On the other hand, Hong Kong’s family-owned conglomerates, despite all their resources, must manage the burden of hierarchy and legacy. In these cases, the most critical factor of any overhaul is the next generation taking over the reins.”

So for such established companies succession planning is critical. It’s essential the successor, or successors, have the right mindset, to drive a renewed vision for the company, to innovate and break out of traditional markets. 

Li also cited Rosewood Hotels and New World Development as two Hong Kong brands that “sophisticated, international and open-minded organisation that Gen Z and Millennials want to work for”.

HKBN’s recently launched #ToughTimesTogether graduate programme has also drawn praise.

“This is a savvy initiative,” says Li. “Hong Kong’s youth have been feeling increasingly disenfranchised so acknowledging the hardships they face, with the tougher economic environment and competition, is what today’s graduates want to hear.

“Hong Kong’s local companies tend to be very hierarchical. Creating a mentorship programme that gives access to the leadership team can set HKBN apart from other local employers. It’s especially refreshing to see how many top executives they’ve committed to this.”

“From an HR standpoint, LinkedIn is and will likely remain the top platform for employers, giving them a space to showcase what they do and interact directly with job candidates.”

Social currency
Social media is becoming an increasingly essential means by which an organisation can recruit top talent. A recently published article by research firm Morgan McKinley, Employer Branding and Social Media, drilled down into why social media is so crucial for employer branding better hiring decisions.

“Jobseekers are not going to just hit that ‘apply for job’ button on your job description if they haven’t at least looked at your website and tried to find you on social media. They will be looking for reviews, posts of other employees, looking to see if you have any interesting company events, office photos (and) team photos,” it stated.

Four essential components were cited as essential for an organisation to make compelling content and boost brand recognition: Show your company’s culture, be very visual, create engaging content and ensure your organisations reviews are looking good – recommending that the latter can be achieved by asking “current employees to spread the word and leave a review or give honest feedback on platforms such as Glassdoor or Google”.

But with such a range of social media channels available, which one will give HR professionals the biggest bang for their buck? And make their company’s brand and become more appealing to prospective employees?

“From an HR standpoint, LinkedIn is and will likely remain the top platform for employers, giving them a space to showcase what they do and interact directly with job candidates. Most importantly, it’s a space for them to tell their point of view, share what they believe in and what matters most to them,” says Superunion’s Li.

He singled out Goldman Sachs as an outfit that not only used LinkedIn effectively but seamlessly combined it with other social media channels for maximum effect, describing the bank as “a B2B brand that skilfully deploys LinkedIn as well as the more ‘retail’ channels of Facebook, YouTube and Instagram”.

“Whichever channel you’re on, their content harmoniously communicates the brand’s uniqueness: their people and their expertise in creating growth ...  every post is timely, relevant and enlightening,” adds Li.

“In the case of Goldman Sachs, the holistic portrayal of themselves through every social media channel would appeal to anyone who shares the same ambition and desire for growth as them.”

Employer branding and COVID-19
According to Li, in these unprecedented and challenging times amid the ongoing impact of a global pandemic, effective branding by an organisation is more important than ever.

“The coronavirus has created a climate of fear and uncertainty around the world,” he says.

“Realising they can no longer behave like business-as-usual, brands must now demonstrate leadership, common sense and compassion to internal staff seeking to align themselves with organisations that share their values.”

Employer branding, and especially internal culture, are as crucial as ever during COVID-19. Organisations most likely ride out the storm and emerge with their brands intact – or even enhanced – will continue top practiced their values, not just flick on a ‘good behaviour’ switch for tough times.

Li cited property developer Sino Group as a company that has demonstrated its values in the current crisis through its charitable foundations and staff volunteering programmes.

“From its FarmTogether project, which has led to the use of Airlite – an antibacterial and antiviral paint in their developments – to major achievements such as successive awards as ‘Asia’s Icon on Corporate Governance’, (the company) is showing how the right culture drives the right actions and behaviours throughout the organisation.”

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