Beyond employer branding. People are the brand.

Did you ever took time to investigate the right column of this blog? It has some widgets. And one of them suggests that I’m a member of Stima, more particularly a member of the expert group internal branding / employer branding. Regardless of the fact that I’m lucky to participate in the group, I feel like making some specific remarks about employer branding and branding in general. In my humble view employer branding is branding. Brands are people offering a product or a service. Bottom line? What we call employer branding today is in fact genuine branding as marketers always intended it. Employer branding is the future. But the future is now.



Branding: a logo, some colours and …

Have a look at the adjacent image and ask yourself the question what exactly is it that makes or breaks a brand?
Is it a logo with some colours?
Is a corporate identity or brand identity merely a design aspect?
Do corporate identity and corporate design merely indicate the same thing?
Or is their something more at stake?

I believe there’s something more to tell about it. To start with, let’s have a look at what exactly is employer branding.

What is employer branding?

Just as you have a brand position within consumer’s mind, there’s a brand position within the minds of employees and potential co-workers. Employer branding is branding like corporate branding. It’s more than advertisement, recruitment and retention. Employer Branding is a mindset. It’s the development of a culture. It’s about making choices and communicating them consistently.

Employer branding management however – and this is the big clue – is all about the interaction of the external employer brand and the internal job preview. Employer branding is the result of the value proposition and the employee experience. It’s about managing expectations. Exceed employee expectations, make them feel proud and encourage them to share that happiness with the world. Result? The external brand as created by marketing communication claims is reshaped.

Employer branding, positive conversations and the external brand

The goal is to manage your people in such a way that employees become engaged and proud, resulting in positive online conversations about their job and brand. Those conversations are consequently picked up by potential co-workers who are eager to work for such a great company. On the other hand, current employees are happy to stay in this amazing tribe / community. But next to that, it drastically impacts the external brand.

How employer branding impacts external branding?

A brand isn’t build in a day. So it must be something more than a logo and/or colours associated to a name. Branding is not something companies and brands fully control. The brand is in fact an association of elements in the heads of the consumers. You can’t control their brain and their thinking (you could do that more easily in the past).

The brand as such is constituted along all interactions occurring with the brand on several touch-points. One of today’s hottest touch-points are the so-called social media. And it’s exactly through those social media outlets that employees co-create the external brand identity. As a result, employer branding becomes increasingly important for the shaping the brand soul.

What’s even more, your corporate brand is your employer brand in the long run. Just think about the transparent, open world we’re living in. Add to that the inflow of Gen Y profiles into companies, and you’re there.

Companies with a negative culture are immediately picked up through e.g. social media expressions by current employees, customers, etc.. This heavily defines brand perception. You better make sure that this “employer brand” or culture matches the external brand created by marketing communication.

Business silos collapsing

Business silos collapsing

Bye Silos. HR & Marketing collaboration.

Sure, employer branding is pretty close to the HR domain. But employer branding looks at HR as Human Relations, not as Human Resources. Yes, the most important word in HR is Human, not resources. Let’s bring back human in business. The social tools are already there. And yes again, the most important word in social media is social, not media.

Overlooking all the above, it’s clear that we should integrate the external (corporate) brand with the internal (employer) brand. Bye silos. HR and Marketing have to collaborate to reach higher mutual goals.

Daum fired at FC Bruges? On Strategy, Leadership and Branding.

Leadership Daum Style at FC Bruges

Leadership Daum Style at FC Bruges

I am sorry if I just tricked you into a fake news item. Cristoph Daum is still the coach of FC Bruges. The headline is reasonable though, looking at the latest results of historically one of Belgium’s best football clubs. Added to that is the “culture of coach swapping”. The logic it dictates is somewhat of the following: if we don’t perform well, fire the coach and bring in a new leader. And it’s exactly from that swop culture that we can learn a thing or two about strategy, leadership and branding. The main message for today:

FC Bruges’ Coach Swap Story demonstrates how Strategy and Leadership drastically impact Branding.

There are many ways to develop a strategy to obtain goals. Within this process, the vision of the leader is rather critical. After all, his or her vision guides the decision for a specific strategy.
I believe this choice instantly impacts the “style”, “soul”, “positioning” or “brand”.

Let’s try to make this more clear by visualizing the case of football.

Strategy, leadership and branding. Learnings from football

Strategy, leadership and branding. Learnings from football

FC Bruges Coach Swap Story

Looking at the above scheme, something is remarkably striking in the FC Bruges Story. Let me just do the telling, meanwhile you do the scheme-mapping exercise, ok?

Adrie Koster, formal coach of FC Bruges. Dutch guy.

Adrie Koster, formal coach of FC Bruges. Dutch guy.

As from 2009, the Dutchman Adrie Koster, coached the team. As a leader he defined the strategy to obtain goals from an “always win perspective”. As a result FC Bruges played attacking, creative football and scored a lot. Neutral spectators loved the team. It had style, soul. It was a good brand. But the team didn’t always win. And after four successive defeats, the club fired the coach. He did not reach the objectives. The “always win strategy” was left. It didn’t work. A new strategy and leader was sought for.

At the end of 2011 FC Bruges appointed a new leader: Cristoph Daum. A German coach with a solid track-record. His goals were the same as those from Koster. But in order to fulfill them, the leader envisioned another approach to realize the objectives. He took the “win more than others do perspective”. Consequently, the same group of people were no longer recognizable. The team played uninspired and relied on proven tactics like dropping high balls in the penalty zone, free kicks and corners. It resulted in a lot of “1-0 wins” for the team however. And in fact, 1-0 quickly got labeled a “Daum Score”. But the longer this leader is in charge and brings the strategy to live through not really sexy tactics, the less the team is liked be outsiders and fans because of its style. The brand isn’t perceived as something “good” anymore. The soul is gone. This story from the world of sports clearly shows that strategy and leadership influence branding.

What if Daum really got fired?

Well, let’s answer the question by applying the theoretical scheme applied above.

FC Bruges Coach Swap Story. On Strategy, Leadership and Branding.

FC Bruges Coach Swap Story. On Strategy, Leadership and Branding.

Can businesses learn something from this story on Strategy, Leadership and Branding?
Or is sports just sports?

The rise of Happiness Engineer & The Corporate pursuit of Happiness.

corporate pursuit of happiness

corporate pursuit of happiness

After several months of bloglessness I finally got myself up-and-running again. Full of inspiration? Yes. And I still remember my password too. Great! But that’s only half-way there.

Earlier this week, I couldn’t access my blog Administration. WordPress kindly informed me about the issues. The message was something similar to “Whoops! There’s something wrong. Please check the knowledge base for any known issues and if none of this helps, drop us a note”.

So I did all of that but ended up dropping them that note. The issue got solved extremely quickly by Andrew. But I don’t want to talk about WordPress’s great support service today.

Today I want to talk about Andrew. Andrew is a Happiness Engineer at WordPress. Happiness Engineer? What on earth? Well, WordPress probably met Marketing professor Jennifer Aaker and her research on “Happiness”.

Jennifer Aaker’s study on the corporate pursuit of happiness

Jennifer Aaker is a well-known professor marketing. She studies psychology alongside marketing and spent the last several years studying the subject of “happiness”. How do people find happiness? How do they keep it? How do they manipulate it? How do they use it as a resource?

Jennifer L. Aaker, General Atlantic Professor of Marketing, Graduate School of Business Stanford University

Jennifer L. Aaker, General Atlantic Professor of Marketing, Graduate School of Business Stanford University

The main finding of the study is that in fact a “meaningful experience” (e.g.: new skill) often makes people happier than moments of pure pleasure. This is what she and others call the “Paradox of Happiness”.

Next to that, she discovered happiness is age-dependent. Young people relate happiness to excitement whereas elderly link it with peacefulness. But what’s more important to me is that Aaker soon discovered that the above little nuances were key for marketing and business.
After all, she realized, brands are increasingly trying to appeal to consumer’s emotions to keep their sales going in these rough economic times.

So she set up her theory and easily convinced the academic world that she was on to something – resulting in a graduate-level class “Designing Happiness” in one of USA’s leading business schools. But in today’s post-recession economy, where morale is low, brand owners and marketers tend to see the appeal of promising happiness along with their products as well. They realized that they could deploy happiness as any other commodity to sell something.

Of course, the question is: how does one implement the ideas of Happiness into marketing and business? Let’s have a look at corporations that tried to integrate this entire “happiness idea”.

Aaker’s Happiness and some Big Guns

  • Adobe:
    got lectured by Aaker on the liaison between happiness and meaningful moments. The ideas were implemented through the “Adobe Youth Voices” project. The project allows children and teenagers from poor environments to use the Adobe software freely in order to create their story.
  • Coke:
    experimented with the link between happiness and the brand. Just think about Coke’s “happiness machine” or the entire “open happiness” campaign.
  • AOL:
    sources claim they have received lectures from Prof. Aaker but I don’t have an idea whether they implemented it in one way or another.

Benefits of “happiness-driven” marketing campaigns?

In fact nobody really knows for sure, as is often the case in social sciences. Aaker’s hypotheses is the following:

Marketing Happiness is one of the few ways businesses can still appeal to people in a manner that feels authentic. That’s important, because people have an aversion to anything that feels overly manufactured.

The concept of Marketing Happiness thus expands the idea of what it means to buy something. If you follow this theory, you believe that brands can provide greater meaning to the world for the consumer. One of those greater meanings could be things that enable happiness. Consequently the consumers want to share that happy moment and feeling as if the product is part of their lives and community (read: facebook likes, twitter mentions).
Happy Talk = Word-of-Mouth!

Case WordPress: bringing Happiness through a job title isn’t enough

E-mail from the Happiness Engineer at WordPress

E-mail from the Happiness Engineer at WordPress

Best regards — Andrew — Happiness Engineer —

As I mentioned earlier in this article, I dropped WordPress a note to register my issue. Most compelling about the whole support was the job name of the guy helping me out. Andrew is a Happiness Engineer. Guess his job is to engineer people into a happy state of mind, right? Now how can he make people happy?

First, and this is what most people believe is sufficient, he can solve our technical problems as soon as possible.

Second, he can inform us what the error is about and educate us about the skill required to fix it. Maybe next time I can do it myself. This is what’s going to make me really happy, according to Aaker’s findings. And it will probably make Andrew happy too. His work-load will decrease. Andrew choose the first option by the way. He solved it himself. Not teaching me anything. Maybe Andrew already figured I couldn’t fix it anyway.

Aaker discovered that a meaningful experience (e.g.: new skill, volunteering, spending time with family) often makes people happier than moment of pure pleasure.

Andrew, are you authentic? Do you really exist?

Aaker believes marketing happiness could be one of the few ways business can still appeal to people in an authentic way.

I doubt the authenticity of Andrew. Would an authentic human being out of flesh and blood e-mail you six times? Would he send recurring e-mails that bring you exactly the same message? I wouldn’t for sure. It felt like spam. And I’m quite convinced that you’d experience too much e-mails as “manufactured” as well. Didn’t Aaker learned us that we actually don’t like that?

Aaker says that people have an aversion to anything that feels overly manufactured.

Andrew, WordPress's Hapiness Engineer send me 6 e-mails.

Andrew, WordPress's Hapiness Engineer send me 6 e-mails.

WordPress and Aaker did they ever had a date?

So, in the end I find myself asking: did WordPress ever had a lecture from Aaker? Or did WordPress just hear about the “Happiness Buzz” and came up with a title to put on automated e-mails? One would think so. After all they didn’t integrate two key findings of the study:

  1. that happiness after a struggle is the most rewarding
  2. that bringing happiness requires authenticity

As they did:

  1. just solve my problem. OK, it was solved fast, so I’m quite happy with that.
  2. not show any authenticity to me. Yes, too much e-mails feel robotized and spammy.

Yours Truly — @vermeiretim — Awesomeness Developer —


  1. I’m still in love with WordPress. This is just storytelling.
  2. You can always frame a story like you want to. I could have written it completely different. Just consider me framing it from the perspective of me being happy because of writing this article as a result of my initial Back-office issue. If you look at it like that, Andrew truly engineered me to be happy. After all, the true struggle was writing this blog post. Now that’s finished, I’m happy.
    Or suppose I wrote this story with a focus on the opposite approach “fear appeals”?
  3. There used to be a theory/research about persuasive communication that stated that “fear” (as being the opposite of “happy”) was a very effective way to get attention and communicate a message: “fear appeals”. Here are some references from that “wave”:
    • Spence, H.E.; Moinpour, R. (1972). “Fear Appeals in Marketing. A Social Perspective”. Journal of Marketing 36 (3): 39.
    • Leventhal, H (1971). “Fear appeals and persuasion: the differentiation of a motivational construct”. American Journal of Public Health 61 (6): 1208.
    • Dillard, J.P., & Anderson, J.W. (2004). The role of fear in persuasion. Psychology & Marketing, 21, 909-926.
    • Witte, K. (1992). Putting the fear back into fear appeals: The extended parallel process model. Communication Monographs, 59, 329-349.
    • I’ve also encountered this philosophy in political sciences. Let’s think e.g. on Adorno’s theory of the “authoritarian personality” (1950).
    • Taken the above into account and from what I know from the “fear appeals” theory, one can hardly imagine that this could ever be an ethical way to promote your business value a.k.a. to organize your marketing around a.k.a. to use in your communications.

%d bloggers like this: