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

Branding

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.

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Future Role of Social Media for Belgian Railway Company NMBS.

Unofficial Twitter Accounts NMBS demonstrate the need

Unofficial Twitter Accounts for NMBS demonstrate the need

As a result of my latest ‘interim project’, I’ve been travelling to Brussels by train every single day for about 3 months. The choice for taking the train is rather logic. Belgium is world-leader in ‘urban sprawl’. One cannot expect to reach Brussels easily by car. Hence the choice of taking a one-and-a-half hour train ride. And as railway services are still a public service in Belgium, all journeys are organized by the same company: NMBS.

NMBS is going through hard times these days. They cope with a genuine structural issue. Trains are cancelled and delayed daily. And what’s even more striking: customers are often not properly informed about cancellations and delays.

My three months proved enough to realize NMBS can’t undo all timetable issues. After all, much has to do with the inability to expand some key railway stations (like Brussels). There’s simply no room for growth anymore. It’s a mobility and infrastructure problem. Let’s leave that to spatial planners, shall we? Those same three months however also proved sufficient to see that the NMBS could do much more with regards to customer service. And that’s an issue marketers and business people can tackle without spatial planners. So here we go.

Social media can and should play a key role for customer service by railway companies like NMBS. But before we explain the future role of social media for the NMBS, let’s ask ourselves two simple questions:

  • Do our customers want support through social media?
  • Do we have employees willing to provide that service?
  • Need for customer service on social media?

    Customers definitely want to be informed about delays and cancellations through social media. After all those platforms allow to give real-time personalized information. What’s more: with the ever-increasing adoption of smartphones, most travellers are constantly connected while on the train.

    It’s very interesting to see the artefacts of this need: the numerous unofficial NMBS Twitter accounts. Those accounts are basically bottom-up initiatives by real travellers who do not work for the company but do engage with a community of ‘train travelers”. No way you can ignore the need if you look at those accounts.

    NMBS employees want to officialize their activities on social media - conversation on Twitter

    NMBS employees want to officialize their activities on social media - conversation on Twitter

    Do we have resources to provide customer service via social networks?

    Yes! The NMBS most definitely has those resources. The image on the right depicts an image of a Twitter conversation between NMBS employees and a traveler.

    The Dutch conversation states: “we are pleading for this service! Correct, fast and clear information”.

    The above sentence points to an interesting aspect. The NMBS employees are actually aware of the situation and want to help. On the other hand, the corporation, hasn’t set up official structures to manage this.

    So in fact, NMBS is in a very strong position. They have employees who love their job and organization and want to speak about it publicly on social networks. That’s something most companies can only dream about. NMBS should take advantage of this high level of employee engagement. They should stimulate the current people to grow and contribute to overall customer satisfaction.

    Why should NMBS empower all employees on social?
    First of all, it’s quite unthinkable that railway services will remain a public service. As Belgium is a part of the European Union who always favors liberal, free and open markets, one can expect future guidelines and/or demands to liberalize the railway services market. We’ve seen those demands before within other industries like Telco, Energy and Postal services. Those industries are now typically known for their fierce competition and new customer focus (vs. customer service to bring value). If NMBS manages to set-up customer service through social media, it will have a competitive edge in a deregulated market.

    But then again, the question remains the same: Will the liberalization result in on-time services and consequently improve the customer’s quality of life? Frankly I don’t know. One should ask an Englishman to know whether private railway services are better than public railway services.

    Second, because of my experience which made me happy and willing to travel with NMBS for future endeavours. The story is detailed below.

    Employee engagement - NMBS unofficially provides me Customer Service

    Employee engagement - NMBS unofficially provides me Customer Service

    My experience: train driver @RikiU2 helps me out

    December 14 2011. I had a rather intense day at work. I was incredibly looking forward to a lazy evening with my girlfriend while traveling home by train. When suddenly the train came to stop in the middle of nowhere. That sometimes happens, but this time it took a lot of time. After 15 minutes, my co-travelers started to get worried and frustrated. After all, they were once again to be later at home than foreseen and – what seemed even worse – there was no information whatsoever about why we did not continue our journey anymore. At one moment however, after about half an hour, the intercom of the train informed us about “a prior train in need will cause a delay of this trip”. Hooray! We were informed. Nobody, including myself, however knew what a “train in need” exactly was. It was some sort of tipping point for most of the travelers, including myself. It triggered me to shoot the question “what is a train in need?” on Twitter. It was more a helpless act than that I expected to have an answer to the question. Nothing was less true however. One clever train driver was at home and followed the #nmbs hashtag. As that hashtag was mentioned in my tweet, my demand came on the radar. I received an answer on my question and was consequently informed about the exact time delay, etc.

    Result: I could inform the people waiting for me, was happy again and was willing to continue traveling with NMBS in the future.

    What does all above teach us about the future role of social media for customer service?

    The above teaches us that social is truly a synonym for change. Things have changed and will continue to change. It would not be very intelligent to ‘ban’ social media platforms to employees. After all, they can act as a customer service representative or contribute to WOM advertising efforts, etc. For this reason companies should stimulate their employees to go online and speak in the name of the company. All companies should strive to realize this “superstar company state”. One great example of a superstar company is Dell – who transforms all employees into brand embassadors and certified customer service reps by providing them the necessary tools and training.

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