What is Talent Brand? Exploring the Intersection of Marketing and HR

May 30, 2018 Sarah Mueller

In the digital age, a unique brand is essential to helping a company stand out in an ever-growing competitive landscape. But firms aren’t just fighting for business; it’s now more important than ever that they also fight for talent.

Across industries, strategically developed talent brands are emerging and proving to be an essential aspect of brand identities, largely due to a hyper-competitive talent market. But what’s the difference between talent brand and a company’s brand? How can talent brands be communicated authentically? Who plays a role in building out a talent brand at your firm?

In this Q&A, Sarah Mueller, Manager, Talent Development, will explore the definition and importance of talent brand, describing why you should invest in this elusive aspect of brand and how to get started.

What is talent brand?

Talent brand is the voice of your employees – it’s how they think, it’s how they feel, and it’s how they operate within your business. This aspect of brand ties your company’s mission and values to the day-to-day experiences of employees. The way your team talks about you in the community, the way they talk to their friends or families and the real, relatable anecdotes about what it means to work for your business – and the associated first-hand experiences – are all aspects that live within your talent brand.

And how is talent brand different from a firm’s formal brand identity?

The correct answer is that it shouldn’t be different. Instead, it should be an extension of your firm’s brand identity. There are more connections than you’d think to the client buying experience and the employee or prospective employee experience.

People choose to work for you for the same reasons your clients hire you, and those reasons live within your core business values. If you have a strong culture, you can achieve a strong talent brand. To do so, you have to find ways to showcase both the client and employee experience, highlighting the alignment between the two and what makes that alignment special.

I tend to believe that the strongest brand identities consider three specialized buckets – company, employer and talent brand. Your company brand speaks to your clients and prospective clients. Your employer brand justifies that you are an ethical, enjoyable, safe place to work (table stakes). And, your talent brand speaks to all the things that differentiate you from other employers.

Let’s face it. Everyone has competitive benefits these days. You shouldn’t have to work hard to showcase that you offer competitive pay, insurance, time away from work, etc. People can find that anywhere. Your talent brand showcases the intangibles; the reasons people choose to work with you and stay with you.

What engages your people? What motivates them? Those answers are the key to defining your talent brand and should always align with your firm’s formal brand identity. 

Why is developing a talent brand important?

The short answer: because you want high performing and engaged employees that will drive your business forward. Your talent brand is a critical component in attracting, engaging and retaining talent.

Now for the long answer.

Right now, the labor market is the most competitive it’s been in over 17 years. Because of this increased competition, employee “satisfaction” is no longer enough. People are seeking engagement, not just the ability to put food on the table. In other words, they want to feel fulfilled in life through their careers.

Job seekers also have access to more information than ever. A strong talent brand is essential to standing out in a sea of sameness. Research is also proving again and again that the value of the “right” hire – an employee that is engaged with the company – is statistically more productive.

I think it’s also important to point out that your clients care whether your employees are happy because it affects their experiences as well. Really, it’s customer service 101: happy employees equal happy customers. And at the end of the day, as a professional service organization, your “product” is your people. Beyond friendly service, your clients are looking for you to always employ the best and brightest to work on their account. Your talent brand is your key to luring the type of talent that drives business success.

Who’s involved in formulating a talent brand?

In a list:

  • Recruiting
  • Marketing
  • High-performers
  • Hiring managers
  • Executive leaders
  • Honestly…. Everyone

For your talent brand to be authentic, it is important to consider the experiences of employees at all levels. However, the key group that will give you the best insight are your high-performing or high-potential employees. They likely have deep internal networks, have a strong pulse on your culture and understand how to tie their personal goals to their business goals, which is what makes them successful.

So, interview them. Ask them about why they chose to work for you, what keeps them motivated, etc. How those individuals describe their experiences should resonate with the type of people that you want to hire and retain.

Your people are the core resources required for formulating your talent brand. Anyone can pull statistics about how diverse your workforce is or how many of your employees were promoted in the last year. The strongest messaging that will resonate deeply centers around intangibles, feelings, ideas and the energy that exists within your organizational culture.

Once you have the brand established – here’s a key tip – do not forget to communicate the messaging internally. Provide training to those who interview as well as those who hire, and certainly ensure that buy-in exists at a C-level.

What are a few industry leaders with standout talent brands (in your opinion)?

I think a great reference point is the 2018 Fortune 500 Top 100 Employment Brands report, which highlights different industries, and leaders within those industries, who have ranked highly in their ability to build a brand that tells a strong story about their talent strategy and employee experience.

Why do you think they’re successful?

No matter what industry, what type of work you do or who your clients are, the businesses that are most successful creating a strong talent brand are the businesses that are committed to the happiness, engagement, motivation and connectedness of their people.

Investing in your people is the first step to creating a strong talent brand. Without a strong culture that supports employee engagement, a strong talent brand cannot exist. If your people love working for your firm, they will share that with others, unsolicited. They want other smart, talented people to join them in what they’re excited to be doing. Your role is to give people channels to share what they think and feel about your business, so your people can drive the success of your talent brand on their own.

If you could give one piece of advice on beginning a talent brand development initiative, what would it be?

As a follow-up to the previous question, the first step is to make sure you are engaging your people in a way that capitalizes on what motivates them and makes them tick. Understand deeply what dynamics are involved, and research what intangibles exist within your organizational culture that make you unique. Even if it’s not unique, what are the strengths? Focus there.

Be transparent. Tell the whole story. Don’t be afraid to admit where you have opportunities for growth; be willing to share how you’re looking to constantly enhance the employee experience. There’s no need to spend too much time on this type of messaging but make a point to be honest and authentic.

That goes for sharing the best parts of your business as well – don’t brag, don’t even talk about it that much. Just show it. Tell stories, share experiences and highlight your people. They will build your brand for you because, really, they are your brand.

Anything else you want to touch on?

The same way that you need to keep your content, your website and general marketing materials fresh, you also need to constantly refresh your talent brand. It’s a bad sign if you’ve been telling the same three stories for two years. That’s not very dynamic. Prove that you’re committed to your brand the same way you’re committed to the employee experience, which requires consistent nurturing and development.

One North offers workshops to help our clients assess and analyze the strength of their talent brand, considering recruitment and employee retention/engagement business goals. Whether or not you seek assistance from One North or another firm, your current talent and prospective talent will appreciate and admire your commitment to being the best place to work.

To learn more about you can you develop a unique talent brand and stand out in a highly competitive talent market, check out our recent #1NWebinar: Talent Brand - The Missing Piece of Your Brand Puzzle

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Sarah Mueller Manager, Talent Development
+1 312.873.6763

As Manager, Talent Development, Sarah oversees recruitment, talent development and HR at One North. Sarah completed her M.S. in Organizational Development & Leadership, with the intent to expand her expertise in human behavior and adult psychology to drive strategic planning initiatives that serve employees and ultimately, clients. Combining belief in human potential with a focus on business outcomes, Sarah drives people strategies which enable One North to attract, engage and retain top talent.

  • If you were a vegetable, what vegetable would you be and why?: I would be a fruit. And I would be grapes. Because grapes are often served with cheese. And I’d love to hang with the cheese. #Wisconsinite
  • Favorite breakfast food: I don’t eat breakfast, but I eat about 6 dinners per day.

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