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Employer Branding – The Case For A Multidisciplinary Process Related Empirical Investigation Lara Moroko, Mark Uncles, University

of New South Wales Abstract There is growing recognition of the role employees play in the development and success of a company’s brand. This is encapsulated in the notion of employer branding. Based on a review of previous studies, the internal and external effects of employer branding are conceptualised. A critical assessment of the conceptualisation shows that while it has much merit, there are significant gaps and limitations. This paper argues for a more systematic approach that puts process-related issues at the centre of the investigation. The need for a study of the mechanisms underlying the process of employer branding at the firm and individual (employee) levels is required to address key questions, including the nature of and sufficient and necessary conditions for successful employer branding processes. Methodological implications are also discussed. Employees – the Emerging Force Behind Effective Brand Management In recent years, increasing attention has been given to the critical role employees play in the development and success of a company’s brand. In this context “brand” is defined as “a recognisable and trustworthy badge of origin and also a promise of performance” (Feldwick, 1991, p.21). Employees’ ongoing personal contact with consumers gives them a great deal of influence over the way in which consumers view the company (Kennedy, 1977; Stuart, 1999; Dowling, 2001). Employees also have the ability to help build strong and enduring brands, particularly within the services sector (McDonald et al, 2001; de Chernatony et al, 2003). As such, employees are becoming a recognised determinant of successful brand management. Recruiting and retaining employees who can consistently represent the brand in interactions with clients is now accepted as a significant source of competitive advantage (Chambers et al, 1998; Michaels et al, 2001). Recognising this, Ambler and Barrow (1996) and Ewing et al (2002) have introduced the concept of the “employer brand”. Defined by Ambler and Barrow (1996), the employer brand is “the package of functional, economic and psychological benefits provided by employment, and identified with the employing company” (p. 187). The employer brand concept unites a broad spectrum of existing thought relating to the way in which potential and current employees interact with a company’s brand and, in particular, the company’s brand image as an employer (Ambler & Barrow, 1996; Ewing et al, 2002; Lievens & Highhouse, 2003; Freeman & Knox, 2003; Backhaus, 2004; Backhaus & Tikoo, 2004). Despite growing practitioner and academic interest in employer brands, little is known about the process of employer branding - specifically the operation of mechanisms at the firm and individual (employee) levels that shape and perpetuate the employer brand. The employer branding process as defined here is an overarching concept. It is inclusive of the mechanisms that bring “life” to the employer brand (i.e., firm level mechanisms that shape and define the brand as well as underpin its ongoing implementation). It also includes the mechanisms by which potential and current employees interact with the employer band (i.e. how individuals build associations, brand meaning and ongoing loyalty for the employer brand). The following section outlines the existing literature on the employer branding process

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By fostering conditions for profitability and a positive external corporate reputation. 2004). 1996. Thus. consider its foundations (Ambler & Barrow.e. Ewing et al. the employer branding process attains an aspect of self-perpetuation. 2001).. Rust & Zahorik 1993. a 5% fall in defection) may increase profit from 25%-85%. the focus of theses studies has been to define the phenomenon (Ambler & Barrow. or examine the outcome of the process with respect to recruitment. 1996. employees and employers. illuminating the relationship between prospective employees. including relationship marketing. Effects on interactions external to the firm At the crux of the employer branding process from the firm’s perspective is the attraction and retention of “the best” employees. shareholders or to internal stakeholders (i. Our Current Understanding of the Employer Branding Process – a Broad View While a small body of employer branding literature exists. ANZMAC 2005 Conference: Branding 53 . In addition. By exceeding customer expectations (i. 2002. prospective employees. 1996). Anderson & Sullivan. 2003. Shultz (2004) makes a stronger link between employees’ alignment with the brand promise. 2002. “best” refers to those employees who can add value to the company and are able to deliver on the company’s brand promise.. i. as well as industry journals. Denton 1997) and retain (Michaels et al. concepts from human resources and organizational behaviour literatures. 1993. corporate branding. 2004). increases in customer satisfaction can drive increases in customer loyalty (although this is not automatic). To establish what may constitute the employer branding process. those components that primarily impact external stakeholders. the company may attract potential employees with skills and personal values that allow them to deliver on the brand promise and enable them to represent the brand and company in a consistent way (Ambler & Barrow. 2003.. internal marketing and corporate reputation. by providing positive disconfirmation) customers attain satisfaction (Woodruff et al. Dowling. it is evident that previous studies refer primarily to what can be seen as the effects of the process. Backhause & Tikoo. dependent on the industry under study. 1996. are also relevant. Freeman & Knox. A number of general marketing concepts would appear to be relevant. According to Heskett et al (1994) and others (Yeung et al. Backhaus. 1983). 1990. In this context. Lievens & Highhouse.e. customer satisfaction and increases in profit. employees are able to meet or exceed customers’ expectations based on brand promise or previous encounters with the company (Pringle & Gordon.e. This. Reichheld & Sasser (1990) report a 5% rise in customer loyalty (i. employer brand attributes or positioning (Ewing et al.and is followed by a discussion of how our understanding may be improved by taking a more mechanism related view. In reviewing the literature. drives revenue growth and profitability.e. in turn. In defining the employee value proposition and aligning it with the company’s brand promise. 2002).e. including customers. 2001) employees who want to share in and be associated with the company’s success. a broader review of the literature is required. Profitable firms with positive external reputations both attract (Fombrun & Shanley. These effects relate to external aspects of the organization (i. 1994). culture and identity. Reichheld. existing employees).

engendering greater loyalty to the firm and to team members (Herman. Bolino et al (2002) Internal effects B. Figure 1. nurtured and become satisfied and loyal (Dowling. existing employees have a large “signaling” impact on prospective employees (Rynes. Clark (1997) F: Staff/company alignment of performance expectations.Internal and External Effects of the Employer Branding Process A. flexible manufacturing. 2001).Effects on interactions internal to the firm In actively managing their employer brand. George (1990). Gilly & Wolfinbarger (1998). firms can maintain consistency of key brand messages across stakeholder groups. employer. values Pringle & Gordon (2001). evaluation of staff is objective. Accordingly. product brands Keller (2000). Literature relating to the interaction of internal and external effects is also detailed in Figure 1. Uncles (1995). Expected behavior and resulting rewards are explicit. business process re-engineering. et al (1994). Gronroos (1990). as described in the previous sections. a practice which may be of value (Duncan & Moriarty. Asif & Sargeant D: Profitability. support corporate. Ind 2001). 1994) and to share good views about the company with each other and prospective employees (Reichheld. Furthermore. when performance expectations and values are clear a “contract” is formed between the company and the employees (Rousseau. 1996). delivering on the objectives of the brand/organization (Ouchi. 1981). thus improving staff retention. 1996. Morrison (1994) contends that employee pro-social behavior (characterized by Bateman & Organ (1993) as employee citizenship behavior) is more likely to occur when such behaviors are incorporated into role expectations. there is support in the literature for an interaction between the external and internal “virtuous circles” of the employer branding process. Positive word of mouth amongst employees assists in building camaraderie within and across teams. Reichheld (1996) H: Positive word-of-mouth to prospective employees. customers satisfied/loyal ANZMAC 2005 Conference: Branding 54 . Grayson& Martinec (2004) C: Customers expectations met. 1991). delayering. This allows employees to “live” the brand.” the external and internal boundaries of firms are “collapsing” (p. Mendes. 2002).Virtuous Circles . teams reinforced Michaels et al (2001) E: Internal/external comms consistent. Shershic (1990). good performers are rewarded. Kelley (1990). Not only does congruence positively influence the perception of all related messages (to employees. loyal employees are more likely to remain with the firm (Heskett et al. attracting those with values that will fit with the brand and allow them to flourish (Chambers et al. 1998). Major et al. The relationship between expectations and behavior has been explored in the employee citizenship behavior literature. Bansal et al (2001). corporate reputation enhanced Heskett. 1995). Hatch and Shultz (1997) posit that due to “networking. it also ensures that employees are “properly aligned” with the brand and what it represents (Keller. Furthermore. Positive word-of-mouth helps contextualize the employment experience for prospective employees. Gronroos (1990). 1991). Attract/retain best people External effects Chambers et al (1998). 1994. Employees consistently representing company Ind(2001). the new focus on customer service. Satisfied. 1990). The interplay between internal and external effects Figure 1 provides a visual summary of key aspects of the internal and external effects of the employer branding process. Morrison (1994) G: Satisfied/loyal employees Interaction Reichheld (1996). et al. 1998. customers and other stakeholders). 356). and reinforcing corporate values and performance expectations among new and existing staff (Ind.

by definition (Feldwick. Simms. arrived at by reviewing the academic literature. may have negative consequences for the employee and firm including reduced job satisfaction. 1995. multidisciplinary. a process that results in negative or counterproductive ANZMAC 2005 Conference: Branding 55 . Robinson & Rousseau. as yet. Research to date does not shed light on whether there is such a thing as an unsuccessful employer branding process. Brands. i.e.Multidisciplinary. Woods. He posits that when there is a high level of cultural consistency in an organization. 2001. Hatfield. whether there may also be neutral or negative outcomes attributable to the employer branding process. skills. Theorists and practitioners alike would benefit from a systematic. Rousseau (1990) describes a psychological contract as “individual beliefs in reciprocal obligations between employees and employees” (p. i. Employer branding has not been studied as a process. 2002. 2002. However. empirical examination of the following: A coherent view of the “virtuous circles” of employer branding in practice While the literature indicates a range of plausible. reduced organizational trust. particularly with respect to attracting and retaining desirable employees. Aldrich (1999) raises what may be a potentially undesirable outcome of the process. 1994). which considers the underlying generative mechanisms of the employer branding process and the scope of outcomes that may arise from these mechanisms. 2002. 1994). 2003. is a way in which our deficiency of understanding may be addressed. Organizational behaviour literature points to a similar phenomenon where employers hire employees with similar characteristics. decreased job performance and increased turnover (Robinson & Morrison. that the virtuous circles operate wholly as specified. 1999). there is no compelling evidence. 1996).149) which. for example: Lee. these outcomes are at best conjectural. Buss. Taking a truly process-related view. For example. This approach is not necessarily beneficial to the firm as it limits diversity (Robbins. 1991) contain a “promise of performance” (p. Process Related Empirical Examination – Equally Critical for Theorists and Practitioners This conceptualisation. Agreement between the two bodies of literature could indicate that the benefit of additional empirical investigation is minimal. Similarly. if unfulfilled in the eyes of the employee.389). Donath. and attitudes to themselves. Linstedt. however.e. mechanisms at the firm and individual level that constitute the process have not been examined over time and from the perspective of a variety of related actors. It does not necessarily follow that implementing an employer branding process will result in the outcomes suggested by the existing literature. the consceptualisation highlights only a normative. 2001. even logical outcomes. is echoed in part or in whole in human resources management and marketing trade publications (see. It is not known. conjectural view of the outcome of the process. The scope of the outcomes of employer branding The literature and initial anecdotal evidence indicates that firms undertaking employer branding experience positive outcomes. negative outcomes of the process may arise when employees find their experience of employment differs from that promised by the company in communication of the employer brand. organizational growth may be threatened as variation to existing work practices introduced by employees is likely to be low. While there is support for links between one or more of the components (for example Heskett et al.

Human resources and organizational management literatures. loyalty and organizational citizenship behaviour). over time. Mechanisms “can be seen as a systematic set of statements that provide a plausible account of how [entities] are linked to each other” (Hedstrom & Swedberg. This raises the question “how do they differ and under what conditions?”.outcomes. p. data gathered from employees managing the process as well as employees targeted by the process could facilitate an understanding of the operation of firm level mechanisms (eg: management of culture and organisational identity. This limits our understanding of sufficient and necessary conditions for employer brands to succeed. Mechanisms underpinning the process As Ambler & Barrow (1996) state. However. but mutatis mutandis applicable to the employer brand. For example. psychological contracts. This will allow a focussed and theoretically meaningful analysis of the process in practice. There is substantial indication that the process itself is multidisciplinary and should be studied across firms’ functional units. as well as making it difficult to find methods we may use to judge the level of success. internal communication and branding) and individual level mechanisms (brand attraction. ANZMAC 2005 Conference: Branding 56 . brand meaning. for example. mechanisms that may combine to create and perpetuate the process need to be identified. In order to employ a systemic approach to the examination of the process. within firms that are regarded as having/not having successful employee brands. It will also allow a structured comparison of those companies identified as having a successful employer brand with those having an unsuccessful employer brand to identify variations in the presence and operation of those mechanisms. 1998. 7). It is also evident in the review of literature that other schools of thought and practice may offer techniques outside those traditionally associated with marketing and branding. Furthermore.g. traditional marketing techniques are not directly applicable. to prescribe a series of activities based on the review of the literature. normatively. may be beneficial in constructing a detailed understanding of how the employer branding process works and the scope of process outcomes. This would enable analysis of the mechanisms across and within specific contexts/firms. employee attraction and retention. this deterministic approach does nothing to bring us closer to uncovering the process as it is grounded in practice. may be shown to be pivotal to the employer branding process.. The relationship between employer branding and other branding processes It is convenient. is a successful employer branding process predicated on a successful corporate or product branding process? Is it possible to have an unsuccessful employer branding process in the presence of a successful corporate or product brand? Conversely. providing mechanisms that plausibly account for the employee and employer interaction. the hallmarks of a successful or unsuccessful employer branding process have not been identified. Using mechanisms identified in extant literature as a framework. employee/organization identification. and within those regarded as having/not having successful corporate and product brands). great insight would be gained from examining the process as it occurs in a variety of firm contexts (e. Furthermore. is it possible to sustain a successful employer branding process in the absence of a successful corporate or product brand? Conclusion The preceding discussion indicates that a systematic investigation of the employer branding process in practice is indeed warranted. Qualitative methods that allow focussed comparison of such firms.

p. and Highhouse. “Explaining Development and Change in Organizations”. The War For Talent.. The Journal of Brand Management..” European Journal of Marketing. Loveman.S. 3-22.. L. F. Boston Van de Ven. Sasser. 1995. Feldwick. 1997.. Boston Reichheld. P.F.B. 185-206. D.J. Hatch. 2003. H. K and Tikoo. “Relations between organizational culture. Profits and Lasting Value. N. and Barrow.. de Bussy. branding process and inter-functional management literature. A.. Cowley. B. 1996. 164-171 Lievens.. 2002.F. Understanding Brands. Academy of Management Review. M. L.. Journal of Quality Management. 2004. Personnel Psychology..M. 356-365. and Axelrod. ANZMAC 2005 Conference: Branding 57 . and Schlesinger. and Sharma. S. 1994. E. and Poole. International Journal of Advertising. J. meaningful framework of the employer branding process. J. Selected Bibliography Ambler. “Employment Branding in the Knowledge Economy”. 20 (3).com”. F. taking the proposed process/mechanism approach may result in an understanding that has distinct advantages for practitioners and academics. A.. 2004. ed. identity and image. 72 (2). and Berthon. 75-103 Michaels. Jones T. “The employer brand”. it will add to the extant employer branding... 56 (1).O. H.. The Loyalty Effect: The Hidden Force Behind Growth. Pitt. B. M. Kogan Page. Ewing. 4 (3). 2001. London.In contrast to our current view of the employer branding process. M.. 9 (4/5).. 6.. “An Exploration of Corporate Recruitment Descriptions on Monster. K.L. P. The resulting research may assist firms in pursuing particular employer branding strategies by adapting the firm level mechanisms and enhancing the operation of specific individual level mechanisms. S. Handfield-Jones. “Defining a Brand”. H. W. Additionally. G. T.. 1991. 510-540. 31 (7/8). Mendelson. W. Backhaus. E. 1996. The Journal of Business Communication. S. Career Development International. 61-76. . Harvard Business School Press.21. and Schultz. 115-120 Backhaus. “The Relation Of Instrumental And Symbolic Attributes To A Company's Attractiveness As An Employer”. 41 (2). “The impact of internal marketing activities on external marketing outcomes”. “Putting the Service-Profit Chain to Work”.. 2001. Heskett. M. Harvard Business Review. “Conceptualizing and researching employer branding”.. 50510 Bansal. This in itself would be a first step to creating a coherent. Harvard Business School Press. M. 21 (1). S.