How to Align Your Employer Branding with Your Corporate and Customer Branding

By Richard Mosley

The employer brand forms one branch of the overall brand tree. The trunk of this tree is the corporate brand, which includes those elements (including core values and identity guidelines) that should ideally be reflected in every branch of brand communication (to current and future employees, customers, investors, business partners, and other key stakeholder groups).

Likewise, the employer brand defines the core elements that should be reflected in some form across every branch of recruitment marketing and employee communication. This overall framework, branching outward from the corporate center, is often referred to as the brand hierarchy.

Working with a monolithic brand

The monolithic or branded house framework describes organizations that work with a single overarching brand, such as Amazon, Apple, IBM, and LEGO. The LEGO Group offers up a great example of a branded house framework that is both consistent and adaptive. Although its early branding focused narrowly on LEGO products and customers, the company recognized the value of tailoring the brand to different stakeholder groups. The result was the LEGO brand framework.

Lego brand
Reproduced with the permission of the LEGO Group The LEGO brand framework.

In the LEGO Group’s case, the Mission, Vision, Spirit, and Values define the core, and the four promises define their tailored propositions to the company’s four main stakeholder groups: customers (the Play Promise), partners (the Partner Promise), employees (the People Promise), and community (the Planet Promise).

In the context of a monolithic brand, which is probably the most common, you need to be particularly aware of the relationship between the employer brand and the customer brand, because the associations built through customer brand marketing and experience are most likely to influence people’s expectations of your employer brand. You must consider the influence of the customer brand and experience when reviewing your current employer brand image.

Likewise, your customer brand affects where and how you build bridges between your customer and employer value propositions and marketing strategy. Generally speaking, building bridges wherever possible is to your advantage, but you need to pay attention both to the potential resonance and to the potential dissonance between customer brand benefits and the employment offer:

  • Potential resonance: Look for aspects of your customer brand that may be highly relevant to your employer brand. The most obvious aspects tend to be higher-order associations with the following:
    • Purpose: The value the customer brand brings to individuals and society.
    • Teamwork: For example, the customer marketing of McDonald’s, which focuses on family and friends, translates well into the “family feel” McDonald’s promises employees working in its restaurants.
    • Empowerment: For example, many tech brand promises such as Vodafone’s “Power to You” focus on empowering and enabling qualities that translate extremely well to the work context.
    • Innovation: Because employers place a high value on innovation, building a clear bridge between innovation in the customer brand and the employment offer makes sense, as long as the degree of participation in innovation is sufficient to make it a working reality.
    • Performance: Customer claims, such as Avis’s famous line “We try harder,” can set a positive tone and expectation for the employment experience, but this needs to be handled with care, as explained next.
  • Potential dissonance: Some customer brand promises don’t translate as well into employer brand promises. For example, given the widespread desire of people to achieve some form of work/life balance in their careers, Citibank’s previous tagline “Citi never sleeps” may have played very well with customers but not necessarily as well with potential employees.

If you’re working within a branded house framework, carefully assess potentially positive overlaps between the employer and customer brand. Also, address any potential conflicts.

Navigating within a house of brands

An alternative to the branded house framework is the house of brands framework, commonly found within consumer goods companies — companies with a single corporate brand but many different product brands. Examples include P&G, Unilever, and Diageo. With the integrated branded house framework, you have one employer brand but a more diverse range of consumer value propositions.

A key objective within the branded house framework is to educate prospective employees on the relationships between the company and its product portfolio. For example, Unilever smells sweeter when prospective candidates realize it owns the leading global brands Axe and Dove. Such communication helps potential candidates to better understand the full reach of the company’s footprint and the potential scope of opportunity available.

If your company’s name is identical to the name of one of your leading products, as in the case with Bacardi, Ferrero, Pepsico, and the Coca-Cola Company, high levels of product awareness may work both in your favor and against you. Having such a popular product in its line certainly makes the Coca-Cola Company well known to talented individuals around the world.

However, the Coca-Cola Company and its similarly named bottling companies are often assumed to sell only Coke, which can appear very limited to potential candidates. In this situation, it’s even more important to promote the wider portfolio of brands that the company owns to ensure that potential candidates don’t underestimate the full scope and diversity of the company.

Optimizing the parent-subsidiary house of brands framework

A common variation on the house of brands framework involves a group or parent company acting as an umbrella brand for a number of subsidiaries. In this situation, you may need to consider two levels of employer brand — the group/parent brand and the subsidiary brand, as in the following examples:

Levels of Employer Branding
Group/Parent Brand Subsidiary Brand
Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) Holiday Inn
PepsiCo Frito-Lay
The Walt Disney Company ESPN

The group brand generally sets the parameters within which the subsidiary brands operate. These parameters differ significantly from group to group and vary depending on which end of the spectrum the group operates:

  • Loose (weak) group brand: In some holding companies, the relationship between the group and its subsidiaries is purely financial, with very few restrictions on the subsidiary branding or management style. At this end of the spectrum, it makes sense for each subsidiary to develop its own EVP and employer brand to best reflect its organizational style, culture, and customer brand positioning.
  • Tight (strong) group brand: At this end of the spectrum the only difference between subsidiaries within the group is the company name, with every other aspect of management consistent across the group. Here it makes sense for the company subsidiaries to operate under one group-level EVP and employer brand identity.

Between these two extremes is a range of possibilities where branding is more a question of balancing the roles of group and subsidiary employer brands. To strike the right balance in this middle ground, place greater emphasis on the group EVP and employer brand identity when

  • The group brand carries significant equity, adding appeal to any subsidiary brand it is attached to — for example, Volkswagen (Group) and Skoda (subsidiary).
  • The primary group-level objective is to leverage synergies and efficiencies of scale.
  • The organization wants to promote shared values and culture across the group.
  • Emphasis is placed on creating a group-wide leadership cadre through a shared leadership development scheme and promotion of career mobility around the group.
  • Overall engagement with the group is more relevant or desirable than maximizing frontline engagement with the product or service brand that the subsidiary delivers.

Shift the emphasis to subsidiary EVPs and employer brand identities when

  • The group brand carries low or negative equity in relation to a subsidiary — for example, Volkswagen group in relation to Bentley and Porsche (subsidiaries).
  • The primary group-level objective is to maximize the distinctive brand personality, autonomy, and agility of its subsidiaries.
  • The group espouses a diverse, multicultural organizational ethos, where each subsidiary is allowed to operate within its own value system within the limits of a basic code of ethics.
  • The organization places a greater emphasis on leadership loyalty and specialism within subsidiary companies than on talent mobility across the group.
  • The group wants subsidiaries to maximize frontline engagement with its product and service brand.

You can also choose to operate a sliding scale of group/subsidiary brand identification, depending on the role and seniority of employees. With this model, the group employer brand operates as a management and shared services brand, with the subsidiary employer brand taking the lead in the process of hiring and engaging frontline employees.

Don’t treat the relationship between the corporate brand and employer brand as a one-way street, with the corporate brand dominating the higher ground and dictating all the moves. Recent research from Edelman suggests that developing a strong employer brand has become a highly critical component in driving the overall corporate brand reputation.