Creating an Employee Brand Makes All the Difference

Think about the company you work for. What is its purpose? What story does it tell? What is the company — and each employee — working toward every day?

The answers to such questions should be part of a brand story that inspires and guides employees to work toward their company’s mission. But ask these questions of a typical employee and most will draw a blank.

In a 2013 Gallup study, only 41 percent of U.S. workers could say what their company stands for and what makes its brand different from competitors — a troubling discovery given that such awareness is a leading driver of employee engagement. The study pegged employee engagement at a dismal 30 percent nationwide, which costs the U.S. economy an estimated $450 billion to $550 billion annually, according to Gallup.

Developing an employee brand — an authentic and clear definition of what your company stands for and what role its employees play in achieving the company vision — is a crucial step toward improving employee engagement and transforming employees into your company’s most enthusiastic advocates.

At the core of any employee brand is the talent value proposition, or TVP, which is the unique opportunity that a company provides to its employees. It’s what motivates them to do their best work. To begin developing a TVP, think about the company’s mission, vision and values and how those can be leveraged to create a fulfilling employee experience. A strategically designed TVP should define what the company wants to achieve, what the ideal talent mindset is and the values they exhibit. When employees talk about why they love working at your company, the TVP should be the reason they’re raving.

Once a clear TVP is developed, it should be integrated into the employee brand, guiding internal communications to current employees and external efforts to hire the talent that best fits the organization. An employee brand should be clear and consistent across all channels — print, social media, digital — and highlight the company’s vision and how employees are positioned to realize that vision.

With more than 350,000 employees, most of them in customer-facing roles, Target Corp. can’t risk employees being unaware of its purpose or apathetic about realizing the company’s vision. With this in mind, Target, working with strategic design firm Little (Editor’s Note: The author works for Little), redesigned its quarterly employee magazine, RED, to tell a brand story.

Filled with storytelling focused on team members from across the organization, RED inspires those delivering the “Expect more. Pay less” brand promise to become advocates for the company. With the latest evolution of RED, 88 percent of team members said they read the magazine, a jump of 20 percent during the past two years.

Similarly, to ensure that their brand was clearly understood across all divisions and countries, global tech giant Microsoft developed the Microsoft Personality Playbook and Brand Principle Video. By presenting a distinct picture of the company’s place in an evolving marketplace, the playbook and video aim to prepare and inspire employees to communicate their brand with one voice.

The brand story should always have a strong connection to the company’s consumer-facing brand. Without a link that connects what employees see as their purpose to what the company is promising customers, there is the risk that employees will create a brand experience that doesn’t resonate with the consumers they’re serving.

Employee brand isn’t just a tagline or a poster campaign in a corporate office; it’s a constant guide for helping the organization meet its vision and define its mission. The employee brand should be the hook that brings in future high performers as well as a reminder to current employees of the organization’s purpose.

There are many benefits to properly creating an employer brand. Companies will be able to recruit employees who are most suited to meeting their vision. Current employees will have a clear guidepost for decision-making and a reason to value their work with a sense of pride. They will also be able to connect work to the organization’s purpose.

Joe Cecere is president and chief creative officer of Little, a strategic design firm based in Minneapolis. He can be reached at