Employer Branding

By Jon Cohen

Employer Brands…Without Employers or Employees?

People often define brand as the promise between a company and its consumers.  But a brand is actually the relationship between an organization and all of its stakeholders – consumers, investors, communities, employees, and more.  The most durable brands are built from the inside out, with strong employer brands.  Companies who invest in their employer brands attract better candidates and keep employees happier and longer, and those employees tell the stories of a company’s brand to anyone who will listen.

An employer brand is the unique value employees receives in return for the skills, talents, and experience they bring to a company.  It is sometimes referred to as an employee value proposition, or EVP. The value need not be financial – other elements of good employer brands are the company’s mission, its culture, and its impact on the world.  The best employees aren’t attracted by what a company offers, but by why it exists and how it impacts the community.

For the last 5 years or so, the gig economy has challenged typical notions of what it means to be an “employer” or “employee”.  The gig economy is the body of jobs performed freelance or on short-term contracts, often as short-term as a few minutes.  Classic examples of gig economy jobs are driving for Uber, or performing tasks for TaskRabbit.

The primary benefit of gig economy work has typically been the flexibility to choose when, where, and even if to work on any given day.  However, the very existence of the gig economy at large is being challenged by a series of legislative and judicial actions in California (certain to be followed by additional states and possibly countries) that require companies to classify many gig workers as employees rather than as contractors, as they have customarily been classified.  Putting aside any political perspective on the legislation, as a brand strategy firm we must recognize the pressure this places on many new-economy companies’ employer brands as they wrestle with redefining the meanings of the words “employer” and “employee”.

There is a philosophical question at the heart of this quagmire.  To have an employer brand, you need (at the very least) an employer and an employee.  But if the very definitions of “employer” and “employee” are not generally agreed-upon anymore, can you even have an employer brand?  Will an employer brand make sense in a world where the foundational terms on which the brand is built are no longer understood?

Every company’s situation is unique. However, we believe that one way to navigate the complexity in the short term is to elevate the conversation above day-to-day operational and legal realities, which are changing in unpredictable ways.  At their core, great gig economy brands are on noble missions – to democratize travel, to give local businesses new exposure, to create a global platform for creative souls, etc.  The way they achieve their missions will change with evolving legislative and political realities.  But the most durable brands will not waver from expressing, repeatedly and relentlessly, their commitments to their core missions.  This is, after all, what great brands do.