What ‘the Employer Brand’ really means, from the man who coined the term

Simon Barrow who was guest speaker at the Ipswich Suffolk Business Club at Milsoms, Kesgrave Hall.

Simon Barrow who was guest speaker at the Ipswich Suffolk Business Club at Milsoms, Kesgrave Hall. He is a consultant and researcher on Employer Brand Management. Picture: Genesis PR - Credit: Archant

What does having a good ‘employer brand’ really mean for a business? According to Simon Barrows, the man who claims to have first coined the term ‘the employer brand’ its about much more than just uploading a set of worthy statements onto a website.

Mr Barrow defined the term in a paper he co-authored in 1996 on the topic for London Business School, and later in the book he co-authored in 2005, The Employer Brand: Bringing the Best of Brand Management to People at Work. Since then, Mr Barrow’s phrase has become a global concept, with Google results of 3.46 million – up 530,000 in the last three months.

The branding guru, who lives between Orford and Snape, consults on the topic for businesses, describing employer branding as being about “bringing the best of brand management to the sprawling, litigious world of work.”

“The employer brand is how you pull these masses of things all together and create something in reputation terms based on the truth of how things actually are for you,” he explains.

Mr Barrow worked as a brand manager for Knorr (soups, sauces and stock cubes) for eight years and then for Colegate-Palmolive for five years. After starting his own business in 1992 and selling it to a US group in 2007, he is now an independent adviser specialising in employer branding and mergers and acquisitions, “the torture test for any employer brand.”

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Mr Barrow asserts that every company has an employer brand, “whether they like it or not.” He cites Aspall cider as a Suffolk business with a great employer brand, – “but its just been bought by Molson Brewery – how’s that going to work in terms of employer branding?” he wonders.

Mr Barrow claims the reason why employer branding is becoming increasingly pivotal to business is that we are becomiing more human-focused. “30-40 years ago, how did you value your business? It was about plant, machinery, buildings and cash. Hard, tangible assets. Today, 80% of the value of a business is in intangibles, its you and me - and you can’t just take that to the bank.”

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But won’t that people-centric thinking change in the age of automation? “No”, claims Mr Barrow. “You may conceivably need fewer people at the level at which AI operates, but the people you do need will have to be brighter than ever before.”

He claims that automation of industry makes employer branding even more critical, because “you’d better have great people looking after your business.”

Whilst Mr Barrow’s own business, Simon Barrow Associates, which he formed in 2014, is more concerned with consulting for corporate businesses, he says one of the biggest “employer brand challenges” in the UK right now lies in how to elevate the employer brand of care homes. “There’s a desparate shortage of people prepared to work in care homes,” he says. “How do you make people feel great about doing all the things that older people need? I would endeavour to research care home workers and their bosses, and do a lot of listening. Maybe there is something wrong with the financial calculations, because care workers ought to be better paid for sort of job.”

Despite recent delays and cancellations, Mr Barrow praises train operators Greater Anglia for its Employer Branding. “I was at Liverpool Street Station and noticed on the back of somebody’s uniform the words ‘presentation team,’” he recalls. “They were cleaning toilets and sweeping floors. But Greater Anglia had recognised that they’re actually responsible for how this zillion-pound train actually looks when before it pulls out of the station, which is an important job. Being on a ‘presentation team’ is slightly sexier than ‘cleaners on the round.’ Its about uplifting the job.”

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