The Employer brand
Amazingly - this is not a subject I have yet touched upon. Though it is probably the most important application of marketing in the IT services industry. It's also an area I have done a fair bit in - but I think I have always seen it as ancillary to my role ; never really core. A few days ago - in london, I was fortunate to be part of a communication meeting happening between a vertical sales leadership team and a set of employees who had become quite critical (acquiring rare skill in a customer engagement). The engagement brought home why it was always important to put the employee first - these were highly intelligent people who understood their own value, respected the organisation they worked for and wanted to maximise their own contribution. They truly represented the "Transformer" - something I had played a role in creating but (I now realised) still had to internalise.
How does the employer brand differ from the brand itself ? Clearly they cannot be different - one has to resonate with and feed the other. The Transformer branding was a consequence of an insight that concluded that the HCL identity was best described in the words "The extraordinary individual". The ad shown became a part of a recruitment campaign - and this position went on to become part of a massive organisation transformation resulting in the much talked about "Employee First" phenomenon at HCL Technologies. Does this work for the customer ? - Perhaps not. This is why I did not treat this area with great relevance.
Whats the problem with that ? - the answer hit me when I met that team of talented employees in london. Through effective use of strategy (blue ocean etc) it is possible to create unique areas where customers find you - therefore, in this industry, the customer franchise cannot truly be described to be highly competitive - the supplier and the buyer maintain a balance. Witness HCLs enormous success in Remote Infrastructure Management - a position created more through strategy than marketing communication. The story is exactly the opposite on the employee end - while effective strategy can convert the employees output into unique solutions, the employees output still remains standard. The truly competitive market becomes the employment market with employees on the supply side and companies on the buy side. For some time now this is a market which has been in imbalance with power residing on the supply side. Current recessionary conditions may swing the see saw in the other direction and re establish balance.
There is no doubt in my mind that true competitive advantage in a services industry can only be established in the employment space.