Sharing brand storytelling in an authentic way helps companiesÂ connect and engage with employees at many levels.
By Marta Chmielowicz
Storytelling is an ancient and universal human trait. FromÂ visual stories told through cave drawings and ancientÂ hieroglyphs to epic poems communicated to the masses,Â stories have been central to how humans connect, learn, andÂ make sense of the world. Even with the advent of printing,Â and later, technology, the common themes and narrativesÂ found in good stories remain constant.
But in the last few decades, the way that people tell andÂ listen to stories has continued to change. Media is nowÂ consumed more quickly and frequently than ever beforeÂ with new communication platforms emerging every day,Â often providing access on all types of devices. StorytellersÂ are now faced with the challenge of communicating theirÂ narratives in this ever-evolving media landscape.
While this accelerated rate of information consumption hasÂ opened up a world of opportunity for companies lookingÂ to generate interest around their content and brands, itÂ has also created an environment that is highly competitive. “With the digitization [of our business and personal worlds]Â and todayâs much-publicized broader political context comesÂ a more cynical outlook from voters, customers, employees,Â and candidates. Reputation websites are now commonplaceÂ and not just the preserve of Glassdoor or Indeed,â saysÂ Andy Curlewis, senior vice president of brand, digital, andÂ communications at Cielo.
In this challenging environment, embracing transparencyÂ and authenticity when developing a cohesive brand story isÂ the key to success. âTransparency, truth, and accountabilityÂ are disciplines that we need to be better atâand this mustÂ start with both a clear vision and an ability to tell our storiesÂ in a relevant and authentic manner,â Curlewis explains.
Organizations that are able to develop a unique andÂ authentic voice that connects with their audience will beÂ rewarded with higher engagement and loyalty to theirÂ brand. Browne & Brandâs Chief Marketing Officer MichelleÂ Talbot says, âIf the story is compelling, it not only getsÂ attention but will get people excited to be part of yourÂ company. We all want to feel part of something with likemindedÂ people who are either working toward the sameÂ goal or are compelled to support the mission a company orÂ brand is putting forth. This affects employee engagementÂ because the brand story becomes their story, and they willÂ want to do good by it and spread the word.â
What defines great brand storytelling? According toÂ Curlewis, âGood brand storytelling means you have a clearÂ and differentiated brand proposition that is segmentedÂ to the relevant employees, candidates, locations, and jobÂ types; that you understand your talent market and have theÂ right reach into and engagement with it; that you have anÂ authentic and respected reputation; and that you are able toÂ offer an exceptional candidate or employee experience thatÂ drives the right behaviors needed for your business, bothÂ now and in the future. This will, in turn, impact your top andÂ bottom line. We call this âtalent magnetismâ.â
Brand storytelling is more than just a marketing strategyâitÂ is the culmination of everything a company is and does.Â From an organizationâs history to its goals, purpose, and theÂ way it is perceived by its audience, a good brand story makesÂ a company come alive.
Successful brand stories often share three common features:
- A distinctive and consistent voice. âBrand storytelling isÂ a powerful way to bring a companyâs brand to life, whichÂ means the narrative has to reflect core elements of theÂ brandâs identity and promise,â says Brian Little, head ofÂ human resources at Zurich North America.
In addition to clearly demonstrating an organizationâs keyÂ values, brand storytelling should illustrate the value that aÂ company can bring to those who support it. âA strong brandÂ narrative starts with a strong employee promise that trulyÂ represents your company. A strong employee promise isÂ critical for a company to stand out in the marketplace andÂ ensure it leads in attracting and keeping great people,âÂ says Cathy Scarlett, BMO Financial Groupâs vice president ofÂ talent acquisition.
And for the best results, it is important that this messagingÂ is consistent throughout the entire candidate andÂ employee experience. âWeâve put the candidate at theÂ center of everything we do to create experiences thatÂ are personalized, simple, intuitive, and predictable. MyÂ team is more than a group of recruitersâthey are brandÂ ambassadors for the company. As someone moves fromÂ candidate to employee, our core values and what we standÂ for should always feel the same,â Scarlett adds.
According to John Wilson, founder and CEO of WilsonÂ HCG, this is important because âThere is a direct correlationÂ between the candidate and employee experience andÂ your consumer brand. Candidates and employees are alsoÂ customers and consumers. Everything from your employerÂ brand to the candidate experience to the way you treat yourÂ workforce impacts your customer base.â
- An authentic message. âI think the biggest componentÂ of great brand storytelling is authenticity,â Talbot says.Â âGetting people connected to your brand at an emotionalÂ level is the best way to keep people engaged andÂ connected. People like vulnerability and will be more likelyÂ to engage if a company or organization is talking to them atÂ a human level.â
Wilson believes that authenticity can best be achieved byÂ leveraging the stories of existing employees. By providingÂ real examples of achievement and demonstrating theÂ passion of the workforce, these stories can inspire andÂ motivate candidates and employees to become a part ofÂ something greater. âItâs important to give your peopleÂ the platform to tell their storiesâwhat they do, why itâsÂ important to them, and how it makes an impact,â he says.Â âThis is much more powerful than any corporate message.Â In this way, organizations establish trust and credibility withÂ their talentâsubsequently leading to better engagement asÂ well as recruitment as a whole.â
For example, Zurich North America leverages employee-drivenÂ content to illustrate the elements that make theÂ company unique with great results. âWe recently redesignedÂ our careers website to incorporate stories and narrativesÂ from our employees on why they like to work at Zurich,Â how their careers are being developed here, and whatÂ motivates them to deliver for our customers. We also planÂ on launching social media campaigns this year to reinforceÂ key themes that reflect our company culture, purpose, andÂ values,â explains Little.
- A compelling and engaging format. Itâs not enough to writeÂ a great brand narrativeâcompanies also need to ensureÂ that their content is being seen and shared online. WithÂ the prevalence of social media, brand stories that are short,Â sweet, and engaging have the best chance of success.Â
Jeff Bettinger, vice president and global head of talentÂ management and organizational development at Alcon,Â believes that simplicity and brevity is key.â A great storyÂ has to be told answering one simple question: âWhy is thisÂ important for me?â If we canât answer that in the first 10Â seconds, we have already lost the audience. We want peopleÂ to feel something within seconds and see themselves atÂ Alcon by the end of the message,â he explains.
Once a concise message is developed, it should be sharedÂ across multiple formats and platforms in order to meet theÂ widest audience possible. âWe have used quotes, videos,Â photos, and developed a variety of social media memesÂ and other storytelling devices to convey our brand,â saysÂ Bettinger. âWe use Facebook, Glassdoor, and IndeedÂ primarily in the United States. In areas outside the U.S., weÂ have worked with our local HR teams to ensure we usedÂ platforms that were relevant to that region or location.Â We also did and continue to do significant training of ourÂ recruitment teams on how to share the message of Alcon.â
While brand narratives should be presented in both visualÂ and written formats, video is particularly effective inÂ capturing and holding an audienceâs attention. CurlewisÂ says, âVideo remains a premium medium for storytelling. AtÂ the top end of the investment scale, you have hero videos,Â which tell an epic story of the brandâs vision, purpose, andÂ impact in the world. At the most affordable end, you canÂ have employee-shot footage. Both can be enhanced throughÂ music and skillful editing. And videos can be edited intoÂ different lengths for different channels, making them one ofÂ the most versatile and powerful forms of engagement.â
While Zurich North America leverages a combinationÂ of quotes, videos, photos, and write-ups in their brandÂ storytelling strategy, videos have generated the bestÂ results. âVideo is by far the format with one of the highestÂ engagement rates, and we intend to maximize the impact ofÂ this medium to convey our stories,â confirms Little. âGoingÂ forward, we plan to do more short videos of employeesÂ aligned with key themes such as diversity and inclusion,Â customer focus, community impact, and winning together inÂ the marketplace.â
Themes that Make an Impact
The most effective brand stories incorporate all of theseÂ elements using classic archetypes that are specifically tied toÂ certain themes. Some of these themes include:
- Transformation. From how an organization has evolvedÂ throughout the years to opportunities for growth with theÂ business, transformative stories can be leveraged in severalÂ different ways.
âTransformation is a key ingredient in storytelling,â saysÂ Cieloâs Curlewis. âItâs important to also think about storyÂ arcs: Where has your business come from? What ordealsÂ have you overcome? What feats of strength and courageÂ propelled you from okay-ness to greatness? What form willÂ your next transformation and triumph take? And what doesÂ that mean for your people? Share your vision, be transparentÂ about the journey that youâre on, and invite employees andÂ potential candidates to help shape the next chapter. InviteÂ them to be part of your adventure.â
The theme of transformation is particularly powerful inÂ BMO Financial Groupâs brand storytelling strategy. âPeopleÂ underestimate how inspiring a career at a bank can be andÂ overlook or leave a banking career because itâs uninspiring.Â However, with the rapid change of the external landscape,Â this is the perfect opportunity to help shape financialÂ services for today and tomorrow. Thatâs how we settled onÂ a bold challenge to future employees: Letâs change the wayÂ the world banks,â explains Scarlett.
- Opportunity. Another key idea that resonates stronglyÂ with candidates is career growth and development. âTheÂ ability to learn and progress is now a principal driver of aÂ companyâs employer brand. Candidates and employees areÂ making their decisions on whether these opportunities exist.Â Employers need to capitalize on this trend rather than fightÂ against it,â Wilson says.
Great brand stories should invite candidates to become partÂ of an organization that is worthwhile and excitingâa placeÂ where they can contribute as an individual and realize theirÂ own potential as they help the business grow.
Zurich North America leverages this theme in their strategyÂ by mapping the employee journey and identifying keyÂ moments that define the employee experience. âTo developÂ a brand narrative, our marketing team leveraged findingsÂ from the employee experience work to humanize our brandÂ by featuring several employees at various stages of theirÂ journey at Zurich on our careers website and in internalÂ communications,â Little explains. âIn addition, we alsoÂ featured our âCommunity Investment Volunteer AwardâÂ winners on the community impact section of the companyÂ website. These are ways by which we are creating emotionalÂ connections with current and future employees.â
- Doing good. Brand stories are most effective when theyÂ are personal, compelling, and emotionally-charged. ItâsÂ important to win hearts as well as minds, and one of theÂ most inspiring ways to do that is by demonstrating how theÂ audience can make a difference in the world by engagingÂ with an organization.
âYou must engage people emotionally. Illustrate meaning andÂ help people to derive a sense of purpose from what they do.Â Connect the dots between their daily activities and makingÂ the world a better place. Purpose-led individuals derive moreÂ satisfaction and fulfillment from their work because theyÂ believe that their activities matter,â says Curlewis.
Purpose is the foundation of Alconâs brand storytellingÂ success. âThe secret sauce of Alcon is the difference we makeÂ in millions of lives each year. We help people see better.Â Who doesnât want to be part of making that difference toÂ families and those impacted by eye disease or issues? EveryÂ day, we go to work finding ways to bring solutions to theÂ physicians who bring sight. Highlighting these stories in ourÂ career materials, website, and in our social media allows usÂ to tell the story to potential employees that they can be partÂ of that noble cause,â says Bettinger.
Brand storytelling is a key aspect in an organizationâsÂ attraction and retention strategy. One thing HRÂ professionals should keep in mind is that a one-size-fits-allÂ approach will not suffice. âItâs important to note that itâs aÂ collection of well-written stories, delivered with a frequencyÂ and targeting that is relevant for the intended audience,Â which ultimately differentiates good from great brandÂ storytelling,â says Little. âNo single story is going to moveÂ the needle as much as a series of stories that collectivelyÂ reinforces the companyâs brand promise, strategy, purposeÂ and values.â
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