Ipsos Corporate Reputation

Employer branding – corporate reputation and the war for talent

Having a strong employer brand is crucial to corporate reputation, giving companies not only a recruitment edge in the growing talent war but also the highest-quality long-term ambassadors to deliver on their brand promises.
Employees are more demanding than ever when it comes to what they expect from their employer but this is not purely down to Millennials; employees at all life stages want a career with a deeper purpose.
Getting it wrong and failing to deliver on the employee brand expectation can have consequences that extend well beyond employees; consumers too are demanding more from corporates.

For Council members, there’s little doubt that high-quality employees are a crucial ingredient in any strong reputation. However, the relationship plays out as somewhat of a chicken and egg scenario; organisations with the strongest reputations attract and retain the best talent, and organisations with high-quality and engaged workforces have the strongest reputations.

As one Council member put it, “a brand is what a brand does” and it is employees who bring a brand to life.

So, in building and maintaining strong reputations, it is essential that companies both attract the very best talent to represent their brand, and genuinely engage that talent so as to retain the benefit to the company over the long-term.

The importance of employer branding to reputation.

An increasing focus on the importance of employer branding means that it is no longer the sole domain of HR, and, instead, corporate communicators are increasingly applying an employee – both current and potential – lens to everything they say and do.

Further, in the age of radical transparency, social media means that employees themselves are more visible to consumers, and therefore to potential employees, than ever before. Employees’ voices can be transmitted directly to the public, bypassing any opportunity for corporate censorship and, as a result, these voices are often considered more authentic and believable than the carefully crafted messages that come from communications professionals.

It is in this context that employer branding has increased significantly in strategic importance, now often having high levels of CEO involvement. Indeed, 84% of Council members have seen employer branding become more important over the last five years.

Changing employee expectations

Council members contend that in today’s corporate environment, employees have the ability to drive a company’s strategic direction with their expectations. A very practical example is the way many organisations have responded to employee demands for changing workplaces by relaxing previously strictly formal dress requirements to allow staff to, within reason, dress how they’re most comfortable.

At a more fundamental level, there are increasing demands from employees for transparent and honest conversations about what the company is doing, why it’s doing it and what the social and political implications of the behaviour are. Further, Council members report that the glossy and well-packaged internal comms that corporate communications teams have become so adept at creating are now failing to satisfy this employee appetite, because of what is seen as a crucial lack of authenticity.

The warning is that failing to meet these demands, whether they be centred on dress-codes or authentic communication and engagement, can leave employees disillusioned by the behaviour of big corporates and open to exploring their increasing options to live out the careers they want.

"WE ARE FIGHTING IN THE WORKPLACE FOR GOOD EMPLOYEES WHO HAVE GOT GOOD SKILLS AND WE ARE FIGHTING FOR EMPLOYEES IN THE WORKSPACE WHO ARE LESS COMMITTED TO A CORPORATE. PEOPLE ARE NO LONGER COMMITTED TO WORKING FOR ONE CORPORATE, THEY ARE MUCH MUCH MORE MOBILE, MUCH HAPPIER TO HAVE THEIR OWN BUSINESSES, TAKE A PAY CUT IN ORDER TO DO SOMETHING THAT MORE REFLECTS THEIR OWN VALUES AND TO WORK WHERE THEY WANT TO."

 

Indeed, while remuneration in exchange for effort is still a key expectation of employees, it is arguably in danger of falling into the hygiene bucket as expectations shift towards more holistic fulfilment.

"PEOPLE ARE NOW MOTIVATED BY MISSION AS MUCH AS MONEY. THIS IS SOMETHING MILLENNIALS HAVE BROUGHT TO THE PARTY BUT IT ALSO GOES BEYOND THEM."
The role of Millennials

Some Council members feel that it is the changing expectations of Millennials that are putting employers under increasing pressure to adapt and evolve to ensure their brands are appealing to employees of all generations. There is a belief that employees today, especially those in their 20s, are no longer looking for a job for life or a career with one employer, and, as such, employers must work harder and continually prove themselves to be an organisation of choice.

"THEIR EXPECTATIONS OF LIFE AND COMPANIES ARE SIGNIFICANTLY DIFFERENT FROM THOSE GENERATIONS BEFORE… AND, IN THIS TALENT WAR, IT WILL BECOME INCREASINGLY IMPORTANT."

However, others contend that increasing demands on employers pre-date the rise of Millennials and are in fact more associated with general social trends demanding that companies do the right thing and demonstrate good corporate citizenship in many ways.

"IT GOES BACK LONGER THAN THE LAST 5 YEARS, I THINK PEOPLE HAVE BECOME MORE DEMANDING OF THEIR EMPLOYERS IN A LOT OF DIFFERENT WAYS… PEOPLE EXPECT TO BE MORE FULFILLED BUT ALSO TO WORK FOR A COMPANY THAT IS WORTHWHILE… [THAT] THEY ARE PROUD TO WORK FOR OR HAPPY TO ADMIT TO WORKING FOR."

Supporting this latter view, Ipsos’ research on Millennials reveals that despite claims from the likes of the Daily Mail that the cohort is “spoilt, full of themselves [and] averse to hard work”, Millennials are actually not that different from the rest of society when it comes to what they expect from an employer.

Indeed, rather than being a revolutionary generation set to change everything that comes before them, they are actually behaving in the same way generations before them did when they were the same age.

And, at the end of the day, Millennials and older generations have the same expectations of their employer: to be rewarded for the work they do, to have the opportunity to grow and to work for someone who cares.

The importance of delivering on the employer brand

Council members warned of the danger of being too focused on projecting the perfect employer brand and failing to deliver on those expectations.

"IT IS GETTING THESE PEOPLE IN BUT THEN YOU NEED TO RETAIN THEM AS WELL. IF YOU ARE NOT ACTUALLY GOING TO DELIVER IT, ALL IT WILL DO IS CREATE FRUSTRATION. THEY WILL SAY, ‘THE BROCHURE YOU GAVE ME ISN’T QUITE THE SAME HERE’."

While there are several high-profile examples of employer branding going wrong, when brands get it right, the benefits can be considerable and far-reaching. Google has famously been able to position itself as an employer of choice across the globe and it, along with other tech companies, has been able to disrupt the hold financial services companies previously had on attracting the best talent.

Outdoor apparel company Patagonia is another example of how to develop a successful employer brand. By building its environmental mission into its employer branding and recruitment, Patagonia has carefully constructed a consumer-facing workforce that truly “lives the brand” and reinforces this at each customer interaction. The result is an authentic customer experience that is aligned with the brand’s positioning, affirming for staff and good for the bottom line.

"YEAR AFTER YEAR THERE IS A GREATER EXPECTATION THAT COMPANIES WILL PARTICIPATE IN SOLVING THE MOST IMPORTANT SOCIAL ISSUES.

THOSE COMPANIES THAT ARE NOT JUST GENERATING THE BEST PRODUCTS AND SERVICES ARE THOSE WITH THE BEST REPUTATION, WITH THE BEST ABILITY TO CONNECT WITH CLIENTS AND CONSUMERS. THEY ARE THE COMPANIES THAT GENERATE EMOTIONAL LINKS AND MORE LOYALTY, AND AT THE SAME TIME, THEY ARE THE FIRST IN LINE WHEN CHOOSING THE BEST TALENT."

Final thoughts

The 2017 Reputation Council confirms that the importance of employer branding is continuing to rise and it is those organisations that have recognised this and applied an employee lens across their business that are reaping the reputational rewards.

And, if any more evidence is needed of the importance of having a strong employer brand and engaging employees with a deeper purpose, consumers are demanding this too. Ipsos’ Global Trends research shows that 68% of citizens from 23 countries believe that the most successful brands of the future will be those that make the most positive contribution to society beyond just providing good services and products.

Methodology: 127 interviews conducted with Reputation Council members between April and August 2017.

Read more from the Reputation Council...

Read more from the Ipsos Corporate Reputation Team...

Amid the uncertainty of the pandemic, the S of ESG is coming under greater scrutiny

Actions on E, S and G in tandem remain essential to corporate reputation

As ESG has surged up the consumer agenda, new Ipsos data shows that improving society is identified as the top priority for multinationals among consumers across the globe – perhaps not surprising given the social implications of the pandemic. While fundamental issues such as safe working conditions are seen as most important here, each company should carefully consider how to adapt its operations to improve sustainable business practice. Companies should continue to pursue actions on all three pillars of ESG though. Not just because E and G remain critical in the public’s eyes, but also as it – as we should all know now – makes good business sense to do so.

Companies’ role in creating shared value

Companies are increasingly assessed on the extent to which they bring ‘net benefits’ to society. Especially among the financial community and the media there is a focus on ESG: companies’ performance on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues that come with doing business. Not just because you ultimately shoot yourself in the foot if you run out of the natural resources you need, treat your staff unfairly, or become wound up in corruption scandals. No, also because doing the right thing has BECOME a source of value creation. Not least, this is because we – ‘the public’, consumers and employees – pay more attention to what companies do or stand for than we did a decade ago – be that their efforts to increase staff diversity & inclusion, meeting net zero goals, or paying their fair share of taxes.

In March 2021 Ipsos asked consumers across 28 markets to rank ESG priorities for multinationals. While all three aspects, ‘E’, ‘S’ and ‘G’, were seen as important, improving society (S) came out as the top priority, with 41% of the votes globally. Protecting the environment (E) followed at 31%, almost on equal footing with practicing good governance (G, 28%).

In 22 out of the 28 countries surveyed, improving society received the most picks as the top priority, with a majority of the vote share in Spain (54%), Poland (52%), Japan (52%) and Korea (50%).

These findings are not surprising in the context of COVID-19. Health & safety precautions in the workplace, as well as a desire for job security amid economic uncertainty, have, for many, become necessary concerns.

How should companies engage with the ‘S’?

Given the increased focus on the role of companies to contribute socially, where should they focus their efforts on the ‘S’ pillar of ESG?

Looking at which societal issues people want multinationals to address, our survey shows that improving working conditions and worker health & safety come top. This is true across all regions, from Europe to APAC, to Middle East-Africa, to LATAM through to North America. Potentially contributing here are new COVID-related concerns about ventilation, social distancing, face masks at work etc., on top of existing issues.   

Despite ample attention across (social) media for issues around gender equality and diversity, these topics came out lower down the list. Again, this holds true when looking in detail at the answers from people across different parts of the world. 

It’s impossible to give a blank slate answer to how companies can best create shared value on ‘S’. The priorities in the eyes of consumers listed above, give an idea. But what that means for each individual business is something that needs careful consideration. That’s why it’s so important for companies to engage with their stakeholders on these issues. Employees who feel their employer looks after them, will be more willing to go the extra mile: a ‘give’ for the ‘get’. Local communities who see that companies take their interests at heart, will be more open to dialogue and working together to create mutual benefits. Etcetera.

Ipsos advises businesses on how they should address ESG challenges and helps them to define, manage and communicate their priorities. A relevant example to multinationals is our advice on how to frame “benefits” of ESG strategies to consumers. As people aren’t driven by sustainability claims alone to take action (as they often feel they are doing enough already), it is most effective to couple these to an extra incentive personal to them. So instead of saying: “switch to renewable energy to reduce your carbon footprint” position this as “switch to renewable energy will save you money AND help you reduce your footprint”.

Finally, what’s left to say is that, as I have said before, investments in ESG issues should be financially responsible and prudent in their own right, giving shareholders a return on investment. Ultimately, genuine progress on ESG will help to protect companies’ social licence to operate and bolster their reputation.

For more information please contact:

Marloes Klop
Research Director, Corporate Reputation

Marloes.Klop@ipsos.com

Technical details about the survey

These are the results of a 28-market online survey conducted by Ipsos on its Global Advisor platform. Ipsos interviewed a total of 14,000 adults aged 18-74 in the United States, Canada, Malaysia, South Africa and Turkey, and 16-74 in 23 other markets. The survey was fielded between 19 February and 5 March 2021.

The sample consists of approximately 500 individuals in each of Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China (mainland), Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, Peru, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, and the US.

The samples in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, South Korea, Spain, Sweden and the US can be taken as representative of their general adult population under the age of 75.

The samples in Brazil, Chile, mainland China, Colombia, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and Turkey are more urban, more educated, and/or more affluent than the general population. The survey results for these markets should be viewed as reflecting the views of the more “connected” segment of their population.

The data is weighted so that each country’s sample composition best reflects the demographic profile of the adult population according to the most recent census data.

Where results do not sum to 100 or the ‘difference’ appears to be +/-1 more/less than the actual, this may be due to rounding, multiple responses, or the exclusion of “don’t know” or not stated responses.

The precision of Ipsos online polls are calculated using a credibility interval with a poll of 500 accurate to +/- 4.8 percentage points. For more information on the Ipsos use of credibility intervals, please visit the Ipsos website.

The tech sector always bets that product quality will override privacy concerns

Probably the most common criticism levelled at the tech sector is the one about privacy – the sense that the tech sector, or government enabled by the tech sector, are collecting far more data on individuals than they should, and that the data is then being sold or used for unclear purposes. While the tech sector sticks closely to its cherished, and well-proven, ideology that positive user experience nearly always mitigates these concerns in practice, it is also true that the concerns of pro-privacy groups within society, and government, are getting louder and more prominent.

Stark evidence of this can be seen across two, relatively recent, product launches. Both of which have attracted major criticisms from privacy and digital rights campaigners, while at the same time being major commercial success stories.

Concerns around business and government use of personal information is high on a global scale

Let’s look at those concerns first – the 2020 Ipsos Global Trends survey[1] shows in stark detail the level of concern that exists around the world about what is being done by companies and governments using the personal data being collected from people when they go online.

A rise in private sector surveillance

So, bearing such concerns in mind, let’s examine the news coverage of Amazon’s Ring product line over the last few weeks. Ring is a video doorbell system, which seems innocuous, but with millions sold what you end up with is a potential surveillance network the size of which has never been seen before, and all in the hands of Amazon. And what has Amazon done with it? For one it initially entered into partnership with a large number of law enforcement agencies in the US that allowed them access to the videos it records without a warrant being required[2]. To quote from the Guardian, because of Ring “law enforcement are given a backdoor entry into private video recordings of people in residential and public space that would otherwise be protected under the fourth amendment”. While Amazon has recently extended its moratorium on sharing its facial recognition software with police, a ban it says that will stay in place until Congress creates the appropriate safeguards, it is puzzling why a similar approach to sharing data with law enforcement has not been adopted with Ring. Especially given the high-profile critique of the product by former Amazon software engineer Max Eliaser;

“The deployment of connected home security cameras that allow footage to be queried centrally are simply not compatible with a free society. The privacy issues are not fixable with regulation and there is no balance that can be struck. Ring should be shut down immediately and not brought back[3]

Now Amazon can certainly say that they are following the law as it exists and that the capabilities and requirements of the Ring product are all made available to the consumer at the point of sale. Amazon has acknowledged some of this controversy and has consequentially changed how police ask for video content, now requiring the police to ask for footage via the Ring Neighbors app, allowing local users to comment or assist as they judge best[4]. However, to a background of high consumer concern about how personal data is being used and with Ring cameras being described as “a threat to privacy at best and a danger to society and democracy at worst[5]”, critics may accuse Amazon of not thinking product features through a bit more carefully. That said, when they have a product that has shifted many millions of units in the US alone it is clear that, as ever, product utility quashes privacy concerns at point of purchase. A fact underlined by the 4.6 rating the Ring 3 has on Amazon.com, a rating based on 33,000+ reviews.

From surveillance to tracking

Enough with Amazon, I hear the tech fans cry, that’s just one of the major brands. Well, let's turn to Apple and its brand-new gadget - the AirTag. A device sold as the means to find things you have lost, via a Bluetooth signal that alerts sympathetic devices that are web-enabled. Perfect for finding your luggage, your car, or, as has been pointed out by a wide range of news agencies, the person you are stalking.

Apple has attempted to build in safeguards to prevent “unwanted tracking” but the slew of media coverage over the last few weeks that point out how ineffective those safeguards are in practice probably shows how little thought the designers of this product put into thinking about the downsides of this product compared to the potential upsides. The warning sound that alerts the user to unwanted tracking is easily missed, and while people with an iPhone might be able to find unwanted AirTags those with Android phones cannot (right now).

While plenty of apps, charmingly called “stalkerware”, exist to help one person track another, and there are other products similar to AirTags where the manufacturers have put far less effort into stopping them from being used for nefarious purposes than Apple has. However, part of the surprise here is that, as The Washington Post articulates well “AirTags show how even Apple, a company known for emphasizing security and privacy, can struggle to understand all the risks involved in creating tech that puts everyday things online[6]. This disconnect between a company that is often praised for its firm stance on personal privacy and the potential misuse of this product is vast and easily fixed with little effort. As Wired suggests “Apple leadership needs to give abuse survivors and experts a central place in its development process, incorporating their feedback from the start. Otherwise, the company will continue to make products that endanger people more than they help[7]”.

Responding to this wave of criticism[8] Apple has announced some changes – reducing the amount of time before an AirTag starts beeping once it is away from its owner's iPhone and promising an Android application as well. Just like Amazon with Ring its good to see Apple responding to the issue, but it again raises the question of how a product like this got to market with these issues when Apple usually takes these issues so seriously. That said, just as with Amazon’s Ring it is highly likely that this product will sell incredibly well despite any privacy concerns due to its sheer usefulness. In fact one industry analyst in Forbes[9] confidently predicts its success, and possible billion dollar revenue for Apple, due to the vast number of devices the product can connect to and the popularity of the Find My app among Apple product users.

Consumers value privacy – as well as products that make their lives easier

Ultimately the tech sector knows its customers very, very well and knows that while there are people who may not buy these products because of privacy issues there are far more people who will ignore those concerns and buy them anyway. Negative media coverage of the like described above will have very little impact on the level of individual customers. That said, increased media focus on perceived privacy issues reinforces some of the negative reputational themes that affect the tech sector and the brands within it and are currently fuelling many of the debates that are ongoing around the world among legislators thinking of new regulation. Innovative new products that skirt the edge of what is appropriate, or legal, when it comes to privacy is one thing, as long as they are profitable, but fuelling the fires of regulation is another. The tech sector may want to ponder this.

Article links

[1] Markets: Argentina, Albania, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Russia, Romania, Serbia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, and the United States. 

Method The survey for the 2020 edition was carried out online using the Ipsos Online Panel, and face to-face interviewing in Albania, Montenegro and Serbia. The results are weighted to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the adult population according to the most recent country census data. Total global data has not been weighted by population size, but are simply a country average.

Fieldwork dates June-July 2019

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/may/18/amazon-ring-largest-civilian-surveillance-network-us

[3] https://amazonemployees4climatejustice.medium.com/amazon-employees-share-our-views-on-company-business-f5abcdea849

[4] https://www.cnet.com/home/security/rings-police-problem-didnt-go-away-it-just-got-more-transparent/

[5] https://thenextweb.com/news/amazon-engineer-ring-should-be-shut-down-immediately-and-not-brought-back

[6] https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/05/05/apple-airtags-stalking/

[7] https://www.wired.com/story/opinion-apples-air-tags-are-a-gift-to-stalkers/

[8] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-57351554

[9] https://www.forbes.com/sites/timbajarin/2021/04/20/airtags-are-apples-next-billion-dollar-business/?sh=4f60c605d187

For more information please contact:

Carl Phillips
Director & Global Stakeholder Research Lead, Corporate Reputation

Carl.Phillips@ipsos.com