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Employer branding: conceptual framework
For better understanding of employer branding (Backhaus & Tikoo, 2004) proposed the following figure as a representation of a framework which incorporates human resource and marketing concepts. According to the framework, employer branding generates two key assets- brand associations and brand loyalty. Employer brand associations affect the attractiveness of the firm to potential employees by shaping the employer image. At the same time employer branding has an impact on the organisation's culture and its identity which in turn contributes to building brand loyalty.
Employer brand associations
According to (Aaker, 1991), the thoughts and ideas that a brand name evokes in the minds of consumers are brand associations. (Supphellen, 2000) suggests that Brand associations can not only be verbalised by the thoughts evoked in people's minds but they might reside at a more sensory level for instance consumers have a feeling about a brand, a memory of a smell or other sensation or even an emotional response. (Keller, 1993) note that brand associations are the determinants of brand image. Keller further defines brand image as “an amalgamation of the perceptions related to the product-related/non-product related attributes and the functional /symbolic benefits that are encompassed in the brand associations that reside in consumer memory.
It is possible to define an employer brand image in equivalent terms. According to (Backhaus & Tikoo, 2004) functional benefits of the employer brand such as salary, benefits, leave etc describe elements of being employed within an organisation which are attractive in objective terms. Symbolic benefits relate to perceptions about stature and reputation of the organisation, and include the social approval prospective candidates envision they would enjoy if they happen to be employed by the firm. Speaking in context of recruitment (Backhaus & Tikoo, 2004) further stress that prospective candidates will be attracted to an organisation depending on the extent to which they think that the organisation possesses the desired employee related attributes and the relative importance placed by them on those attributes.
According to the above figure, an employer brand image is developed in the minds of prospective employees from the brand associations which originate from the organisation's employer branding. In addition prospective employees may develop employer brand associations based on information sources that are not controlled by the employer. Effective employer branding thus strives to develop these associations by taking a hands-on approach through recognising the desired brand associations. For example, Railtrack, the British firm that maintains railway service in the UK, staged an employer branding campaign to improve and enliven the associations that potential employees had of their firm as an employer. By emphasizing career flexibility and opportunity, they were able to increase the number of qualified applicants for professional positions by 30 percent (Hutton, 2001 in Backhaus & Tikoo, 2004).
An additional supportive relation between employer brand image and attraction is offered by the social identity theory by (Tajfel, 1982) which proposes that individuals derive their self-concept from their knowledge of their membership in a social group. According to (Underwood et al., 2001) the reputation of the group with which people identify contributes to their self-concept. (Keller, 1993) agrees with the notion that a product's brand equity is strengthened when its brand image resonates with the customer. (Backhaus & Tikoo, 2004) explain that consumers start to develop a positive identification with the brand as the awareness of the brand amplifies. According to them, the greater the perception of the brand as being positive, the more identifiable the product becomes with the consumer. Owing to the positive self-concept derived by the consumer resulting from feeling like a member of the brand, the consumer finally purchases the brand. Similarly as prospective candidates discover positive aspects of the employer image, the probability of them identifying with the brand increases, and subsequently the more will more possibility of them desiring to seek membership with the firm for membership's promise of a sense of heightened self-image.
(Elliott and Wattanasuwan, 1998) point out that in providing meaning in an individual's personal and social world, the feelings or ideas represented by a brand also known as symbolic associations play an important role. (Backhaus & Tikoo, 2004) agree that in employer branding, these symbolic associations may include attributes like prestige or innovativeness, which the prospective employee finds attractive or appealing. (Lievens and Highhouse, 2003) note that the significance of symbolic associations is enhanced when functional differences amongst various brands are restricted. They further stress that generally within a similar industry, employment related factors are alike and hence it becomes challenging for the firm to distinguish itself as an employer from its competitors. In such a situation, an organisation can develop a favourable employer image by utilising employer branding to communicate the symbolic benefits of working with the organization. (Backhaus & Tikoo, 2004)
Employer brand loyalty
Brand loyalty as suggested by (Aaker, 1991) refers to the attachment that a customer has to a brand. A loyal consumer of a brand is very unlikely to turn to another brand, particularly when a change to that brand occurs or when competitive actions of other brands cause it to weaken. According to (Morgan and Hunt, 1994) a positive exchange relationship results from establishing trust between a product and its customer and this is the heart of brand loyalty. (Chaudhuri and Holbrook, 2001) suggest that there are two dimensions to brand loyalty - first a behavioural dimension that symbolizes a customer's willingness towards repeated purchase of the brand and secondly an attitudinal dimension that corresponds to a customer's level of commitment towards that brand.
(Backhaus & Tikoo, 2004) explain that employer brand loyalty like product loyalty refers to the commitment made by employees to their organisation. Similarly it can be interpreted as being moulded by a behavioural element relating to an organization's culture as well as an attitudinal element relating to the identity of that organisation. Organizational culture and identity is often affected by employer branding which in turn influences employer brand loyalty. (Backhaus & Tikoo, 2004) stress that as conceptualized in the model employer brand loyalty is akin to organizational commitment.
As defined by Porter in (Armstrong, 2000), commitment refers to attachment and loyalty. It is the relative strength of the individual's identification with, and involvement in, a particular organisation. Speaking in terms of employer branding, organizational commitment refers to an employee feeling attached to his firm. Whilst a loyal consumer of a brand will continue to buy the product despite dire circumstances, employees loyal to their organisational brand choose to remain with their employer, in spite of conditions which might compel them to consider other employers.
According to (Keyton, 2005) organizational commitment is often suggested by research as being related to organizational culture. Organizational culture comprises of the values, assumptions and artefacts that emerge from interaction amongst members of the organization. Keyton explains that organisational culture is revealed by creating and enacting rites, rituals, and ceremonies; practising norms or procedures; using specialised language and telling stories or using metaphors. According to (Smith, 2008) culture influences commitment of employees. A study conducted by (Chen, 2004 cited in Smith, 2008) in 84 small and mid-sized firms in Taiwan, studied the effect of organisational culture on organisational commitment, job satisfaction and performance. This study concluded that organisational culture correlates positively with job satisfaction and commitment although not with job performance. This study suggested that culture influences commitment.
Thus (Backhaus & Tikoo, 2004) suggests that it is important for managers to develop and maintain a productive and supportive culture within the organisation to enhance commitment of employees.