What’s the difference between an Employer Brand and an Employer Image?

If you are an employer running a growth business, you surely wonder at some point is there a way to make sure you get the talent your business needs. There is, and it calls for actions that influence your target talent audience. There are two peas in this pot. The other one is conscious employer branding efforts, the other one is influencing the image about your business as an employer through many kinds of activities, not just your career page and a few videos.

What is the difference between an Employer Brand and an Employer Image you probably ask now. Let’s get into it.

What's the difference between an Employer Brand and an Employer Image?


What’s the difference between an employer brand and employer image?

I differentiate employer brand and employer image in the following manner:

Employer branding is a conscious marketing effort to develop one’s brand vision into real associations made by the audience.

Employer image on the other hand is something every business has whether they do a thing about it. Just like a company image or a personal image, an image is formed by other people based on what they experience, read and hear.

Brand is represented by your tangible marketing collateral: your logo, your slogan, your image, your brand colors, fonts, shapes, visuals, your radio jingles, your TV commercials, your online advertisements and so on.

The same applies to an employer brand. Employer brand is typically represented by your career pages, recruitment related visual material, career videos and your employer brand promise. With social media, we have a platform enabling us to do very cost effective advertising with our own brand images.

When you develop your brand, it’s you who decides what it should be and how it should look like. You can fall on the trap of creating something you (or your graphic designer or your ad agency) love dearly, but your audience has no idea what you are on about. And they get confused.

Image is what other people think about the subject based on what they have personally experienced, heard or read about it or about something like it.

Image is a perception or a reflection of the subject. Businesses who make no effort to influence their talent audience, gain an employer image based on what people talk about them.

Employer image is a perception of your company as an employer and workplace based on the experiences people have about your business, people, services and ways of doing.

What's the difference between an employer brand and an employer image?

Image is a visual in our brain

Image is a visual in our brain. It can be very different between you, me and the next person. That’s because our brain tends to make sense of what we experience based on:

  • how relevant it is for our survival
  • how much calories the sense making is going to consume

Let me explain. Our brain is an amazing system. It is like Google inside your skull. It searches for a meaning or a relevance for the new experience from something in our past.

An example I like to use a lot is this:

Think about the word “dog”.

What you see?

I see a small dog. I see the dogs we’ve had in my family. The dogs that I have loved. We’ve only ever had small dogs, so that’s what the word dog means to me. A small dog.

However, a dog for you may just be a hunting dog. Or a service dog or anything else but a little dog.

Our personal experiences and preferences define meanings for words and images in our brain without us really putting a thought into it.

(Employer) brand is a visual in front of us

Brand is a visual usually in a tangible format of a marketing collateral. I find somewhat troubling all those employer branding efforts that are based on the attempt to just look cooler without any reference to business strategy, culture, values and especially the people working in the company. People expect the brand promises to be delivered and if they are not, the leaders in the company will have a hard time.

Another thing troubling is when your employer brand looks the same as your business brand but your customer target audience and your talent target audience could not be further from each other.

They really are two separate audiences and should be treated as such. If you want to make a powerful impact.

What's the difference between an employer brand and an employer image?

Employer brand differentiates your business as a workplace

Developing an employer brand is all about you deciding what you want other people to think about your employer brand. Same goes for your personal entrepreneur brand and your business brand.

The smart thing is no to pull the idea from your hat, but from your business strategy. Like your business brand, the purpose of the employer brand is to differentiate your company as an employer amongst competition and add competitive value to your business.

Branding businesses as workplaces cannot be done the same way as branding a yogurt. A yogurt can be branded as “smooth, silky breath of an air from the Alps”. I can guarantee, it will not argue the brand message when you approach it at the supermarket. However, try branding your business as an employer to something your employees cannot understand, agree with or relate to. They will not agree nor share any messages they do not believe in.

You cannot brand your business as an employer like you would brand a yogurt. Your employees will not agree, accept or support employer branding activities that they do not believe in. 

Employer image defeats your employer brand any day if push comes to shove

Employer image, the perception based on people’s experiences, will always be stronger influence than a created employer brand.

And it doesn’t even matter whether the experiences are real or even repetitive. Every single experience counts.

That’s why the best place to start working on your over all brand are the experiences you as a business and the people in the business create for your audiences on a daily basis. Read more about it in this post >> The most solid employer brand is founded on the stones of the company culture and the employee experiences.

Company culture is the best foundation for building a strong employer brand AND employer image

My advice for all entrepreneurs is to focus on building a strong company culture based on your business strategy.

Make a conscious effort on this from day one – or as early on as possible. A strategic culture helps you to execute your strategy. And while it does that, it creates a culture and value base attractive to those talent who want to be part of executing your strategy.

A strategic culture sets the tone for leadership, goal setting, decision making culture, values, organizational behavior and the way you work. These create experiences for people inside and outside the company. These experiences in turn create a truthful image about your company as a business and as a place of work. When you are ready to start building your employer brand, you collect real experiences and turn those into tangible brand collateral.

Company culture is the best foundation for building a strong employer brand and employer image. However, be sure you are actually working on a strategic culture, not a cool culture.

Final Note:

Developing a strong Employer Image is about creating positive(ly surprising) experiences

When we put a conscious effort on the employer image, we actually focus on what happens inside the company. I’m of course talking about leadership, goals, mission, values, internal relationships and communication. I’m talking about people committing to serve customers well and treat everyone in a respectful and kind matter no matter whether they need to or not.

When people get more than they expect, they are positively surprised. This creates a good experience for the recipient. When these good experiences keep repeating regardless of who you talk to, meet or come to contact with, you start to form a strong and appealing image about the business and the people that choose to work there. That is what we should all aim for.

Choosing to create positively surprising experiences is where your true brand value will be placed. Not in your visions drafted on a Power Point slide, but in all the relations you and your people have with anyone in relation to your business.

The difference between an employer brand and employer image is in the real experience. If you choose to operate on both, make sure they both communicate the same story. If you can only operate on one, operate on the experiences your every day behavior, decision making and practices create to other people.

Comments (2)

  • singapore business branding consultancy

    17.5.2019 at 05:48

    A bit confused about the employer brand and employer image, so glad I found your blog and was able to understand the difference between them. Thanks for this.

    1. Susanna

      21.7.2019 at 09:39

      Thanks for your feedback! Many people are. That’s why I love to talk about the topic so much. Albeit, mostly I find time to do that in Finnish which is my current market..

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