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Creature’s Andrew Gibson on why the talent crisis needn’t be a business challenge

Andrew Gibson, Creature London

Chief Strategy Officer

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The idea of a brand pre-dates capitalism.

We actually call it ‘a brand’ because farmers used to literally brand their animals to convey trust when trading or bartering their products.

As antiquated as this might sound, it’s a relatively short step from how we’ve understood brands since the industrial revolution - a mark burned into a cow is not so far away from an emblem on a jar of coffee in a supermarket.

Sure, we developed more sophisticated means of creating and manipulating the meaning of that emblem (and a whole industry around what it would look like if you used it on different colour cows), but the basics are exactly the same.

It seems to me, though, that we are at a turning point in how we determine both what constitutes a brand and the value of one. In fact, in our recently shortlisted IPA effectiveness paper, we suggest 3 new forms of brand value in the scale-up age (and make no mistake, the impact and spend of scale ups on the world of business is, well, scaling up): 

  • •    Brand stretch - the ability for a brand to allow a business to pivot or expand into parallel categories.
  • •    Share price - so far so obvious, but particularly important now the value of a company is often almost entirely divorced from its current profitability.
  • •    Gross sales after discount - linked to the above, after the last 3 years and with the projected immediate future - crucial for a company to simply keep going.

What we didn’t focus on, though, (possibly as a result of the strength of the eve brand) was the ability of a brand to attract employees. 

This is something that is growing in importance by the day. One client recently said to me ‘I don’t think I’m a category x business any more, I’m a recruitment business that happens to sell category x’. It’s not only an existential question, it’s a financial one too, with a quarter of employees currently looking to move job (RandstandUK) and recruiters commanding 20% commissions.

We all know why this is happening. There have been countless articles written on the ‘great resignation’, the idea of portfolio careers, the appeal to a new generation of labelling yourself a ‘founder’ and of controlling your own destiny, etc, etc, etc… But very little seems to have been written about what to do about it.

Well, based on the successes and failures of various EVP projects we’ve been involved in, I think there are three things to think about - all of which are profoundly impacted by ‘brand’:

1. Recognise that you are part of a value exchange.

Once upon a time a young and perhaps more self important version of myself was talking to a boss about how fulfilled I felt at work and where I felt there was room for improvement. Their response (possibly, I realise in hindsight, quoting Mad Men in an attempt to appear profound): ‘That’s what the money is for, Andrew’. At the time, I took this as valuable wisdom; today that level of blunt shortsightedness might be the most surefire way of driving someone out the door. The point being - as a brand, you are not just engaged in a value exchange with your customers, a critical part of any EVP process is articulating your half of the value exchange with your people. Is it fame? Development? Impact? The one thing it can’t be is money. And the one thing it has to be is linked to your brand. Once again, the scale up sector is a good place to look for this, with companies unable to offer the same level of security a more established business might, but successfully recruiting on the basis of their mission.

2. Give your corporate strategy a set of ‘levers’.

Without getting all Marxist about it, the single biggest problem with Talent is not helping them see their role in the realisation of the corporate strategy. The simplest fix is to develop three tangible and easily memorable ‘levers’ that everyone understands are the things we’re doing, and allow them to see every piece of their work as part of one of those levers. The culture of companies who had done this simple exercise have held on to their culture much better in times of lockdown or hybrid working. With the ‘great return’, a topic hot enough for Malcolm Galdwell to be vilified for his point of view on it, levers are absolutely essential while office culture continues to work itself out.

3. Give people a reason to brag.

Picture yourself at a barbecue with a friend of a friend. The inevitable ‘what do you do?’ question arises. No-one is happy in this situation, it’s a barbecue for goodness sake, but the least happy person of all is the person who has to go after the person who ‘works for myself’ or ‘is building a x platform’, with ‘I work for giant corporation x’. This is the real front line of an EVP, not the appraisal template. What is your company building? Why would a stranger find it interesting or exciting? And what is your place in the creation of that? If you can answer that, then you stand a fighting chance against ‘I founded my own organic towel brand’, however ludicrous, volatile or unprofitable that venture may or may not be. Of course, we also shouldn’t forget that the inverse conversation is also true - you need only look at Brewdog to see how a successful, ostensibly cool and mission-based company can be hamstrung by staff-as-influencers.

So while attracting and retaining people isn’t the sole preserve of ‘brand’, it’s certainly an increasingly powerful lever, and as such should be a key metric for brand strength*.

*no physical branding required

Guest Author

Andrew Gibson, Creature London

Chief Strategy Officer

About

Andrew’s day job is putting the ‘intelligent’ into ‘intelligent misbehaviour’, but he’s far from averse to a spot of strategically astute mischief. He kicked his career off at strategic behemoth McCann, where a few months in account management showed him that he was perfectly suited to a role as a planner. He soon made that leap official, leading all sorts of pieces of global business, including Mastercard and Nestle. Andrew joined Creature in 2013 to head up strategy on the Carling account, becoming our first Head of Strat two years later, and our first CSO at the start of 2017. As passionate about helping businesses be better as he is about driving their comms, Andrew’s twin obsessions are making sure we understand audiences better than anyone else and making sure we’re focused on making work that works.

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