Three Ways to Win the War for Talent

Interbrand's Director of Global Valuation (and financial services sector leader), Mike Rocha, explains how to use your brand as a recruitment and retention tool.

Speaking to brand leaders around the world, it is clear that the rules for talent acquisition and retention have changed. Since the 2008 financial crisis, there’s no denying that the sector has become less attractive to talent than it once was—and, for that reason, the need for stronger brands that can attract and retain the best people is higher than ever before.

Strong financial brands can reverse the “brain drain”

While the media’s references to the “brain drain” from Wall Street to Silicon Valley may be exaggerated at times, the trends do point to a migration of talent from banking to California’s hotbed of innovation—and that’s worrying financial industry CEOs. According to a study by PwC, 70 percent see the limited availability of key skills as a threat to their growth prospects—up from 59 percent in the previous year.

In this context, the role of brand could not be more important—in its potential to enhance reputation, as well as its increasingly critical function as a recruitment and retention tool. Yet, for many financial companies, their brands remain a significantly underinvested and underleveraged asset.

How to use your brand as a recruitment and retention tool

After speaking with a wide range of brand leaders from major financial services organizations around the world, gathering their input, and weighing that against our own experience with clients, we were able to identify three key strategies that will help you strengthen the role your brand can play in the war for talent:

1. Define your purpose and use it to guide your brand strategy

Leading a brand without a clear purpose is not only a competitive disadvantage, but it is also like driving a car without a sense of direction. And that’s exactly why many of the most successful brands in the world build purpose into their strategy.

Corporations that espouse core beliefs like “Do No Evil” (Google), believe in a “Shared Planet” (Starbucks), or follow a “Buy one, give one” business model (TOMS Shoes) not only stand out from their competitors, but also tend to attract bright, idealistic and very talented people. Why? Because purpose—and knowing that you’re doing (or part of) something good—matters to people.

Studies continue to highlight the role purpose plays in driving consumer choice. Research from has revealed that only 6 percent of consumers believe the singular purpose of a business is to make money for its shareholders; 90 percent would boycott a brand if it acted irresponsibly; and 91 percent of consumers would switch to a brand of a similar price and quality if it supported a relevant cause. Clearly, consumers prefer purchasing from companies whose business practices and messaging align with their own values. And prospective employees are no different. They want to work for companies that embrace an ethos they can get behind and have created a culture in which they can comfortably take part. So, if your organization has not yet defined its purpose and figured out how to leverage it, it is time to put that on the agenda—especially in relation to talent acquisition and retention.

2. Live up to your purpose, embrace it internally, and drive participation

Employees and customers very quickly appreciate whether a business is delivering on its purpose. Once a strong purpose has been defined, it needs to be more than just broadcast. In order for employees to be motivated to act as external ambassadors for your brand, your purpose must be credible—something in which they can truly believe. They must also see that business strategy, products and services, and decision-making are all aligned with that purpose—and that the organization’s efforts to deliver on that promise will lead to positive results, both inside and outside of the company.

Employee participation should also be encouraged. For example, Bupa’s purpose (a U.K. healthcare and insurance brand) involves helping people live “longer, healthier, happier lives.” It takes small, but important steps to encourage its staff to live this purpose on a daily basis: Taking the stairs rather than the lift, setting motivational activity targets such as walking distance covered in the year, and offering a host of other opportunities to embody what the brand stands for—and promote a healthier, happier world.

Why is participation so important? Because once you can encourage someone to actively participate in an event, an organization-wide effort, or a purpose-driven cause, that’s when messaging turns into experience. That’s when people get engaged and motivated. And when people are engaged and motivated, internal cultures begin changing for the better—and customer satisfaction soars.

Employees also don’t just want to be on the receiving end of a message from leadership about purpose. They want to shape it, influence it, and make it their own. So, encourage dialogue with employees to generate ideas for how to bring the purpose to life inside your organization. Build a movement inside your company that emanates out through your employees. As ambassadors for your brand, whether through social media or direct customer interactions, their enthusiasm will inspire enthusiasm in others.

In practical terms, living your purpose internally is not easy. It will often mean making real changes. It may mean changing the way you recruit, the type of person you recruit, and changing incentives and rewards to encourage desired behaviors. But the pay-off in terms of talent attraction and retention, and ultimately the customer experience, will be worth it.

3. Foster greater collaboration between marketing and HR

Our experience is that the marketing and HR functions are typically very siloed, particularly in financial services organizations. Given how important employees are to delivering a strong and positive brand experience to customers, collaboration between marketing and HR is essential. Ensure that you align the external recruitment story (to attract talent) with the internal brand story (to retain and motivate employees).

Speaking to brand leaders, we heard of numerous instances of ad hoc collaboration between marketing and HR. Many of the brand leaders we spoke with agreed that this was a significant missed opportunity and saw employer branding as an important way to showcase their vision of the brand.

As Nanne Bos, Head of Global Brand Management at ING, stated “Recruitment messages could be one of our flagships of branding as it goes far beyond telling job seekers who we really are. We are now seeing the importance of that.”

The business case

Speaking to brand leaders around the world, there was a common belief that the three recommendations detailed above would create value in a number of ways:

—Employee recruitment and retention—A strong understanding of your organization’s purpose and brand’s promise can help attract and retain employees that are truly motivated by the business and they can become strong brand ambassadors.

—Product and service innovation—Motivation that is driven by your brand and business objectives can spur more innovative ideas for products, services, programs, experiences, and partnerships that align with your purpose.

—An enhanced customer experience—The greater the number of employees who are motivated and aligned behind your purpose and who live your values and brand promise daily, the more positive the experience of your brand will be.

—More authentic and, therefore, more impactful communications—If customers’ experiences are with employees who communicate and behave in a way that is aligned with external communications, this will significantly amplify the authenticity and, therefore, the impact of those communications.

—Balance of short- and long-term priorities—Rallying around your common purpose can help create a balance between short- and long-term time horizons that enable people to deliver short-term results while realizing the long-term strategy.

Winning the war

There is no question that the rules for talent acquisition and retention have changed—and the business case for change is clear. By adopting the three recommendations outlined above, Interbrand believes that you can significantly enhance the role your brand plays in the war for talent and keep attracting the best and brightest in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

*A concise two-minute video outlining these three key steps is also available.


Global Director, Brand Valuation