Talent Acquisition

How GE’s Employer Brand Became the Consumer Brand

GE was founded 125 years ago by Thomas Edison and currently has over 300,000 employees, hiring roughly 80,000 people every year. The company has reinvented itself many times and is currently on a journey to become the first digital industrial corporation. Trouble is, people still think GE makes toasters. Therein lies the employer brand challenge.

I’ve spoken to Shaunda Zilich who heads up employment brand at GE, have a listen to the interview below, or keep reading for a summary of our chat. And don’t forget to subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.

What’s the employment brand challenge of GE?

Well, I think our challenges rest in a lot of different ways. We’re a very global company, so in the U.S., a lot of times our challenges are just a completely misunderstood brand, we are not a consumer-based brand whatsoever. I think when you talk to some people, even still today, they think that we make toasters, or refrigerators, or dishwashers, and we no longer make those. We’re a business-to-business company, so I think a little bit of a misunderstood brand.

And then globally, we actually do struggle, I know this is probably hard for some to believe, but we do struggle with just being a recognized name globally. I’ll go through our social media comments every once in a while, and we are always getting comments about, “Hey, you guys make cars, right?” Like, “Nope, that’s GM.” So, I do think we still have some of those challenges. And then I think as I said, our history presents a little bit of a challenge because if we’re transforming the company that’s always a branding that has to get to the people. And with being a business-to-business company, that’s not always an easy thing to do.

What’s the “perfect storm” for GE employment brand?

It’s a perfect storm for employment brand at GE because GE has been going through this transformation as a company. In the past couple of years, we’ve said we don’t want to be just an industrial company, but we want to be a digital industrial company. So for that, we’ve had to put a lot of branding out there. You’ve probably seen some of our “Owen” or “Sarah” commercials really trying to get people to understand we’re something different. So that’s part of it.

The other part of it is when you’re transforming as a company is needing digital talent. We’re needing just that step-up in talent, and we’re competing for it. So, that’s the second thing that makes for a perfect storm because not only are we transforming our branding and our messaging, but we’re transforming the talent that we’re looking for as well, so we’ve got to get that messaging out there.

And then the third thing that I think makes for a perfect storm for employment brand is, we really want to tell what it’s like as an employee at a company, and be able to tell it through the employee’s eyes. And right now transparency is in. People want to be able to have a transparent point of view for what they’re getting into, they want to be able to trust. Trust is an all-time low, and employment brand is an area where we can really help out with that. Especially when you’re talking about somebody trusting you with their livelihood, right? It’s not just buying a different shampoo. It’s actually respecting them and their families, so I think that’s why employment brand is so important and it really causes this perfect storm right now.

“Employment brand becomes the consumer brand for B2B companies” – please elaborate?

The definition of consumer brand is a brand for goods that are bought by the public rather than by businesses. And I like to tell people that when I’m in talent acquisition when I’m doing employment brand, I’m still selling. I’m just not selling products and services, I’m selling experiences. And so when you really think about employment brand, we’re still selling, and we are selling to people. So in a business-to-business company, I’m not making the selling marketing campaign out to businesses, I’m making a selling marketing campaign to people.

So it becomes a consumer brand, and I’ll give you an example. When marketing at GE launched the “Owen” commercials, they had to figure out how to touch people. When you are transforming a company, and when you’re trying to transform your brand externally, you can’t just do that with your businesses that are customers, you have to do that with the public, which is them, the people.

And so, that’s when they came to us, we’re working together trying to get this messaging to people. We actually used our brand ambassador army, over 10,000 GE employees, to blast out on their social media networks, and had a far greater reach with people than just the marketing campaign alone. So that’s kind of what I mean by it becomes the consumer brand, it becomes the consumer product that’s out there, even part of the consumer business instead of business-to-business.

What’s a step-by-step guide to success for employment brand, especially for B2B companies?

I would say a good place to start is to say step back and to say, “What are my pain points? What problems am I trying to solve? What am I trying to brand? What do I want the external public to see my company as for a place of employment?” And then, write your strategy and say, “Okay, this is how I’m going to get there. Maybe I’m going to work on that transparency point of view. I really want the public to understand what my company’s like, I think there’s a misunderstanding of what it’s like to work here. I’m going to work on those employee testimonials and I’m going to push that out.”

And then the third step is you say, “What are the tools and technology that I can use to get this done?” I think sometimes we do that opposite. A lot of times we get distracted by the shiny new penny, “Oh, good, I’m on chat, I want to implement that.” But we don’t really think about how that helps our employment brand. So I think that if we can step back, white canvas, say, “All right, what are the pain points? What am I trying to solve? What’s the strategy? And then what are the tools and technology I can use to solve that?” I think that’s a really good way to step through that process.

And then the one last add-on I’ll have to that is when you start to look at consumer marketing and what they’re doing and things they’ve done in the past, it gives us a really good idea of some ideas and gets that creative juices flowing for what we can do with employment brand. And I always use this example. I really hate shopping, so I do a lot of shopping online. And when I shop at Amazon, it like puts stuff in front of me that I didn’t even know I needed, right? Because it knows me because I’ve bought so much stuff.

We need to follow some of that same marketing with our employment brand strategies. You know, when somebody’s looking at GE Aviation and seeing the cool things they’re doing, I need to show them, “Hey, here’s an opportunity, here’s how you can be part of that story.”

Follow Shaunda on Twitter @Shaunda and be sure to subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.

By Jörgen Sundberg

Founder of Undercover Recruiter & CEO of Link Humans, home of The Employer Brand Index.