Making your brand work for your employees, as well as your clients: Harder than you think?

Consulting firms have spent millions of dollars in the last few years to associate a specific set of values with their overarching brand. Quality, integrity, expertise, global reach: All the traditionally big ideas in professional services have been linked to one firm or another, or even to all of them. And firms have hoped that, by doing this, they’re having an impact not only on what their clients think but also on how employees and prospective employees see them. In the war for talent, brand is a big gun.

But it’s also a fairly indiscriminate gun. Consulting firms have already found that a firm’s brand doesn’t necessarily help it sell specific services, where messages about quality, integrity, expertise and global reach pale into insignificance when faced with the need for a concrete, “killer” solution that no other firm can boast. Similarly, employees don’t want the same thing from the same firm. Junior consultants are looking for an opportunity to learn. Millennials want an exciting (read, cool) place to work and friendly colleagues; they know they’re not there for life, so they want to get as much from the experience as they can, while having as much fun as they can fit in. More experienced consultants, those who’ve worked in the industry for, say, 10-15 years are looking for decent salaries, the right culture (comfortable, rather than cool), a firm with a good, solid reputation and stability. With families to care for and retirements to plan for, they’re more likely to want to stay put. Tailoring an overarching brand to both ends of this employee spectrum is just as much of a challenge as it is to make it fit the increasingly wide range of services clients are looking for.

Where employees are concerned the problem is even worse. Even a cursory glance at most firms’ websites reveals little link between the client-facing brand and employees: You may claim that adding value is one of the core attributes of your brand, but does the career page on your website show how current employees are encouraged to do this? Does it explain how you, through your employees, add more value than your competitors? Do you describe how you measure value? It almost certainly does not.

Building a brand that works for your employees depends on solving both of these problems at once. You need to work out how your brand can be made to appeal to your different employee segments. Using the example above, it’s possible that value for a millennial is about social impact, so using the examples of pro bono work that firms love to cite on their career pages to demonstrate value added and having metrics around what that value was in practice, will have a far more powerful impact on this group of people. You might also want to show a wide range of different social impact projects and describe what the people who worked on them learned. Value for more experienced consultants may well come in the form of being able to follow projects through, from idea to final implementation. They may get more satisfaction, as well as stability, from getting a job done well, than by a rapid turnover of short pieces of work.

Brands can stretch, but only if you make them relevant.