Employer branding activities in companies are an unquestionable must-have. The key is to properly tailor them to the target audience, the recognition of our product or service and to choose the right tools to support the long-term process. One of them could be the use of company merchandise. We spoke with Mateusz Jabłonowski, a specialist in employer branding, about the advantages and differentiators of corporate gifting used as part of employer branding.
– trainer, consultant and interim project manager in the fields of employer branding, recruitment, communication, diversity and inclusion. Author of the book Employer Branding. Practical Handbook.
Effective employer branding
MerchUp: Mateusz, in your opinion, what are the most popular, and most effective, Employer Branding (hereinafter referred: EB) activities?
Mateusz Jabłonowski: It’s hard to say about one or two most effective EB activities – a lot depends on our target audience, recognition of the product or service and several other factors. However, we can certainly list the most popular activities, which include all social media projects (employer profiles, campaigns, contests), events (conferences, job fairs), preparation of videos showing how things work in our organization or cooperation with universities. In recent years, employee advocacy – that is, engaging employees as ambassadors for the company, among other things – has also become increasingly important, among others through their social media activities. After all, companies investing in building personal branding of employees can be sure to build an authentic image of work in the organization and reach their target audience directly with it.
Observing all EB activities over the years, it is apparent, in my opinion one trend that stands out – the increasing reliance on employees: their profiles, stories, experiences – their work. In all of these projects, employers are increasingly visibly focusing on maximizing employee inclusion, so that it is their real stories that speak volumes about what kind of workplace an organization is. This is not surprising, as we consider global market research, which shows that every year we trust less and less the messages coming from brands, in favor of the opinion heard from friends, people around us.
MerchUp: So employees are the best ambassadors for their companies. How to encourage them in this role?
Mateusz: First of all, the most important thing is not to force them to do it. When I hear about the solutions of companies that pay employees to publish posts on LinkedIn about the company’s work – it chills me. Authenticity may be a worn-out word in recent times, but here it plays a key role – the actions of employees as ambassadors must be sincere, genuine, because our target audience can really know if such is the case and, more importantly, compare it with competitors, with information available elsewhere, opinions about the company.
When launching employee advocacy projects based on building ambassadorship among employees, I always focus on win-win communication for both parties. By playing the role of a corporate ambassador, an employee has the opportunity to build his or her personal branding and image as an expert, which in itself also brings benefits for the employer: strong expert brands correlate with how people perceive the companies where these experts work. We want to work with the best in the industry, to learn from them, to be part of an environment that is visible in the labor market, has some meaning. The second argument is simply to influence how teams within the company will develop and what kind of people will join them. By promoting the organization at least in social media – employees have an impact on who this communication will reach and thus who will ultimately be interested in working for our company. It is also important to plan a proper process for implementing employees in the role of ambassador: training, tutorials, tips and inspiration on how to act in social media.
Corporate gifting as part of employer branding
MerchUp: How important is corporate gifting here? What are its greatest benefits?
Mateusz: In companies where engagement is at a good level, employees are more likely to identify with the organization and use the available gadgets, clothing (hoodies, sweatshirts, t-shirts, socks), thus promoting the organization at industry events, meetings with friends or at other gatherings. This is strongly associated with a sense of pride, belief in the company’s product or services and, of course, a desire to recommend the company as a place to work to friends or family. Corporate gifting is therefore a tool that the aforementioned sense of pride and desire to represent the organization simply supports. At a time when our potential job candidates, in addition to the promises made to them by companies in the job market, need more – evidence of what kind of a place to work and grow these organizations actually are – failing to take advantage of the potential inherent in corporate gifting and its impact on employees’ desire to promote the company is simply the proverbial shot in the knee. No one better to present our organization in a real and sincere way than our employees. It’s also worth mentioning that well-designed, thoughtful and tailored corporate gifting builds long-term, not short-term, relationships: it helps us anchor ourselves in the minds of our target audience, or strengthen attachment to the organization among employees.
MerchUp: And what factors should be considered when selecting appropriate corporate gifts to enhance EB?
Mateusz: Today it’s mostly about the quality of the products, the origin of the materials, whether they are made with care for the environment, and the idea – seasonal gadget campaigns, gadgets that are a little less obvious or with a more interesting design than just a logo in the middle work super well. Variety is also simply important – if at onboarding our employees got company bidons and hoodies, let the next gadget be something else – after all, there are really a lot of possibilities. This will also make them accumulate for themselves a kind of corporate “collection” of gadgets, rather than adding another bidon to the cabinet.
When producing gadgets, we must also not forget… our target audience, i.e. who are we making them for? Something different will appeal to students, slightly different things to experienced programmers or managers from the sales team. Here, of course, with help comes a good knowledge of our corporate target groups – internal and external, usually developed in the form of personas. We also need to remember about equal access to company merchandise for all employees or participants in a given project – I often observe situations when company goodies are available only to selected groups, e.g. new employees and organizations do not care at the same time that those who underwent onboarding a few years ago can also feel like company ambassadors once again.
MerchUp: What would you identify the most effective methods for personalizing corporate gifts? Is branding merch with a company logo enough?
Mateusz: Company logos are such a must-have. However, we can definitely go further. Some examples of personalization of corporate gifts:
- gadgets (this works especially well for clothing) with the employee’s name on them or at least the team they are part of,
- gadgets with company slogans, sayings,
- gadgets with logos of company programs, not just the company itself, such as with the logo of the internship program,
- gadgets, where each personalization can design himself, for example by adding a symbol, a word,
- gadgets with photos of employees.
The very process of creating corporate gifts is a good opportunity to integrate employees – we can offer them to participate in the process, thus creating such gadgets or corporate clothing that they themselves will be happy to use on a daily basis. We then make sure that we create something that will fit into our corporate DNA, appeal to employees and meet their expectations, all supported by cooperation and integration of employees or entire teams.
From my perspective and observation, however, it’s important not to try to cram your company’s logo into every possible place on a corporate gift. I once saw corporate sweatshirts where the logo appeared in 4 places. It is definitely enough if you use it once, filling the remaining space with the other elements I mentioned earlier.
MerchUp: What is the importance of proper corporate gifting planning for long-term support of EB activities?
Mateusz: We can use gadgets, company merch in employer branding activities in various ways. These can be products that we hand out to our potential employees, candidates (e.g. at conferences, job fairs) – thus encouraging them to stay in touch with us, keeping them engaged and interested in the brand. We can also distribute them to our current employees, reinforcing their attachment to the organization, their sense of pride or at least their desire to represent it outside the company. At first glance, it would seem that corporate gifting does not play a key role in the long-term building of employer branding activities. However, the practice and experience of companies show that properly selected products with the company logo, ideally, if with personalization, unusual design, made with attention to ecology, can significantly strengthen our portfolio of EB projects and in fact complement them with elements that build long-term brand loyalty, strengthening employee ambassadorship. Gadgets, souvenirs, corporate apparel – they have always been an integral part of thinking about image activities, as a good complement to the content or promotional layer of projects.
MerchUp: Can there be any negative effects of it and if so, how to avoid them?
Mateusz: In the very idea of implementing corporate gifting in a company, I don’t see many risks or potential negative effects. Of course, by using products of questionable quality or usefulness, we run the risk that gadgets with our company logo will end up in the trash – rather, we should all strive to avoid this. It all comes down to thoughtful design of gadgets, matching them appropriately to the target audience and trying to go beyond the standard – like producing notebooks or pens with the company logo. Another, less obvious but often occurring threat is unintentional or unconscious discrimination of one group of employees against another, i.e. a situation where access to corporate gifts is restricted to only some employees or some selected group, such as managers. As much as it sounds funny at times, I have encountered this approach by companies and even the need to pay for company sweatshirts or other gadgets. Therefore, it is worthwhile before we get down to planning the company’s merchandise to secure an adequate budget for the production of gadgets or clothing, also taking into account the cost of shipping or storage of products.
MerchUp: Should corporate gifting be focused solely on employees or also on customers and business partners? Why?
Mateusz: Employees and equipping them with company merch is obviously a must-have today. By doing so, we strengthen their desire to represent the organization, to identify with it not only during working hours, but also outside them or at least reach our target group directly with the message promoting the company – friends from previous workplaces, people from the industry met by our employees at events. From my perspective, this is one of the integral elements of building long-term employer branding – in every organization I’ve been in, employees have enjoyed using company gadgets or apparel. However, a sense of belonging to the brand can also be built in this way with our customers or business partners, strengthening with the help of corporate gifting the business relationship, attachment to the brand and, ultimately, the desire to recommend our services or products further. This is a good way to stand out from the competition, to anchor yourself in the minds of customers or business partners. Of course, as I mentioned – here also important is the very idea of corporate gifting, its usefulness and other aspects that will determine how much our corporate gifts will not end up in the trash.
This is how you do employer branding
MerchUp: What trends would you identify in corporate gifting today? What are companies betting on and is it the right way to go?
Mateusz: Companies are now betting primarily on: Quality, creativity and usability. In corporate gifting, the winner will be the one who can create such gadgets that employees use on a daily basis, that look interesting and are of high quality. We are paying more and more attention to using less plastic or plastic, taking care of this in the production of our corporate gadgets, simply to ensure that they are better and more often used by employees, customers, partners. To say sky is the limit on the subject of gadgets is like saying nothing: today we really can find anything – it’s a matter of having the right idea and, of course, finding a partner (supplier) to realize the idea. Employers are increasingly outbidding each other at job fairs, conferences or other events as to who is offering something more interesting, creative, new or in a new form. It’s a good idea to follow trends, observe what’s on the market and react quickly by including new products in your gadget arsenal. Personally, I think the biggest trend for the near future in the area of corporate gifting will be the usability of the products we offer as part of it. People are becoming more conscious about their purchases, often reducing the number of items they own. So we need to plan such gifts or gadgets that they can use on a daily basis – whether at work or in their private lives.
MerchUp: And which companies do it best in your opinion? Whose employer branding activities do you observe with particular joy?
Mateusz: I observe employer branding activities of many companies, both Polish and foreign – for me it’s an inseparable part of an EB professional’s work, especially one who works as a freelancer, a consultant. Indeed, knowledge of the latest company activities and trends is essential in this work. In the topic of corporate gifting, in my opinion, the companies that stand out the most are those in the gaming industry, which usually supply their employees with interesting, creative products, making them walking corporate ambassadors, so to speak. This is especially important among professional groups such as IT representatives, where employees very often attend industry conferences, events and thanks to having, at least a company hoodie, they can promote our company directly to the target group, i.e. other people in the industry. Look at how CD Projekt RED or Techland, for example, do it – their employees appearing at industry meetings (but not only there) are always equipped almost from head to toe with something with the company logo. Believe me or not, but it really works, and such a group of employees at conferences or meetups simply stands out from the crowd. A dozen years ago, as employer branding in the IT industry was only taking its first steps in Poland – the benchmarks in this aspect were set by Google, whose employees were always equipped with company merch of the best quality, thus representing the organization on the occasion of various activities.
MerchUp: Mateuszu, thank you very much for the interview!