Employers need to become much clearer and consistent about how they manage their workers and what they want from them if they are to make the most of their employer brand, the man who coined the term has warned.
Simon Barrow, who this month publishes the first book on the concept, has warned that, while companies are more than happy to bandy about the idea of having an employer brand, few in reality understand fully what this means.
He says there is an urgent need for focus and clarity among employers about what an employer brand was and was not.
"The employer brand is not about spin it's about the reality of every aspect of being at work – it's about changing the way you manage people so that they get the coherence, focus and involvement that a valued customer would expect. It means breaking down the historic silos and that's not easy," said Barrow.
This shift has to come with renewed interest in the concept from senior management, something that has finally started to happen in the past three to four years, he suggested.
"Only when they are involved does an employer brand approach really work because only at that level can true coherence be delivered," he said.
The book, written by Barrow and Richard Mosley, managing director of People in Business, has suggested the best employer brands are founded on a deep understanding of the relationship between the brand and its audience.
A good brand should not only to provide a focal point for people's relationship with a product or service, but for people's relationship with the organisation they work for.
Successful brands constantly look at how they can differentiate themselves from their competitors, the book argues, and the management of such brands should focus on their benefits not just their features.
There needs to be continuity and consistency in an employer brand, as people lose trust in brands that try and make sudden U-turns, the book has argued.
To build a good employer brand, employers needed to follow a "road map", advised Barrow.
First they should clarify their destination and decide where they can and cannot go as a brand.
Then it is important to establish the business case for their brand and build up a clear insight into what employees think of their organisation.
Management should look at what behaviours are most characteristic of the organisation and then define an "employer brand promise".
From here they need to tailor their proposition. Virgin, for instance, maintains a very successful employee brand of being down-to-earth, challenging and irreverent, despite also being active in a hugely wide range of markets and products.
Barrow recommended employers develop their employer brand identity very carefully, ensuring there is substance beneath the no-doubt clever name, logo or design.
They then need to deliver, manage and communicate that brand and, finally, measure what progress they had made.
"Chief executives used to be driven by marketing, sales and financial numbers. The past three years have seen them realize that the attraction, retention and motivation of their best people become their number one determinant of performance," stressed Barrow.
"That is why employer brand thinking is getting the attention it has long needed," he added.