On August 26, the IT Ukraine and Ukrsibbank BNP Paribas Group association held the third event in the series of ITU Public talks #Frankivsk mentoring meetings. During the event, speakers discussed the role of the brand for the company and the features of the employer's brand.
Experts shared their opinions on how a company should act to attract the best specialists and what stereotypes about the IT industry should be debunked.
Nataliya Muhitdinova, head of Eleks Ivano-Frankivsk, moderated the conversation titled «Promotion strategy through networking & team branding». The following speakers took part in the discussion:
According to Yevhen Yefimenko, there is no single correct answer to this question. Everyone interprets the term "brand" in their own way. If you describe it in simple words, it is what people think and say about a company, and what it is associated with. Yes, when we hear Sprite or Schweppes, we can even feel some taste. All the associations that arise in our minds create a brand.
Vladyslav Zymovets supports this idea. He also believes that a brand is a set of associations and everything that appears before your eyes when a name is heard.
"There is little new I can add to this," Yuriy Filyuk noted. “For me, it's how you and your product are perceived and how it matches what's inside. I often see this problem when companies try to build something that doesn't match their internal content. In general, it seems to me that we are living in a time of a certain distortion in this regard – when we attempt to sell ourselves differently than we really are. I think this is a road to nowhere. If we talk about the strength of companies that live a long time, there are surely no such differences. Their strength comes from the depths, and they try to convey their key values, the essence of who they are, and "what" they are about in some organic, harmonious way.”
What is a good IT company brand? According to Yevhen Yefimenko, who is not involved in this area directly, on the one hand, it is a company that everyone wants to work with, on the other – it is a company everyone wants to buy services from. If we talk about a company as a desired job destination, it is vital to apply certain brand rules and brand tools to make people want to associate with the brand and be a part of the company. When precedents and situations occur, a brand has to react to them in some way. There are several specialized websites that routinely destroy and rebuild their brands as gossip about any company can generate a lot of noise.
Nataliya Muhitdinova also emphasized the fact that not only consultants support the brands of IT companies. Every developer has a mother, a husband, or a wife who wears branded T-shirts or hoodies and supports the company’s products and beliefs. Because a brand is an idea.
"I will tell you about our case. We gave bags to our customers on one of the company's anniversaries. And about a year later, the father of one of our employees took a picture of a homeless person looking for something in a dumpster, and he had our Brendari bag. And I think: it turns out that someone threw it in the trash," Yefimenko shared a funny story from his company’s life.
According to Yevhen, in this story, the company was walking on very thin ice. When you see a grandfather walking with a SoftServe backpack, you doubt that he was given that backpack for his fifth anniversary at some job. And when you start digging around in this topic, you come to the conclusion that the backpack is unattractive, because why would, say, a granddaughter gives it to her grandfather? Maybe the logo turned out to be too large, or maybe the company’s art director doesn't understand trends and simply designed ugly backpacks.
Vladyslav Zymovets, in his turn, doesn’t support the belief that it is necessary to create such an employer brand so that everyone wants to work for it. He thinks that you just need to talk about yourself and your work. And the people whom it resonates with will come and become part of the company's community. The speaker believes that this is more important than trying to attract everyone. Because all people and companies are different, and this should be considered when building a brand.
“I can explain this from our experience. Often, our graduates receive inquiries about whether we guarantee them employment after the courses. And we honestly answer that we cannot guarantee this. This is not the case when you can bring a person by hand to the company and say: take him/her, please, because he/she studied well. It is necessary that the candidate’s skills really suit a specific company for a specific position, that their values are appropriate, that their previous experience is relevant, and that the company itself, the working conditions, and colleagues eventually suit them. This is all extremely difficult, there are many details that should be considered,” Vladislav emphasized.
According to Marianna Konina’s observations, candidates' requests can be divided into several levels:
Ideally, all these levels should be harmoniously connected, because, in fact, the brand represents the values. Accordingly, if we talk about values, for example, Marianna represents the brand of enthusiasts. And they took this value from real life, because the things that the holding produces, the products it works on, motivate the team. This is what forces and inspires you to get up in the morning, go to the office, or work remotely.
“When we were all in lockdown, closed in our homes, or now, when there is a war, and we are working remotely again, cookies and entertainment have lost their relevance. The values, which are also tied to interaction with people, come to the fore. And this brand is formed by how the company can interact with you, how it is involved in your life, how ready it is to support you, and which of your expectations it considers. And it doesn’t matter what we write on DOU. If the real atmosphere in the team differs from what we declare about ourselves, it can be felt at the interview right away”, says Marianna.
“To do this, our company has an interview stage called “burazing”. This is when a person who will not work with the candidate directly conducts the interview. A designer or someone from the finance department can conduct an interview with an IT specialist. Why is this being done? To check if the candidate fits the company not only by what kind of pastry they like or how skilled they are. We also want to know how well they suit us and how much we fit them in terms of values. This is a very significant point."
According to Marianna, the employer brand also must be interactive instead of just hiring specialists, paying them a salary, and getting profit from them. Firstly, the support of the interactive atmosphere must be constant. Secondly, it is imperative to measure job satisfaction in the company and change yourself accordingly to the needs of colleagues. It's crucial to get feedback.
It often happens that a person becomes a brand, they create a brand around themselves, and the company picks it up. There are many examples: Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan, etc. We immediately associate them with very strong brands. However, a person moves to another company, for example, when Messi moved from Barcelona to PSG – and 500 million followers moved from Barcelona to PSG. Therefore, this emergence of a “persona-brand” has not only a positive impact on the company but also suggests some risks. Thus, you should always think in advance about what will happen if they leave.
There are such types of businesses where everything rests on one person, and when the business owner leaves, the company disappears. But this is not always the case.
“Apple had values, there was an idea, a whole philosophy that Jobs built, but after his death, the company survived. I think that when Jordan leaves, sneakers will continue to be sold,” summed up Evgeny Efimenko.
If we are talking about IT, the whole IT movement seems the same to the speaker. However, he believes that the future of IT is in making companies different from each other. If you look at photos of the offices of Eleks, SoftServe, Softjourn, and EPAM or read these companies’ descriptions without logos, you are likely not to understand who is who.
“One of the messages that I would like to convey to the IT employees: dudes, we need to look for ways to be different from each other. It seems to me that the future of IT companies lies in the fact that they choose their own, narrower specialization. Because now, it seems to me that IT companies are doing everything,” Evgeny advised.
And another story is that IT companies should learn from football experience and take cool dudes from each other in order to make stars out of them. There are several examples in Ukraine when people left IT and implemented some of their projects – Chris Kosik and Dima Maleev. We need to emulate these working models and create brands out of people. Perhaps, this is also the future of IT companies. This is in addition to the fact that a normal company must have values, there must be bananas, yogurts, and work processes built. It's all about what the next step should be: how IT companies should be different from the brand perspective. Sprite, Coca-Cola, and Schweppes are all sweet sodas but they have very different messages, uses, and tastes.
Ukrainian IT companies have a brand of employers in Ukraine but there is no brand of workers and services. Of course, this approach affects the perception of IT specialists as people doing something normal.
According to Vladislav Zimovets, the issue is that not everyone in society understands what IT is, who the IT people are, what they do, why they earn so much money, and why they get so much attention. And this is partly true, Vladislav encounters this in his work pretty often. The goal of his IT school is to educate people about IT professions and help them start their careers. And many people come to school with a request to teach them something that needs to be done, so that they start earning a lot of money right away. This shows that there is a certain stereotype that IT provides an easy way to a happy life. This is also partly true, this is indeed a fairly stable area, you can develop quickly here, and there are a lot of various benefits.
However, in order to change the patterns, IT companies should talk more about why the IT industry is vital so that society also understands what it is and supports it with the desire of people to join it. Because there is a problem: not that there are not enough people but there are not enough conscious people who clearly understand why they are striving to move to IT.
“There is also a downside here: the IT sector, especially for beginners, looks rather snobbish. We often hear from our graduates that there is a feeling that some chosen people work there, and you need to be very special to become one of them. It seems to me that this stereotype should also be destroyed because it creates nonexistent divisions,” the speaker notes.
And it is necessary to show IT companies more as responsible businesses, as people who make an important contribution and are a large and important part of the economy. But with the onset of a full-scale invasion, things started to change, and many businesses began publicly supporting the army, which eventually benefited the industry.
Also, according to Marianna Konina, it is necessary to get rid of the template suggesting that companies must educate leaders. The speaker believes that not everyone is destined to be a leader, not everyone wants to be a leader, and not everyone needs to be a leader. Therefore, there is no need to educate anyone; the main thing is not to interfere with the leaders.
As for IT companies, when they see the leadership skills in one of their employees, they surely develop them. Maybe that's why IT companies are so popular. As for the popularization of the IT industry, Marianna believes that the companies are already doing a lot for this. Another thing is that people want to get into IT because there is money there. At the same time, the industry communicates with the market and a wide audience and talks about cool projects and opportunities to work for Facebook, Google, etc.
And there is another side of the coin when parents tell their children to go to IT because it pays well. This paradigm needs to be changed. Yes, it pays well but you also need to have the appropriate technical skills and constantly upgrade them. In other words, you need to not only work for eight hours but also watch some videos and learn because technologies are updating.
“The fact that IT companies are now helping both the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the victims of the war, I think, is a very weighty argument for candidates. Even before the start of a full-scale war, we noticed that young specialists tend to want to know how the company supports healthy nutrition and ecological standards in regard to resources. And now, candidates want to know how we behave during the war, how we collect internal donations, and how the owners of our holding attract other contributions. What comes first is who we are as a company. And candidates can figure out and understand whether they want such an attitude towards themselves or not. This is also a part of employer branding when we have the opportunity to show our attitude towards employees through our attitude towards people in general,” Marianna noted.
As for the internal and external brands, the best option is if there is no difference between these two.
"I once gave an example that at some point it became important for me not to "dress up" after coming from home to work: not to change my face, not to be someone else, not to turn on the boss but simply to remain in the same natural, optimal state of mind. It allows you not to waste energy on not being yourself. And when it comes to the company's brand and relations with both external and internal consumers, it works exactly the same," explains Yuriy Filyuk.
Summing up the webinar, Evgeny Efimenko noted that everything is awesome in the IT field, and this fact must be accepted and welcomed. This is one of the fastest growing areas. And do not be shy that there is a lot of money in this business. On the contrary, this fact should be repeated.
Children who choose the university where they will study understand the value of money. Some of them want to work in the IT sector, which is associated with sports, while others are focused on cars and construction. The thing is that people have high hopes for IT. So, let us just keep going like this.
Owners need to work on the companies’ internal brand: birthday celebrations, team building, interviews, etc.
“It’s very cool that this thing is developing in this way in Ukraine. Many non-IT businesses, including creative areas, the theatrical field, and the medical professions, should emulate this time-proven model. And the next steps are to add more colors, promote this whole narrative, move on to some next, even more exciting challenges,” Evgeny advised in the end.