Exploring Creative Research Methods and Their Role in Refining your EVP

We’ve been talking a lot about refining your employee value proposition and subsequent employer brand during the current climate so that you can relate to top candidates when you’re ready to hire. However, it’s impossible to shape your EVP without an informed idea of what candidates and employees are thinking. Right now, attitudes and circumstances are changing by the day, and when we emerge from this crisis, the recruitment landscape isn’t going to be the same as it was at the start of 2020, never mind five years ago. So, taking the time to conduct detailed research with employees and candidates may substantially help your recruitment efforts in the changing world.

Insights gained from research with current employees are essential to better understand candidates’ and employees’ needs, perspectives, and values. From talking to your team, you can learn; the positives of their employment experience, what future employees can look forward to, what makes you different from other employers in your industry, and what weaknesses your business has that could be improved on. All of this will help to inform your EVP and form the basis of your employer brand. Your EVP should be 80% grounded in reality and 20% aspirational, to showcase future goals and aspirations. Conducting detailed research contributes to a vital story-telling process, showing who you are and who you wish to be. This will both attract talent and retain your best players in a competitive market.

The Power of Focus Groups

Focus group discussions reveal the positives of your workplace, showing how people are motivated, managed, rewarded, and how your organisation helps them to grow. When handled by an external, impartial market research provider, focus groups can show an accurate perception of what makes your employment experience unique and what sets it apart. Focus groups also help you develop an understanding of what your ideal candidate values in an employer. With this information, you can go on to build candidate personas, understand where you should be focusing your efforts and the messaging that they’ll connect with.

There are varying tactics that are traditionally used within focus groups, from group discussions of around ten to twelve participants, to online surveys and even asking employees to complete a diary documenting their experiences. Combining these methods provides a holistic view of what it’s like to work at a company from an insider’s viewpoint. When done well, focus groups can uncover weaknesses, what’s detracting candidates from pursuing a career with you and ultimately challenge your existing EVP. Therefore, it’s no surprise that focus groups are a tried and tested form of market research and, when it comes to reforming (or refining) your recruitment strategy, an incredibly useful starting point. They’ll help you gain a first-hand perception of your business.

However, when surveying existing employees, direct questions can raise a few concerns. How can we guarantee employees will be honest when talking about their current employer? Negative views may be covered up due to fear of judgement, plus, subconscious opinions and ideas will always have a part to play. When using focus groups to conduct market research for recruitment, some employees will always be more vocal than others which could influence the session.

Sometimes, therefore, to gain the most valuable insights from both your employees and candidates, research methods need to be a little more creative. As we emerge from this crisis, understanding attitudes and perceptions is about to be more vital than ever, and maybe it’s time we embraced some more creative market research methods to inform our EVP research.

Let’s Get Creative

Using creative research methods is a fun and welcome change from the basic question and answer format. They keep sessions engaging and break up the day for participants. However, these techniques also encourage a better quality of answer. Creative market research techniques unlock how employees truly feel, as they don’t necessarily know what feeling they are projecting. With direct questions, employees have a degree of transparency which allows them to control the answer somewhat. Through drawings, illustrations and even gamification, researchers can infer and translate true feelings that are projected. Injecting a little creativity into your EVP research can make the final result more engaging, personal and relatable to potential candidates.

Here are some examples of creative research methods:


Gamification means the application of gaming principles in a non-game context. It refers to things like making interactive survey sliders or drag and drop answers to encourage a more detailed response instead of a yes or no. Respondents spend 20% more time on gamified questions than traditional surveys because they’re more fun, engaging and enjoyable.


In this exercise, employees are asked to imagine their employer as a real person, describe them in detail and then bring them to life in a drawing. The results can often be surprising, but it highlights key qualities in the business and uncovers internal perceptions. It’s not only a chance for employees to get creative and use their artistic talents, but it also helps to reveal much more than a question ever could about their feelings.

Blob Tree

The Blob Tree is a research method created by behavioural psychologist Pip Wilson helping us to recognise emotions, attitudes and even status in an organisation. A blob tree holds figures performing tasks and doing actions. In this exercise market researchers ask participants to select the character which shows their feelings towards a company. It’s a communication tool that is widely used in education as well as in a recruitment and HR capacity.

With so many ways to gain extra insights and truly uncover employee feelings without bias and influence, it’s no surprise that creative research methods are helping inform recruitment strategies and EVP research more than ever. Combining traditional and creative research methods can help to gain a comprehensive understanding of your company from all perspectives, which could set you apart from the competition when looking to the future after COVID-19.

The Future of EVP Development

One big obstacle in the way of EVP research is Big Data and people analytics. As technology advances and we have access to vast amounts of data covering all elements of the recruitment and employment process, what does this mean for the development of EVPs?

In some ways, big data is hugely positive, as it improves our understanding of the employee experience quickly and accurately. Data provides an insight into the characteristics of top performers, how we can tackle drop off rates in the recruitment process and how to improve employee retention. However, the rise in big data means that employers and market researchers are losing sight of the value that focus groups and creative research methods bring. Valuable insights are being lost in favour of quantifiable data. The human element, which plays a vital role in your employer brand and messaging, is missing.

Focus groups put a spotlight on a human narrative and give a background to the data. As today’s candidates are proven to buy into the experiences and relationships a workplace offers as opposed to the company itself, it’s imperative that we retain focus on personal experience within research. 

As an industry, people analytics is snowballing. However, there is a huge trend for a human-centric approach. Big data should work with focus groups and creative research methods to paint an accurate picture of human stories within a business, helping to improve real-life experiences and promote the workplace culture to new audiences through employer branding and digital attraction.

At Talent Works, our Brand and Insight Team have created and continue to develop their own creative research methods to help gain the most impartial and honest views from candidates as well as keeping focus groups interesting and exciting. We believe in balancing human experience with data and external research to create a broader picture of an employer to help inform future recruitment strategies. With experience in running active focus groups and an unrivalled knowledge of the best practices for gaining results, their findings have been used to create many successful EVPs in the tech space, healthcare industry and more. If you would like to know more about our research methods and how they can be used to improve your recruitment process and employer branding, contact us today.