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Ep 579: The Value Of Employer Branding


Previously, in Episode 573, we explored the power of Employee Value Propositions; I want to follow up by having a similar conversation about employer branding. As companies re-invent their employee experience post-pandemic or look to rebuild their reputation post-layoffs, employer branding has never been more critical, particularly for employers recruiting in challenging talent markets.

Definitions are fundamental here because, in the same way that developing an EVP isn’t employer branding, employer branding isn’t recruitment marketing.

My guest this week is John Tarrant, Managing Partner at DNA. DNA is a UK-based employer branding agency with an impressive client list and vast experience in helping employers develop employer brands that are compelling, distinctive and drive tangible value for the organization.

In the interview, we discuss:

• Recruiting challenges

• Increasing candidate expectations

• ESG, diversity and values

• Problems caused by lack of metrics

• Emotion over logic

• Employer brand as a strategy to appeal to current and future talent

• Identity plus reputation

• Redefining talent

• How can employers rescue their employer brand

• The impact of AI and technology

• What’s next for employer branding

Listen to this podcast on Apple Podcasts.


Matt Alder: Support for this podcast comes from Appcast. You may have heard of Appcast. They’ve been the global leader in programmatic job advertising for the last 10 years. But now, they’re so much more. Following their acquisition of Bayard, they now offer a whole suite of recruitment marketing solutions, still driven by their industry leading tech, data driven approach and world class team of experts. Need to fill a funnel of qualified applicants? Head to to learn more. That’s Appcast dot IO.

[Recruiting Future theme]

Matt Alder: Hi there. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 579 of the Recruiting Future podcast. In Episode 573, we explored the power of Employee Value Propositions. I want to follow up by having a similar conversation about employer branding. As companies re-invent their employee experience post-pandemic or look to rebuild their reputation post-layoffs, employer branding has never been more critical, particularly for employers recruiting in challenging talent markets.

Definitions are fundamental here because, in the same way that developing an EVP isn’t employer branding, employer branding isn’t recruitment marketing.

My guest this week is John Tarrant, Managing Partner at DNA. DNA is a UK-based employer branding agency with an impressive client list and vast experience in helping employers develop employer brands that are compelling, distinctive and drive tangible value for the organization.

Hi, John, and welcome to the podcast.

John Tarrant: Hi, Matt. How you doing?

Matt Alder: I’m very well. Thank you. It’s an absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Please could you introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

John Tarrant: Hi everyone. My name’s John Tarrant. I’m the Founder and Managing Partner of a company called DNA. Based in Bristol. We’re thought and practice leaders, both in helping clients define their EVP and employer brand, and then enabling them to operationalize it right across the employee lifecycle. So we help clients find, keep and engage the talent they need to make their business successful.

It usually starts with a cry for help. So if it’s fine, the cries for help we get are, “Oh, I’ve got a great story to tell and we’re just not telling it, or no one knows who we are and the only ones that do know the bad stuff, or we’re spending a fortune on a cost per hire. We need a direct model to get it down.” So that’s defined. If it’s to keep an engaged bit, it’s normally a cry for help around attrition, particularly early attrition or eNPS scores, or lack of cohesion and consistency across the organization. So that’s what we do.

It’s EVPs and employer brands implemented and operationalized. We love a cheesy phrase, Matt, at DNA. So what we do is we increase the quality, decrease the cost and ensure a legacy of improvement.

Matt Alder: So you’ve obviously been working in this space for a long time. You’ve seen kind of lots of things in terms of economic cycles and all that sort of stuff. But we have gone through a very strange time in the last few years. What are you seeing with your clients at the moment in terms of the challenges that they have in the talent market?

John Tarrant: So the sort of challenges we’re seeing at the moment, I guess number one, there are still more good jobs than there are people to do them. Employers have to work really hard, if they’re going to ensure that their offer is distinct, so uniquely them in a crowded marketplace. If it’s authentic that what they’re selling on the outside and the inside matches the true reality. They’ve got to work hard to make it compelling. Their EVP, their employer brand, their talent strategy is going to have to work hard for them day after day. So number one, there’s more good jobs than there are people to do them.

I think, number two, certainly what we’ve seen this year in 2023 is lots of clients as they are planning for 2024 and beyond. Their business plans are predicated on what we’ve described as fewer, better people. So we’re focusing more on quality of hire. Within their business plan, they want to keep growing the top line, they want to grow their revenues, they want to grow their profits, but they’re probably going to do that with comparatively fewer people. So they’ve got to make sure that the opportunity cost of not having the right people on the right seat at the right time is too great for their business.

So our job as their trusted partner is not just to hire people who are going to be there on day one, our job is to hire people who are going to be there on day one of year two and day one of year three, so that they are hiring people who will thrive in their environment and succeed and stay.

The quality of hire thing, when we set objectives for clients this year, it feels like it’s been year of a success enroll. So when we’re helping clients hire salespeople, we’re focusing on that success enroll KPI. So again, we’re not getting people who are just there on day one who last year or the year before would have got the tills ringing, start hitting their targets in three months or six months. The focus on quality of hire and success enroll is making sure we’re hiring people who are getting the tills ringing within six weeks. So succession role is key.

The old talent market, it used to be shades of grey, Matt, where everybody broadly did okay, but we’re seeing more black and white where the winners are really winning, and maybe some of the losers are struggling a little bit. Some of the losers maybe missed a trick on candidate experience where candidates know their worth. They’re expecting a genuine experience. They’re not just expected to be processed by an ATS. Since COVID candidates feel that they’re entitled to greater communication, which they are, they’ll respond well to a quicker process, they’ll respond well to an engaging process, they have much higher expectations around ESG and diversity, and they don’t want just words. They want proof.

We’ve been approached by a couple of organizations. One is a chemical polluter, I guess you’d describe it. Another one is an arms and manufacturer saying, “It’s not that would not punching our weight in our early years’ recruitment, we’re not getting anything. We’re not getting quantity or quality or anything.” And that’s because the early years talent are voting with their feet and they’re only going to apply to people who match their values. So the early years market, in the same way the talent market is evolving all the time, is continuing to evolve.

I think one of the challenges in early years, our friends at Connector shared some stats with me the other day that rejected offers and did not start, we call them DNS for grads, are running at 26%. So that’s a huge amount of effort, if you’re only going to get 74% of people who’ve gone all the way through that process. So actually, rock up on day one.

There’s lots of challenges. I guess one of the other ones that maybe frustrates us and lots of our talent partners who we talk to on a daily basis is the lack of metrics. You can’t improve what you don’t accurately measure, whether it’s cost per hire, time to hire, the cost source and outcome of every candidate, how many go through first interview, second interview, offered, accepted, turn up on day one are still there in month 3 and month 12. Frankly, if they applied that same process to how they engage their customers, they’d never sell another thing. But it’s okay.

The joy of our job is that the flip side of those challenges are the opportunities. There are loads. So I mentioned candid experience. From a recruiter’s point of view, you don’t need a big budget to deliver an exceptional candidate experience. You can be flexible, you can be agile. It’s the wrong number, but it’s something like 74% of buying decisions are based on emotion, not logic. So it’s how do you want those candidates to feel, because that’s going to get them to, yes, more importantly than just processing them.

You’re always going to reject more people than you hire. So yes, you can make that a branded process. You can build a great talent pool off it. You can use that talent pool for referrals, you can make all of them a fan before they become an employee. And for a number of clients where all their potential employees are existing or potential customers, that’s really important. So yes, there are lots of challenges, but there are opportunities everywhere.

Matt Alder: Yeah. I think that’s interesting. There’s a combination there of things that are peculiar to the last few years, and things that have just been an issue [chuckles] for an eternity. And particularly the bit about the data, it’s a real shame that hasn’t been fixed quicker. I think also a lot of things there really underline why employer brand is so important. So I wanted to dive into employer branding for the rest of the conversation. What I’ve noticed is, with the kind of explosion interest in employer brand work over the last few years, there’s lots of jargon, there’s lots of phrases. Everyone seems to have different definitions about employer brand, talent brand, employee value proposition. So give us your definition. What’s your definition of, say, the difference between an employer brand and an employer value proposition?

John Tarrant: Okay. It’s a really good point. Before we go on the journey with any clients, we have the same conversation about, look, it’s really important to be clear. Number one, on your definitions. So that’s rooted at the start of the whole process, which is really important if you’re going to have a successful process. It’s really important for stakeholder engagement within those organizations. So really clear on your definitions, and also really clear on what the EVP and the employer brand has got to deliver for the business, deliver for the bottom line, deliver for the people, deliver for the customer, so that everything you do as a means to an end, not an end in itself. So setting those objectives and recognizing, it’s not a vanity project are absolutely key.

From an EVP point of view, you’re right. It has morphed a little bit. It used to be all about the promise, “Come on in, everyone. The water is lovely. Whoever you are, if you’ve got a pulse, we’ll probably have you.” That changed the give and get. So it was, “Come on, everyone, the water is lovely. We can offer you this, this and this, isn’t that great?” However, in return, what we need to get from you is this, this and this. And if you can’t bring those things, then nicely, there’s a job for you somewhere, but it’s not with us and all bets are off.

Since COVID actually, it’s probably changed again and it’s matured to good EVP and good employer branding is good for business. So it’s matured into something more solid. So we define an EVP as a statement of intent as to what you stand for as an employer and how you want to be known in the markets and audiences that matter to you. That’s it. It’s that statement of intent bit. And then as far as the employer brand is concerned, employer branding is your strategy to appeal to current and future talent. We always put the current bit first. People often forget to look inside, but it’s your strategy to appeal to current and future talent.

The simplest definition of a brand is brand equals identity, plus reputation. You build your reputation, or frankly, you earn your reputation every day through repetition and consistency and through evidence.

Matt Alder: You mentioned there’s been a lot of change in employee brand and things like that. How have things changed since the pandemic, and why is it so important now to focus on it?

John Tarrant: Well, [chuckles] funny, bizarrely, I had a conversation with a marketing director, a client, a couple of weeks ago who told me, “There’s no such thing as employer branding,” and was absolutely adamant, which was a bit odd, because when I googled it this morning, I got 426 million results. [Matt laughs] That was a strange one. But since the pandemic, yes, it’s changed. I think in terms of that current and future talent, in terms of employees’ expectations, it’s changed. They expect a voice and they expect that voice to be heard. So when we’re delivering that brand to employees who, frankly, have got to buy it every day, and they’re the ones who deliver on the promises you make to customers, they’re the ones who–

Frankly, we’ve got a choice. It can either be transactional employment where we turn up and we pay them, but that’s as far as the love goes, or they could fizz into work every day, bring that talent back to your organization week after week, full of those intrinsic motivators to do the right thing. But they’re only going to do that if they’re trusted, if they’ve got an element of flexibility, if they’ve got a voice, and if their goals align with your goals and your purpose.

One of the things we’ve seen is that people seek meaning in their work now more than ever. They recognize they spend a lot of time at work and they want to spend it with people, they want to spend it with doing something purposeful. So a lot of organizations since the pandemic have had to stop and pause and press reset. They say to us, “God, we knew what we were going into Covid, but now we’re hybrid, or now we’re working in a more flexible way and the market’s moved on and we’ve adjusted in a number of other ways.” I’m not quite sure who we are and what we stand for anymore. So they’ve had to stop and pause and press reset.

I think from applying your employer brand internally, organizations have had to work harder because yes, we’ve got hybrid working. We’ve got people who joined during COVID who basically didn’t meet anybody else for some significant time, even the ones who were there before, during and after. This thing about the thinning of work relationships is very real across lots of different organizations. So there are lots of challenges to overcome as far as employer branding since COVID. But I think probably two things. One is this thing about pressing reset. I knew what we were going into COVID, but we now need to stop and pause, have that watershed moment, so that we recognize what’s got us to here isn’t going to get us to where we need to get to.

But again, there’s loads of opportunities. We’ve got a tech client where we really maximized the working from anywhere opportunities for them. So rather than always having to rely on hiring people from within, the M25, spoke to one of the line managers. His last two hires, one was from Moldova and the other one was from somewhere in Pennsylvania. I’m never going to meet them, but they’re fabulous and they’re part of the team.

Matt Alder: Yeah. No, it’s interesting. I think that you mentioned there that companies are having to redefine what they are in terms of talent, because businesses have changed and also, as you say, workers changed as well, and people’s expectations have changed. I suppose if you add all that together, then put in, add to that the issue about reputation. As you say, there’s a generation coming into the workforce who are very strong on matching values in terms of who they work for. There’s also lots of employers who’ve been through layoffs, have had lots of things that have negatively impacted their reputation as an employer. So I think that a lot of people listening will fall into one or maybe even all of those categories. So what should employers be doing to rescue their employer brand to do that reset and that rebuild?

John Tarrant: Stop and pause, I think is the first bit. Look, honestly, inwardly and recognize that bit about what’s got us to here isn’t going to get us to where we need to. If it’s good business, if it’s good for the bottom line, if it’s good for the people, if it’s good for the customer, then it needs a clear plan around it. And although as an organization, we’ve used beautiful creative work, beautiful digital work, beautiful everything. It’s underpinned by really boring things like structure, discipline, process, great project management setting really clear objectives. So it’s about having a clear process.

I would say this, obviously, it’s also about selecting the right partner. There’s a lot of really good employer brand and EVP agencies out there. But frankly, our biggest competitor isn’t them. It’s customers either doing nothing or doing it themselves, and that’s the bit we’ve got to fix. So it’s about having a really clear plan. Before you do anything, you set objectives. It means to an end is not an end in itself, what’s this got to do for us? What’s it got to do in terms of cost per hire, time to hire, diversity, success in role, building our reputation?

And then every client is different, every situation is different, but there will be a set of KPIs which will increase the quality, decrease the cost and ensure legacy of improvement. Then it’s about proper discovery. So everything we do going forwards. If it’s good business, it has to be based on a foundation effect. So that discovery has got to be rigorous.

And then when you’re developing your EVP and your employer brand, we’re a flexible, really amenable budget DNA, but our non-negotiables are– If we’re developing an EVP and employee brand for you, it’s got to be distinct, it’s got to be uniquely you, it’s got to be authentic, and it’s got to be compelling. We’re not going to compromise in any one of those things. Otherwise, we’re not going to deliver on the objectives we set out at the start. So it’s very doable. It’s about planning carefully, executing with flair and measuring everything.

Matt Alder: It’s now illegal in 2023 to have any kind of podcast without talking about technology and AI. [laughs] So it’s probably a good time to ask you about that. It’s been a very interesting year in terms of leap forwards in technology and artificial intelligence. What are you seeing that the impact of that in things like employer branding and employer branding projects and the way that employers are thinking?

John Tarrant: There are a lot more frustrated employers out there who either chose the wrong technology, can’t implement it cohesively than there are happy ones. We talked about challenges and opportunities. There are opportunities there to speed up the process because we know that speed of process is key. Particularly, for the younger end of the workforce, speed of process is key. Yes, there’s opportunities on speed, but the gaps in reporting and the gaps in implementation and the inability to deliver a cohesive candidate experience add to that frustration every day.

When you look at technology, it should be able to make life easier, it should be able to enable a better way of working, it should be something that facilitates the right candidate experience and help them to achieve their goals. The buyer beware problem is that lots of the technology that we see implemented in organizations or that organizations are about to buy doesn’t do that. Every day, while we’ve been on this podcast, there’ll be a bright new, shiny something that’s come on the market with great marketing and very well backed, probably come out of somewhere in California.

The buyer beware thing is, are you expressing your need in the form of a solution that you think the technology is just going to solve it, or have you really got to the bottom of what it is that you actually need to do and deliver? So there’s great opportunities in technology, but the number of clients we talk to were, “Yeah, the ATS is all right, but it doesn’t quite do what we want it to.” We’ve got an HR information system. We’d probably give it 6 out of 10 on a good day. I’ve got no clue as to how we’d get the 4 out of 10 we haven’t got yet, but it is what it is.

Matt Alder: Yeah, I think that’s an excellent point. It comes back to the issues around strategy and data. Technology is now amazing, but it’s never going to work if you don’t have that strategy in place first.

John Tarrant: We were asked to go and talk to a board who were having problems around internal comms. National organization salespeople all over the country, two or three chunky offices in different locations. There wasn’t one version of the truth. The rumor mill was rife. The company, the HR team and the C-suite just didn’t own the comms narrative, which was the vacuum that they were needing to fill. So we were trying to dig under the skin as to what a potential comms and engagement solution might look like. It transpired they already had three intranets that weren’t used [Matt laughs] plus something else.

Matt Alder: Yeah, exactly.

John Tarrant: We were talking about a bonfire of all of the technology they had, which was just [Matt laughs] it was a bizarre– Those discussions when you go back and get in the car, you think, “What just happened?” It was one of those.

Matt Alder: What we need is, we need another system to rule them all to unify all the other ones. So as a last question, sort of focusing on the future, we’ve seen a lot of change in the employer brand in the last few years. You’ve really highlighted a lot of the issues that still exist. What’s next? Where do you think we’re going in two, three, five years’ time?

John Tarrant: Future of employer branding is really strong. When we talk to clients, they go, “Look at our technology platform. It’s very secure. Look at our product offer today and our product and service offer to come. That’s really strong. Look at our overall brand equity. That’s strong. Look at our cash position. It’s really strong. We’re really well backed, we’re really well led. But the bit where we have risk is in our people agenda because if we can’t nail the people agenda, maybe all bets on all of those other elements of our brand equity are going to be compromised.”

So the people agenda is always going to be key, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon, whether that’s locally in the UK or globally. We’ve got clients all across the world, they’re all singing the same song as far as that’s concerned. I think employer branding is still growing up and developing. People are recognizing that it’s good business and it enables good, positive business change.

So again, I feel very positive about that. I think that when you look at that maturing of employer branding as good business, an enabler of good business change, you can prove ROI with whether it is success enrolled or cutting cost per hire or time to hire or whatever that might be. Employer branding is able to prove that it creates value for an organization and is not a vanity exercise. If I think of the work that DNA– I’m sure other agencies have done. An employer brand will make you money and save you money. And we can prove transparently where we put millions onto a bottom line, not a tenant here or there, but millions on a bottom line. I think people will recognize the value that employer brand can add as far as that’s concerned. The thing always evolves.

So I think the other great thing about employer branding, when we talked about challenges and opportunities, there are ways to create competitive advantage, whoever you are, wherever you are, and potentially do it quite quickly. So whether that’s, I don’t know, building a reputation upstream to then earn the right to have a recruitment conversation, and using and understanding social media in the right way to do that is a great opportunity. And that shifts the dialogue and the conversation with your talent market quite quickly.

2023, we’ve seen a huge rise in employee advocacy, where you help the client use their existing employees as the most articulate and authentic advocates of the employment experience, raises a profile, builds their employer reputation, builds talent pools, penetrates hard to reach talent pools, build pride and purpose within the existing organization. So employer branding isn’t just recruitment advertising in old money, as lots of people recognize it. They now see it as something essential that that’s effectively the golden thread all the way through that employment experience, from your first contact with someone as a remote stranger, all the way through the selection process, induction, onboarding the employment experience, all the way through to how they exit all the organization and how you treat them as alumni. That’s a branded experience, and every touch point is an engagement opportunity.

So I think if you’re going to describe employer branding, employer branding is getting through that awkward adolescent phase. And now people are realizing that actually it’s not recruitment advertising and it’s not about some clever campaign themes. This is actually really good business that could be the golden thread all the way through our business that makes it different and special to work here and why people will fizz into work eager to make a difference every Monday.

Matt Alder: John, thank you very much for talking to me. My thanks to John. You can subscribe to this podcast in Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for @recruitingfuture. You can search all the past episodes at On that site, you can also subscribe to our monthly newsletter, Recruiting Future Feast, and get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show. Thanks very much for listening. I’ll be back next time, and I hope you’ll join me.

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