by Bill Ballas


    It may be true that a dissatisfied customer tells 10 people about their experience and an unhappy employee tells 100, but talent branding is much more than a company’s reputation. In fact, talent branding lies at the heart of HRM programs because it creates the emotional connectivity between the company and its human capital.

    For the past several years companies such as Google, Toyota, Ford and Marriott have made talent branding the foundation of their long-term retention and recruitment strategies. Simply stated, talent branding is a marketing campaign directed to prospective employees, current staff, and other key stakeholders. Due to its positive impact on recruitment, retention, engagement and profitability, talent branding is a major HRM strategy for corporations worldwide.

    In this blog entry you will see talent branding’s benefits to a company as well as its members and stakeholders, and you will have the chance to order a complimentary copy of my in-depth “Step-by-Step Guide to Creating and Managing a Powerful Talent Brand.”


    Talent branding represents five major competitive advantages for employers: (1) it improves recruitment and (2) retention rates – especially in competing for experienced, highly-skilled, and technical talent; (3) helps market HR throughout the company, (4) casts a “halo” over the company’s consumer brand(s); and (5) enables employers to make truly better workplaces.

    A strong talent brand helps an organization differentiate itself from competitors since its messages remind targets and members how deeply allied they are with the company in terms of mission, vision, and values, and in achieving the organization’s goals. In terms of retention, it has been well-documented that members who possess the same values and norms as their employer tend to stay and remain motivated and engaged.

    The talent brand serves HR’s self-interests, too, because it helps communicate the department’s contributions to key stakeholders. In fact, organizations whose talent and consumer brands are aligned have discovered their talent brand casts a “halo” on the consumer brand(s).

    Companies with a talent brand also have better workplaces because they tend to live up to the talent brand’s promise. If a company is not a good place to work, it is impossible to create a talent brand communicating it is. Trying to create a false brand is unethical and a waste of resources.


    To create and manage a talent brand requires a well-defined, interdepartmental process  for managing the company’s (1) reputation, (2) culture, and (3) value proposition. Each of element is essential for talent attraction, selection, and retention.

    Managing the company’s reputation helps ensure the right applicants apply for the right positions, and that they fit with the organization’s culture. A company’s strong reputation adds prestige to a position, thus encouraging attraction, and inspires employees to maintain their association.

    Managing the organization’s culture is crucial to attracting the right applicants. A well-defined and clearly understood culture appeals to prospects who share the firm’s values and norms, making these individuals more likely to accept job offers and stay with the company. Plus, these members are more apt to remain motivated and engaged.  

    Managing the firm’s value proposition requires understanding the unique qualities the company offers members, why the employees are better off than if they worked for a competitor, and communicating those attributes consistently. Companies who do this are better able to convey the firm’s high intrinsic and extrinsic rewards which allows them to attract more qualified applicants, and retain and engage members.


    To craft a successful talent brand, one must first form a value proposition. As summarized earlier, a value proposition is a positioning statement that explains your value to employees and how you do so uniquely well. It also describes the main advantage(s) you offer members, and why employment with your company is far better than working for a competitor.

    Keep in mind that value propositions can follow various structures so long as they are easy to understand, differentiate the company from competitors, and demonstrate proof that your organization’s value proposition is unique and real. However, eCornell has a free positioning statement generator to help folks write a clear and persuasive value proposition (http://blog.ecornell.com/how-to-write-market-positioning-statements/).

    Using the eCornell format for WSB as an example, our value proposition is:

    For businesses and not-for-profits alike, WSB is uniquely qualified among ad agencies or consulting firms to create a talent brand because of our expertise in Human Resources, Leadership Development, and Branding.


    A talent brand exists only as a set of beliefs and associations in the minds of prospective employees and active staff, and is part the company’s cultural network (e.g. informal communication). Therefore, the talent brand must be authentic, reveal the employer’s essence, and reflect the real culture and principles of the organization. If it doesn’t match reality, the retention rate will quickly decline.

    There are several ways to create a talent brand. One method I use is to begin by surveying recent recruits and longer-term members to learn what concepts, words, and slogans they find compelling. Based on their insights, WSB creates materials to test several visual and verbal messages with employees in focus groups until the talent brand emerges.

    Bringing the talent brand to life entails formalizing it into HR’s planning, job analysis, recruitment, and selection processes. This is done by validating strategies through SMART goals and other metrics, and institutionalizing a “talent brand” campaign.

    Such campaigns often feature the talent brand being communicated through employee testimonials. In these endorsements, employees speak about the organization’s vision, culture, and their relationship with the company. Most importantly, members share their achievements and how the organization is helping to fulfill their career goals.

    Regardless of specific strategies and tactics, the talent brand image, statement and testimonials should be featured on the organization’s website, social media sites, and in HR advertising and other consumer touch points. This is especially true before, during, and after job interviews. Indeed, any contact with the talent brand must leave a positive perception with all job candidates – even those not selected.


    A talent brand benefits HR professionals and HRM programs in several ways. First, it enables HR staff to learn how members feel the HR department is and should be performing. Once staff feedback is analyzed, appropriate suggestions are implemented which leads to a better workplace.

    Secondly, the talent branding process requires a campaign with specific measurable goals. HR departments communicate these outcomes (and the value of HRM programs) to members, executive staff, and other key stakeholders. This talent branding campaign’s SMART goals and objectives will likely indicate HR’s substantial, indirect contribution to company profitability.

    Talent branding establishes the emotional connectivity between the employer and the  organization’s human capital by creating strong bonds with forthcoming employees and existing members. It reveals the company’s soul by establishing shared values and beliefs. Moreover, talent branding promotes better workplaces, HRM programs, and staying ahead of competitors.

    And talent branding's value is measurable.

    Creating and managing a talent brand requires more than the HR department overseeing a silo function. In fact, it requires the talents of many folks across the enterprise coordinating a process of inputs and messages to their diverse constituencies. If you would like to receive a complimentary copy of my detailed "Step-By-Step Guide to Creating and Managing a Powerful Talent Brand," drop me an email at billballas@wsballas.com. 



    By Bill Ballas, CFRE


    To help enrich your career, I’d like you to consider crafting a “blue ocean strategy” for your company.  You are about to read a mini-case study about Cirque du Soleil’s rise to prominence and profitability.  The lessons are timeless for those working for profit-driven businesses or 501(c)(3)s – whether they be large, small or in between.

    The first time I attended a Cirque du Soleil performance was in 1988.  I was impressed by the show’s creativity and the performers’ jaw dropping strength and grace.  As a newly minted marketing manager, I wondered how Cirque became so popular so fast.

    The answer to my question is richly explained in the best-selling book, Blue Ocean Strategy, written by INSEAD professors W. Chan Kim and Renee’ Mauborgne. The tome is based on their decade-long study of 150 strategic moves spanning more than 30 industries over 100 years.  (And if people don’t believe in evidence, what do they believe in?)

    Kim and Maurbogne note the difference between a blue and red ocean is that red oceans roil with the blood of company’s vying for the same market share and profits.  This creates markets and profits to predictably shrink. (As we’ll see later, this applies to 501(c)(3)s, as well.)

    Cirque was founded by a group of street performers whose “blue ocean strategy” was to avoid competing with circuses and theatres.  They became who they are by fashioning a new marketspace that attracted audiences who did not attend the circus or theatre, and by gaining many circus and theatre patrons.

    Kim and Mauborgne found that companies swimming in a red ocean are in a “race to the bottom.”  This is because senior managers “are often afraid to try new things because it requires them to go outside their comfort zone.  Senior managers then engage in ‘self-justification’ that often stunts company growth.”

    Deep thinking and strategy formulation are essential for businesses and 501(c)(3)s. 

    According to “Public Goods” and “Contract Failure” theory, 501(c)(3)s originated to meet a need that (1) businesses can’t or won’t satisfy, or (2) which consumers -- and donors -- don’t believe commercial enterprises should fulfill. Yet many services that were once the province of 501(c)(3)s are today being provided by for-profits. Hospitals, diagnostic centers, nursing homes and hospices are examples of how blue oceans have turned red.

    Competition is real.  For everyone.

    If you are interested in finding your organization’s blue ocean, here are two recommendations.  First, take part in a blue ocean strategy (BOSS) training.  It will help you create a systematic process to drive innovation and to integrate innovative thinking into the business planning process.  BOSS provides the structure for creative thinking so leaders gain the tools to identify and sustain company growth.  Companies like Nintendo and Samsung have already fully embraced our process.  (Participant surveys tell us the trainings were a lot of fun, too.)

    In addition, our strategic marketing practice assists you in identifying hidden markets and value propositions.  Using primary and secondary research techniques, as well as predictive analytics, we help decision-makers improve their strategic perspective and position their organization for continuous growth.

    When you take advantage of a BOSS training or strategic marketing consult individually or together, the result is that you will be better able to find your path to continuous growth.

    For more information about our simulations and clients, click "Leadership Development" on the menu bar.  Strategic marketing clients and services can be found by clicking "Clients" on the menu bar.  Or simply contact Bill Ballas at billballas@wsballas.com or 925.989.4276.


    A colleague and I were having lunch recently when our natter predictably lurched to work.  She asked what I thought was trending in the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) field.  My top-of-mind reply was, “What is old is new again. But more so.”

    What I meant was – and this is obvious – that we live and work in a time where “brand is king.”  As a result, corporations and their foundations use philanthropy as a tool to develop their brands as never before.

    Sure, relationships and mission alignment are important.  Yet today’s “reputation economy” demands more of us.  In fact, it obligates our proposals – whether they be for cash, sponsorships, in-kind contributions or volunteers – to be driven by advancing the grantor’s brand.

    Doing so offers new, meaningful, and thrilling ways to grow revenue.  Mentioned below is my method for using today’s CSR environment to further the grantor’s interests as well as mine.  I hope you find it useful.

    If you are already incorporating any of these practices, then I say “Congratulations!” to you.  Because you know the "traditional ask” is dead in the eyes of foundation decision-makers.

    My assumption is you are skilled in performing research, getting meetings, and preparing a test pitch.  Thus I will only share my techniques that I use once an in-person or conversation occurs.

    Sometimes my process and content is communicated during one meeting.  At other times over two discussions. My scenario is based on the latter.

    My objective the first meeting is to learn what the grantor wants to accomplish and fund by asking them to state what change they want to bring about.  My mind is open thinking is flexible.  My priority is to learn how to become relevant rather than to promote a program or agency.

    To discover our related interests, I often use an “opportunity plot” (e.g., a tic, tac, toe diagram).  In the left column I note the three (or more) major changes the grantor wants their funding to achieve while the right column are three (or more) points I want to accomplish. 

    The middle column records our mutually compatible interests.  (If it is blank, I thank her/him for speaking with me, and leave.) I then ask which middle column entry or entries merit a proposal.  Those that are worthy I refer to as the grantor’s needs.

    In our “reputation economy,” their needs are really brand needs.  I never mention the term. Maybe I should.

    I then verbalize how my application will address their needs.  We talk about the compelling data points and human interest stories my request must contain to show I am united with their goals.

    Next I suggest two opportunities to address each of their needs and those of both our beneficiaries.  The “client” tells me if that makes sense or not.  Her/his comments are taken into account as I summarize why her review committee will think my application is unique, exciting and on point.  I end by explaining how by working together we can make the change they want to fund last.

    Before leaving I request a 15 – 20 minute second meeting for a day far in advance of the submission deadline.  If it is not granted I describe my anticipated budget in medium-to-broad detail.

    However, if there is a second meeting, I will recap our previous discussion and disclose my plan’s finances.  Specifically, we talk about (1) the requested amount of my grant; (2) my program costs; and (3) the return on their investment (ROI). 

    Since the finances are intertwined, I present discrete information as to why my requested budget is necessary to fulfill their needs.  (This assures them that I will not ask for more funding during the grant term.)  I continue by comparing my budget, overhead percentage, and program fees (if any) to similar programs.  Then I make sure they know of any budgeted fundraising expenses in case they want to eliminate them.

    This is followed by a summary qualifying and quantifying their investment to their beneficiaries and stakeholders.  I also share what their support means to my beneficiaries and stakeholders.

    I then present the ROI their investment will create. My calculations result in being able to say, “Every dollar you invest in my proposal will return $5 toward meeting your expressed needs targeted beneficiaries.”

    Perhaps the best metric is saved for last.  It applies directly to the corporation’s and foundation’s brand.  I wield it only when my gut tells me it will have a positive impact on my application.

    I ask if they are aware of the Lev, Petrovist, and Radhakrishnan research published in 2007 that quantified the value of a corporation’s philanthropic giving on its bottom line.

    The three researchers studied 251 of the 300 largest U.S. corporations and found that the “average” company’s philanthropic investment – which was 10 cents for every $100 in net sales revenue – generated a $2 to $3 rise in profits (not gross revenue!) for every dollar they put into philanthropy.

    Most importantly, the research showed that charitable activities attract new customers and build brand loyalty.

    Corporations and their foundations have long recognized philanthropy’s benefit to their marketing mix and brand.  It is our job to use their brand commitment to benefit those we are both privileged to serve.

    Parenthetically, last January I contacted Dr. Lev for a study update and he said Dr. Petrovist was preparing new results for publication.

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  • How Epic Fails by Apple, Google, and Facebook Can Improve Your Product Launch

    by Bill Ballas


    Everyone makes mistakes.  Even executives with lots of success and cash under their belt.  Here are a few examples:

    Apple Newton - FaceBook Home - Google’s Lively - HP Touchpad – Microsoft Zuni - Netflix Qwikster


    Here’s what you can learn from their failures to improve your product launch.


    Recently I’ve been advising two start-ups to help them seize their respective market opportunities.  A major concern for each company’s founders is how their new products will earn customer adoption.  None of the owners wish to be among the nearly 50% of “new brands for new markets” that bomb. They simply want to know,

    “What factors will influence the successful adoption of a new product?”


    This is what I shared with them:

    The principal cause for new product failure is that entrepreneurs often do not

    view adoption through the eyes of each of their targeted customer segments.


    A marketing professor of mine once remarked, “People welcome innovation, but it is change they don’t like.”  He was referring to the many “yes/no” decisions each consumer makes that determines whether s/he will adopt a new product.


    And, as sentient human beings, we make choices based only on our psychology (which includes emotions).


    Product fails also occur for many reasons related to human psychology.  Numerous entrepreneurs botched their new products by believing too strongly in the inherent superiority of their new gizmo over existing competitors. 


    We’ve all heard the myth that the world wants a “better mousetrap.”  It doesn’t.  Yet this myth persists.  So, when I hear an innovator brag about her/his “better mousetrap,” my first thought is that s/he does not deeply understand how each customer segment perceives the product’s benefits. 


    On other occasions the new product nose-dived because consumers thought it was too ahead of its time. Or risky.


    Now and then the invention was incompatible with the values and experiences of potential consumers.  At times, customers perceived it as too complex to understand or use.


    In some instances customers could not try the innovation sufficiently before purchase to encourage adoption.  Or, if the product were tried appropriately, the results of the consumer experience were not adequately observed or communicated to others.


    A product’s non-acceptance may also be due to distribution, promotion, positioning, and timing issues, as well as the execution of its rollout. 


    Regardless of the cause, however, the best way to mitigate a futile product introduction is for entrepreneurs and companies to perform the qualitative and quantitative research needed to closely align their product with the psychology of each targeted consumer group.


    While it is possible for entrepreneurs to make money before their innovation gains market acceptance, it is not probable.  The founders I am advising are "in it to win it," and are focused on learning more abou their customers to improve their chances for product (and financial) success.


    BTW, please let me know if you want to buy a Nook.  It is in almost new condition.  And reasonably priced.


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