jazz hands and sparkle ponies

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At this week's ALI 22nd Internal Branding Conference, I was temporarily seduced, impressed, intimidated by and envious of the parade of gorgeous initiatives that were trotted out before us. Big budgets, slick messaging, award-winning packaging. All this talk about "brand ambassadors" was making me very uneasy...I felt my feet leave the ground, as I floated up into the heady stuff these marketing super stars were promoting.

And then Chris Thornton from Pfizer took the stage and brought me back to earth. He told how they built trust and credibility without all the chitchat or big production. In Chris' words, it wasn't about jazz hands and sparkle ponies, but about coming clean and passing the sniff test.

In other words, having the courage to tell the truth without spin, have real conversations with employees, and do a few things that really matter vs. too many things that have no impact. Some ideas worth trying (some jazzier than others):

American Eagle uses digital recorders to "get the voice" of employees in action, then uses employee News Agents to blog about what's happening throughout the company.

IBM uses video-taped interviews with employees around the world to ask them what they need to evangelize IBM with friends and family, then creates story-telling tools based on this input.

Pfizer stripped its employee development intranet of really boring academic, HR-y, process-driven content, replacing it with a "life event" approach to accessing tools ("Help! I'm a new manager - now what?").

Several employers use audio branding to ignite a little excitement on intranets, at events, around the office. I've been grooving on Kaiser Permanente's Thrive CD mix in my car all week.

I do think a smart marriage between cool marketing and strategic HR can happen. In fact, they need each other - on their own, they each miss a crucial side of the story. What makes me nervous is that it's already too tempting to gloss over the tough decisions and fierce conversations that most employers would rather avoid. Throw a few sparkle ponies at the problem, and you won't have to deal with all that jazz, right?