Markus Gull

One in the face? Or: Why your employees are your first and most important audience.

"I read your blogposts regularly and have a question: do you also advise companies?" "I was at an event recently and heard your keynote. It got me thinking about our advertising ..." "Everyone talks about needing storytelling - would that be possible for us too ...?" - Hardly a day goes by when I'm not contacted by a company looking for something like their brand story, with questions like this or similar. Thank you!

The triggers for this are manifold. These are the top 10, sometimes even in combination:

  1. The digital transformation is creating a completely new reality for companies and brands in their dealings with customers. New relationships are created between a brand and its audience, or the relationships change, not least through social media channels, which every company - seemingly - needs and wants. For B2B just as much as for B2C.
  2. What worked for almost 150 years, namely advertising, no longer works. Especially not nuisance advertising, i.e. adver stalking. People simply no longer do what companies want. Rightly so.
  3. A generational change is taking place in the management of a company. This brings new thinking to the management floors, or at least the desire for something new.
  4. The company's image is getting on in years and needs refreshing.
  5. We need some new ideas for our commercials!
  6. There has been a massive paradigm shift in the industry - such as in automotive, energy or financial services.
  7. The brand positioning no longer works, or has been hijacked by a bigger, stronger or louder competitor.
  8. The need for product and service innovation suddenly raises elementary identity issues.
  9. Competition for the best employees requires an intensive human resources programme.
  10. A corporate responsibility programme is launched.

Are you still telling or already sharesting?

As different as the concrete triggers for the question of a brand story are, in fact it always comes down to the same question: "Who are we?" In the best case, the question is even "Who are we, and why?" - Hm ... How do you find the right answer? And where?

We'll disregard all the storytelling buzzword nonsense here, and also the ignorant misconception that storytelling is all about original stories with which old-fashioned advertising tramples on our nerves on the way to our wallets. Read more here and here and here. At this point, we Story Insiders talk about the real brand story that respectfully, meaningfully and valuably connects brands with their audiences. Here we talk about our favourite topic: story instead of advertising, that is, story sharing instead of story selling.

Do you use the Corporate Blablarium?

When I meet with the companies or sit in on a briefing, the first thing I do is listen. What do the entrepreneurs, the bosses, the responsible employees tell themselves? What makes the brand special, what is the secret of success? What distinguishes us from the others, what makes us special? Almost always the following top 10 statements come up, often even in combination:

  1. We are a small company and therefore very flexible, but nevertheless well prepared for large tasks.
  2. We are one of the largest companies in the industry, but still flexible and well prepared for smaller tasks.
  3. We are not the cheapest, but our price/performance ratio is unbeatable.
  4. We are the cheapest, but you can't get this top quality anywhere else for this price.
  5. We are innovative.
  6. We are fair/environmentally conscious/sustainable ...
  7. Perfect, personal service is a matter of course for us, even if something can always go wrong, we are all only human after all ... Speaking of which:
  8. For us, the focus is on people. (The classic! By the way, you can also hear this from manufacturers of pet food ...)
  9. The most important thing is our employees.
  10. The most important thing is our customers.

Does this foray through the corporate blablarium sound familiar? I thought so ...

There is nothing wrong with these messages at all. But unfortunately, nothing is right either if you want to be independent and relevant to your audience. Or better still, the other way round: relevant for your audience and thus independent. Because all in all, these seemingly special brand definitions just say: "We exist, we do our job and we try not to build shit, which mostly succeeds." - Thanks for the info. What else?

Do you prefer to find or to er-find?

The hope that I will now find the real answers for a company, that is, invent the brand story, this hope does not die last. It has never lived. Because a brand story that is carried into the company from the outside is at best nothing more than a positioning idea from the drawer of dusty push thinking, but mostly just a poorly disguised advertising campaign. In other words, the noise before the defeat.

An effective brand story must first and foremost be authentic, otherwise we can immediately leave it alone. Authenticity is not something you can find, you can only have it and find it. I am happy to accompany you on this journey. My work has certain similarities with that of a coach with a logotherapeutic approach. I ask many questions, it's about the why, it's about meaning and it's about values in the company, because there and only there do we find one of the vital branches of solutions.

"Authenticity cannot be found, it can only be had and found.

The best search source is the so-called founding dream. What passion, what idea, what spark shone in the hearts of the founders of a company and today in the hearts of its team members, best of all in every employee? When people talk about what drives them in a positive sense, about their passion and passion, then something shines in them. Then their hearts open, then their brains sparkle - which can even be made visible with neurological measurement methods. Then exactly what happens happens when you are in love. No coincidence, because it's all about passion and love. About love for life and for oneself. That's it. If nothing lights up for you, then that should make you think. And then to shine.

What drives you?

Yes, on the surface, of course, every company founder is pushed by the hot desire for independence, every founder by a fascinating product idea, every start-up by a service that has never existed before. But products are ephemeral and all too easily replaceable. Every innovation is copied at lightning speed, better or cheaper. But people don't care about products at all.

It's about relationships and meaning, because that can't be imitated. Of course, price and performance have to be right. And people who always have to or want to buy the cheapest, we only reach them anyway via the price tag, which is as small as it can possibly be. That also requires a brand story, but in a very special way, and that's another story. We are talking here about all those who do not want to compete on price, but want to create added value. This is about something completely different. Just think of the price difference between an MP3 player and an iPod . What do you pay Apple many times over for? Exactly: for the meaning! That's what makes the added value - meaning and relationships.

Who or what is your product?

But the departure from the product leads much further away. Many of today's mega-successful companies don't even have products. Facebook, the biggest medium on earth, does not have a product - and, by the way, does not employ a journalist. Airbnb doesn't have a single hotel, Uber doesn't even have a car key. Or Google... The product is relationships and meaning. So, in fact and truth, we ourselves are the product, we and our clicks. Us and our search for meaning and relationships. That's how the good people in those companies make a lot of money. This is how they become the most valuable brands and companies in the world and of all time.

Brandstory is therefore exclusively about the why and the values of a brand. But much more about the why and the values of the audience, which we have to discover parallel to those in the company. And now comes the crucial question: How do these two worlds of values combine into a common one? Where does the common longing flash on the horizon? Or, which longing of the audience can the brand recognise, activate and satisfy? When we have found that, then the brand story is on the table. Hooray!

A punch in the face?

I am talking about the audience here for a reason, not customers. Because the brand story must work in all relevant groups and nourish a solid, living relationship: Public Relations under a new sign. The relevant groups can be customers, future customers or suppliers and partners, investors, banks, owner representatives, shareholders, the media, neighbours, friends, etc. The brand story has to work for all of them. One and the same brand story has to work for all of them, translated into the respective relationship language and seen from the respective perspective. Your first audience is undoubtedly your team - your employees and their environment. Employer branding is the answer.

"The brand story must work in all relevant groups and nourish a solid, living relationship: Public relations under new auspices."

The extremely powerful sports philosopher Mike Tyson gave us the wise words: "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face!" and thus translated into everyday life what Peter Drucker, the founder of higher management theory, programmatically said: "Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast". That's right. Your great strategy, the most magnetic brand story, the most fascinating desire will only catch on if the spark of your brand story is transferred to your employees.

What is the message of your team?

Your employees are constantly in conversation in their everyday lives, analogue and even more so digitally. They are credible ambassadors, multipliers in every direction. They talk enthusiastically about their work in their environment. Or badly. Or not. In any case, they communicate, and even silence is a message. At least to you.

This applies intensively to all employees who, as official representatives of your company, are in constant, close contact with your audience, i.e. the people from purchasing, sales, service, call centres and similar departments. These employees need special attention right from the start and must be involved in the development process of your brand story in good time. This does not mean that they all always have a say, definitely not. But they are essential sources of dialogue, and serious dialogue starts with listening carefully. - Listening so that you understand, not so that you can respond.

Your employees ensure that the brand story is lived and experienced in everyday life, i.e. the brand experience. Nothing is more credible than this, nothing can make a brand more untrustworthy than contradictions between communication and experience. Dedicate yourself to your team, because this is where the lasting effect is created that makes your brand story great and intense. This is where the lever for rethinking story instead of advertising comes into play. There are good, proven methods for this, such as this one.

By the way: If you are your team alone, then of course this also applies. Brand story is not a question of company size, but a necessity for successful communication. Regardless of whether it's a global corporation, an SME or an EPU - every person, every brand, every company has an image, some kind of story, stands for something, even if it's nothing. So if you don't just want to talk about the price, but respectfully engage with your audience, involve the people with a story relevant to both of you, and first those closest to the company.

All those who say, "You can't do that with my brand!" will probably not be spared the experience that not only is the wisdom of Mike Tyson great, but also that of my grandmother, old Story Dudette, on whose left bicep was tattooed, "No Story. No Glory."

Share now

Newsletter subscription