Markus Gull

Six simple steps to give even bland products a relevant brand story.

Again and again I hear the sentence "Yes, storytelling would be great, but my product is boring, there's nothing to tell about it! At least as often, the mirror twin of this sentence speaks up: "I have so much to tell, my product can do so much, there is no one story.

Both are wrong.


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In the blogcast, I read this recent blog article to you. With emphasis, of course!


Storytelling is a wonderful tool with which we can tell interesting stories in a gripping way and build an attention-grabbing package for uninteresting content; or skilfully put dry facts into context so that they become juicy, lively, i.e. relevant for our audience. Storytelling requires skillful craft to a large extent; it can be learned, for some better, for some worse. After all, every bad driver has a driving licence.

Storytelling, however, only brings half the battle to the communication account, namely the second half. When we talk about brand story, it is not about description, but much more about meaning and relationship.

There are subject areas and industries in which the sources of meaning bubble up abundantly and are obviously in front of us: food, fashion, many services, social concerns ... Most brands nevertheless talk mainly about the same thing - and break records in the advertising triathlon: good, cool, cheap.

There is even an industry where meaning and relationship are more obvious raisons d'être than almost anywhere else and communication is a vital part of the core business. Yet, puzzlingly, most market players don't and don't understand how to get their story straight: Politics. They talk to the voters and mean themselves.

And there are products and sectors where the story is very cleverly hidden behind features, facts and pricing and first needs to be artfully coaxed out. With skylights, for example.

What' weighs, that has?

It's really brittle: you buy roof windows because you want daylight in your converted attic, but that's it. Hole in the roof, save electricity, well insulated - when can you deliver, and at what price?

That's it? Really?

So, given comparable performance, does the cheapest supplier who can deliver the fastest win? Yes, provided life were an Excel file and we built houses because we needed houses.

But it's not like that. Not any more.

First of all, we build houses not because we need houses, but because we want to live. From a positive perspective, housing means ownership, independence, freedom, leisure, letting go, being with oneself, security, protection & safety, family, community, emotion, retreat, starting place, memories, hope, food, sleep, dream, support, centre, love, life ...

That is what people spend their money on, not on four walls and a roof over their heads. Many even spend all their money, quite a few more money than they have. Practically all of them more money than originally planned.

And then no one goes into the next roof window shop on the corner and says, "Four roof windows, please!" People first encounter a product through brand communication, one way or another. With friends who already have it, with experts and advisors, most quickly and frequently in the countless points of contact on the World Wide Web, in advertising, in the press and via content that helps you, if you're lucky. Then the brand is also lucky - and smart.

Relevance ignites the relationship spark.

In that fraction of a super-mini moment when someone gets the feeling, they are interested in me, in that moment the relationship spark ignites. A product can't be that bland that it would be otherwise.

The best way to ignite this spark is with a highly reactive combination of two agents: take equal parts relevance and significance.

At the Danish roof window manufacturer Velux, they have obviously understood this quite well. It starts with the realisation that we only live indoors because we can't always be outside - even though we should.

At Velux they say:
We are all a creation of nature. For thousands and thousands of years, nature was our very habitat. The connection with nature is in our genes. But somehow we have forgotten all that over time. We have shifted our lives inwards and locked Mother Nature out. We have become the indoor generation and spend 90% of our lives indoors. Sleeping, eating, working, enjoying ourselves. But indoor living with reduced daylight and stale air affects our wellbeing and mood. We need to let nature back into our lives.

At Velux, we have made it our mission to save the indoor generation. We want to encourage and inspire people with the motto "Outside-in". Houses and flats should be redesigned in such a way that the occupants have the opportunity to bring natural light, fresh air, views, sounds and smells of nature from the outside in and enjoy them.

Let's bring nature back into our lives!

This story has it all: emotion, facts and a simple idea as a new perspective. As a contrast to the usual window story "We are inside and look out", Velux says: Let us feel nature inside too.

Building materials also need purpose.

That is the concern, the purpose, the mission of Velux, that is the core of the brand story. Told with the necessary pathos, it sounds something like this: "If we manage to ensure that nature can be felt in homes through our know-how, our technology and our passion, then we - the indoor generation and our children - will be able to live healthy, joyful and happy lives. If we don't, we will be left in musty darkness and wither away for generations. So let's bring nature back into our lives!"

Velux launched a web platform with a very well-made, beautiful film . The Indoor Generation ,which is primarily aimed at people with children. There is a lot of additional useful information about the need for daylight, indoor air and indoor climate and what this means in terms of measurable quality of life and the health of all occupants.

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There's also a matching study available for download. There's little to complain about in this campaign, but there is: the stringency of Velux 's initiative for the platform via the channels and the country pages/languages could be simplified considerably and would thus be more usable.

And then, of course, my old favourite: interaction! Let the audience speak with and for you by telling about themselves and thus sharing your common story! For this, The Indoor Generation provides a never-ending stream of topics and opportunities, Velux has over 800,000 subscribers on Facebook and almost 17,000 on Instagram - untapped! It is a pity about this great content campaign, which is limited to one-dimensional storytelling and yet would have everything that enables involving storysharing and thus activates meaning and relationship. Priceless time with brand beckons as a reward for this investment , and the return on investment pays off as return of engagement and return of involvement.

That's how you find what's interesting in the thread.

How you can come up with such an idea even with your - seemingly - bland product? The first commandment is still: find it, don't invent it! If the flash of inspiration doesn't strike where it often does and you therefore slip in the shower with happiness, there is a simple - but exhausting - creative tool from my Story Thinking method: The Arc of Change.

The dramaturgy of every narrative needs an arc of change that we as the audience experience. You know this from the cinema: we see something that arouses our interest and want to know: How does it end?
In principle, it doesn't work any more complicated than that:

  1. Something gets out of balance and must be
  2. come back into balance.
  3. For this to happen, someone has to achieve something/solve a task/change themselves/learn something/jump over their shadow. - Preferably all at the same time.

A learning formula in creative writing is: drive your hero up a tree, then throw stones at him and see how he comes back down.

So ask yourself the following concrete questions:

  1. What does the normal world look like now?
  2. How is the normal world changing - what is coming out of balance?
  3. What provides the decisive impetus for action?
  4. What is the antagonistic force to be overcome? - Who is the opponent? (It is never the competition!)
  5. How do we overcome this antagonistic force?
  6. How have we now brought our world back into (a better) balance?

With the Velux story, it could work like this:

  1. We live in great contentment in our beautiful houses and flats.
  2. But our modern lives mean that we spend up to 90 percent of our lives indoors.
  3. Science shows that the lack of daylight has massive negative effects on our health, well-being, performance and mood. People, we have to do something! We have to save the indoor generation!
  4. The exclusion of nature from our lives is the great threat to our so-called civilisation. This threat must be defeated with everything we have and can.
  5. Our feat: We bring nature back into our lives by building windows that optimally supply our living spaces with the positive effect of the natural habitat.
  6. Everything is good now - indeed, better! We enjoy natural light, fresh air, views, sounds and smells of nature indoors too, have our well-being back and better indoor living spaces than ever before.

And a technical company that manufactures windows is transformed into an emotional saviour of our quality of life, the saviour of the indoor generation. It's quite simple, isn't it?

Well, just ... You probably remember the scene from "Jurassic Park" when the galloping dinosaur becomes visible in the rearview mirror and the writing in the rearview mirror says: "Objects in mirror are closer than they appear"?

via GIPHY

Here's my warning: stories viewed in the rear-view mirror are easier to deconstruct than they are to develop looking forward. So please don't be blinded by the simplicity of The Arc of Change tool. You probably won't be able to write down your brand's storyline off the cuff. It will take some leisure, effort and time.

But it pays off! For personal brands, for seemingly bland products, for so-called brands that now live solely on well-told advertising stories and want to transform themselves into a real brand with a mission, because they have to. The time of advertising clowning is over, even if it doesn't look like it to many. - Did I already mention: "Objects in mirror are closer than they appear"?

And again, because it's important: Choose a strong opponent for your brand story, because you need one. That can never be your competition. In this article I explain why.

Because regardless of whether it's a global corporation or an SME - every person, every company has and needs meaning, a mission, a purpose, i.e. at least one archaic value and the story it activates, around which everything revolves. With this story, you transform seemingly bland things into relevant ones, give meaning to apparent commodities and establish a relationship with your audience. This is how you win like-minded comrades-in-arms in the company, where every story must start if it is to be serious and therefore effective.

If you can't convey a purpose in your story, there's only one theme left: the small price. And in this case, it's just the heel money for the last friend who leaves through the window.

So to all those who say, "It doesn't apply to me and my brand!", take heart in the words my grandmother, old Story Dudette, embroidered on the cover of a decorative cushion in the glow of the first meagre rays of spring sunshine filtering through the small skylight of her gloomy nursery: "No Story. No Glory."

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