Markus Gull

Storytelling practice: How small brands share big stories.

One question I often hear after my keynotes onbrands, brand stories and meaning is: "But how will storytelling work for me? My company is much too small.

That is a fatal error. Strictly speaking, it is a fatal error with a second fatal error in its baggage.

Error 1)

No company is too small, because the principles of meaning, story and brand even work for individuals, whether they are in business or not.

Think about some of the things you've heard said about yourself or people around you: "Well, he's quite a guy!" or "She's a real original!"

Whether positive or negative, these people are in any case something special, at least remarkable and worthy of notice.

That is one of the essential characteristics of a brand. A brand stands for something.

Error 2)

Especially SMEs - small and medium-sized enterprises - absolutely (!) need a strong story with meaning. Real storytelling is even a substantial lever for success. You can't displace your competitors with market power anyway. And what else do you want to talk about with your audience? About the price? You will soon run out of steam.

Not even the low-price expert Hofer (= the Austrian version of Aldi) talks about price in its brand story, but says: I'm sure about that. And for many good reasons. (I know every one of them, by the way, because I developed the brand story with and for Hofer six years ago).

Yes, if you are lucky enough to offer a product or service that actually has a unique function, then you can talk about it. But believe me, there is practically no such thing as a unique product.

It is the meaning that makes the difference.

In 99.99 % of cases, what is perceived as unique in products is precisely the meaning.

Let's do a simple test.

Look at the most valuable company in the world today: Apple. You won't find a single product there that isn't outperformed several times over in terms of price-performance ratio by the competition. But not in terms of importance. That's why we buy from Apple. - Because we don't buy products, we buy what we want to be.

And then look at the countless online courses, complete with advice books, offered by individuals on the WWWeb, often in the field of personal development. Some of these people earn real money. I mean: real (!) money, also in our latitudes, not only in the USA, as one would like to think. Hardly any of these courses are really unique, and much of it we could also find for free on YouTube. But not the meaning.

That is why we spend money with these people. - Because we don't buy services, we buy what we want to be. And we always buy from someone, especially services.

Brand story is the best investment for the future

Some entrepreneurs are so smart and have understood that building a brand and developing a story is not booked under expenses , but is capitalised as an investment, and is usually even the basic prerequisite for turning an entrepreneurial idea into a lively offer and a company.

I am allowed to advise quite a number of these interesting people. Depending on the scope of the advisory service, they sometimes invest a considerable sum for it, so they have already learned two of the most important entrepreneurial principles:

1) You will realise that professionals are not expensive after you have employed an amateur.
2) You can't do epic shit with basic people. (DeSean Jackson)

Here are four examples of small businesses with a big story.

Alina does - no - cake classes.

How does storytelling work for course providers? Alina is an entrepreneur in the construction business and a young mother of two. The company is now mainly run by her husband, Alina still works with him.

In her first years as a mum, Alina discovered her passion for making specially designed cakes. And she also discovered her extraordinary talent for it.

What else she discovered: that the most beautiful moment in this occupation is when she hands the cake to someone and sees the amazed-joyful eyes of the recipient. When Alina talks about it, her eyes light up too. Then you see how she lights up. She is literally thrilled.

You can make a business out of it, can't you? Special cakes for special occasions for special people and special joy.

But Alina doesn't do that, because she is much too clever for that. Alina prefers to develop a course programme "How to make special cakes".

But she is not selling courses in the process. She is doing something much more valuable. She passes on her own experience to all the many people, often young mothers, who can follow Alina's example and experience exactly what Alina also experienced: the amazed, joyful eyes of the recipient and for herself the feeling: I have done something special.

Alina doesn't sell courses, she sells self-realisation and self-worth. Self-worth only looks like a course programme.

From now on, Alina knows what to talk about with her - potential - clients: their shared experience. "I am like you, dear course participant. And you can do and experience what I do and experience - feel that moment of recognition and joy. There is nothing more beautiful!"

Alina transforms storytelling into storysharing, she shares a common story with her audience and builds a doubly meaningful business. Meaningful for her - meaningful for her course participants. Wow!

Clara does - not - PR.

How does storytelling work for PR agencies? When Clara came to me, I was instantly fascinated by her and her biography. She is not yet 30 and has already studied and worked more than most of us at 130. And successfully. In jobs where others with a lot of experience fail.

Her passion belongs to agriculture because she comes from a very entrepreneurial farming family. That is why she recently decided to set up her own PR agency that focuses on working for farmers. For this, she has chosen a very special approach to content, which she can offer very authentically and credibly, not least because of her background, and which excites her. She has the certainty that she is making a positive difference with her work.

The first successes are already there, anything else would have surprised Clara. But she still doesn't really know how to present herself, her offer and her service, because there are so many PR agencies, and so on and so forth....

The first good news: Clara has a good niche. Because contrary to the widespread opinion that you have to make your offer as broad as possible, the opposite is true, because good old Seneca is still right: "Nowhere is he who is everywhere."

The second piece of good news comes when you talk to Clara about her successes. Then she doesn't talk about the rich clipping yield or the great regional marketing effect, but about the fact that her clients said: "I'm suddenly proud of my work again". And Clara is happy!

Their successes are therefore experiences of success.

That's it for Clara's PR business. She is in fact in the self-esteem business, in the form of a PR agency. Just like the end of your cough is sometimes packed in a syrup.

It is obvious. Farmers are ultimately the only indispensable profession in the world, because they are the ones who provide the food we eat (that's not what Nestlé, Unilever and Danone do). However, the vast majority of farmers cannot make a living from their own work; some are up to 80 percent dependent on subsidies. - Those who do not lose their pride at some point should urgently take a hearty sip, but not of the cough syrup.

Clara shares this deep passion for the Bauer profession with her clients in a special, distinctive way, transforming storytelling into storysharing. She shares a common story with her clients.

That is the meaning of their work, that is their story. That is meaning.

Clara's company looks like a PR agency, but it delivers something much more precious than public relations. She delivers self-worth and meaning. And she gets self-worth and meaning in return. She gets money too, of course, and money certainly gives great pleasure at times. But she only gets fulfilment from the meaning of her work.

Harry sells - no - fashion.

How does storytelling work for fashion brands? Harry has had a fashion brand with a few stores for thirty years, plus he also supplies boutiques with his goods. A classic so-called SME, a medium-sized company.

But what he offers - visually - is also available everywhere else, sometimes even much cheaper. And in terms of quality, he is not above the competition. So the price-performance game, which is usually only imaginary anyway, already fails in the beginning. He is one of many, interchangeable, arbitrary.
And in fashion, too, where it's all about individuality! - So why does everyone look the same?

In principle, interchangeability in the product is not as bad as it sounds at first. - Or is someone seriously trying to convince me that the difference between indigo jeans from Levi's, Diesel or Replay really lies in the product?

Or that white Oxford button-down blouses from Ralph Lauren or Gant are really different, or T-shirts from Zara and H& M, or Sperry Boat Shoes from those of Timberland?

Harry's brand is at a turning point today because it has lost something very crucial over the years. Or maybe it never had it, and that has really come up over the passage of time: Meaning.

Without meaning, every product becomes interchangeable, especially in fashion, because we don't buy products, but what we want to be. In fashion, we even show this quite clearly.

What I am working on with Harry is (re)discovering the meaning of his brand. He has already uttered the key phrase himself: "Actually, I don't care about fashion at all."

That may sound like the self-abandonment of a fashion label. But I hear something else in this confession, and that is the beginning of a great authentic brand story that is rooted in the heart of the founder and is more contemporary than almost anything else.

It's about a common, strong desire of the founder, his brand and his audience. They just don't know it yet, that they are sharing something important and so storytelling turns into storysharing. Harry personally and his brand share a common story with their customers.

Stay tuned - for Story Insider there will probably be more on this case soon.



reMarkable makes - none - tablets

How does storytelling work for tech start-ups? One brand that I don't consult for, but whose product I use with the greatest pleasure, is reMarkable.

reMarkable is a paper tablet on which you write with a special pen, the notes are saved and transferred to any of your devices.

The difference to all iPads etc. is twofold: firstly, it is the only tablet on which you can really write comfortably without feeling like you are using a strange pen on a glass plate, but you feel super cool in meetings. Secondly, the tablet can basically do nothing else. And only in black and white.

I beg your pardon? This in a world where all the other tablet manufacturers are flexing their muscles with apps and super displays and whack-bang cucumber processors?

Yes, but that is precisely the problem that the smart guys from reMarkable have recognised. The endless distraction of everything the digital world has to offer, everywhere and at the same time, is increasingly overwhelming us humans. We lose control, the tool determines us and not the other way around.


reMarkable makes a great offer in this overload: Get your brain back . Think, sketch, note, scribble, doodle - just like it works with paper, only without paper (stacks), and always with you.

That's how it started:

A true paper person, Magnus Wanberg, CEO and founder of reMarkable, has always attended lectures, classes and meetings armed with a notebook or printouts.

A few years ago, he asked himself why - when our pockets and bags are bulging with laptops, tablets and smartphones - we still do this. What is it about paper? Paper, he realised, is the ultimate tool for thinking. It improves our focus, engages our brains and sets our minds free to work and imagine, without restrictions or distractions.

Well then:

Our fight for human-friendly tech: We were concerned about how digital distractions affect our ability to focus already five years ago, and since the beginning of reMarkable we have been working out a defence: A new type of digital device, a paper tablet, designed without notifications or distractions, to help people think.

This is a young, relatively small company, a start-up, an SME from Norway with a big story.

What reMarkable delivers only looks and feels like a paper tablet, but is actually much more. It is self-realisation and, bottom line: freedom.

In this way, the company shares an archaic strong value with its users, transforming storytelling into storysharing and their product into meaning.

Perfect storytelling starts with 4 steps.

Here's the simple four-step guide, the compass as the simplest model for you to get yourself and your story aligned.

This works for you personally and your life goals with the same methodology as for a new business, for (re)aligning an existing business, no matter what age or size.

In principle, nothing else works.

Here I open the treasure chest of the Storytelling School for you as a Story Insider and give you a simple but highly effective tool, the Story Compass -in four steps to a brand story . You can downloadthe .pdf here.


Please complete in this order.

The four-step storytelling guide:

The vision | The perfect world: e.g. Everyone has the perfect tool for our creative work.

The mission | This is what I contribute: e.g.: We fight for human-friendly tech.

The way | This is how I do it: e.g. Remove distractions, help focus.

The offer | I offer specifically: e.g. Paper Tablet - A tool with no distractions for note-taking, reading and reviewing documents that feels like paper.

In the middle sits a central, archaic value - or a variant of it. That's exactly what your business is. In the case of reMarkable, that is freedom for self-realisation.

But beware: this value must be an authentic concern for the company. Smart market niche tapping may possibly bring money in the short term, but it won't really work. Because it's just that perfect marketing bullshit that rightly gets on people's nerves to no end. In any case, you should be too good for that.

You can quickly check for yourself whether your request is really genuine with a few control questions. You can find out more here .

Try out the Story Compass right away. As always with everything that concerns story and storytelling, the principles are simple, but the application is often tricky and the way to the solution thorny and usually not to be found at the first attempt.

But it pays off and: There is no other way if you want to have or be a real brand. And who doesn't want that?

Don't worry if it doesn't work right away - a creative process is just that: a process. Pauses, detours and repetitions are part of the exercise. Flashes of inspiration are as rare as all lightning.

In addition to the step-by-step instructions, my mini-workshops with yourself will probably also help you. You can find out how to do that here.

What do you stand for with your brand and your story?

If you don't stand for something, you don't have a brand. A brand stands for something.
A product with a logo and an advertising presence is not yet a brand. It is only a product with a logo and an advertising presence, even if it is always mistakenly called a brand.

Once you have set yourself in the right direction with your story compass, there are two iron rules that will never (!) be broken:
Rule 1) Everything that fits: do it.
Rule 2) Everything that doesn't fit: don't do it. Or make it fit.

Stories respectfully engage us in conversation with our audience when the story is relevant to both. That's how it's done today, beyond advertising.

The effective success of storytelling - or even better: storysharing - is not a question of company size at all, but a question of attitude and an indispensable necessity for successful communication.

No matter whether it's a global corporation, an SME/small and medium-sized enterprise, or a heroic lone fighter as an EPU - every person, every brand, every company needs a story and must stand for something. If not, you are left with only one issue, one way or another: the price. So you don't have a path, but you crawl through the pain hole.

So to all those who say, "It won't work with me and my brand!", I would like to recommend the words that my grandmother, old Story Dudette, wrote in icing on my first birthday cake: "No Story. No Glory."

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