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Our friend and founder of Tellwell, Max Kringen, is our guest on this week’s episode. Max talks about the importance of brand messaging and making sure your persona online matches what you’re doing in real life. Erick also asks about the origins of a certain Tellwell muppet.

Learn more about Tellwell here: https://wetellwell.com/

VO: Get ready for your semi-regular dose of random ideas from the guys at Codelation. We like to talk about big ideas companies that are winning, and those that aren't along with current events in our crazy world of software startups. So come along with Erick and Josh, who challenge you to think big, start small and turn your ideas into something on this episode of, from idea to done.

Josh: Hey everyone, I'm Josh.

Erick: and I'm Erick.

Josh: And today we have a special guest, our good friend, Max Kringen from Tellwell is joining on this episode.

Max Kringen: Howdy guys!

Erick: I'm excited to talk to you cause I'm always excited to talk to you, but can you, for people who don't know you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and Tellwell?

Max Kringen: Absolutely. So my name's Max Kringen, I'm the chief storyteller at Tellwell. We are a content agency based in Fargo, North Dakota. Um, and we have, uh, we've been around for about five years. We have a team of eight. Um, we've told hundreds of stories, hopefully saved thousands of hours of marketers time by, by telling those stories for them and with them. Um, and you know, had eyeballs on millions of different with millions of different readers and millions of viewers. So, um, so what we do is we really try to capture, uh, an organization's story, or sometimes more importantly, we try to capture their customer stories in order to show their impact, um, on that customer, on that customer's life and, and in doing so, we, we really, um, have the ability to give them some, uh, additional authority, um, and, and then hopefully sell more stuff, right? Create more downloads, create more subscribers, whatever it is they're trying to do. So that's what we do.

Erick: Perfect.

Josh: Awesome. Well, Max, as you know, we work with a lot of, you know, early stage companies, early stage startups. Um, what's, what's your advice, you know, I'm just starting out, I've got an idea for something. Why is it important for me to find my brand message to have my story be told what's what should I be doing? Early stage type type stuff.

Max Kringen: Hmm. That is a, that is a deep question. And a great question. Um, it's, it's like you've asked it before some of your previous guests, um, I think, uh, I think your brand messaging is some of the most important work that you're going to do in order to establish, um, that idea of authority, uh, because right off the bat, you have to get people to trust you. You have to have people recognize that, you know what you're talking about, that you're the subject area expert in whatever challenge they're trying to solve. Um, but I think, I think it's really important as you start to look at what your brand narrative that you're really helping to identify, like, what is, what is that customer's problem, right? And if, if you're identifying like three or four different problems, while it's probably time to go back to the drawing boards a little bit, um, because you really want to start with like, what is the one that you're trying to solve, right?

Max Kringen: And this really is the crux of your brand narrative. So you start with like that, that external, what does that really obvious thing that they're trying to solve? How does that thing make them feel right? And then once you figure out how that makes them feel, you jump into why not just in wrong and why your, um, your product or service your, uh, your app can fix that in their life and, and what the outcome is going to be. Um, outside of it, you know, branding is such a broad term now, right? There are a lot of agencies there, there are a lot of folks, um, that are like, oh, I'm a brand name agency. Uh, here's your logo, right? Um, logo is a really fun part of the brand, but brand is so deep, right? You get into your voice, you get into your history, you get into your story. Um, you know, the brand look and identity is a really important part of that. Um, but I think even more important than the look of the brand is what is your brand? What is your brand saying? What are you trying to tell you, tell your customers, tell your potential customers, um, you know, to create awareness, to create hype and then eventually to stay top of mind with them. So your, your foundational brand messaging is really, um, really the, the foundation of that whole big house.

Josh: I love that you started with, you know, what's the problem that you're solving for your customers. And it's so easy to leap over that and go straight into what's the thing I'm building and make it about yourself versus your customers. And so I really appreciate that statement.

Max Kringen: Yeah. So it, it's interesting because I do think that we get caught up in what our story is and like why that creates a thorny. And we kind of skip over this idea of what is, what is their story? You know, like, frankly, if you think about, if you think about dating, right? If you talk about yourself the whole time, you are going to the painfully single for a very long time, and maybe that's my problem, right? Cause I just like to talk about myself. Um, but when you get them to start to talk about themselves, when you get to get them to open up so that you can really see like, oh, I have empathy for you because I've been there. I understand that I I've dealt with that same problem. As soon as you can get that conversation and that dialogue going back and forth, you can establish that. You're not just trying to sell them something you're trying to make their life better. So I really do think that is the foundational piece of a brand.

Erick: I liked that so much max. And I'm like, I just a fan girl of all this stuff that I really like it a lot. And honestly, one of the interesting things that I see from you guys that I don't see from other marketing agencies is you actually market yourselves. Like you have a jingle, you have stuff. Why do you think other ad agencies don't do any marketing or any advertising?

Max Kringen: You know, first of all, I really love, uh, that you, um, you think we do marketing. Cause I look at our stuff and I'm like, ah, we don't do anything. Like we need to have more white papers. We need to do more case studies. We need to do more X, Y, and Z. Um, but, but you know, when you think about the amount of content that we create for Tellwell, um, what, what our approach is, is sharing our customer's work sharing. Uh, we, we refer to our folks as our Tellwell tribe. Um, because once you're in the Tellwell tribe, you're kind of in a family, you're in a group of people that, that want to see each other do better. So oftentimes we'll connect our tribe, right? Like co-relation is a part of our tribe. And so if we have something that's out of our scope out of our realm, we're going to hook them up with you guys.

Max Kringen: Um, and, and I know that you guys do the same with us. And so, so I think there is a, it's really easy to get into this rhythm of the shoemaker's kids have no shoes, right. Or some sort of old adage like that. Whereas like, oh, I just don't have time to work on my own stuff. I don't have time to focus on, on the stuff that that we're going to do. So our approach at tellwell with that is let's not talk about ourselves. Let's talk about how frigging sweet our clients are. Let's talk like when they, when they launch a new website, let's get hyped with them. Right. Let's celebrate with them when they launch a new video, you know, for tellwell, most of our videos are 10 to $15,000. That is not a small investment. And yet it's just this little three minute digital piece out in the world.

Max Kringen: And you're like, cool. I shared it on social. It's gone in the blink of an eye. Right. And so what we try to do is we try to get hyped with them, but in turn, what that does and kind of even without realizing it is, it creates social content for us as well. And so we're just sharing, we're just sharing what our people are sharing already. Um, so, so we create it for our client, but then we really get to use it for ourselves as well because we're resharing it, re-tweeting it, you know, getting hyped on them and saying, Hey, way to go tribe member. You did it.

Erick: So no, and I, I see that. And I see that like in the picture blog, and I think one important thing that a lot of marketing company, or even just new companies don't quite understand is like, your whole process is your brand. And I love how much fun you guys post on, on your social. But I mean, that shows that you have fun. Do you have like any advice to kind of different companies or marketers trying to showcase their people and the fun stuff that they are doing?

Max Kringen: Yeah. So, so one of the things that we do right away with an organization is we, um, and this was something back from, from my healthcare marketing days. Um, and, and one of my mentors, Kiersten Jensen, who was a director of digital marketing at Sanford health for a real long time, um, she, she had this, this adage of, we want to take your offline experiences and put them online and we want to take your online experiences and take them offline. Right. So really creating a similar environment. So, so if you're really fun and like you're having a great time with your team offline, well, let's show that online, right? If you're, if you're showing that you are this like super cool agency, um, you have all these sweet pictures and, and you're doing all these fun things as a team, but then you engage with a client and it's like super business, like, and, and not, um, not that kind of fun experience.

Max Kringen: Well, it creates disconnect. And as soon as you start to introduce that type of friction, it makes people feel icky. Right. And so, so I think the first thing, um, to be asking yourself about, about bringing that kind of like fun stuff to show what you're doing online is are you actually having fun, right? Like, are you actually doing things together? Are you, uh, you know, like w we were recently, um, fortunate enough to build a new office just because our, our team was growing and, you know, we were just running out of room. We were on top of each other, we had three or four people in a space that really one person should be. And so we were, um, blessed in a, uh, in a way to, to have a client. Um, who's like, Hey, we want you to move into our building.

Max Kringen: And it had this blank space. Well, the architect and I, we got into a pretty heated, uh, disagreements on where the kitchen goes. Right? He wanted to hide it off in a corner because like, kitchen is the least important part, or like where, where people are going to go and be in the break room is at least in part important part of the work that we do right. In his mind, in my mind, the kitchen is the hearth of the home. Right? You think about how, how you build homes today. And, and the kitchen is the central hub of almost every one of those houses. Right. And there's a reason for that, right? When you break bread together, when you have a cocktail together, when you're playing beer pong on the, uh, you know, on the kitchen island, you're creating community and you're creating that atmosphere of fun.

Max Kringen: And so, so the fun that we post online is because it just happens every day. It's just like, oh, let's capture this. Let's take, let's take a selfie with it. Let's, let's, let's tweet it. Right. Most of the photos that are posted to our blog, like, like they're not taken for the blog they're taken because it's just what we would be posting to social anyway. So, so that, I don't think that even answered your question. Uh, but, but I think the most important part is like, what are those authentic things that you're already doing that can then translate into, into sharing your story and to sharing like a little bit of insight into who you actually are.

Erick: I mean, like you tell the story in the story of you guys is it's fun, and it shows up in your marketing, and it's not rocket science. I have just a quick little followup to that. You had a little Muppet in one of your things, where did you get this Muppet?

Max Kringen: Okay. So we have a, um, uh, this little Muppet, uh, is from, I don't even, I don't even know where it's from, but, but just to tell you kind of the backstory of it, we were, we were getting ready to pitch this client. This client was one of our favorite clients. And, um, uh, they, they wanted a new campaign for the whole year. And so what we wanted to do is we, and they work with kids, they work with at-risk kids and they create amazing after-school programming. And they, they, uh, you know, they have a food shell for, for kids that, uh, you know, struggle with food stability. And, um, they work with new American, uh, new American populations here in and regionally. And so we were like, this is it. We are going to create a character that can talk directly to these kids that can talk directly to the family is where it's not just some, you know, scary adults, um, that that is coming and talking to them, asking them to like, share their experiences and share their feelings.

Max Kringen: Um, what I did not realize in the moment, and this is where you should do, maybe a little bit more research is the executive director of that organization. I don't know if he's afraid of, or just hates puppets. He hates puppets with a deep fiery passion. And so I brought out this puppet to, to like, do our big pitch, and this is what we, this was the crux of the whole pitch. And, and we bring it out and he's like, I hate it. Like, didn't even get, didn't even get to pitch the idea. And I'm just like, oh no, what have we done? So, so that is, that is where our Muppet comes from. He is a, uh, he is a cutting room floor, but we, we resurrected him because we didn't want him to be sad and alone on the floor. So

Erick: I love it. And then, uh, Josh follow up, what's our marketing budget looked like for a Codelation Muppet,

Josh: Uh, $7. I don't know what the going rate for Muppets are, so

Max Kringen: You can get a custom Muppet and you guys can actually create a series of Muppets, maybe one that looks like Erick. One that looks like Josh. And that becomes like part of the podcast.

Erick: Max, if you pitched that idea to me, I would not, shoot it down.

Josh: Erick I might need your credit card back.

Erick: So yeah, I guess, did you do want to just kind of wrap things up, max, did you have anything else or anything that you're kind of trying to promote right now?

Max Kringen: So, um, I appreciate that question. Uh, I, I don't think that we have anything that we're like super trying to promote. What, what our whole thing is right now is we're, we're trying to create, um, we're, we're trying to empower folks to become better storytellers. So I'm not sure when this podcast drops, but in the weeks and months to come, um, we're going to be creating some, some content that helps you structure stories. So one of the most powerful stories is a customer testimonial story. Um, but frankly it's a pain in the to get a customer testimonial, right. Because you're like, ah, what do I ask? Do I do this? How do I structure it? Oh, well, after I have that half hour, hour long conversation, well, then I have to take another hour or two and actually write it and make sure it looks good and that type of stuff.

Max Kringen: So what we're doing is we're, we're helping to create kind of a system where if you just kind of answer these questions, and these are questions that you can send their questions that you can have in a conversation. Um, and, and you just kind of copy and paste them in and, and it becomes your testimonial story. So, so rather than it taking a, you know, two or three or four hours to create a really great customer testimonial, hopefully you'll be able to do that between a conversation and a little bit of editing and, you know, a half hour. So, um, so look for some of that type of content coming out, and, and in general would love for you guys just to kind of follow along with our journey. We have some, some other kind of fun things that are coming out eventually, and, and yeah, that's it. We're where can they find you at max? Uh, you can find us on all of the socials at we tell. Well, um, our website is we tell well.com and, um, anybody that wants to drop me a line learn any more about branding or the ecosystem, or, um, any of those types of things talking about like that, that one customer problem than just trying to figure it out, uh, feel free to shoot me an email, um, at Max at wetellwell.com.

Josh: Awesome. Well, max, thanks for taking the time today. I really appreciate, uh, you as a business owner and just appreciate, um, the relationship we've been able to work towards with our two companies over the last, uh, I don't know how many years now. So

Max Kringen: I think we're pushing, are we pushing our four year anniversary?

Josh: I wouldn't doubt it.

Max Kringen: Yeah. Cause we've been around for about six years and you've been a part, you, you built one of our first websites, so, so yeah, I bet it is. We should put it on the blog. Yeah. That's a great idea. We'll do like a throwback, a throwback to our first website that we built together, which I believe was a Plains art museum.

Josh: That sounds right. Yeah.

Max Kringen: Yeah. Wild.

Josh: Awesome, max, thank you very much for your time today. And, uh, look forward to chatting more.

Max Kringen: Thanks guys. Have a great day.

Erick: So we can get into some of my key takeaways from this. I always love chatting with max is one, just so that's a big takeaway, number one, but, but your branding message is the most important work you can do to establish yourself as an authority in your field. And that is just die. I love that phrase and I love that thought. And my basic marketing strategy is to be likable and be experts and tell everyone. And one of the other things is like, what's your customer's number one problem. And you know, what's our customer's number one problem. I would say in most cases that there is technology available to help people with some aspect of their business or to start a business. And they just have no idea how to build it.

Josh: Yeah. That's a scary place to be that, you know, for our customers a lot of time and technology is the core of their business. You know, they've got something they want to take online through an app or, you know, uh, something they're looking for us to build and you know, who do you trust? How do you know what's the right decision to make? You've never done this before. And it's really kind of jumping off the boat dock and hoping the, the boats close enough. You know, we've seen it to where we've had clients come in and say, this proposal's five times with the other one is how do I compare the two? How do I know what's the right thing to do? And so, you know, it's start with the smallest thing you can and then build upon it and talk to your audience and learn.

Erick: And I think that kind of goes back to when they're looking to spend their money, what is the problem? And can we solve it? That's kind of a basic, it's really dumbed down, but it's important to sometimes to keep it simple. And one of the other things that I like about max is like they use feelings to get customers.

Josh: What are those?

Erick: Yeah. I know feelings are kind of important in a lot of purchasing decisions and it's often miss, especially in the software development world where, where it's just tricky to have feelings in that. But at the same time, max is a really good job. They do marketing for broadband cable company, so it can be done. And that's something that I want to kind of try to bring to our marketing. One of the other basic questions that he brought up with other companies is what are you trying to tell potential customers? And so Josh, what do you do? What are we trying to tell our potential customers?

Josh: You know, I, I feel like I'm a broken record on these podcasts, Erick of, you know, what's the problem we're trying to solve. I working with an entrepreneur and he kept trying to throw features and new shiny things at me of saying, well, how about this? And I just, I were on a shared slack channel. I just had to keep calling back with what's the problem. What's the problem. If you're not solving a problem, you're going to be really in trouble. You know, when we talk about what we did with max, which is, you know, sales and marketing, if you don't have a problem, no one's gonna,

Erick: And you can mark it the best. You can be the best marketing team in the world. If you don't fix anything, it's just, it's just a funny ad. And I liked that. They also, you know, I, I followed them forever and they say, they're the success is their customer success. And they use that in marketing and they don't really focus on their own stuff, but it's subtly focuses on what they do. And it's just brilliant. And I think we need to lift up our customers and get excited about it a little more, and they might not always do their focus stuff. Cause I remember they had that goofy, like to well, to, well, we to store like this goofy song that they made, which I kind of loved, but at the same time, they really do a great job of telling the stories of the company they're working with while telling their stories. That's one, I'm one of the other big takeaways I had from this was taking your online experiences offline and your offline experiences online. And I think being authentic is one of the most important things you can do as a business.

Josh: Absolutely. And I hope everyone enjoyed getting to meet max as much as we've enjoyed knowing him over the last couple of years. So thanks for listening to this podcast. If you know a startup that could use our random thoughts, please send them on over to codelation-bedrock.flywheelstaging.com for the next episode.

Next Episode

Sujan Patel Discusses Target Markets And Having The Right Team

About the Show

Erick and Josh talk about big ideas, companies that are winning and those that aren’t, and current events in the crazy world of software startups.

Josh Christy


Erick Roder

Director of People
and Nerd Culture

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