Why storytelling is our greatest gift

The words ‘brand storytelling’ have become a bit of clichéd buzz-phrase in marketing and creative circles today. It’s generally accepted that a storytelling approach works well for brand, corporate and internal communications. A narrative structure including a challenge, solution and outcome with essential details, including characters, is a tried and tested way to engage an audience.

Some suggest that the power of storytelling comes from the way it taps into the ancient roots of humanity. Because for thousand of years our ancestors sat around campfires passing on stories and creating culture. Therefore storytelling is hardwired into the human psyche.

But in the international best selling book Sapiens, author Yuval Noah Harari takes the idea to another level.

In his bible of human evolution and development, Harari proposes an even more important idea. He reasons that storytelling was our ticket away from being just another ‘ape-man’ on the plains of Africa.

His theory is that Neanderthals and other early humans may have had language but only Homo Sapiens was able to use imagination to create myths.

Creating mythical stories enabled us to share beliefs, which bound us together into ever larger and more organised groups. It is this ability that has enabled us to conquer the globe.

And today’s myths include those about brands and businesses.

Thousands of people can be employed by a brand and millions of customers can buy into it. But does it exist? Not really. There may be tangible products, retail outlets and office buildings. But if you’re an employee do you work for them? No.

If you buy a can of Coke do you own the Coca Cola brand? No.

As humans we love to believe in a story. A good myth makes us feel secure and part of something.

More fuel to this campfire is the fact that last year we saw the widespread acceptance of the ‘post-truth’. The phrase even made it into the Oxford English Dictionary. Millions of people were prepared to believe in stories that sadly had little supporting truth.

But the best myths of course are true. Or, at least it begins with a foundation of truth with perhaps a flourish of creative imagination to bring it to life.

This is the essence of good brand building.

In summary, brand storytelling is nothing new. It is a cliché. But it’s an even more effective cliché than we already knew.

Let’s not be fooled into following the trend for the political post-truth or brand misdirection (I’m thinking of the VW emissions scandal.)

Let’s lead the way in creating, building and sharing true myths about our brands in 2017.