Before we could even write, we humans were painting scenes on the cave walls at Lascaux, or listening to Greek bards sing about the exploits of heroes and gods.
Wherever we have gathered together, we’ve told stories – true, embellished or fictional. Storytelling seems to be embedded in our DNA.
In Homer’s Iliad, warriors often fantasize about their heroic deeds being celebrated in song. It was their only hope against oblivion; the ignominy of being forgotten. Without some kind of record, how could we ever honour the dead or maintain links with the past? How could we mark the fact that we ever lived?
Stories have played many roles throughout history. On a basic level, they were social entertainment – a way of bonding the tribe. They celebrated brave deeds to stiffen the sinews of young men before going into battle. They kept up morale in times of hardship. They warned children about the dangers of straying from the path or talking to strangers. They tried to make sense of the inexplicable – death, disease, natural disaster. They gave us hope that we could change things – a vision of a better life. They helped keep us on the straight and narrow with their codified morals. They made us thankful for what we have by showing us what life could be like otherwise. They helped us confront our fears and neutralise them. They made us laugh and cry.
As a species we like to shape facts into a narrative. We are always seeking to make patterns from randomness; to seek sense in chaos. We often edit facts in or out to change the narrative of our lives to suit our concept of ourselves. Historians often convince themselves that they are being objective, when we know that all writing is edited, whether consciously or subconsciously.
In the digital age there are even programs, such as Storify, that enable users to collate social media updates, blogs and news bulletins into some form of coherent narrative. They call it “sorting through the noise to find the voices online that matter”.
We are forever imagining, writing and telling stories, whether in the pub, at work or online. The rapid rise of self-publishing is testament to this. We’re even collaborating on stories now in this “we-think” age. Programme makers and publishers are experimenting with interactive formats. You might say storytelling is mankind’s defining characteristic. Brand Storytelling is just as essential. As I touched upon in a previous article and also Rory mentioned in his cold-calling article; stories inform our personality and personality is what grabs people on an emotional level. Without it, you'll come across as a bit of a psychopath.
When Posh Spice was a kid, she said she would be more famous than Persil. She understood then that she was the brand. Brands and humans are interchangeable.
But if B2B brands want to be heard, they’d better tell good stories...