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Brand Storytelling: 70,000 Years in the Making

Between 70,000 and 30,000 years ago Homo sapiens started telling stories.

In his bestselling book Sapiens author Yuval Harari says around 70,000 years ago, an inexplicable genetic mutation in the brains of Homo sapiens enabled our species to begin to think in a new way, communicating about things beyond basic survival. Harari says it was this “storytelling mutation” that separated us from the apes, and propelled humans to the top of the food chain.

What began as gossip and chit-chat – who was sleeping with who; who hates who; etc. – eventually gave way to complex narratives imagined by humans, that would serve as the foundation for human civilizations. The assertion is that the existence of shared ideas – religions, nations, financial systems, and corporations – is a direct byproduct of humans’ ability for “collective imagination.”

So, through that lens, is storytelling the vehicle for helping humans understand and rally around the common ideas that link us one to another? Or is it the story itself that connects us to each other? Because, what else is there really?


How Stories Catch On - Breaking it down:


a human dreams-up an idea/story and puts it out there;


the story gets the attention of other humans;


the story resonates with other humans on an emotional level.


The term “brand” originally meant “an identifying mark burned on livestock with a branding iron.” The concept is, essentially, marking what is yours with a recognizable symbol. In advertising, branding is done with words, symbols, design, and tone/voice. It’s an expression of your organization’s function, purpose, and aesthetic, defining what your company or product represents.

But whether you’re branding livestock or branding your new product line… in order for your idea to catch on and have impact, it isn’t enough just to have a story. Stories need to stand out and connect with their intended audience. Because no matter how creative your message is, you wouldn’t want to brand it on the underside of your cow’s belly. No one would notice the message there; and no one would be emotionally compelled to stay away from your cow.

In today’s cluttered twenty-first century media environment, to truly engage an audience, story-”telling” alone – expecting an audience to passively read, watch, or listen to a story– is often not enough. With billions of pieces of content uploaded daily and continuous feeds on social media platforms, to cut through the noise and make its mark, a brand must elevate its story-“telling,” inviting its audience to participate in interactive story-“doing”:

For instance: brand-hosted social media conversations where consumers can tell their own stories, allow for an authentic experience and a sense of ownership. Quizzes and games provide an opportunity for consumers to contribute insights.

Interactive video with shoppable links can lead to increased time spent on site, as well as a more direct path to ecommerce.

And today’s smartest publishers and brands are pushing themselves even beyond story-“doing” to what some are calling story-“living”: sophisticated high-tech consumer-centric engagement, leveraging technology to create emotionally compelling brand stories where the audience is fully immersed: AR and VR, advanced voice technology, artificial intelligence, and the like.

Alex Smith, Creative Director at SMITH Creative Labs, a digital design and innovation studio, says brand storytellers shouldn’t view technology as a marketing tactic. “As the media landscape has gotten fragmented over the last decade, and new platforms have emerged, tech has become the medium itself – a channel for a brand to talk to consumers—whether that's a chatbot, an AR experience, or an interactive microsite like the one we just built with the Washington Post Brand Studio and Siemens. Marketers need to stop thinking about tech as something exotic, it's an essential element in reaching an audience now.”

Chatbots, AR, and interactive video --- 70,000 years in the making.

What’s next for Homo sapiens and storytelling?

What role does technology play in your brand storytelling? Are you leveraging tech resources to put your audience at the center of your story? Are you advancing your narrative beyond communication, to action?


About Danielle Dardashti:

Danielle Dardashti – founder of branded content advisory firm dash. – is an Emmy award-winner, author, media executive, and former TV reporter. Danielle has been collaborating with marketers on branded content strategy for over a decade, and has held senior leadership roles at Meredith Corporation, Tribune Publishing, IKA Collective, and Magnet Media. She is on the board of directors of New York Women in Communications ( and was honored in March 2018 by the Native Advertising Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark, as one of “100 Significant Women in Native Advertising.”

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