Anthropologists have long recognized storytelling as an essential part of being human. But in a 2017 study, researchers from the University College of London designed an experiment to better understand why—in part by examining the role of storytelling in a number of small Filipino Agta hunter-gatherer communities. Their findings suggest that storytelling functions as a key human adaptation for coordinating group behavior, by broadcasting shared social norms and expectations. Stories, in other words, are important tools for building and sustaining community.
The study’s findings are remarkable. Through their tales about social cooperation, empathy and justice, the best Agta storytellers make their villages measurably more generous and harmonious. Experiments showed that villages with more good storytellers were more consistently more generous with each other in allocating shared resources.
In turn, Agta storytellers are rewarded for strengthening their communities’ norms and social ties with popularity, reputation and status. When researchers asked their subjects to name up to five people in their community with whom they’d be willing to live, good storytellers were twice as likely to be chosen as others. In fact, they were even preferred over those considered equally adept at hunting and gathering food. Generation over generation, Agta storytellers leverage their skill into higher popularity, more community resources, and ultimately, more children. From an evolutionary standpoint, telling good stories gives both storytellers—and their communities—a measurable survival advantage.
The Agta are by no means unique in this regard. Today’s marketing and branding experts intuitively recognize the biological imperative (and potential market impact) of a good narrative. But knowing its importance doesn’t make it any easier to actually tell a good brand story. In fact, the annals of advertising are littered with expensive cautionary tales of inauthentic, self-serving, and otherwise-poorly executed brand narratives.
So where does your organization turn for content that can convey who you are and what you do in a way that is engaging, authentic, and community-enhancing? How can your brand strategy relate?
Look to your archives. Look to your organization’s origin story, evolving from a singular founding vision into a dynamic and vibrant cooperative. Look to your organization’s business history—the chronicle of growth, accomplishment, and lessons learned that make your organization what it is today. Look to your organization’s institutional history; its record of philanthropy and contributions to the communities of which it has been part.
Relate your history—in which your organization is the main character in a broader narrative about the shared values upon which it is built. Share accumulated wisdom. Be known and understood. The stories your clients and stakeholders want to hear are in your archives, just waiting to be told.
You don’t need a multimillion dollar marketing budget to tell a good story. But you do need to know what your story is. Contact Historicity Consulting to help find your stories, and tell them well—in print, graphics and data.