Talking Story


Since the beginning of human existence, our need to communicate has been central to our evolution as a species.

The first speech is thought to have originated with the gatherers – usually women and children – who foraged in small groups while the men hunted. Spread apart and separated by both distance and visual obstacles, their vocalizations helped announce a plentiful find, warn of danger or an approaching threat, or heaven forbid a nearby predator. Communicating then was the difference between life and death.

Over time, communicating with others became more nuanced and complex. Beginning with oral traditions and early art, later evolving into written language, for generations our ancestors have used story to preserve legacy and memory, convey cultural values, inspire tradition, celebrate victory, honor defeat, and tell the cautionary tales that may keep the next generation alive. In Hawaii, they call this kind of ancient oral tradition Talking Story – and there’s very good reason why today it endures and is so deeply satisfying.

Around the world, telling stories became both pastime and purposeful until taking on colossal proportions, becoming what we orient ourselves around, what we anchor ourselves to, and what we spend countless hours gathered around smartphones (i.e. the fires of yore) “sharing”..

I tell you this bit of trivia because I want to make clear how very much humans need story. The use of story to build meaning and coherence of experience is something that our brains have developed as a way of making sense of our world, and ultimately, our place in it. Humans have literally evolved to remember or create stories and then tell them to others.

When we engage in story sharing, our brains light up making connections, and are flooded with feel good neurotransmitters and hormones like dopamine and oxytocin. Our circuitry rewards us for using story well and for continuing to add meaning to it. As a brand builder, it is for this very human reason and all the reasons listed above that I propose a brand’s story is as central to its DNA as the products or services it offers.

A brand story is more than the play by play of how you started your business. It is a way of letting the consumer know you – what you care about, what keeps you up at night, what you hope to bring to the world. A good brand story inspires and connects. It is, and should be viewed, as the bridge that tells the consumer why your company is worth believing in and supporting. If used well, it has the potential to be a jumping off point for company and consumer, where the two begin a conversation that can add even more value and meaning for both.

In traditional Hawaiian culture, spoken or written words are believed to have the power to create or destroy. They are respected accordingly and ask us to use conscious discernment when speaking to either uplift and nourish, or cause harm.

So choose your words wisely. And when it comes to your brand story, use the words that really count, that create, that can offer a place of connection, and the promise of a meaningful and ongoing conversation.