We wouldn’t be here today but for our extraordinary ability to communicate. Me, you, the kids next door. None of us.
You see you don’t have to travel back very far to the days when we (Homo Sapiens) were not in the comfort of a monopoly that we are today. We had competition at the top of the food chain. And it wasn’t just from sabre toothed tigers and woolly mammoths. There were other species of humans built much like us, doing much the same things as us, with the same needs & intentions. We were in a competitive market.
In the excellent 'Sapiens' Yuval Noah Harari suggests that a mere 170,000 years ago we (Sapiens) lived concurrently no fewer than three other 'Homo' species. Yet 100,000 years later only one had survived. Why?
Harari concludes that our dominance as a species was not due, as is commonly suggested, to superior brain size (all boasted brains of similar size). The difference between winning and losing was down to our ability to communicate.
Us Homo Sapiens used our resources (our similar sized brains) in a different way to the competition. We developed more sophisticated ways to communicate, and in so doing managed to engage, direct and mobilise people on a much larger scale than the others.
A critical element of this was our ability to use language to create stories above and beyond "Watch out, there's a tiger behind you". Uniquely, Sapiens created fiction, we could talk about things that we hadn’t seen, smelled or run away from. This was immensely powerful. It was the start of myths, legends, gods and religion, which enabled us to imagine things collectively. It was this that enabled us to co-operate flexibly in large numbers, and thus take over the world.
All this may sound a familiar pattern to brand people. At its core, branding unleashes the power of storytelling to galvanise large groups of people. Brands aren’t ‘real’: the AA, Downton Abbey and Moo.com are businesses, experiences and feelings, but you can’t touch them any more than you can touch religion, laws or limited companies. At one level, brands don’t exist.
Yet brands create imagined realities out of words and symbols, and thus offer powerful ways to engage the masses around commonly held beliefs and values.
So, the moral of this story is simple: when you don’t enjoy a relevant competitive product advantage, you best invest your time creating and communicating a story and set of beliefs (branding) that can engage and galvanise large groups of people. It’s worked for us for 170,000 years.