Peter Abraham on Storytelling, Marketing, and Innovation

It was once thought that what set humans apart from other animals was our ability to speak and communicate. However, the more scientists study animals, the more they realize that humans are not alone in our ability to communicate with each other. Prairie Dogs have a complex set of calls that allow them to warn each other when a predator is approaching and if it may be a coyote or a hawk. Bees perform an intricate dance to communicate the direction and distance to a nearby source of pollen. And these are just two examples of the many types of animal communication we now know about.

What sets us apart from other animals isn’t our ability to speak, but our craft of telling stories. But it wasn’t always so. Modern humans — homo sapiens — have been around for about 350,000 years. But for the first 280,000 years, we were no more exceptional than our cousins, the Neanderthals. Both species used fire, buried their dead, and made simple tools like stone axes and spears.

But something changed around 70,000 years ago. Homo sapiens suddenly started inventing more sophisticated tools and technologies such as boats, oil lamps, needles and thread, and bows and arrows. It’s called the cognitive revolution. So what changed? Some argue that this was the inception of storytelling. Perhaps we started to use language not to describe things happening around us but to tell stories about shared experiences and ideas that helped people bond and share information.

So, 70,000 years later, it should come as no surprise that the key to marketing and brand recognition is the same thing our ancestors used to do sitting around a campfire; storytelling. Even in our modern world, storytelling is still an essential tool in software development, mobile app development, UX and UI design, e-commerce, business branding, and website design.

Just ask Peter Abrahams, a marketing maven with years of experience creating compelling content for brands. He has spent time both on the agency side and as a CMO, giving him a unique perspective on the importance of storytelling to a brand. His Abraham content marketing studio works with brands and agencies to create and distribute multi-channel stories designed to drive revenue to a business.

After college, Peter worked in Hollywood for twenty years, where he worked on television commercials and movie production.

“As I got older, I became more interested in the macro issues around marketing and advertising as opposed to just producing content all the time; I became interested in strategy,” he said. “The world was changing, and I became fascinated by that and how technology could play a part in marketing.”

Since then, Peter has combined his love of fitness and sport into developing multi-channel brand campaigns for various products and businesses, including a sports coaching app and an e-bike company. And for each of these campaigns, storytelling has been at the heart of every project.

But Peter’s biggest epiphany came about after thinking about the data he needed to collect when running these campaigns. It was easy to find quantitative data to work with — demographics and quantities and pricing. But what Peter discovered was the value of qualitative data — how a brand or product adds value to a person’s life. And the best way to gather qualitative data was by interviewing people and listening to their stories.

He said, “I find in qualitative research, you don’t need to interview 100 people. Once you get to like 10, or 12 people, you start seeing the same three or four comments come to the top; you start seeing the same things over and over. And I go, Wow, everybody’s mentioning the same like three things. And then those are insights you can take back to the client and go; okay, here are some things we should work on. One is a product-related thing. One is a communication-related thing.”

From his time interviewing so many people, Peter has learned that companies don’t know their clients or users as well as they think they do simply because they haven’t invested enough time into listening to their customer’s stories. So, next time you design a new user experience for a website or a new user interface design for an app, or when you’re developing a new marketing campaign for a product launch, remember to think about what your user’s story is all about. After all, we’re all storytellers, and we’ve been doing it for at least 70,000 years. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and check out the links and show notes.

Elijah Szasz

Elijah runs a LA/SLC creative agency focused on the good side of technology. He’s also a mediocre athlete, father, and entrepreneur.