14 Reasons Your Brand Needs Signature Stories

David Aaker
Key Takeaways

​What? Signature stories help your brand rise above the clutter.

So what? Even if customers don’t recall the facts, they do remember stories.

Now what? Identify and evaluate story candidates, turning the best stories into professional presentations and exposing them to target audiences.

​Stories are the way your message will gain attention and rise above the clutter

My new book, Creating Signature Stories, is designed to help marketing and communication executives communicate strategic messages internally and externally by using stories, a task that has never been more important or more difficult. Customers and employees are often not interested in your strategic message, so they tune it out. Even when they are exposed to the message, they may think it lacks authenticity and credibility. Additionally, media is cluttered, and empowered audiences can easily choose to ignore what they don’t find relevant.

Developing and leveraging signature stories provide a vehicle to overcome these challenges. My daughter Jennifer, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, pointed me in this direction by exposing me to extensive research in psychology and elsewhere that shows the power of stories.

Your audience does pay attention to stories, even if they do not process facts. Here are 14 reasons why your brand should be telling signature stories.

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1. Stories Are Powerful

Stories are more impactful than facts. Stories break through the distractions, disinterest and content overload and make an audience take notice, stay engaged and remember. A story can involve and even inspire. If you have facts to communicate, your best strategy is to find or create a story that allows them to emerge.

2. Signature Stories Take Stories to the Next Level

A signature story is an intriguing, authentic and involving narrative that includes a strategic message. It is not a set of facts but can motivate facts that support the message. It differs from tactical messaging in that it involves communicating the brand vision, organizational values and culture, a business strategy or a value proposition with a long-term perspective.

3. Signature Stories Can Create Strategies

Develop a strategy or set of organizational values by identifying some signature stories. These stories provide insight and proof points for what a brand or organization should stand for and identify the assets and skills that can drive a strategy.

4. Sets of Signature Stories Can Multiply the Effect

Multiple stories from different perspectives can add depth and breadth to the strategic message, giving it freshness and energy. The stories can reflect different spokespersons, applications or contexts. Manage story overload with lead stories that become familiar and a story bank that makes the right story for the right context available to executives who face a strategic messaging challenge.

5. Content Is King, and Stories Are the Key to Content

The social media audience isn’t passive; it is in control. It involves itself in messaging only when it is intrigued by content. Thus, content drives success—and content needs to intrigue, involve and be authentic. Facts, no matter how compelling, rarely gain the attention necessary to emerge from a crowded media landscape. Stories, in contrast, can break through, communicate and influence.


 Jennifer Aaker: Creating Personal Signature Stories


6. Signature Stories Add Visibility and Energy to a Brand

Most brands need visibility and energy. Visibility comes from a story’s ability to gain attention and break through the media clutter. Creating visibility by advertising, especially when the product is boring, is difficult and very expensive. A story will penetrate and even achieve a social presence. A story with intriguing, involving characters and plot can surpass any presentation of facts.

7. Signature Stories Persuade Without Lecturing

When a company spokesperson presents facts, the inclination is to counterargue, to cast doubt on the message or messenger. However, a story will divert people from counterarguing, even when facts are embedded in or follow the story. A story allows the audience to deduce the message themselves, resulting in persuasion rather than hearing facts.

8. Signature Stories Inspire Employees and Customers

A higher purpose can give employees a sense of pride in their work and motivate customers to support a brand because they share its values. For example, the Lifebuoy “Help a Child Reach 5” program seeking to compel 1 billion people to wash their hands the right way creates emotional involvement and saves lives. Videos showing how the program helped three villages garnered more than 44 million views.

9. Signature Stories Can Change the Conversation in Crisis

When a trust crisis occurs, perhaps precipitated by a product or service blunder or a news event, part of the response strategy can be to start a new conversation around a brand program communicated in story form. Barclays was once the least-trusted U.K. brand in the least-trusted sector. It enabled employees to create their own programs to help communities and the people in them. Intimate “real-people” stories about four of these programs were so impactful that they helped turn around perceptions of a troubled brand.

10. Signature Stories Have All Kinds of Heroes

In addition to employees or customers, story heroes can also be a product or service, social program, founder, revitalization strategy, growth strategy, brand, brand endorser or supplier. Looking at the business values and strategy from many perspectives will create a flow of stories that impact.

11. Signature Stories Promote the Strategic Message

In the quest to find the most intriguing story, the strategic message should never be lost. If the goal is too focused on finding or creating stories, the message can be sacrificed to the desire to entertain or evoke an emotional response.

12. Signature Stories Are Multidimensional

We know from research that signature stories benefit from characters with whom we can empathize, a meaningful challenge, tension, an emotional connection, relevance (especially in B-to-B settings) and professional presentation. When humor is a natural part of the story, it helps gain attention and inhibit counterarguing.

13. Signature Stories Can Be Personal

A personal, professional signature story helps you understand yourself, identify your higher purpose, chart your course and gain credibility. Ask what stories define you, reflect on your strengths and weaknesses or suggest where you are headed professionally. Identify stories of your role models who represent characteristics you would like to emulate.

14. Organizations Must Be Story-friendly to Succeed

Your organization needs people, structures, processes and a culture that enable it to identify and evaluate story candidates, turn the best stories into professional presentations and expose them to target audiences. Leveraging great stories does not happen automatically; the organization needs to encourage them to emerge and enable them to be leveraged.

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David Aaker
David Aaker is vice chairman of Prophet, the author of Aaker on Branding and a member of the NYAMA Marketing Hall of Fame.