As B2B content marketers, a signature story is an essential tool for communicating to current and potential target audiences. This powerful and strategic format can help brands win over people during the limited time we have with them.
Creating a signature story requires intention, research and time so that the final product significantly affects everyone who reads it. You need to know exactly what a signature story does and how it is crafted to accomplish this.
When you understand the elements of signature stories and how to create them, you’ll be on your way.
What Is a Signature Story?
Signature stories have long been an essential part of branding for organizations and people. The concept was defined by David Aaker, brand strategist and author of “Creating Signature Stories: Strategic Messaging That Energizes, Persuades and Inspires.”
A signature story is an intriguing, authentic narrative that delivers or supports a strategic message that clarifies or enhances the brand vision, customer relationship, organizational values and/or business strategy. The signature story is not defined by data points and facts. As Aaker has written, “It may incorporate or communicate facts but does so in the context of the narrative.” Signature stories make strong statements, but they do so by evoking emotions and depicting dramatic, game-changing moments.
The signature story is a strategic tool businesses can leverage at any point of their journey to remind, guide and inspire people internally and externally.
Why Do You Need a Signature Story?
Transparency is an essential and critical element for brands today. Potential and current customers want to know everything they can about a brand, product or service, often before they begin the buying process. A study by Stackla revealed that 86% of consumers say authenticity is important when deciding what brands they like and support. Brand content goes a long way toward that determination.
Companies can meet this demand for transparency by listing key facts about themselves, publishing reports about their operations and initiatives, detailing products or services, and so forth. Those are all important. But none of that is a signature story.
Those facts and product sheets are static, whereas your company is a living organism with stories to tell. Help your audience understand your company by using the questions of who, what, why, where and how. The signature story answers those questions in a compelling way that also illustrates your brand’s value and mission.
On an external level, signature stories can add visibility and energy to your brand. It’s no secret that on all digital platforms, a compelling story will grab the attention of almost anyone (even if they aren’t your intended audience). Signature stories are designed strategically to have emotional qualities that break through the clutter and noise.
Here are just a few situations where you need a signature story:
- Change the conversation in crisis.
- Promote the strategic message of your company.
- Help you gain trust and credibility in the industry.
Your signature story does more than just tell a good story. It’s a differentiator that connects facts to emotion while helping your audience bond with your brand.
3 Elements of a Signature Story
The signature story has three core elements: It’s authentic, pulls in the audience and is linked to strategy.
Authenticity is necessary to the success of a story. No one is interested in reading a story that is untrue, contrived or designed purely to sell a service or product. An excellent signature story reveals the unfiltered, essential truth behind-the-scenes content the audience and customers want.
Show, don’t tell. When you read a story, you want to be pulled into it. You want to feel as though you are going through every event and emotion of the story with the writer. The signature story should walk the audience through a compelling situation with conflict, a turning point and a discovery that led to the brand as it is today.
As Karen Tiber Leland writes, “A well-told Signature Story illustrates how your personal or business brand in part came into being through fate, fortune, coincidence or grace.”
In most cases, this story should lead you to take some type of action. Don’t forget that one way to inspire action through a signature story is when your audience reshares and retells it. Make your stories easy to share, no matter what format, so that your audience can advocate on your behalf.
Strategic stories. A signature story doesn’t hold if it’s not linked to the strategic message you want to convey. Impeccable stories are delightful, but they must elevate your brand, drive deeper audience relationships or clarify the brand purpose. Ask yourself: Would the reader understand why your brand exists and what it’s trying to do?
With these three elements, you will have a signature story that can stand the test of time.
Steps to Create Your Signature Story
While the elements of a signature story can seem straightforward, creating this kind of story isn’t easy. It takes time to develop and communicate stories that are strategic, authentic and compelling. And some brands aren’t quite sure what stories they should even be telling, much less how those stories can inspire audiences and showcase the brand’s vision, values and strategy.
How can you translate your brand’s story and value into content that is easily digestible, compelling and inspiring? Here are some steps for crafting a winning signature story.
1. Start by asking questions that surround your “why”
This is a crucial part of writing your story. This is where you will get all the essential, sometimes juicy details that will make your story compelling and authentic.
- What inspired this brand or company? Why is this brand passionate about its mission or cause?
- What makes this brand different from your predecessors, peers and those who will follow you?
- What about your brand, product or service will answer the needs of the audience you are trying to attract?
- What is your “why”?
These are only a few of the many questions you can ask, but they are a great place to start getting to the story’s point. These questions also align your signature story with the brand strategy without leaning on dry statements of fact.
2. Find the Story’s Heroes
When looking for your story’s heroes, there are two ways to go. You can center the customer as the hero or center the employee as the hero.
Portraying the customer as the hero can tie in closely with your company’s value proposition. This approach prioritizes customers’ needs, uplifts their experience and highlights their favorite moments with your brand. For example, Dove for decades has placed customer experiences at the epicenter of their campaigns. Dove’s “Beauty Sketches” and “Men Care” campaigns focused on the inner lives of women and fathers, respectively, rather than leading with a pitch for beauty products.
Portraying your employees as heroes shows the importance of the people who drive your company’s success. By focusing on them as people, your signature story becomes more memorable while tying directly to organizational values . An example of this is online shoe retailer Zappos.com. Its signature story centers on its core values and includes stories illustrating how employees have achieved those values.
3. Test, Learn and Nurture Your Story
As much as we all want to write the perfect story in one go, that doesn’t always happen. Your first draft doesn’t have to be the perfect story, but it should be a starting point from where you can edit, revise or head back to the drawing board.
Test your unfinished stories to see whether they’re effective before you invest more time in refining them. This is where a good editor can help you understand what’s working, what’s not and how to move forward.
We just talked about the importance of heroes, whether employees or customers. And this is where you ensure that you’ve actually featured those heroes correctly. Robert Rose poses seven questions about your hero that resolve with this final question: “What is the truth?” As we’ve discussed, a signature story must be authentic, and that means your hero must live and illustrate the truth at the heart of the matter.
“Signature stories do not just appear. They are born through a process,” says Aaker. Look at other signature stories to better understand what attracts people and what puts them off. And be patient: You need to nurture your story throughout the process to get to a high-quality finished product.
4. Be Aware of Elements That Hurt Your Story
Remember, your signature story is supposed to be intriguing, authentic and involving. Leading with data points and statistics about the brand does not make a signature story. Those facts can inform your narrative or be a follow-up to your narrative, but your audience is looking for a signature story, not a signature statistic.
Aaker stresses that facts alone “do not gain attention, stimulate social activity, persuade or inspire.” Remember that signature stories are not the only way to convey your brand. Raw data and detailed statistics have their place, but not here. The signature story is a distinct format with distinct elements. Focus on those and ignore the rest.
Don’t go to excess in the other direction, either. Exaggeration and falsehoods don’t make your signature story more powerful. In fact, they destroy the essential concept of authenticity. As Aaker says, “there should be substance behind the story and its message in the form of programs, policies, or transparency that support it.” You can’t do that when your signature story is so dramatic that it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.
Unless it is a genuine part of your story, exaggeration defeats the purpose of being authentic and transparent with your customers.
5. Double-Check That Your Signature Story Is Strong
Like any piece of content, you’ll want to edit your signature story one last time for big-picture issues as well as spelling, grammar and so forth. Before publishing, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is it a story? Does it have a narrative with a beginning, middle and end?
- Is it intriguing? Does it capture attention?
- Is it authentic? Do all the elements feel real?
- Is it involved? Does it draw people in or make them care?
Your signature story shares the reason your brand does what it does. Remember to take your time, test different angles and nurture it to tell a compelling story that creates the impact you want.