signature story

How to Create a ‘Signature Story’

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“Facts tell. Stories sell.”

This old adage has never been truer — especially for B2B marketers trying to capture attention in a cluttered digital landscape.

That’s why David Aaker, author of “Creating Signature Stories: Strategic Messaging that Energizes, Persuades and Inspires” says it’s never been more important for marketers to apply the power of storytelling.

Here’s how marketers can apply Aaker’s signature story concept to build brands, improve customer relationships and inspire employees.

Traits of a Signature Story

Aaker says a signature story is “an intriguing, authentic, involving narrative that delivers or supports a strategic message clarifying or enhancing the brand vision, customer relationship, organizational values and/or business strategy.”

For example, after returning from a fishing trip with wet, cold feet, Leon L. Bean decided to invent a new boot with lightweight leather tops and waterproof rubber bottoms. They worked so well that he sold them via mail order. But 90 of his first 100 pairs leaked! Even though it nearly broke him, Bean refunded every penny and fixed the process so the boots were truly watertight.

Aaker calls this a signature story because it shows the firm’s innovation culture, plus its commitment to quality which has become part of L.L. Bean’s legendary “100 percent satisfaction” guarantee.

As the L.L. Bean example shows, a signature story is not is a set of facts or figures. Aaker says that many organizations, especially in B2B, think facts communicate a lot of information. But Aaker stresses that facts alone “do not gain attention, stimulate social activity, persuade or inspire.”

Aaker also points out that, because signature stories can be short, they usually come in sets. Sets of strategic stories can elaborate on the same message, or different story sets with different messages can support different products or applications. With multiple signature stories, Aaker says marketers can “create interest, energy and visibility” and “breadth and depth.”

Creating a Signature Story

Those of us tasked with creating and communicating stories in a strategic and compelling way know it isn’t easy. Some of our biggest barriers are limited time and resources and a lack of story sources.

Aaker offers tips to overcome those storytelling hurdles:

Buy into a “test and learn” philosophy. Don’t wait for the perfect story. Try out stories that aren’t fully developed and see if they’re effective before you invest more time to refine them.

Source both owned and borrowed stories. Aaker says owned stories — those based on your own firm or brand — “have the most potential to be intriguing, authentic and involving.” If you don’t have an ownable story, look elsewhere for a relevant story that you can borrow and adapt.

Nurture signature stories. “Signature stories do not just appear. They are born through a process,” says Aaker. Signature stories need organizational support, whether that’s through models like a content center of excellence, an editorial board/content council or a content lead, like a managing editor.

Making a Signature Story Strong

Certain characteristics of signatures stories rise to the top and drive the message. But, he says, “a high number of checkmarks on the list don’t necessarily make a story more powerful.”

Aaker suggests evaluating a story’s strength based on the four signature story characteristics:

  • 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 involving? Does it draw people in or make them care?

Creating or unearthing a strong signature story isn’t a quick or simple process. But, Aaker says, the right signature story can be a significant asset.

Kristin Veach is a marketing strategist who creates content to help clients build their brands and businesses. Outside of work you can find Kristin and husband living the swim parent life for their daughter and son, playing fetch with their Goldendoodle or cheering on the Fighting Irish. Connect with her on Twitter at @kristin_veach.

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