As the signature story goes, a Zappos.com call center employee received a call from a customer at 3 am one morning.
The Zappos customer may have been slightly inebriated. He was frustrated that he couldn’t find an open pizza store.
Instead of gently turning the customer away, the employee found an open pizzeria and arranged a delivery.
Zappos’ reputation for sterling customer service is legendary, partly due to these types of signature stories. The shoe retailer has created a set of stories that revolve around its ten core values.
We’re all looking for ways to connect with prospects and customers more quickly.
A signature story does just that. This kind of shared narrative is so compelling that it generates more business. An authentic narrative is almost always more intriguing than a stand-alone set of facts.
Creating a strong narrative is easier said than done. A strong signature story needs to have enduring relevance, a capacity to inspire and provide direction or an implied call to action.
Stories work better than facts or bullet points because they:
- Get attention
- Score high for “memorability”
- Have emotional appeal
- Differentiate you from the competition
- Convey facts in more interesting ways
- Change opinions
Here’s how you can develop a signature story for your business. Tweet This
Short, true stories work best
Lots of people can benefit from the use of signature stories.
Leaders can use these oral vignettes to motivate and inspire team members. Salespeople can use “sig stories” to persuade prospects and customers to purchase. Keynote speakers and trainers use this communication technique to help audiences stay focused.
You should be able to convey the vignette in less than two minutes. Make it a short story, not a tall tale. True stories work best. If you don’t personally have a sig story, tell someone else’s and provide attribution. You might, for example, say something like “We have a customer who….”
Make sure the story aligns with your personal and corporate values so it rings true.
Signature stories can be informed by any of the following:
- A media success story
- A founder
- A successful product launch
- A business revitalization strategy
Here’s one of my signature stories as seen on YouTube. Click on “Subscribe” to be notified when my new videos are posted.
The L.L. Bean signature story
Consider these two ways to talk about the clothing company L.L. Bean.
“L.L. Bean is a brand aiming to communicate its innovation culture, passion for the outdoors, commitment to quality, concern for the customer and the functional benefits of the Maine Hunting Shoe.”
This explanation is brief, but not very exciting. Facts like these aren’t likely to create interest, credibility or any kind of emotional connection to L.L. Bean. Lots of companies have “concern for the customer,” for example.
In contrast, consider the following “signature” version of the story.
“Leon L. Bean, an avid outdoors-man, returned from a hunting trip in 1912 disgruntled because of his cold, wet feet.
Bean had few resources but he had lots of motivation and ingenuity. He invented a new boot by stitching lightweight leather tops to waterproof rubber bottoms. The boots worked so well he offered them for sale via mail order as the Maine Hunting Shoe.
“Unfortunately, most of the first 100 pairs sold had a stitching problem and leaked. Bean faced a defining moment. His response? He refunded the customers’ money, even though it nearly broke him, and fixed the manufacturing process so that future boots were watertight.”
This interesting story communicates the L.L. Bean brand far better than the strict presentation of facts.
It takes a little longer to craft this version of the retailer’s story. It takes a little longer to tell it, as well. But the imagery of cold, wet feet, and the integrity of the founder differentiates the company and alludes to an amazing value proposition.
Zeroing in on your signature story
Experts such as David Aaker, author of Aaker on Branding: 20 Principles That Drive Success, offer great advice on how to create a corporate narrative.
“A strategic message like this can clarify and enhance the brand, the customer relationship, marketing campaigns, the organization itself and even the business strategy.
“A signature story is a strategic asset that can be leveraged through time, providing inspiration and direction both internally and externally,” says, Asher.
When formulating your corporate narrative, consider the company’s main purpose. Ask the following questions:
- Who are you?
- Where are you going?
- How can your brand’s vision and value proposition be more clear?
- When it comes to customer relationships, what single word comes to mind? For your customers?
- What are the strong and unique assets within your organizational culture?
- How can your corporate values be represented in a story format?
- Which are priorities mean the most to you?
- If your business is to succeed, what perceptions and attitudes need to be created, reinforced or changed?
To craft a solid signature story, identify potential story heroes and try to build a story around them. Founders, employees and customers are often great heroes for signature stories.
The employee as hero can be a source of a strong and memorable signature story.
We live in “celebrity society” where everyone wants to be the star of the show, so making the customer the hero of your signature story can be very effective.
More tips on how to make marketing work from my blog post.
Tips for creating a strong narrative
When creating a signature story try to have it work on the following four levels:
1. Be intriguing. Make sure the story is thought-provoking, novel, provocative, interesting, informative, newsworthy or entertaining to the audience.
2. Be authentic. The audience will smell a phony story a mile away. Avoid contrivance and transparent sales pitching. Your signature story should have substance in that it takes a stand on virtuous values and ideals.
3. Be involving. Take care to draw listeners into the story so they can enjoy a cognitive, emotional or behavioral connection.
4. Be strategic. The best signature stories are inextricably linked to brand enhancement, improved customer relationships or the organization’s overall business strategy.
Make sure the story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Otherwise, it’s an anecdote.
Storytelling rule #1: Know your audience
The principle targets for signature stories are 1) Employees 2) Existing and potential customers and 3) Other groups including prospective employees and the media.
Employees often need ways to talk about their products and services. Strong signature stories provide employees with a source of inspiration and a guidepost for organizational culture and values.
Enthusiastic customers always find ways to talk and post about companies they love. It doesn’t hurt to share narratives that the company is also using. Customers benefit from a strong signature story because an attractive narrative helps them identify with your brand’s values.
The L. L. Bean story above supports a higher purpose around innovation, the passion for the outdoors, quality and the customer.
Prospective employees who share those values will gravitate toward L.L. Bean, streamlining the hiring process and doing more to guarantee a good fit between new hires and the existing team.
The media loves a good signature story because it’s true and has already been corroborated.
Make it easy for customers to stay loyal
Identification is the first step toward loyalty.
The road to customer loyalty has many potholes. Pave the way by harnessing the power of testimonials or what author, Robert Cialdini refers to as “social proof.” Millennials, for example, are attracted to companies that have a social conscience. A signature story that is unrelated to profit can help with making your raison d’etre authentic and clear.
Not all stories are worth elevating to signature status. Consider using an internal evaluation process to identify the strength and promise of candidate stories. Test a few different stories with a small group of people or focus group.
A signature story is an asset with enduring relevance and capacity to inspire and provide direction over a long period of time.
As they get retold, signature stories acquire authenticity, traction and influence. Social media gives customers a megaphone to share your story. Craft mini-versions that can be pushed out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Have fun and remember, all signature stories have a happy ending.