Power of Signature Stories

Organizational culture Purpose Respect


Key Point: The surprise leadership learning for me over the last few years has been the power of “story.” David Aaker, a professor of business at UC Berkeley and alumnus of Stanford Graduate School of Business notes: “There are many studies in psychology and elsewhere that document that facts are much more likely to be remembered if they are part of a story.”

As the leader responsible for the cultural advancement in our 79-year-old company with 5,000 plus team members, annual revenue of over $1 Billion and net income at double-digit growth levels. I must tell you that the power of “story” has been vital to reimagining our company. And “signature” stories (those that most powerfully capture the feeling and intent of the company and its differentiating values) are priceless. These have more impact with customers than simply listing and highlighting “features” or facts about a particular product or service. Examples of such tales include a young John Nordstrom agreeing to refund a customer’s two “well-worn” snow tires — he later went on to build the Nordstrom company on a differentiating “customer first” ethos. Molson Canadian Beer Company showed its passion for hockey with its customers by building a hockey rink in a remote part of the Canadian Rockies and flying in customers for a game of “shinny.” Every organization is capable of determining signature stories and unleashing character “heroes” if their purpose and values are sufficiently clear. 

We want team members to think of themselves as story creators. Determining “heroes” is the first step to finding a signature story. These are people who create a customer experience that is so impactful that it literally goes viral. Equally, perhaps even more importantly, we want our customers to be signature storytellers about their experience with our company.

So, the challenge of leaders is to efficiently leverage these experiences and connect them to the company’s brand. Furthermore, establishing a “digital story bank” that is well structured and easy-to-use in categorizing different signature stories is important. We are currently doing that in our company. When good, effective stories become part of an active library they can be leveraged continuously.

Character Moves:

  1. Think of yourself as a story creator or even a story hero. And then create one that could become a signature example. What would that story look like? Every day work situations rise up and invite a possibility. How good are you at creating signature stories out of those situations?
  1. Watch Stanford’s Jennifer Aakers video on signature stories (it’s 19 minutes, but worth a view). What did you learn? How valuable will you be to your organization when you are the “author” of one of those stories?

Story Heroes in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: Searching for a story is my thing, and everyone has one. Each person/customer is starring in their own movie, and if a “scene” is memorable, they’re going to make it a “signature” one.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis