As described in my book Creating Signature Stories, a signature story is a “Once upon a time…” narrative describing an experience or relationship that represents who you are as an organization, a narrative that jumps out of the clutter, communicates externally and internally, and is worth sharing. It is significantly more effective than merely describing programs, reciting facts or making logical arguments at gaining attention, changing perceptions, inspiring, persuading and energizing. Not 20% better, but 200% or 300% better. The numbers are just amazing.

Common Mistakes When Creating Signature Stories

So why are so few organizations using signature stories effectively to communicate their strategic messaging – their purpose, culture, value proposition, or strategic programs? There are six common mistakes that occur.

No signature stories at all

The biggest mistake by far is to simply not participate, to not make signature stories a part of the communication effort. There may be references to customers or employees but it is not a “draw me in” narrative. Why? Following the communication brief, to describe rather that tell stories seems efficient and logical. The implicit and erroneous assumption is that the audience is rational and will be persuaded by sound logic. Plus, there are usually several communication tasks which fit into a bullet point list but not into any one story. It can also be discouraging trying to find great stories – but the benefit is huge.

No pop

Signature stories that are put out there often simply do not pop. They do not have the intimacy, the emotion or the interest intensity to break out and be shared. It may be that the offering does not provide material or there is no higher purpose programs that can support great stories. Or there are effective stories, but the effort to find them is lacking or the story heroes may be reluctant to share details. In any case, the stories are shallow and uninvolving.

Bad presentation

They are not professionally developed because the value of presentation is not recognized or there is a perceived budget limitation. Relying on customers or employees to create a signature story presentation is almost always a recipe for presentation issues. A good presentation cannot help a weak story, but a strong story can be rendered ineffective with a bad presentation. It’s far better to reduce the number of stories and invest in a professional quality presentation.

Stories hidden in a box

Signature stories might be there but are hidden away in a box all by themselves. That means that they will not be accessed by most of the audience. Worse, it means that they are not driving the key communication tasks. The best use of a signature story is to introduce and motivate a communication objective, or to provide an illustration or proof point of communication task. Neither is possible if the stories are organized in their own box.

Story overload

Having many signature stories can provide freshness, energy, visibility, depth, breadth and texture. But there is a tipping point after which there are too many signature stories for employees to manage or for customers to grasp, and they are just overwhelmed. Story overload can make signature stories ineffective when many of the stories are weak and there is no ability to prioritize stories and let the stars shine.

Organizational support is lacking

Signature stories, especially in B2B firms, are born through a process that needs to involve an organizational story unit including editors and videographers that can produce story depth, execute professional presentations and deploy both internally and externally using outlets such as podcasts and social. The organization also needs a story culture that motivates the development of signature stories.

Signature stories should be part of any communication program but they will not happen or be effective alone. There needs to be an understanding, resources, and effort behind them.

Read more on this topic in my latest book ‘Creating Signature Stories: Strategic Messaging That Persuades, Energizes and Inspires‘.


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  1. Hi David, nice post. It made a good learning. I liked your point when you say that signature stories are driven by a higher purpose which an organization sets for itself. Yes, i agree that most organizations lack a higher purpose and that’s why their brands lack longevity and strong brand value.

  2. Some years back I was working on a brand that wanted to fight obesity. They wanted ideas/stories/coverage/magic to come forth from their (mainly good) intention. During the course of one of our conversations, we pointed out that one of their major clients was a global food company that produced fast food and packaged goods – a company that had not made a commitment to health. We challenged our client on which client they would fire so that they could act with integrity. They fired neither. I didn’t expect them to and frankly was shocked when we actually suggested it. But it was a clarifying moment for us and the client team to think about the true commitment to the story and the campaign.