“Many Stories are Tactical; Great Stories are Strategic”

By Tim Riesterer, Chief Strategy Officer

September 19, 2016


Jennifer Aaker began her #CTW16 keynote by saying something about the times many of us know or at least have intuited: We live in an era of low trust.

For such a broad and daunting social reality, you might think those bold enough to propose a solution would do so cautiously. Not Aaker. She didn’t hesitate. When trust is down, the remedy is simple. The remedy is story.

Jennifer Aaker shares the power of story at Corporate Visions' annual conference

Jennifer Aaker shares the power of story at Corporate Visions’ annual conference

That’s not to say that great storytelling is easy, or a simple thing to build into an organization’s culture. Aaker, who wrote The Dragonfly Effect and is a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, said that great stories don’t happen by accident. They happen when story creators make bold, counterintuitive departures from habit, lines of flight that open up new channels of thought and make creative breakthroughs possible.

Another hallmark of a great story: They’re self-amplifying. In other words, they’re so moving and infectious that others can’t help but share them, creating a multiplier effect. Aaker also delineated between okay or good stories, which are tactical in nature, and “signature stories,” which are strategic.

If you want to tell a story that rises above the noisy tactical to the unforgettable strategic, keep the following pointers from Aaker in mind:

  • Most companies who do a good job with story know their purpose.
  • The best stories in business today tell the “why,” now the “how.”
  • People want to be valued members of a winning team on an inspired mission—your story should help them feel that deeply ingrained desire.
  • You have to feel authentic when you tell the story. If you don’t, people can tell.
  • Brands often feel manufactured. People do not.
  • Signature stories share three features: purpose, empathy and growth.
  • The structure of a great story is classically heroic. It begins with a regular individual facing extraordinary odds, which they then must overcome or transcend to realize their mission.