Cell type specification relies on the capacity of undifferentiated cells to properly respond to specific differentiation-inducing signals. Using genomic approaches along with loss- and gain-of-function genetic models, we identified OCT4-dependent mechanisms that provide embryonic stem cells with the means to customize their response to external cues. OCT4 binds a large set of low-accessible genomic regions. At these sites, OCT4 is required for proper enhancer and gene activation by recruiting co-regulators and RAR:RXR or β-catenin, suggesting an unexpected collaboration between the lineage-determining transcription factor and these differentiation-initiating, signal-dependent transcription factors. As a proof of concept, we demonstrate that overexpression of OCT4 in a kidney cell line is sufficient for signal-dependent activation of otherwise unresponsive genes in these cells. Our results uncover OCT4 as an integral and necessary component of signal-regulated transcriptional processes required for tissue-specific responses.