Picture this: You’re a brand or a business that’s looking to break through the proverbial noise in a meaningful way in order to attract, engage, and earn new audiences through your marketing. That’s nothing new. But the industry has changed in that consumers expect brands to know them, to be authentic, and to stand for something. In marketing, all roads tie back to supporting the sales journey, but consumers now expect companies to “see” them—to know them.
While more marketing channels (podcasts, vlogs, Twitter Spaces, Patreon, oh my!) exist, more messaging doesn’t by default mean brands are developing and executing better marketing strategies. Businesses need to be equipped to cater to a more educated, savvy audience. To resonate with their audience, companies need to have a point of view—and a strong one—an ownable stance. This means storytelling needs to be better. And what do all stories have? A plot, conflict, and resolution—plus a villain.
Everyone wants to be the hero of their own story, but you can only be one with a counterbalance. This doesn’t mean taking a brand’s biggest competitor, explicitly naming them, and running a smear campaign. A villain doesn’t have to be an enemy. The villain in marketing can be the old way of doing business, outdated models, or the pain point you are solving for. Consider what the iPhone did for flip phones or Tesla to the automobile. The villain can also be abstract: status quo. The concept of stories with a villain resonate, are memorable, and allow a company to capture attention.
The Value of Villains
Rather than forcing a marketing message, a villain can highlight a problem that the consumer might not know exists (yet!) and creates drama and interest around it. It connects with the consumer in a way of, “hey, this brand understands what I’m going through!” Creating a foil allows businesses to emotionally engage quickly which is exactly the point when, according to a recent study, the average consumer attention is just eight seconds—shorter than an Instagram Reel! That’s how long you may have to heroically swoop in to save the day.
Not ready to dive headfirst into the villain/hero concept? Consider testing the villain strategy in an internal focus group, on social media or in A/B testing. Once the positioning is settled, the villain should be integrated into all marketing efforts. If the villain only becomes a “stand-in” for the star actors, then the concept has lost its purpose.
When it comes down to it, successful marketing isn’t about the tactics, it’s the execution. The business goals and objectives will inform what tactics to use, but it’s a marketer’s job to ensure that all efforts are tied to a central purpose, to make your company, product, or service the hero.