The scene is the dark smoke-filled and seedy Mahala bar in Cairo. Indiana Jones sits sullenly; crestfallen because he believes Marion, the woman he loves has just been killed in an explosion. The patrons of the bar – mostly Egyptians sit in groups talking loudly. Indy sits at the bar finishing off his bourbon. He’s drunk.
Suddenly, the bartender hands him a bottle of expensive bourbon and says, “the gentleman in the corner would like you to join him.” Indy looks around and sees his mortal enemy, the Frenchman – Belloq. Drunk and infuriated – Indy threatens to kill him right there in the bar saying “these Arabs won’t care about our business”. He sits. Then, after they talk a bit – Belloq says to Indiana:
“We have always done the same kind of work you and I. Our methods have not differed as much as you would pretend. I’m a shadowy reflection of you. It would have taken only a nudge to make you the same as me, to push you out of the light.”
You’ve seen that same scene in countless other movies. It’s a very common storytelling device. Whether it is Luke, seeing his own face under Darth Vader’s mask; or any James Bond villain telling our favorite English spy that they both “kill for a living” it’s almost clichéd at this point. In fact Austin Powers has some fun with this in the third movie.
The key is that, at some point, our hero must confront the fact that the villain represents an alternative side of the same journey. It’s the presentation of the complete conflict that our hero must ultimately go through; both internal and external. It’s a critical part of the transformation of our hero and their journey.
Every Brand Needs Its Belloq
This is true of our Brand Hero as well. We need our villains; the Windows to your Mac – your Pepsi to their Coke – his Democrats to her Republicans or even their GreenPeace to whatever corporate entity has upset them recently.
But the challenge and risk to us as marketers is that we tend to oversimplify our villains. We are, many times, afraid to realize that our competition may actually have a reasonable point about their product, or our product – or the world in general. We too often scoff at their p.o.v. and ridicule it. And by painting our villains with a broad brush, we risk turning them into caricatures – and this pulls away from the emotional engagement, and the fulfilling part of telling our stories.
Engaging, Emotional Conflict Is The Engine To Our Stories
Creating conflict is a central part of an engaging and emotionally connected story. And when we want to craft a story that sits apart from all others – one that differentiates our brand and our product or service from all others – we MUST understand the conflict and all of the points of view in exquisite detail. And that means understanding how our villains are so much like us and how they represent US in the larger sense of our bigger story.
Four Ways To Look At Conflict
You’ve heard the saying “one man’s revolutionary is another man’s freedom fighter”. This is the key. Our competitors are someone else’s heroes. And so, when we are preparing to look at our villains and a conflict to fuel our content marketing story – we can look at four different perspectives to conflict:
- The “I” Conflict – this is YOUR singular perspective on the conflict. This is Indiana’s viewpoint. His p.o.v. is, of course, transformed over the course of the movie (this is the transformation). He starts by seeing it as the “treasure hunt of all time” to a quest to save his former love, to ultimately a quest to save mankind. See his arc there? From completely self serving – to saving the world.
- The “You” Conflict – the opposite of “I” – how is the conflict viewed from the opposite point of view. This is Belloq’s view of the conflict. And, in his mind he has a perfectly reasonable point of view. He wants the Ark of the Covenant because it’s a “phone to God” (that’s pretty powerful and could even be it’s own story). He’s made a deal with the devil (in this case the Nazis) to get it. Under other circumstances we might even actually understand and agree with his point of view.
- The “We” Conflict – how do people we relate to view the conflict. In the case of Raiders, this might be the Germans, and/or Sallah (Indiana’s friend). Salla warns Indiana that the Ark is “not something that was meant to be disturbed. It is not of this earth.” Indiana doesn’t believe in any thing that’s not “scientific” – but of course in the end this “belief” in the Ark’s immense supernatural power and man’s inability to even handle “looking at it” is actually what saves Indiana’s life.
- The “They” Conflict – the surroundings. How will the market view the conflict? In our Raider’s example, this might be the other Arabs in the bar, or of course the US Government that hires Indiana in the first place. From their point of view, the Ark is simply a potential “weapon” And Indiana is simply a “professor” that can help retrieve it. They don’t really care what happens to anyone.
See how all of those points of view are conflicts that Indiana has to resolve through his journey?
So, to put this into our brand hero’s perspective – when we are looking at creating a content marketing “story” we need to look at these perspectives and ask ourselves a few questions:
- What will THEY say about this story… Will the market care? What have we told them in the past that would make us think we are even capable of accomplishing this?
- What will WE and our existing customers and partners think about this story? Will they believe – and how can they influence us?
- What will YOU, the competition think about this story? Are they right? Do they have a point? Is their p.o.v. valid? What are they saying that’s right? What are they saying that’s wrong? How are we DIFFERENT from them?
- Who am I! How is my brand supposed to be different and transformed as we tell this story? What will the brand have to face?
When we fail to take into account ALL of these perspective – we tend to draw conflict and our villains into broad caricatures. Or, even worse, we make them unworthy to our challenge. Both of these can lead to ineffective and unsatisfying stories.
Take for example, the RIM Playbook. By all accounts it was a failure. And there are, no doubt, multiple reasons that it failed. But from my perspective one of the keys to the marketing ineffectiveness was a key failure in creating a fully engaging story and conflict about the competition. Clearly RIM didn’t understand (or care) about anything but the “I” conflict. And, candidly, even that was muddled.
And they clearly didn’t understand what the YOU conflict would be (How Apple might view it) the “We” perspective (how current BBerry users might view it. Would they believe?) and how “They” (consumers that didn’t have a tablet) might view it. Clearly no one believed it. The marketing launch was a muddled “Me, Me, Me” fest. Headlines claimed “amateur hour is over” and an ad that ridiculed the iPad’s lack of Flash. They basically launched a superhero story where the main “super villain” was made out to be as capable as a high school bully. No one wants to see that movie.
Compare this with how Amazon has been able to completely differentiate its tablet. By focusing in on all perspectives – understanding the conflict from ALL levels of detail – they have been able to construct an engaging and emotional connection to the Kindle – regardless of how good the Kindle really performs.
This commercial for the Kindle Fire says it all for the story we’re telling: “for years we’ve been placing the things you love at your doorstep. Now, we’re placing them at your fingertips”. See Amazon realizes that….
Beating The Villain Doesn’t Always Mean They Lose
When we differentiate – we manage to tell a DIFFERENT story than our competition – not the same one incrementally better.
Finding your villain – and understanding THEIR point of view – in context with the story you are telling – and how you REALLY ARE like them in many ways will help you ultimately BE DIFFERENT. But additionally, you need to know all the in’s and all the out’s of the many perspectives in your world. When you do, You’ll create a much more engaging, competitive and richer story – and when you win – it’s that much bigger of an achievement.
As a bonus – watch this amazing scene from the movie Heat – where Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro both discover how similar they really are; all while understanding they are mortal enemies.