in the story of your brand, you’re not the hero

a while back, I learned that a strong enemy could strengthen your brand. the example that was given at the time was Pepsi versus Coke. and it seemed to make so much sense. many good stories have a hero and a villain, right? so when I came across a tweet about “how villains bring power to your brand story” from Branding Strategy Insider, I thought I’d refresh my memory with a new perspective. I didn’t know that the first few words in the article would light up my brains the way they did!

“If your brand has a hero (your customer) and sidekick (your brand)…”

I had to stop and think. if the hero of the story is the customer (dah!?!), than how can Pepsi be the enemy in Coke’s story? it can’t! the villain has to be something that the customer struggles with. like thirst, heat, low blood sugar, boredom or loneliness – which all can be solved by sharing a Coke, somehow…

this was a powerful aha moment. your brand is not the hero of your story! it should not be at the center of your narrative. once more, it’s not about you. it’s about your stakeholders – customers and all.

this also strongly impacts the way you define your brand. if you were defining it mostly based on an enemy brand, you will forever be dependent on how that other brand defines itself and, even worse, how it defines you. and instead of reacting to new customer needs or expectations, you will spend most of your time reacting to what that other brand does. obviously, it doesn’t sound like a healthy long-term strategy.

of course, your competition should play a role in some layers of your plans. but not in what you stand for or believe in as a brand. more in how you would differentiate your product, and what aspects of it you should highlight in your marketing. note here the difference we make between the brand, product and marketing strategies. they’re not the same. so be thoughtful about how much you obsess about your competition at the different layers of your strategy. they will impact some pieces of it, but should not define who you are.

so what should you define your brand against? easy! it should be defined according to the relationship you want to establish between the main characters of the story: the hero and the sidekick – your customers and your brand. and how you want your brand to connect with their gut, heart and brain. at the end of the day, your brand draws its power from what it means to your fans, to your customers, and to other stakeholders. it lives in them – not in an ad or a logo, but in what those stand for and mean to people.

so… we can’t say it enough: check your ego at the door, it’s not about you.

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