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Defining the enemy of your business might sound combative, but it’s really about giving yourself a goal: something to attack yourself against. Throughout my 30-year advertising career, I’ve worked with brands that had fantastic, well-defined enemies and brands that didn’t.
It was always easier to conceptualize creative ideas around brands with enemies. When I left advertising to launch my own brands, we defined our enemy as part of our brand story. For Isle de Nature, my bee-fueled indoor perfume company, our enemy is the “cheap thrill”: toxic-burning, cheap-scent candles. They look good at first glance, but in the end you feel ‘disgusting’. This is a perfect platform for Isle of Nature as our candles burn cleaner and are of high quality with pure beeswax from Dominica.
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How can having an enemy help your business?
Having an enemy can really help you create a differentiated brand, which is so important to every category these days, and create a unique and customizable white space. In fact, there are many brands that have built themselves almost exclusively by clearly defining their enemy. – and messaging around it. Take JetBlue, for example. When JetBlue was launched, the company aimed to democratize flight and make it human again. The enemy was the impersonal and inhuman experience of most of the other airlines, which is unfortunately still relevant, unfortunately.
The example of JetBlue reveals that the enemy is often not a competitor. it can be anyway – just see how Burger King likes to pick on McDonalds. Many challenger brands will choose a competitor as a means of gaining traction and validity. If you are old enough, you will remember all the famous Coke versus Pepsi commercials. But if you’re not a brand challenger or it’s not in your DNA to fight a direct competitor (or maybe that competitor doesn’t have a clear Achilles heel), then you have to find another enemy, ideally one which you can own. Some of the most compelling enemies are a category mindset, trend, or truth.
Look at progressive insurance. Progressive’s enemy were the nameless, faceless, and unsatisfactory transactions that dominated the insurance category. Does anyone remember the commercial before Flo? So what was the solution? Progressive gave the brand a face, a personality (Flo) and made it feel like an in-store retail purchase. This was a brilliant solution to a category problem and helped catapult Progressive over the loads of “sea of similitude” insurance companies. Over time as the category grows and catches up, you may need to find a new enemy. Unlike the brand’s values, your enemy doesn’t need to be set in stone forever. The best enemy taps into a relevant truth that reflects our current cultural reality.
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How do you go about finding your enemy?
The perfect enemy is usually a formidable enemy. It’s the one that when defeated creates a breakthrough for your brand and results in a category of one. It can also be your biggest obstacle and potentially your biggest challenge. A good enemy must be a rallying cry for the company – something you could put on a t-shirt and get everyone on board to fight. A good enemy must inspire. He must create action. And it must be tangible and lead to clear communication.
A good enemy will also create a closer community with your employees; they are fighting the same thing. Your enemy will hold you accountable, and it will be clear whether you are gaining ground against him or not, which is a good thing as people crave transparency. Ultimately, your enemy also lets your customers know what you believe in. People love to join a good cause, so if your enemy is relevant you will find people who want to be a part of your “fight”.
Remember Dove’s award-winning real beauty campaign? The company had a clear enemy: the retouched and perfect models that the beauty industry promotes (and has always promoted). Dove was one of the first beauty brands to embrace real women, and this has led other brands to follow suit. Consumers also wanted to join the movement. By opposing the beauty industry, Dove has created a platform to talk about the very definition of beauty and have a take on just about everything from prejudices and myths to diversity. Since the industry is a tough enemy to beat, Dove will have years to evolve this message before it becomes obsolete.
Right now, you might be intrigued by the concept of the enemy, but you still don’t know where to start. You could take inspiration from other brands, consumers, or even your own frustrations (like the famous story of Uber’s early days). Or you could find inspiration in movies or novels, which often have a “villain”. Superhero movies are great because often the villain is a bigger issue.
Getting the people who know your brand best in a room (or Zoom) to know who your real enemy is can be very effective. I generally recommend including certain consumers, investors, and advisers in this exercise. Whichever way you find your enemy, he just needs to feel real (not contrived) and make your team believe you can defeat him.
So who is your enemy? Put it there and take it.
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