What’s Your Company’s Great Villain?

Every great story has a great villain. It might be a person or a thing. It’s not necessarily something evil; it might be a mountain that must be climbed or a shark that must be battled. A great villain is an antagonist, a word derived from the Greek word for “struggle against.” One of my screenwriting teachers used to say that it’s better to call the villain “resistance” because it’s resistance that prevents the hero from reaching some goal.

More profoundly, a great villain personifies the hero’s dark side, the side that the hero is at risk of succumbing to. Think Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. A great villain is a reflection of our hero, the main reason why the hero must go on. The greater the villain, the greater the hero’s motivation to prevail.

Sometimes – usually just before the climactic scene – the villain may acknowledge this connection explicitly, saying something like “You and I, we’re not so different.” This acknowledgment pushes our hero to summon even more strength to take on the final battle.

A satisfying villain is more than a cartoon or caricature. Audiences don’t care about two-dimensional villains who leave little at stake for the hero. Just think about that movie or novel you hated where there was never any doubt about the villain’s motives or whether he/she would be defeated.

So it goes when we imagine our companies’ villains. The natural tendency is to cast our competition in the role of antagonist, the thing we must struggle against. This is a common mistake. Your most compelling villain is almost certainly not your competition. After all, you’re both after the same thing. No, the villain most worthy of taking on is something less obvious, perhaps something that any human might be tempted to give in to.

Ask yourself, in the story of your company’s success, what’s the real enemy?

For example, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings recently said that his company’s main competition – its greatest enemy – is sleep. When I was working with a financial services company recently, we did an exercise where we discovered that their villain was complacency. Their whole strategy argued that a good investor is an active investor.

Identifying a substantial, relatable, daunting, powerful villain for your company can’t help but affect every aspect of the business, including your content strategy.

How will you know you’ve found the right villain? When going up against it scares you.

Robert Rose
Chief Strategy Officer at The Content Advisory

As the Chief Strategy Officer of The Content Advisory, the exclusive education and consulting group of The Content Marketing Institute, Robert develops content and customer experience strategies for large enterprises such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Oracle, McCormick Spices, Capital One, and UPS.


Robert’s book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing was called “a call to arms and a self-help guide for creating the experiences that consumers will fall in love with.” For the last three years, he’s co-hosted the podcast This Old Marketing, with Joe Pulizzi. It’s frequently a top 20 marketing podcast on iTunes and is downloaded more than a million times every year, in 100 countries around the world.


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Author: Robert Rose
<p>As the Chief Strategy Officer of The Content Advisory, the exclusive education and consulting group of The Content Marketing Institute, Robert develops content and customer experience strategies for large enterprises such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Oracle, McCormick Spices, Capital One, and UPS.</p> <p>Robert’s book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing was called “a call to arms and a self-help guide for creating the experiences that consumers will fall in love with.” For the last three years, he’s co-hosted the podcast This Old Marketing, with Joe Pulizzi. It’s frequently a top 20 marketing podcast on iTunes and is downloaded more than a million times every year, in 100 countries around the world.</p>