Storytelling in business is huge today. There’s a movement afoot to educate businesses both large and small on the virtues of utilizing a storytelling framework when considering marketing strategies for your business.

One of the hallmarks of any compelling story is the role of the hero. Obviously your business should play the role of the hero. Or perhaps a spokesperson you have created that represents your business. In the end, you’re the good guy.

A great villain can drive a storyline in ways most heroes simply cannot. Think of the great stories of your childhood, or your favorite books or movies. Nearly every one sets up a dramatic tension between the hero and villain. Here are some of my favorite villain/hero duos:

  • Darth Vader vs. Luke Skywalker (Star Wars) “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”
  • Hannibal Lecter vs. Clarice Starling (The Silence of the Lambs) “Hello Clarice.”
  • Hal 9000 vs. Dave Bowman (2001: A Space Odyssey) “Open the pod bay doors, Hal.”
  • Johnny Ringo vs. Doc Holiday (Tombstone) “I’m your Huckleberry.”

Each of these villains helped drive the storyline forward and helped define the characteristics of their heroes. A great villain can make even the most heinous character look heroic by comparison. Don’t overlook the role of the villain as you embark on your corporate storytelling efforts. 

In a business context, a well-cast villain can serve several different purposes.

  • A rallying cry for employees. Knowing who (or what) you are up against can help provide focus and determination for your teams and employees.
  • Marketing clarity. Positioning your business as “not this” can sometimes help prospects and customers understand what you do, or how you do it.
  • Help define a business model. As you think through your offerings, knowing who/what you are trying to “beat” can help you stay focused on a model that will give you an edge.

As you deploy a storytelling methodology (and even if you don’t), it is wise to have in mind a vision of your idea “villain.” As you think about potential villains your company battles, you have several options to choose from:

  • A company. Your competition often makes a great villain. In a cut-throat market, the “other guy” is often the anti-hero in your story telling. I spent 15 years serving law firms in the legal services market. There are two main companies in that market. I can assure you they do not like each other and each views the other as the villain.
  • An industry. At 312 Digital, we teach marketers, consultants and small business owners how to grow their business using digital marketing. Our main villain is the big digital marketing conference, where attendees spend a lot of money but don’t actually learn how to perform digital marketing tasks.
  • A process. Think of QuickBooks software. Who is the villain for that product? I think the villain is keeping books by hand – or at least it was when QuickBooks got its start.

Whoever you have cast as the villain in your business storytelling adventure, be sure it is one you can defeat. We all know there are some great villains out there, but casting the wrong villain will simply confuse your customers and your employees.

How do you find great villains to rally your troops against? Ask! Ask your customers. Ask your employees. By simply asking, your nemesis will come into focus easily. It could be your primary villain is a big competitor or maybe it’s a process your product eliminates or reduces. Regardless of who/what it is, be sure to use your villain well in your storytelling and the rest of your marketing efforts.

So I leave you with one question… Who’s your Vader? Let me know in the comments below. I’m genuinely interested!

From Catherine: Special offer for Chicago readers! 312 Digital offers digital marketing training in an intimate classroom setting to effectively teach you how to optimize your business for new and emerging marketing channels. Join the 312 Digital team for Introduction to Digital Marketing at DePaul University’s Loop campus on December 4th. Use coupon code “CarolRoth2012” and save $100.00!