SD#29: For Every Hero, Find a Villain

business storytelling villain Jan 30, 2023
Rendering of Darth Vader from Star Wars
Image Credit: Canva Text to Image


For Every Hero, Find a Villain

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Read Time: 6.0 minutes


For every fact, find a story. For every story, find a hero. For every hero, find a villain

 — Oliver Cantin on How to Be a Captivating 18 Words


The above quote grabbed our attention the first time we saw it tweeted by Oliver Cantin. The quote includes two cornerstones of storytelling: the hero and the villain.

The hero of your story (your customer) is foundational, but so is identifying your villain. But many companies don't identify the villain in a strategic way, which leaves opportunities for market share and differentiation on the table. In this message, we'll focus on the benefits of identifying and leveraging the villain of your story.


What’s the Tip?

The tip is this: take time to identify the villain of your story. What's getting in the way of the customer's success? You'll be surprised at how valuable this exercise is in helping you crystallize things like your value proposition, your central point of differentiation, and even your strategy.


How Do You Use It? 

Identifying the villain in your business storytelling can help you create an emotional connection with the audience, making the story more engaging and memorable. It also helps to simplify complex issues by providing a clear target for the audience to root against. 

But how do you go about identifying your villain?

The villain can often be identified as the obstacle or challenge that your customer must overcome in order to achieve his or her goals. It can be a rival company, a difficult market condition, or an internal issue such as a lack of resources. 

As you do the work of identifying the villain as part of your business storytelling efforts, here are some things to consider:

Relevance: Choose a villain that's relevant to the story and your customer.

Credibility: Ensure that the villain is credible and can be easily identified.

Emotion: The villain should evoke an emotional response from your audience, such as anger or frustration.

Simplicity: Make sure the villain is easy to understand, allowing the audience to focus on the story and its message.

Authenticity: The villain should be authentic, not artificially created for the purpose of storytelling.

Consistency: Ensure that the villain is consistently portrayed throughout the story, creating a clear and recognizable target.

Balance: Be careful not to over-vilify the villain, as this can detract from the credibility of the story.


What are Some Examples?

Apple vs. IBM:

Apple positioned itself as an advocate for the customer experience when it came to computing. Apple painted IBM as being clunky, not consumer friendly, and lacking in beauty and aesthetic. Apple made its customer the hero of its brand story. (Personal disclaimer: Lisa-Marie's father worked at IBM for his entire career. We're still big fans of big blue.) 

Drift vs. Lead Forms:

Drift, which is a conversational marketing platform, made "required forms" its villain. Here's how Drift executives explained their strategy in the book This Won't Scale:

"Known as the No Forms movement, we publicly swore off "lead forms" and started promoting a more conversational way of marketing and selling. What we didn’t know then was just how big the whole thing would become. But as it turned out, a lot of marketers had spent a long time cursing lead forms. No one had just gone out and said it out loud before. And while the No Forms movement was definitely bigger than Drift, we were able to reach a lot of people and get them interested in the category first and then the product."

Tesla vs. Oil Companies:

Early on, Tesla made oil companies the villain in its campaigns, positioning itself as the cleaner, more sustainable alternative for transportation. 


What Are the Benefits to You?

When you identify your villain, you are:

  • Reinforcing the reason for your product or service
  • Spotlighting the problem that you're solving
  • Creating empathy with your customer who's the hero of your story and the primary target of your villain.

Remember, a villain in business can be inefficiency, poor customer service, or anything that comes at the expense of the customer. Used well, your villain can do wonders for helping you hone your overall strategy. 


  1. Identifying your hero (your customer) is job one, but don't forget the power that comes from identifying and giving life to the villain in your story as well.
  2. A villain is anything that creates friction for your customer.
  3. Once you have your hero and your villain in place, everything else becomes easier, from your strategy to your marketing to your product design. No wonder iconic venture capitalist, Ben Horowitz,  is fond of saying that "your story is your strategy." 


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