The Enemy of Branding

Bringing people of a feather together

When presidents label news “fake” or declare that the reason for all your misfortune is another country (did someone say “China”?), they do a lot more than just put the blame on someone. By telling people who the “they” is, presidents also tell who is “us”.

Enemies provide a clear and present focus, because fighting against something is emotionally more powerful than supporting a cause. Supporting a cause is a wish without a deadline, but an unpredictable enemy! That’s an imminent threat that someone needs to deal with right now.

It’s not just presidents using this technique, other expert communicators do it all the time. Constructing an enemy is the most used tool in a cult leader’s toolbox, and marketers have discovered it for quite a while as well.

Enemies activate people, and if you’re a brand — if you’re a founder, you are a brand —, you want people who actively want your product.

When Apple launched its Think Different campaign in the 90s, computer enthusiasts had to pick a side. “I’m a Mac, you’re a PC” was designed to create a wedge. Apple’s enemy was the boring computer that only geeks use.

DuckDuckGo has multiple enemies: it’s every web search provider that’s tracking people. Google search is their enemy, and so is Microsoft’s Bing, and so are all banners and cookie-popups prying on user data.

Are there people who’d still prefer Google’s customized search results? Of course there are. The antagonist needs to polarize and cause a debate. The rule of thumb when building a brand is: if you don’t have a strong opinion, you won’t have customers who care.

As the proverb says: reasons lead to conclusions, emotion leads to action.


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