Know thy enemy

I’m a great believer in brands having enemies. Here’s why. Enemies draw people of a common mind together. Enemies activate people to want to do something. Enemies provide a clear and present focus.

Your enemies are not competing brands. Well, not directly anyway. Your enemies are the ideas that compete with, or conflict with, your purpose – specifically, they are ideas that run contrary to what your brand believes in and aspires to.

An enemy could be another belief or an assumption. It could be an action or a way of working. It could be a state of the world. It could be a system. It could be an injustice or an intolerance. Whatever it is, it is something that your brand fundamentally opposes and want to change because your values dictate that it is necessary for you to do so.

Tom’s has an enemy: bare feet. A fundamental tenet of the Tom’s brand is that it is unacceptable for children not to have shoes. Apple has an enemy: mass produced boredom. As a brand that lauds individualism, Apple is appalled by anything that is unexciting enough to appeal to anyone. Google has an enemy: things that can’t be found. It runs against everything they are striving to achieve.

If you are clear about what you believe as a brand, you must also be clear about what you don’t believe and what you find unacceptable. The thing you as a branded culture collectively hate the most, and that everyone else around you seems to accept or even encourage, that’s your enemy. If you and all your competitors agree that something is unacceptable, that’s not an enemy, that’s a standard or a consensus or an industry opinion.

Differentiated brands have distinct enemies. Enemies that galvinise consumers because they too want to see an end to the thing you’ve declared war on. No other shoe company is as adamant about bare feet as Tom’s. No other computer company is as appalled by boring technology as Apple …

Give your people something exciting and inspiring to come to work for. And at the same time, give them something unforgiveable to work against.


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