Tuesday 2¢: The Villain in Your B2B Brand Story

This week I am inspired by Robert Rose and his advice that you need to find the villain in your brand story, as every great story has a villain. And that got me thinking – who is the villain in B2B Marketing and as marketers, how can we help fight them?


In a recent blog post, content marketing guru Robert Rose shared that every great story has a great villain, not always a person, not even always evil. It might be a mountain that has to be climbed or a shark that must be battled, something that you could describe as the resistance that’s preventing the hero from reaching the goal.

Robert puts that into the context of brand story telling, that we need to add a villain, it makes our brand story more interesting, more compelling and relevant.

Picking up from Robert’s post and applying it to the experience I have (predominantly with B2B software companies) , in this post I try and apply this to this industry.

(Oh and besides reading the article Robert also covers this on his new podcast)

Who’s the villain?

As Robert says, many B2B leaders believe that their biggest competitor is the villain in their story.

Thinking your competitor is the villain is slightly narrow focused, as Levitt shared in Marketing Myopia in 1960; the railway companies in America thought their nemesis was other railway companies, but of course they weren’t it was the highway and the car that were the villains that led to their decline.

The dreaded do nothing

Each organization needs to find its own villain, but to generalize – I would say that the villain for them is the dreaded “do nothing”.

How often do we hear from our sales teams that a promising opportunity withered on the vine of client inactivity? And that doesn’t include all the buyers that could benefit from a solution, but don’t start along the road in the first place and never met the sales guy. 

This is especially true if your solution is a new idea, requires doing things differently in the organization or migration from a “its-not-that-bad” incumbent solution. The kind of thing that sets of the immune system of an organization as it protects itself from the perceived risk of change and your buyer or sponsor eventually gets worn down by the resistance. 

The cruel truth of course is that the solution did not matter enough to the buyer or the organization to beat the resistance, to give it the time, effort or budget. They didn’t care.

Some of this, of course sits with sales not detecting that “do nothing” could always have been on the cards for this opportunity. All that basic qualifying sales stuff about finding a compelling event, having access to power and ensuring there is budget, which if missed could lead the deal winding up in the “do nothing” bin. But, what, as content marketers can we do to help combat this villain?

The villain is not “do nothing”, it’s much worse

The challenge is that doing nothing seems safe, there is not immediate pain, the benefit for change is tomorrow, not now. 

As content marketers we need to discover what could be the consequence of doing nothing. Who or what is the real villain? What could our hero (the buyer) lose in this story? What could happen to them and their company if they did nothing? What does that world look like?

Appeal to their basic needs

Pick almost any B2B software companies website and what does the homepage headline say? 

We are the leading provider of XYZ 

..or the derivative:

Gartner/Forrester says we are the leading provider of XYZ

The opening line to this brand story is about the vendor, not the prospective buyer. 

Reading this, the buyer who should be the hero, has to insert themselves into the story. They have to connect the vendor claim of leading XYZ with their pain, uncertainty, aspirations or needs. Choosing an enterprise software product can be career defining. 

Your portrayal of the villain has to prey on these basic needs, how do you portray the villain as more scary than the perceived safety of “do nothing”. How is a decision better than no decision? How do you connect being the leading vendor with these fears?

Make it real

Maybe it’s a simple ROI or something you can find in your case studies, if ACME Industries saw a $6m cost saving over 3 years in optimizing their online images of anvils – then doing nothing is costing our hero approximately $40k a week… the super scary villain is the lost dollars of inefficiency. 

Heroes and villains

Once we have defined the challenge, the resistance, this dreadful end game which is our buyers nemesis, we need to arm our hero. How do we help them overcome this?

Our solution now becomes incredibly relevant to them, it’s an important weapon for slaying the villain.

They have to do something.

They have to care enough to beat the resistance.

 The “do nothing” nemesis is slain. 


If you are not familiar with Robert Rose, he’s a best selling author on content marketing, I worked with him back in 2012 and he got me turned onto the content marketing craft, shortly after releasing his first book (which is never far from my desk) and if you are regular follower of mine you’ve probably noticed, I’ve been a bit of a fan boy ever since.