The Secret to Every Good Story Is a Bad Villain: Part II

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In my last post, I talked about why your story needs a good villain. About why you need tension, and conflict, and a reason for your clients and prospects to cheer for you.

Now I want to share two examples of relevant, real-world companies with stories that feature great villains.

First: Advisor Group. It’s one of the largest networks of independent financial advisors. They recently revamped their entire brand strategy with a new website, logo, social media campaign, advertising—everything. They also launched a new brand campaign called “Moments,” which features real-life client photos of events like a wedding anniversary, a father/son fishing trip, coloring time with grandkids—all moments made possible by sound financial planning. Their new tagline celebrates the impact that advisors make on their clients’ lives, and pledges the firm’s complete loyalty and support. The tagline reads: “In Your Corner.”

Did you spot the unspoken villain?

Here’s a clue. Notice the defiant tone of the tagline: “In Your Corner.” Who’s in the opposing corner? Who are they up against? Why, the villain, of course. That villain is the state of the industry today. Right now, advisors are struggling to find their way in a fragmented market with serious regulatory and pricing uncertainty. The whole industry has been gearing up for the fiduciary rule even as the ground shifts beneath its feet. Advisor Group’s story is all about overcoming uncertainty with courage and boldness and confidence. Their brand strategy says: “We still believe in you—we still believe in this model—because of everything you make possible for your clients.”

Advisor Group did not choose to play it safe or pretend everything is awesome. It acknowledges the threat to advisors is real and promises to help them fight back. In fact, the tagline—”In Your Corner”—comes from boxing. They’re literally fighting words.

And those words are backed up by actions.  As part of the brand revamp, Advisor Group made serious investments in lower pricing, a revamped platform, new educational tools, and more. They’re muscled up for the fight.

You can see why advisors cheer for them. They’re going to the mat against an extremely dangerous villain. They’re true heroes!

A second example: wealth management firm Halbert Hargrove. Their tagline is, “Serving the quietly wealthy.” They work with business owners, managers and professionals—millionaire-next-door types who earned their money through years of hard work. Check out their home page message:

It’s still true:
Hard work,
perseverance
and good advice
still pay off.

Notice how the word “still” appears twice in the same sentence. That choice was intentional, I’m sure; not a typo.

The villain in this story is defeatism—growing anger and sadness that, after years of sweat, saving and self-denial, these people were about to watch their retirement dreams slip through their fingers. Their kids would squander their legacy. Healthcare costs would eat up their savings. Volatility would wash away their hard-earned wealth, while some fourteen-year-old kid with an app became a billionaire.

Halbert Hargrove confronts this defeatism directly. “No. Don’t listen to what other people say. Your hard work really will pay off. You will get what you deserve.” It’s a powerful, emotionally engaging story.

I want to point out, a nasty villain won’t make your story sound negative or pessimistic. Far from it. Both Advisor Group and Halbert Hargrove keep their tone uplifting, optimistic and confident. Nor do you have to beat people over the head to scare them. In fact, villains can be more frightening if they’re just out of your field of vision, like the monster in Alien or the shark in Jaws. You just have to know the villain is out there.

Does your story have a good villain? If not, it’s probably falling flat. You need to make bold storytelling choices if you want to stand out. Don’t try to tone things down, smooth things out, or turn everything that could possibly sound controversial into inoffensive mush. The scarier your villain, the greater a hero you will be when you kick its butt.