By Lenora Rand
One thing you may not know about me is that I'm a preacher’s kid. (And, yes, I’ve heard all the PK jokes.)
I was brought up to be kind, not to punch people who were mean and nasty in the face. Even if I thought they deserved it. I was taught Jesus's words: “Love your enemy.”
But I also got it… that those words presupposed there would be enemies. There would be individuals and groups and whole countries doing things that were not right. That needed to be named. Called out. Stood up to.
Enemies we needed to fight against…in a “loving” way. (Which isn’t easy, of course …and that’s a conversation for another day.)
These days, doing branding and marketing in SmallGood, my co-founder and partner Mylene and I have found while working with nonprofits, social enterprises and purpose-driven for-profit companies, that naming what you’re against is crucial to understanding what you’re really for. It’s crucial because it makes your real purpose in the world, your real meaning for the world, much more specific and clear.
So, one thing we ask almost every organization we work with to do is to name their enemy.
Kelly Sekkema on Unsplash
And one of the things that happens every time we ask this question is, we get a lot of push back. People usually look at us strangely and say, “We don’t have enemies…we’re not THAT way.”
Of course, you aren’t. You’re the good guys. On a mission to make the world a better place.
First of all… this response? It’s why we like you. It’s exactly the right pushback. There’s too much division in our world, too much Us vs Them-ing going on. Too much hatred and labeling and marginalizing.
Yes. You could even say that creating enemies is the… enemy.
But let me explain. We’re not asking you to target a neighbor, cancel a politician, or inform half of your Facebook followers that they are officially "out.”
Stephan Cosma on Unsplash
In our years of helping brands figure out who they want to be in the world, from mission statement to marketing strategy, we’ve found one clarifying, focussing truth often makes all the difference between marketing that inspires, and marketing that just adds to the noise.
We’ve also discovered, if you want to create better marketing (and who doesn’t?) having tons of money to spend and a gigantic marketing agency behind you isn’t what you need the most. (Though it doesn’t hurt, of course!) The reality is, you can make a noticeable difference in how your organization communicates about itself and shows up in the world if you simply know what you’re against.
To be clear, your enemy doesn’t need to be (probably shouldn’t be) a person. Are you a nonprofit on a mission to provide support services for children in crisis? Perhaps your enemy is Systemic Apathy. An organization dedicated to empowering women in business? Maybe your enemy is Rampant Patriarchal Bias. Looking to inspire consumers to invest in a more environmentally sustainable way to do the laundry? Your enemy might be, quite literally, the End of the World.
So, why does identifying an enemy make a difference? Here are three reasons.
1. Because an enemy creates energizing tension.
Having an enemy gets us good and fired up, ready to spring into specific action. Identifying a villain, something you believe is actively causing harm, functions like a call to action for you and your team. Knowing your enemy means knowing the problem you need to fix. And the more passionately you’re opposed to your enemy, the more passionate and clear you’ll be about the good you’ve set out to do.
Mateus Waclawek on Unspalsh
2. Because an enemy makes you “unboring.”
Often, brands make the mistake of staying too neutral. It usually comes from a good and well-meaning place. No one wants to be offensive. No one wants to alienate a potential client, customer, or partner. It feels safer to keep things a bit vague and vanilla.
You know that old adage “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything?” I think in marketing that means: “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall through the cracks.” Being specific about who you are as an organization, what you want to change in the world, and what you absolutely won’t stand for, helps you stand out. And not blend in with every other brand on the block.
No, we don't recommend you call out that enemy on your website or social media. But if you know what you’re fighting against, the potential clients, customers, and donors who discover you in all these places will be able to feel that passion. And people want to be part of passion-driven change.
Emre Can Acer on Pexels
3. Because an enemy keeps us going when things get tough.
It’s easy to lose sight of purpose, especially in the slog of content creation, trying to grow your mailing list or understanding what TikTok is and if/when/how you should be using it. Having a clearly-written enemy description that makes you want to grab your microphone and sing along with that Bernice Johnson Reagon song, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes…” can help turn a long, hard task into an act of defiant joy. Naming the enemy can point you back to your why when you need it most.
Naming your enemy is one of the tasks we work on with clients in every one of our Brand Resonator Workshops, which is one of the inputs we use for crafting a brand’s narrative. And it always seems to help…we’ve found it to be one of the most powerful first steps you can take toward creating a brand narrative that inspires you. And when your narrative inspires YOU, it’s a lot more likely to inspire others.
Does the thought of naming an enemy feel uncomfortable for you? You’re not alone - it feels kind of icky to me too.
But the truth is, the good we want to see in the world doesn’t happen without people who are willing to do some uncomfortable things sometimes.
And, as the Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn has written, "Nothing worth having comes without a fight. Got to kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight.."
Oladimeji Odunsi on Unsplash
By the way, if you’d like some help discovering your enemy and defining your deep meaning in and for the world so you can begin to clearly express that, BE that… we’d love to help. Because our brand enemy is “Superficial, Meaningless Communications."
You probably could have guessed that though.