Suddenly Marketing

Brand Messaging | Content Strategy | Writing

Get mad: marketing from your dark side

Do what you love.

Follow your passion.

Lead with your heart.

I have more Pollyanna DNA than most, but this tired advice has always felt a little empty to me, a little one-dimensional. After all, life isn’t just rainbows and unicorns. Life has a dark side. The trick is learning to access that dark side for good instead of evil.


No one is a hero without a villain.  Click to tweet. 

Your brand is what you stand for. It embodies the things you want to be known for – speed, agility, creativity, beauty, progress, simplicity, the lowest price in town, etc. What so many people forget, however, is that the best brands also stand against something.

What is the opposing force that your brand is poised to fight? What war cry would your brand scream charging into battle? What sends you into apoplectic fits of rage and indignation? What injustice are you determined to undo? What piece of insanity do you want to wipe from the face of this Earth?

Everyone – even the sweetest, most mild-mannered of us – fights an enemy. What enemy are you fighting?


The villain isn’t a “who,” it’s a “what.”

Be careful not to confuse your enemy with the competition. They are not the same.

Your competitors are actually your allies, battling beside you against a common enemy. You compete against each other for the loyalty of your shared audience, but at the end of the day you’re fighting the same fight.

Your enemy is much bigger than your competitors. Your enemy isn’t a “who,” it’s an idea or a situation or a philosophy. It’s a way of life, the status quo, a lack of something, or too much of something else. It’s the thing that makes you want to write a proverbial letter to the editor each time you encounter it. It inspires you to get up on your soapbox and preach your personal gospel to the world.


The villain helps define the hero.

Without an opposing force, a hero is just a person who is going through the motions.

Without an opposing force, there is no fire in the hero’s soul. There is no sense of greater purpose, no fierce commitment, no do-or-die mission.

Without an opposing force, we never get to see what the hero can really do.

Like it or not, your enemy is a big part of who you are and why you are.

  • Who is Luke without Darth Vader?
  • Who is Frodo without the Dark Lord?
  • Who is Buffy without vampires?
  • Who is Erin Brokovitch without corporate corruption?
  • Who is Katniss Everdeen without the Captial?
  • Who is Liz Lemon without Jack Donaghy?

You get the idea.

What idea or status quo is your brand pitted against?


The battle brings critical conflict to your story.

You know that marketing with story is a powerful technique, but do you know what makes a story a story?


No conflict, no story.

If you haven’t identified and called out your enemy, your story lacks conflict. It will fall flat, failing to pique the interest of your audience, never mind inspire them to loyalty or incite them to action.

When you get clear about the nature of your enemy, you get clear about the war you’re fighting. You know what your battle cry should be. You can make a strong stand not only for something, but against something else.

This is important.


Do what you love, but know why you love it.  Click to tweet. 

Love does not exist in a vacuum.

  • I love being out in the quiet of the woods because it provides me with an enlightening escape from the overwhelming, multi-tasking world of my computer.
  • I love beautiful art because it strikes a blow against the boring and overly utilitarian.
  • I love simple, well-designed apps because they help me wrangle and manage the chaos of my life.
  • I love second-hand clothes because they help me express my individuality amidst the sea of mass-manufactured clone-clothes that hit the chain stores each season.


  • Quiet vs. Noise
  • Beauty vs. Blah
  • Simplicity vs. Complexity
  • Individuality vs. Mass Market

Like love, your brand exists in the context of what you’re passionate about and what makes you passionately crazy. They say necessity is the mother of invention, but being ticked off about something is often what drives someone to build a better mousetrap.


When you are working on your branding, don’t forget to look the dark side in the eye. Know your enemy. Name it. Call it out. Rally your troops and wage your battle. Get mad and then get even. Accept both the loving and angry sides of your passion – when you have both working for you, you will be unstoppable.


Can you name your enemy? What is your battle cry? How does the dark side of your passion – your anger – help define your brand in a positive way?

Image Credit: matthijs


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  1. I’ve been following my passion for many years and it’s not always been easy. There is definitely a dark side to my passion for helping people and the silent retreats that I go to once or twice a year are my way of dealing with that ‘enemy’.

    Great post Jamie!

    • Jamie Lee

      I am fascinated by your silent retreats, Sandi. Tough to do a home-based one with an 8 yr-old running amuck (though, wouldn’t THAT be amazing!), but maybe I’ll get up my nerve and try a quick one outside the home.

      I can definitely sense that you are ready and willing to do battle with the dark side that confronts your passion. I wouldn’t want to mess with you! 😉

      Thanks for coming by. So glad you enjoyed the post. :)

      PS – And – yes – Liz Lemon rocks! :)

      • I’m heading out today for 5 glorious days of silence at a lodge on top of a hill overlooking the ocean, forest and mountains. This is my secret weapon 😉

        And that would be a totally cool experiment to try with your 8 year old! You might be surprised by what happens!

        • Jamie Lee

          I just might try that experiment, Sandi. She’s very into sign language (which probably violates the no communication part of a silent retreat), but at least she could be quiet! 😉

          Enjoy your retreat. I look forward to hearing about what it brings when you return. Travel safe!

  2. Jamie,

    This is a fabulous post clearly showing why it’s so very important for your brand to have a story (and as you point out, what is a story without conflict?)

    Well done.


    • Jamie Lee

      Thank you, Wendy! I feel like I just got a hug. :)

      I have to admit, I’m reveling a bit in the way that marketing and storytelling overlap. You hear the lip service all the time “market with stories,” but when you start digging into exactly how to do that – it’s pretty darn interesting.

      Hope you’re getting some writing time in!

  3. Jamie,

    I love this post! It really makes the ideas of conflict, storytelling and marketing — and how they all intertwine — make sense. Even more than that, this post is reminding me of how I came to name my business the “Honest Marketing Revolution.” We do have a common enemy: manipulative, fear-based marketing. In my not-at-all-humble opinion, it is that type of marketing that makes fabulous, intelligent and compassionate entrepreneurs come to hate marketing.

    I’ve been neglecting the angry side of my passion, but it is an essential part of what I do. So, I’m off to bring a bit of that dark passion to bear on my work! And to find the ever-flowing mix that works for me.

    Thank you, my friend! I am always learning from you!



    • Jamie Lee

      Hello, Erica!

      I have NO doubt that you will be able to clearly identify and harness your dark side for the good of the people you serve. 😉

      It’s all about knowing your enemy, right? How can you prevail against the opposition if you’re not even sure what you’re up against? Getting a clear understanding of what you are trying to beat/undo/change … that’s at least as important as knowing what you are trying to create/do/protect.

      They are two sides of the same coin, as the saying goes.

      Thanks, as always, for coming by. See you soon!

  4. Great post Jamie – I loved looking at my passion in my business from both sides!

    Here is what I am battling AGAINST!

    Young women living joyless lives on auto-pilot, full of shoulds, and totally out of balance!

    I stand FOR:

    JOY, intuition, doing what you LOVE, and creating balance with the mind, body, and soul!

    • Jamie Lee

      That is a worthy battle, Sabrina! I will stand by your side against that foe any time!

      Thanks for coming by. You always add a ray of sunshine.

  5. Laura

    The dark side looms! Definitely all the “stuff” that gets in the way of saying what you want to say! My passion is a social project I have blueprints for. I’m working on other projects that will lead to that. The enemy is time – the time it will take to get to that point where I can get that ball rolling because writing, marketing is a process that takes commitment. On the days when I feel like I’m standing still, defeat is the dark side.
    There ARE days I hang my head or get mad thinking I’m not as close to my goal(s) as I should be. But I try not to perseverate on the negative and try to remind myself of what I’m passionate about, what I’ve already accomplished. Be gone- defeatist villan!

    • Jamie Lee

      You bring up a great point, Laura, and it’s something of a secret weapon – reminding ourselves about everything we’ve already accomplished.

      So often, we just shuffle the things we’ve accomplished under the rug. We diminish them, take them for granted, and figure they are no big deal.

      But, they ARE a big deal. A HUGE deal.

      It’s so important to celebrate even the small victories – look back at what we’ve done and pat ourselves on the back. That gives us more energy to move forward.

      Never accept defeat. 😉

  6. My enemy is bad design.

    That may be too broad an enemy but it exists everywhere from writing, web, space, place, process and on. So, I wage war against it with every fabric of my being. It is a ubiquitous foe that permeates all that we do and if left ungraded spreads without cause.

    Death to bad design. Snarl….

    • Jamie Lee

      I love how quickly and confidently you are able to name your enemy, Ralph. That’s awesome. You have picked your battle and you’re ready to fight it. Nice going!


      • Ha! Yeah, that was an easy one. Instead of ungraded I did mean to say unguarded but i suppose you go the point. Now off i go to fight with my own bad design. Cheers and have a great day.

  7. Loved this post. Very much true, best example are gyms, fighting against fat and all that’s bad. Basically no one likes to go to the gym but they go because they hate what the gym rises against. Kind of like my enemy’s enemy is my friend. : )

    • Jamie Lee

      “… my enemy’s enemy is my friend.”
      You nailed it.

      That’s a big part of why defining your enemy can be such a powerful tool. It aligns you with your audience, rallying you together behind a common cause, a shared quest.

      Couldn’t have said it better myself. Thanks for the great addition!!

  8. Hi Jamie,

    I like what Ralph said and feel the same way, but with this blogging venture I’m fighting against something else too … and that is the malaise that sets in and grabs hold of so many people. It’s not just a feeling of unease, but a life that becomes plodding and unfulfilled in so many ways. Like I wrote in that post, you don’t have to jump 24 miles to earth like “Fearless” Felix, Good God NO! But just challenging (um scaring) yourself a little each day can lead to big things and a more fulfilling life. Fo sho!

    • Jamie Lee

      Only by pushing past fear and doubt can we grow into our highest potential. If we’re not scared, we’re not putting ourselves out there enough. Life isn’t about staying safe. It’s about taking those risks that will help you evolve.

      Totally with you!

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