The Villain is the Hero of Your Story

What do Star Wars, Silence of the Lambs and The Dark Knight have in common?




Well yes, they all were huge Box Office hits. But they also have a larger than life Villain.

Who can ever forget Darth Vader? Hannibal Lecter or Heath Ledger’s haunting version of the Joker?

These archetypal villains stay with us for years after and send a chill down our spine whenever we see them. In an action-adventure movie, usually in the first few minutes, we meet the Villain or a villainous act they have perpetrated – a murder/kidnapping/bombing etc. This initial encounter keeps us glued to our seats, clinging to our popcorn or the arm of our loved one and leaves us breathless till the very end. Even though we know there will be a “Happy Ending” this Villain leaves us questioning that it will actually happen…

Now imagine that these villains didn’t exist… What would these movies be? Sappy Dramas with semi-shallow characters that are nice to look at, but pretty dull.

The Villain is actually the Hero of these movies. They drive the action, they make the so-called Hero or Heroine look great, they cause the conflict.

Is There a Villain in your Story?

I’ve met hundreds of companies over the years, working on their sales or fundraising materials and as we sit down and I say “So tell me about yourself,” (Typical first date line ☺) almost every time they start telling me about their product/solution/technology, why it’s great, why it will change the world and launch into details of the technology. I sit there smiling politely, stifling a yawn and an inner scream of “Why should I care???” I was being paid to listen to them and make their story better – but what about all the poor investors/customers/partners that had to listen to their ramblings?

Here’s a revelation –
NOBODY CARES ABOUT OUR PRODUCT/SOLUTION/TECHNOLOGY – unless we can first prove that they need it in their lives.

People are motivated by 2 things:

  1. To avoid something bad happening
  2. To make something good happen

It’s the carrot vs. the stick. So when telling your story, try hitting them where it hurts – on their “Villain.” They will be so anxious for a solution that you will be their new “Hero.”

Let’s look at a few “Unicorn” companies (companies valued at over $1B) that have completely disrupted the way we do things – and see their Villain/Hero story. (Disclaimer – this is my spin on their story – how I would tell it. This is not representative of their actual messages).

Uber –

  • Just the Solution – Order a driver from your phone, be picked up and pay in one place
  • Starting with the Villain – You know how when you need a taxi there’s never one around? And when you call for one, how long will it really take for them to get you? And what if you don’t have enough cash or the driver can’t make change? Uber lets you order a taxi from your phone in a click, track your driver to know exactly when they’ll arrive and pay automatically from the app.

AirBnb –

  • Just the Solution – Rent your house out to a virtual stranger/stay in the home of a virtual stranger on your next vacation
  • Starting with the Villain – We love vacations but man, those hotel rates are insane! Between air travel and lodging – what are you left with to spend on entertainment and attractions? With AirBnb, stay like a local, live in beautiful apartments or houses at much better rates than a hotel and use the money you save to really experience the town. And while you’re away – why not Airbnb your home and make some extra cash for your vacation?

Instacart –

  • Just the Solution – Shop from your phone and get your groceries delivered
  • Starting with the Villain – Long day at work, the last thing you need is to spend another hour grocery shopping and in line to check out. Wouldn’t you rather be home enjoying time with your loved ones? Let Instacart do it for you! Grocery shop at your favorite local store from the convenience of our app, choose items, pay and in less than an hour we’ll deliver it, perfectly packaged to your door. Because time is money!

Do you feel the difference between just selling the solution and the little “empathy” talk before? If you were hearing of these services for the first time, what would be more persuasive to you?

So here’s a little Villain exercise for you:

  1. Identify your Audience – Who are you speaking to/selling to/ attempting to persuade?
  2. Take a Walk in their Shoes – Imagine, what is the biggest pain in their life? Try to feel it, get a sense of it and really empathize.
  3. Show them you “Get it” – Find a way to illustrate their Villain:
  • Personal Story – showing that you really understand the situation – this works great with investors (i.e. We went on vacation last Summer and we realized that we had spent over half of our budget on hotel rooms…)
  • “As if” Situation – like I did for the 3 above
  • Case Study – complete with persuasive numbers (i.e. Did you know that people spend 65% of their vacation budget on hotels…)
  • Try a few different Villain stories and test which works best.
  • Wait for the “Nod” – If you have a good Villain story, you should be seeing nods of agreement in the room – they’re thinking “Oh yeah that happened to me/to my wife/husband/neighbor/cat. The “Nod” is great because you have their implicit agreement and they’re now ready to hear about your solution
  • Your Hero – Now describe the solution – the Hero who will defeat their Villain – in simple, understandable terms. You want more nods! Show them how it works and how it has benefited others like them.
  • I can’t ensure you that this will always sell or persuade, but you increase your chances manifold by starting from what they need. And please do try this at home – it works great persuading spouses or kids to do household chores 😉 Let me know how it works for you!



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