Why your brand story must have a three-tier conflict structure

When it comes to customers' problems, are you aware there are three kinds? External, Internal, and Philosophical? Without a proper understanding of these, most brands end up providing partial solutions, thus failing to engage customers. A strong brand story addresses all three problems. How? By having a three-tiered conflict resolution model. This article will explain what it means.

When a customer buys a product, they hope to solve three levels of problems:

  • External.
  • Internal.
  • Philosophical.

Your brand should play the role of a guide who comes into a customer’s life, gives them a solution to combat these problems, and help them get what they want. 

Before we get to the definitions of each problem, let’s look at an indispensable element of a strong story: the villain.

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Every story needs a dastardly villain

In a story, a villain is always a dynamic counterforce to the hero’s presence. Storytellers use villains to give conflict a clear context. The stronger and dastardlier the villain, the more they generate sympathy for the hero, and it is the sure-shot formula for audience engagement.

Imagine how sympathetic a figure Robin Hood would be without the Sheriff of Nottingham, Captain America without the Red Skull, and Doctor Strange without Kaecilius.

​​What does a villain have to do with a brand story?

A brand story is no different from the enduring allure of a formulaic story. The villain in your brand story is an obstruction between your customer and their wants. 

A villain need not be a person but must exhibit personified characteristics. We see it in television commercials: hairballs speaking in a harsh voice in your drains, yellow lumps of evil plaque gleefully destroying teeth, or dandruff flakes having a party on your scalp. These are all personified versions of conflict, and they’re all villains.

The most effective way to engage your customer is to position your products and services as weapons they can use to defeat a villain.

You must read the article, How to cut the noise and clutter to clarify your brand message.

Characteristics of a good villain

As your brand story speaks about villains you will help your consumers to destroy, they will become more interested in your tools. To make your story compelling, adhere to the following four characteristics of a villain:

  • The villain should be the source of the problem. For example, frustration is not a villain; frustration is how we are made to feel by a villain.
  • The villain should be relatable to the audience. As soon as people hear you talk about the villain, they should recognize it as something they dislike.
  • The villain should be singular. One villain is enough; a story with too many villains falls apart for lack of clarity.
  • The villain should be a real threat. Don’t be a fearmonger, and it’s not hard to find real villains out there. For your customers’ sake, go after them.

Three-tiered conflict model

The villain creates severe problems for the hero. That’s obvious. What’s less obvious is that multiple issues work together in a story to capture the audience’s attention, and we need to understand each of them to craft an engaging story.

As mentioned earlier, the three types of problems heroes (and customers) face are external, internal, and philosophical. 

In a story, a villain creates an external situation that causes a character to experience internal frustration that is philosophically incorrect. Similarly, your customer faces similar conflicts and purchases your products to solve them.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these problems so you know exactly which of your customer’s frustrations to discuss as you clarify your message.

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External Problems

The villain’s role in stories is to create barriers between the hero and the stability they crave. However, ill intentions alone aren’t enough, and something must represent this barrier. Here comes the “external problem.”

The external problem in a story is usually a substantial obstacle the hero has to overcome. For example, in Doctor Strange movie, Dr. Strange’s external problem is Kaecilius’s activities that pose a significant risk to humanity. In the movie Revenant, Hugh Glass’s external problem is the environmental odds that challenge his survival to avenge Fitzgerald, who killed his son ruthlessly.

What does an external problem in a story have to do with branding? 

We are primarily in the business of solving external problems. For example, perfumes help eliminate unwanted body odor, a personal car solves the inconveniences of using public commutes, and an air conditioner solves the problem of unbearable heat and humidity in our homes.

The easiest part of creating your brand story is brainstorming the external problems you can solve. Most of the time, it’s pretty obvious. But you’d be mistaken if you thought people call you, walk through your door, or visit your website to solve their external problems. There is another issue at play.

Internal Problems

In a story, external problems manifest internal problems.  

Storytelling teaches us that people’s internal desire to resolve frustrations is a greater motivation than their desire to solve external problems. Most brands make the critical mistake of failing to engage the deeper story their customers are living by assuming they only want to resolve external problems.

Storytellers and screenwriters produce compelling stories by creating a backstory of frustration in the hero’s life as a result of external factors. In the movie Doctor Strange, Dr. Strange doubts whether he should go beyond Nature’s rule to make things right in the present, which might have consequences later. In the movie Revenant, Hugh Glass’s internal problem is the fear of dying before being able to kill Fitzgerald, and this fear pushes him to the end. 

It is almost universal for the hero to struggle with the question: ‘Am I capable of succeeding?’ The question can leave them frustrated, feeling incompetent, and confused. The sense of self-doubt makes a political movie relatable to a housewife and a romantic comedy to a police officer. 

Like in a story, those frustrations motivate your customers to engage you because the external problems are frustrating them, and they hope you will solve them.

It took Steve Jobs a while to understand that people were intimidated by computers and wanted technology to be more user-friendly (an internal problem). Apple did not find its footing until this was resolved.

Apple’s iconic marketing campaign featured a simple, hip, fun character who enjoyed taking photos, listening to music, and writing books next to a tech nerd who focused on the operating system’s inner workings. The campaign positioned the company as a technology expert who helped consumers enjoy life and express themselves. It identified the internal problem – the feeling of intimidation most people had about computers – and resolved it.

It was a crucial factor in Apple’s tremendous growth and ability to enjoy passionate brand evangelists.

As you position yourself more deeply into the narrative of your customers, you can establish a deeper connection with them. For example, if you are a perfume manufacturing company, your customer’s external problem may be the embarrassment caused due to body odor. The internal problem, however, may be their failure to impress a girl. With this insight, your marketing could entice them with perfumes to win woman’s love.

For customers to buy from you, they must be frustrated by the external problem that only you can solve. A remarkable thing happens when you can identify that frustration, put it into words, and resolve it.

Philosophical Problems

In most stories, there is a philosophical problem underpinning the story, which is larger than the story itself. What drives us to do something? What is the significance of this story in the epic of humanity? For example, in the movie Revenant, is Hugh Glass’ quest to avenge his son’s death necessary? Yes, because justice must prevail. Why should Doctor Strange stop Kaecilius? Because good must win over evil. 

When discussing a philosophical problem, ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ are the best terms. ‘Bad people shouldn’t win’ or ‘The rights of people should be respected.’ The same is valid with brand stories. For example, in the brand story of Tesla Motor Cars, the philosophical problem is ‘the environment should be protected, and with Nike, ‘the world should move forward’.

Engage with people's minds and hearts

A good brand story resolves a customer’s external, internal, and philosophical problems. It engages with people’s minds and hearts, onboards them and generates a meaningful and measurable difference in the company’s bottom line.

You can do this with your comms team or engage an agency adept at telling brand stories that boost success, heighten company profiles, and take organizations to new heights.

We can help you develop a brand story, message, storytelling, and buyer personas, build personalized marketing strategies and create strategic content.

You must read the article, Does your brand story address the question: What’s at stake?

Contact us to learn more.

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