On the Conflict and Tensions That Move Our Brands Forward



My favorite piece of fiction of all time is Frank Herbert’s, Dune. I love the depth of the lore, the commentary on politics; religion; and relationships, as well as the dynamic characters that weave in and out of the story.

I believe that Dune is to science fiction what The Lord of the Rings is to high fantasy. I truly believe that Herbert should be in the same conversation as Tolkein.


One thing that I think Herbert does exceptionally well is build tension. In Dune, he spends seventeen chapters in exposition, introducing his world; the politics; the intrigue; the religion and the language; even his style of writing that leans heavily on inner dialogue. He spends seventeen chapters setting the stage before the attack on Arrakeen, the capital of Arrakis and center of the Dune universe, launches the series on its fated journey.


The introduction of tension or conflict takes the exposition and introduces a knot that moves the protagonist (main character) out of his current stasis and situation and launches them into the unknown where they must figure out how to resolve the conflict and untie the knot. Along the way, they will grow and change, and those changes will inform the way they find the answer to their problem in the climax and ultimately enter a new stasis in the resolution.


The Four Types of Narrative Conflict


There are four main types of conflict that are introduced into stories: Man vs. Man - This is what people most often think of when they think of conflict. It’s Little Red Riding Hood vs. The Big Bad Wolf, Batman vs. The Joker, Frodo vs. Sauron, or Luke vs. Darth Vader. We also see variations of the man vs. man conflict in things such as man vs. the gods or something similar.


Man vs. Self - This is often a secondary conflict within a story, the struggle against our internal monologue, against our temptations, or against our fears and biases to name just a few. It is this internal conflict that most often leads to the changes necessary to unwind the knot presented by the external conflict.


Man vs. Nature - Nature is a cruel antagonist – cold, unbending, and ruthless. This type of conflict is often about man’s place in the universe and our perceived power over that which is unconquerable. A common variation of this is man vs. the supernatural which introduces magical or otherworldly elements. It often blends Nature and Man into one formidable enemy (antagonist).


Man vs. Machine - This conflict could be an actual machine, but it is the general term I use for any sort of created system, be it technological, political, or cultural. It is the man against the world narrative. In this conflict, there will probably be characters that push back against our protagonist, but they are only actors of a larger system in place that must be dealt with.


The Role of Conflict in Your Story-Driven Brand Development and Communications


So, what does this mean for your story-driven brand development? What does it mean for you nuts-and-bolts marketing strategies, advertising scripts, and relationships within your community?


Well, I’ll tell you, but only if you promise to really pay attention, because this is important.


The process of identifying the narrative conflict in your brand development is not the process of identifying the tension and conflict in your story. It’s all about identifying and articulating the tension and conflict in your customer’s story. Rule number one of marketing in an economy of attention is that nobody cares about you. They only care about what you can do for them. Your tension and conflict is centered on how well you can figure out how to solve what is keeping them up at night.

That’s it.


Once you identify what those conflicts are, once you can locate the tension knots that are keeping them from achieving what they want, you can build marketing strategies; advertising campaigns; and community focused work that will speak directly to the hearts and minds of your customers, clients, and top-tier prospects. And likewise, until you do, you are shooting arrows in the dark.


The fastest way to achieve your goals is by helping someone else achieve theirs.


As you begin to map this out into a strategy or bring someone in to help walk you through that process, remember that this is a very different approach to building your brand or developing your marketing and PR strategies than has been traditionally done. Sure, there are components of it that are similar, but at a foundational level, taking a story-driven approach means setting yourself up as the guide and solution, not the hero. Few companies will ever succeed by positioning themselves as Frodo Baggins or Katniss Everdeen. The real money and honor is to be had by being the Gandalfs and Haymitches of the world, or even more perhaps, the paths of Sam and Peeta.


Find the helpers, but more importantly, be a helper. See you all next week to talk about Rising Action.


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