Conflict. To make your marketing much more interesting, add conflict

I write about strategies to turn fans into customers and customers into fans. I also share ways to use real-time strategies to spread ideas, influence minds, and build business.

Viral Marketing  |  Case Studies  |  writing  |  Marketing

I was fortunate to have taken a bunch of fiction writing classes and spent a lot of time writing fiction prior to starting this blog and writing books about marketing.

Something you learn very early in creative writing classes are the various elements of the craft like plot, dialog, characters, setting, and the like. But what I always recall as being a particularly important element in fiction is conflict.

According to Wikipedia, conflict is "a state of discord caused by the actual or perceived opposition of needs, values and interests. A conflict can be internal (within oneself) or external (between two or more individuals). Conflict as a concept can help explain many aspects of social life such as social disagreement, conflicts of interests, and fights between individuals, groups, or organizations."

My first book, Eyeball Wars, was a thriller. There was conflict on virtually every page.

Think about it. At a fundamental level all film and all fiction is really just about conflict. Usually it is one character in conflict with others (Batman against the bad guys). Sometimes it is a character in conflict with himself (I really shouldn't go into this bar, but…).

One writing teacher told me "writing without conflict is propaganda."

Here is a classic conflict driven plot line of countless books and movies:
Boy meets girl.
They fall in love.
Boy loses girl.
Boy (and sometimes girl) are miserable for most of the action.
They finally get back together
They get married.

The conflict involved was how and why they broke up and then what they did to get back together.

But how interesting would a book or movie be that had this plot:
Boy meets girl.
They fall in love.
They get married.

Yuk. How boring! This is propaganda.

This sort of propaganda is how most marketing is organized. I see tons of this stuff: "Here’s our product. It is great. Here are customers who say it is great. Now buy some of our product." Sadly, this classic propaganda-driven marketing crap is everywhere.

Think about your own marketing, How can you introduce some conflict into your work? How can you make it interesting?

Have you seen the Budweiser Clydesdale spot that originally ran during the Super Bowl (I don’t remember what year)? It’s the one with Hank the Clydesdale. I've seen it running on NBC during the Olympics this week. This ad is great because it introduces conflict. Hank doesn’t make the team. He's dejected. He works to become stronger. And then he's successful the next season.

How interesting would the same spot be with all the existing elements of cuteness and location in place, but with one change? What if Hank made the team the first try? (I think it would be dreadfully boring!)

In my most recent ebook The New Rules of Viral Marketing: How word-of-mouse spreads your ideas for free I introduced conflict in the opening paragraphs. Perhaps that's why this ebook has been shared by so many people, resulting in a quarter of a million downloads. This is how I open:

"Imagine you're the head of marketing at a theme park, and you're charged with announcing a major new attraction. What would you do?

Well, the old rules of marketing suggest that you pull out your wallet. You'd probably spend millions to buy your way into people’s minds, interrupting them with TV spots, billboards by the side of the highway, and other "creative" Madison Avenue advertising techniques. You'd also hire a big PR agency, who would beg the media to write about your attraction. The traditional PR approach requires a self-congratulatory press release replete with company muckety-mucks claiming that the new attraction will bring about world peace by bringing families closer together.

That's not what Cindy Gordon, vice president of new media and marketing partnerships at Universal Orlando Resort, did when she launched The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Other large entertainment companies would have spent millions of dollars to interrupt everyone in the country with old-rules approaches: Super Bowl TV ads, blimps, direct mail, and magazine ads. Instead, Gordon told just seven people about the new attraction."

By using conflict, I introduce what Cindy Gordon could have done. I show what was expected, and then in a twist she does something completely unexpected. (Read the ebook for the rest of the story.) It was the element of conflict that made this story in the ebook great.

Conflict. It's an important, yet overlooked aspect of all good marketing.

How can you add conflict to your marketing? Got any good examples you want to share?