Why Your Business Needs Enemies: The Bigger, The Better

Don't beat yourself up 2019 people. I'm giving you permission to say it's ok to have enemies in business. Why? Because enemies energise you to become better so you can beat them. Not having enemies would make your life boring and meaningless. Who else will you compare your performance against if you didn't have enemies? Enemies fuel emotion, they muster motivation and they keep you on track so if you don't have one, got get one.

All the big brands have enemies and it's always offered very entertaining viewing: Coke vs. Pepsi, Avis vs Hertz, Mac vs PC, Virgin vs British AirwaysSamsung vs Apple (who were rumoured to deliver their $1m fine in $1 dollar pieces), Moa vs Tui, Vodafone vs. Spark, Ford vs Holden or Mitre10 vs Bunnings.

Some stupid business people advise other business people to ignore their competitors and "focus on your own game instead". Stop this and your own PC bullshit.

If you deny you have enemies, you're denying you don't have competitors which is ridiculous. Every business has competitors. And every business wants the sale.

Because your market place of prospects is looking at your competitors each and every day, you need to too.

You need to keep track of them and monitor their movements:

  • Who are they connecting with?

  • What are they showing an interest in?

  • What keywords are they using?

  • What channels do they use most?

  • Which type of customers are they targeting?

  • Who are they partnering with?

  • Who are they hiring? Who are they firing?

  • What new products are they creating?

Their actions signal their intentions. Where they invest their time, like people, tells you a lot of what you need to know. Don't listen to their talk, watch their walk.

As the saying goes: keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.

You need to keep on your toes. If you don't keep an astute eye on your competitors, you're walking blind into a gun alley fight like this bloke:

The lesson? If you're going to compete, don't take a sword to a gunfight (although the pen can be mightier than the sword. Just ask Jeremy Clarkson on his views on the Vauxhall Astra, the late A A Gill on Wales or John Oliver's on-going taunts of Trump).

Martin Linstrom’s brilliant book BrandSense talks about the importance of enemies for brands, and what they can learn from religion. Having an enemy helps consumers root for you more just like they do with their favourite sports teams. Malcolm Gladwell talks about the same thing in his book David vs. Goliath (and turns the story on its head).

Who is your competition? Is it who you think it is?

A street busker’s competition is the iPod or iPhone. The wedding DJ’s competition isn’t other wedding DJs, it’s Spotify. Universities competition aren’t other universities, it’s digital online courses like Udacity, Khan Academy and UpSkill. You get the point.

Your competition isn't as direct or obvious as you think because you have blinkers and cognitive bias. You live in a narrow world with a narrow world view. Think wider and more holistically before you trip up. Your competition may not be who you thought they were. Avoid the nasty surprise before a rude awakening.

Why is it important to have enemies?

Enemies create passion, opinion and argument, also known as visibility for your brand which helps it remain relevant. Enemies can work effectively to make your brand recalled.

As Lindstrom points out:

"The tension of the rivalry generates excitement and involvement, creates fans and enemies and ignites passion, energy, opinion and argument."

Sports teams the world over employ this tactic: All Blacks vs England, NSW Maroons vs Queensland Reds, Arsenal vs. Tottenham Hotspur, Mohammed Ali vs Foreman, NY Yankies vs. Boston Red Socks, LA Lakers vs Boston Celtics, England vs. Germany in the World Cup.

If you want to go further and combine religion and enemies (there's a powerful combo) try Celtic vs. Rangers.

If you're a small company competing with the big boys, you won't win the game playing by their rules. Be unruly, don't play it safe or you will be ignored. Apple and Virgin would not be the companies they are today without the enemies they had or made. Rocky would be nothing without Apollo right?

Take the piss or create some intelligent banter that promotes your merits over their weaknesses. Why? Here's why:

"If there's one thing worse than being talked about, it's not being talked about."

Oscar Wilde

Enemies draw attention. Enemies create passion and a story for others to watch, relate and contribute to. Enemies excite the crowd like a gladiator at the collosseum.

A Senior Exec at Coke was quoted saying: “going to work was like going to war” vs Pepsi.

I like this sentiment because it energises and mobilises that person to give it their all and do the very best they can to win. Wouldn't you want that same productivity and passion from your people? Having a common enemy gives them a precise purpose. It mobilises your troops to push harder and overcome the obstacles and hurdles to win.

Admit it, you'd rather kill your competition than collaborate with them.


Ray Kroc of McDonalds didn't feel bad when he created the world's most successful fast-food chain. He was a foot on the throat kinda guy.

Feel empowered and make the move. If you have an enemy great, well done. Go you!

If you don't have an enemy, go find one quickly so customers can start championing your cause, instead of your competitors. You'll win more business that way.