It is often said that a brand is a narrative. This is because stories are fundamental to how we process information. The human brain organizes much of our experience, knowledge and thinking as stories and, as we all know, rivalry makes for a great story. Without an antagonist, things get boring quickly. Rivalry leverages exclusionary positioning, providing an antagonist that adds to an existing identity.
Loyalty and rivalry grow in proportion to one another. Each feeds on the energy created by the other. Brand rivalry not only helps to validate brand position, it has the added benefit of honing focus. Intense competition forces brands to work harder to differentiate in the battle for market space, mind-share and consumer preference. A strong rivalry forced both Apple and Microsoft to push each other to create better solutions and stronger brands.
The brands people choose are a reflection of their own values and sense of self. A brand is a belief system, and the beliefs of one brand community are in opposition to those of its rival(s). The brand and the community have chosen a side, and in their minds it’s good vs. evil. They are as much against the antagonist as they are “for” the brand. Red Sox fans chant “Yankees Suck” rather than “Red Sox Rule.” Apple fans say “I don’t do Windows” rather than “I’m a Mac.”
A strong rivalry decreases the overlap in brand preference by increasing the passion that consumers feel for their chosen brand. It is the very presence of an antagonist that strengthens a consumer’s bond with the brand, which ultimately strengthens the brand community. Rivalry validates brand position and forces each brand to push themselves further than they would without such a strong competitor.
Sports and politics, products and services, each use rivalry to validate their brand position: Red Sox vs.Yankees, Republicans vs. Democrats, God vs. Satan…