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5 Marketing Lessons to Take Away from Game of Thrones

If you’re like me (and millions of other people), you spent last night watching the season three finale of Game of Thrones. Members of your office might even be huddled together right now sharing their predictions for what’s going to happen next, and lamenting the fact that they’ll have to wait another year to find out. (Unless they read the books of course.) It’s hard to believe, but if you’ve somehow managed to avoid getting pulled into the hit series, Game of Thrones is a show about the struggle for power among noble families, set within a fantasy world that vaguely resembles medieval Europe – give or take a few dragons.

In honour of last night’s season finale, here are 5 lessons on marketing that you can learn from watching Game of Thrones.

*Spoiler warning!* While this post doesn’t reference anything from the finale, it does include some spoilers from previous episodes of the show.

1. Speak Your Customer’s Language

In Game of Thrones, Kraznys hurls insults at his prospective buyer, Daenerys, who he believes cannot understand High Valyrian.  When it’s revealed that she’s actually fluent in this language, their business deal goes south and Krazyns ends up getting burned. Literally.

Drogon roast Kraznys 5 Marketing Lessons to Take Away from Game of Thrones

The lesson to takeaway here isn’t just “don’t insult your customers” (. . . hopefully that’s something you already know). This exchange highlights how important it is for your business to use the same language as your customers. And by that I don’t just mean official languages like English or French. I’m talking about the words and phrases that your target audience uses every day.

This is especially critical when you’re doing keyword research. Think about the products or services you provide, and then think about the keywords your target consumer would type into a search engine to find them. Google’s keywords tool can provide you with lots of similar search terms and phrases if you’ve gotten stuck trying to think of more words. It’s always worth investing time in keyword research before beginning your SEO and PPC campaigns – remember that it’s not just about getting found, but getting found by the right people.

Being aware of the type of language your audience uses will also improve your content marketing strategy. Before sitting down to write a blog post or eBook, consider who will ideally be reading it. Teens? Small business owners? New moms? Will your audience be looking for more academic articles, or something light and entertaining? Do you need to explain certain industry terms, or will they already be familiar with them? Your target audience should influence the wording, tone, and style of your content.

2. Monitor the Conversation

There are a lot of benefits to being one of the characters ‘in the know’ in Game of Thrones. Varys and Lord Baelish (“Littlefinger”) have used their networks of spies to obtain powerful positions. Tywin Lannister also uses information to stay one move ahead of his opponents and detractors. He was able to marry Sansa Stark to his own son before her engagement to Loras Tyrell was made official. He then betrothed his daughter to Loras in an effort to put an end to the ‘ugly rumours’ surrounding her and her twin brother.

Varys and Littlefinger 5 Marketing Lessons to Take Away from Game of Thrones

The simple fact is that information is valuable. In marketing, knowing what consumers are saying about your brand can inform what you decide to do or say next. And fortunately, thanks to social media monitoring tools, you don’t need your own spy network to figure out what’s being said about you.

While many social media management tools allow you to measure your reach and consumer engagement, not all of them allow you to also measure sentiment. Sentiment refers to how consumers feel about your brand, based on how they’re talking about it online. Monitoring the conversion surrounding your brand can tell you what you’re doing right, and alert you to any changes that need to be made.

If you just want to dip your toe into the monitoring pool, I suggest starting with Google Alerts. It’s a free tool that sends you notifications through email or RSS feed whenever new results for your specified keyword are found on Google, including news articles and blog posts. But even more valuable than mentions within Google results is the ability to track your brand’s reputation across different social media platforms. This involves moving up to paid tools like Viralheat and Sprout Social. Regardless of which tool you choose, your goal should be to better understand the comments and concerns being raised online about your brand, with the intention of using this information to make appropriate changes.

3. Don’t Try and Be Something You’re Not

Despite Jon Snow’s best efforts to convince the wildlings that he’s no longer loyal to the Night’s Watch, many of them remained unconvinced. Jon is ultimately forced to reveal his true character when he’s unable to kill an innocent man who the wildlings feared would alert the north to their presence.

Jon Snow 1024x576 5 Marketing Lessons to Take Away from Game of Thrones

While authenticity in marketing may be defined differently depending on who you’re talking to, it really boils down to being open and honest about your business. Sure, you could spend a small fortune running a campaign that highlights your fast and friendly customer service. But because of the way information spreads so easily online, unless you actually have fast and friendly customer service, all of your marketing efforts will get you nowhere. You need to prove what your brand stands for in actions, not just through words. Make the core values of your business transparent. Choose sponsorship opportunities not just for the sake of good PR, but because it’s an extension of what your business believes in.

Marketing authentically also relates to customer engagement. If you want to connect with your customers, make sure that your brand has a real ‘voice’ online. This means taking the time to write individual responses to comments, instead of simply copying and pasting a pre-packaged reply. It also means answering the questions or concerns consumers raise, even though the easier option is to ignore them. People value honesty, and will quickly see through marketing ploys that try to make your brand seem like something it’s not.

4. Be Adaptable

Arya Stark’s journey on the show has been anything but straightforward. After a hastily planned escape from King’s Landing, Arya’s trip north is derailed when she’s taken captive and brought to Harrenhal. After escaping, Arya briefly travels with the Brotherhood without Banners before their behaviour causes her to run off. She doesn’t make it far before the Hound catches her, and promises to return her to her family in exchange for her ransom.

Arya Stark 5 Marketing Lessons to Take Away from Game of Thrones

So what marketing lesson can we learn from Arya? While it’s easiest to set a course and stick with it, this isn’t always possible (or even advisable). Yes, marketers should always have a strategy before beginning a campaign. But things can change in the space between making a plan, and actually carrying it out. If you find that something isn’t working, don’t keep going forward thinking that it’s too late to change. And don’t wait until the end of your campaign to test whether or not you achieved success. By constantly measuring (number of clicks, responses, sales, etc.), you can detect problems right away, and adapt your strategy to try and fix them. This is especially important in digital marketing where the pace of change is even more accelerated. The best ideas come from innovative thinkers, so don’t be afraid to try out something new!

5. Follow Through on Your Promises

In exchange for the support of House Frey, Robb Stark agrees to marry one of Lord Walder Frey’s daughters. But before this marriage can take place, Robb breaks his promise by marrying another woman. The fallout from this is one of the most shocking scenes in the series so far. Aptly called the Red Wedding, Walder Frey responds to Robb’s broken oath by murdering not only him, but also his wife, mother, and soldiers.

Red Wedding 5 Marketing Lessons to Take Away from Game of Thrones

What could possibly go wrong?

Allen Adamson wrote that “a brand, for every intent and purpose, is promise.” And while you won’t exactly get a massacre if you break that promise, you can bet that your customers aren’t going to just let it slide. For instance, Maker’s Mark uses terms such as ‘handmade’ and ‘crafted’ to describe their premium bourbon, which has been around for over 40 years. The expectation is therefore that the brand stands for quality and tradition. So it’s no surprise that the company was met with a huge backlash when they announced plans to lower the alcohol content in order to meet demand (essentially ‘watering down’ their classic product). Fortunately, the brand took the feelings of their fans to heart and quickly responded with an apology, and a reversal of their decision.

The days of thinking about marketing and sales in terms of single transactions are long since over. The focus is now on relationship marketing. This means thinking in terms of the lifetime value of a customer, fostering loyalty, and nurturing their relationship with your business until they’re ready to buy again. Not to mention the power of word of mouth. That’s why it’s so important to stay away from marketing tactics that could be interpreted as deceitful, and consistently live up to your brand promise.

Have you picked up on any other marketing lessons while watching Game of Thrones? Share your ideas in the comments below!

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About the Author

Marketing Assistant at Powered by Search with a special interest in social media, marketing strategy, and market research. Read more posts by Brittney on her personal site BrittneyStephenson.com.
  • Cat Fyson (Koozai)

    What an awesome post! Game of Thrones is a great show and I hadn’t considered some of these lessons to be learnt from it. I particularly agree with the need to be adaptable – like you said, you need a strategy, but it’s naturally going to change and adapt to the landscape, just as Arya does!

    I think book to tv show adaptations also teach us about reworking and regenerating our marketing methods in order to create fresh new perspectives as well.

    I recently wrote a blog post on how cult TV shows like GoT, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead can teach us lessons about content marketing if you fancy checking it out: http://www.koozai.com/blog/search-marketing/cult-television-and-content-strategy/