The only winter people can accept: How HBO's Game of Thrones created FOMO and a loyal fan base.
In seven seasons of HBO’s Game of Thrones (or in five books of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire), we have followed separate character journeys as each contender took a separate path to meet an end goal, whether intentionally or unintentionally, leading them closer to the largest prize in the series, the Iron Throne.
When we get down to the base of things, each character has an individual brand that they built through the years as viewers and readers started making choices of which character to support. Whether it was through deception, empathy or literally rising from the ashes, the lead contenders for the Throne pushed their brand to gain the trust of the people of Westeros (and viewers like you and me).
In analyzing how some of the core characters dealt with adversity against their brand, there are clear techniques that have worked (or at the very least have kept characters alive for 7 seasons), which are transferable for today’s companies.
Know your audience
Companies tend to have one mission statement to unite their brand, but depending on the target markets that they are trying to attract, this message needs to be adapted to speak to different audiences.
Daenerys Targaryen, the exiled Targaryen Princess in Game of Thrones, embodies this well. Looking towards her future goal to win the Iron Throne, Dany obtained the most eclectic group of followers. She rallied together the Unsullied, an elite group of warrior eunuchs who she meets in Astapor. She earned the respect of the Dothraki, the unruly, nomadic warriors of Essos, and she gained the devotion of the people of Slaver’s Bay by granting them their freedom.
Add some dragons and she has the most diverse group of believers in her brand. This groups’ needs and backgrounds were so different, she had to understand what each of these groups responded to gain their respect and following.
Even Queen Cersei, (though we may not agree with her methods) knew how to get the allegiance of the people who she encountered. She inherited a Kingdom that was full of debt, yet she knew she wasn’t going to get any support from The Iron Bank just by offering flattery. The banker responded to gold and she found a way to provide gold. Her current ally, Euron Greyjoy of the Iron Isles, on the other hand worked well with offers of flattery and power, which she dished out in full form to keep him happy.
Both women knew a truth about brand building: You cannot build a following without knowing your audience.
Unite all outliers
As companies grow, there are certain parts of the organization that start going off on their own, and building their own separate brand in silo. Often times they’re not united under one common mission statement, or they simply don’t believe in the leadership.
Jon Snow, our favorite “illegitimate” son, was able to unite with one of the series biggest outliers, the Free Folk, more commonly known as the Wildlings. Wildlings, who lived within the continent of Westeros, but “beyond boarders and rules”, worked off their own agenda. Yet, Jon was able to earn their allegiance in two-fold, based on a common fear of the series “hidden” enemies, White Walkers and Wights, as well as offering the Wildlings shelter and protection after a losing battle against his men. Later, these men end up showing Jon loyalty by fighting by his side as Jon goes into battle to retrieve his homeland.
In truth, Jon recognized the importance of aligning with this group now, rather than later or never. Even with parts of the organization that may not seem significant to align this moment, it’s important to take the effort to unite the outliers in your company so the siloed system doesn’t end up being a negative disruptor to your brand later on in the journey.
Deliver on your promises
We’ve all likely have had experiences with broken promises when interacting with brands. When something seems too good to be true, often times it is, and the disappointment that follows can cause ripple effects to your perspective of a brand.
Back in season three of Game of Thrones, we experienced the Red Wedding where Robb Stark, his mother, his wife and unborn child were all slain at his Uncle’s wedding. This was the aftereffect of a broken promise. What was better emphasized in the book series than the show, was how quickly Robb agreed to a marriage pact with a daughter from House Frey, in exchange for help during a battle. He didn’t hesitate for a moment.
But promising proved to be the easy part. Delivering was hard. That broken promise ended up being his downfall.
On the flip side, we have Brienne of Tarth, everyone’s favorite woman knight. Her sword is appropriately named Oathkeeper. By far she has worked the hardest of all the characters to keep her promises, which quickly built her up into a fan favorite. Not just making, but keeping and delivery on promises are essential in building trust in your brand.
Promising is easy, but you will not gain the trust and loyalty needed to build your brand if you struggle with delivery.
Without a brand promise, you're selling a commodity. Without a customer experience mission, you're selling an idea with no backbone to support it.
Inevitably, all brands go through peaks and valleys. At some point, every brand makes mistakes and receives negative press. Some may not be directly your fault. Many times, leaders inherit the problems of past leaders. Either way, taking ownership can go along way while deflecting goes nowhere.
A moving moment in season 7, was when Daenerys admits to Jon Snow how her dad (rightfully named the Mad King) was an evil man. She then asks Jon for forgiveness for the crimes her father did against his family. In this moment, she showed how little she was like her father, the last leader of her family.
We can even credit, the red priestess Melisandre for taking ownership for her wrong actions. She backed the wrong King for most the series, believing in certainty that he was the Prince that was Promised. It caused much destruction in its wake, but we’ve seen her humbling moments these last two seasons as she tries to right her wrongs. She took great efforts in uniting the series two frontrunners, Daenerys and Jon, leading to one of the most anticipated encounters in the entirety of Game of Thrones.
It’s very easy to point fingers, but it elevates your brand when you can accept faults and right wrongs, even ones that came into motion not of your own accord.
Account for the wildcards
The second you have a business model or core marketing strategy in place, likely something or someone is going to come into the picture to disrupt your plans. What we’ve seen come into full force through the series, is many times the characters are focused on a straight path, that they forget to look at the less obvious threats around them. There are many characters who may not originally seem significant but end up being real game changers.
While building a brand, it’s important for companies to keep in mind that their competitors may not always be the ones who are clearly in front of them. It’s important to stay flexible to account for the wildcards that can undermine your brand.
And… always remember: Never get comfortable. Maybe you feel that you’ve nailed it on all the points above and your brand is the current King (or Queen).
Be wary. If you become complacent building your brand or you think you’re “safe”, there’s always someone lurking around the corner trying to take your crown.
Until next season!