Last updated: Brand building: 3 lessons from HBO’s House of the Dragon

Brand building: 3 lessons from HBO’s House of the Dragon


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Game of Thrones might have been one of the most-watched television shows of all time, but its final season divided both critics and fans. When HBO announced that the Game of Thrones universe (based on George R.R. Martin’s series of novels, A Song of Ice and Fire) would expand, the news was received with mixed emotions and a lot of skepticism. 

Out of the many ideas and rumored pilots, House of the Dragon, which is based on the 2018 novel Fire and Blood, won out and was greenlit for a first season. Beyond fan service, there was a lot of pressure on HBO to produce a new hit series. After the merger of Warner Media and Discovery, (now Warner Bros. Discovery) the goal was to HBO Max and Discovery Plus services into a single streaming platform as part of a plan to increase subscribers in a highly competitive streaming market. 

If House of the Dragon met expectations, it would not only bolster a multi-year media strategy, but help make George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones (GOT) an enduring brand in our lives.

Fortunately, House of the Dragon delivered. By the time of the premiere, fans were eager to return to Westeros as the pilot episode drew nearly 10 million viewers, making it the largest premiere in HBO history.

How was House of the Dragon able to preserve a brand that was overshadowed with negative press and harsh criticisms over the last few years?

And how can companies follow its example and build brand legacies after experiencing a backlash in support?

There are key brand-building lessons from the House of Dragon story:

  1. Take stock of your current brand perceptions
  2. Incorporate the big picture
  3. Give brand messaging time to work

1. Know your audience and how they see about your brand

“If we don’t mind our own histories, it will do the same to us.”

After the final two seasons of GOT, fans and critics accused the show of losing its way and not staying true to the world or the characters they had invested in.

When developing House of the Dragon, a clear storyline needed to be established so that audiences had an idea of where the story and characters would go. More importantly, they needed to stay true to what the fans knew of the Game of Thrones world, but also clearly demonstrate how the series would be different.

Promotions made it clear that House of the Dragon would be leading up to an iconic battle in Game of Thrones history, The Dance of the Dragons. It was also implied that the narrator or “historian” of the Fire and Blood novel wasn’t trustworthy – meaning that some of the history mentioned in Game of Thrones may not be accurate, and the truth would be revealed in House of the Dragon.

In this way, the show began building a unique brand identity via the already-established GOT identity. House of the Dragon even decided to use the same theme song as Game of Thrones with a slightly altered visual map. It kept audiences in the world of Game of Thrones, but added its own flair to help build a mindset for the future of the series and any other spinoffs that may be established. 

Brands also need to reflect on the events that shaped their identity and how that affects the way customers currently view their brand.

What values and principles built the foundation of the company? When expanding a brand there needs to be brand consistency while clearly stating any changes.

Brand consistency can only be achieved when companies draw clear connections in the values, personality, and messaging across every expanding entity of the brand.

Invest the time to survey your audience and get to know how they currently feel about your brand, then make clear what will change and build excitement for what’s ahead. 

2.  Brand building: Don’t lose sight of the big picture

“You can show the realm that the crown’s strongest days are ahead, not behind.”

House of the Dragon isn’t HBO’s first attempt at a Game of Thrones spin-off.

The network spent over $30 million filming a pilot for a spinoff titled Bloodmoon (also known as The Long Night) that would have been set thousands of years before the events of Game of Thrones. However, HBO passed on the show and decided to pursue House of the Dragon.

One failed pilot didn’t stop HBO from dropping not-so-subtle hints that they were still committed to expanding the Game of Thrones universe. About two months before House of the Dragon premiered, rumors spread about a Game of Thrones sequel series starring GOT star Kit Harrington, aka Jon Snow. This shocked audiences; until this point, they believed that only prequel stories were under consideration.

But ultimately, this built fresh momentum leading up to the premiere of House of the Dragon as fans were curious on whether hints into the premise of the Jon Snow spinoff would be revealed in the new show.

Universe building is a popular formula for movies and TV shows, but for everyday businesses, this translates to having a long-term mindset.

Ask yourself:

  • Where do you see your business in the next five years?
  • Where do you see it in 10 years?

Even if you’re simply trying to keep your brand afloat, it’s still important to set long-term goals and let your customers know that you’re building toward something important to them.

Roadmap planning is important to share with your stakeholders. Your business might not be where you want it to be at the moment, but you need to give those invested in your brand some confidence that you have a plan for your future and are taking the steps to make it happen. 

3. Give brand messaging time to sink in

“Our worth is not given.
It must be made.”

For House of the Dragon, premiering three years after its predecessor series, the world was a lot different than it was in 2019.

For starters, HBO Max – which is the primary streaming service for the show, didn’t even exist. HBO was hoping to give House of the Dragon a big international push by primarily targeting the US audience. 

In promoting House of the Dragon, the criteria with which HBO evaluated all of their partnerships and promotions were based on whether or not it would scale globally and broaden the Game of Thrones audience.

They set out to make all their campaigns as far-reaching and inclusive as possible. Their social media channels were flooded with pictures of the set during filming, and re-watch parties of Game of Thrones to rebuild interest. Even after investing $100 million USD in marketing efforts, the new series still faced much skepticism.

Yet marketing was resilient and the premiere of House of the Dragon was so popular that it caused HBO Max to crash.

At the time of this writing, HBO has reported that season one episodes were averaging 29 million US viewers across all platforms.

Relationships of any kind take time to build. It often takes multiple interactions with a brand before customers are ready to commit to a product or service.

So when executing any branding strategy, companies need to allow time for the brand to really sink into a customer’s mindset. 

House of the Dragon received a season two order shortly after the premiere, but only time will tell if this has kicked off building a long-term legacy brand for Game of Thrones. As efforts to build the brand continue, it’s likely the show will continue to adapt its strategies to expand its audience while staying true to the brand it was built upon.

And if all else fails, they can always add more dragons. 

Is your brand house in order when it comes to customer loyalty?
The road to retention starts HERE.

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