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What Game of Thrones Has Taught Us About Marketing and Branding

by Dan Moyle | May 17, 2019 at 9:14 AM

Confessions of a Marketing Geek Who’s Never Watched a Frame of Game of Thrones

I admit it. I’ve never seen an episode of Game of Thrones. Sure I get the Jon Snow memes “Winter is coming.” I see the Giphy GIFs of wine drinking and Peter Dinklage dancing. I can keep up a little. But I feel a little like a traitor to my fellow marketing geeks. Kind of like when Theon Greyjoy turned on long time allies the Starks in season 2. Is that the right reference?

With this final season in full swing, and everyone talking about it, it’s hard to miss all of the GOT references. Since I’ve never watched an episode, it got me thinking about marketing and branding lessons I could learn from HBO and Game of Thrones.

Lesson 1: There’s no Such Thing as Saturation.

Not everyone will see your message. With so many choices today and so many things vying for our attention, even our intended audience may not see everything we do.

I’m a fan of epic stories. I love great writing. Fantasy and lore, dragons, battles, and folklore are my bag. I’m probably a perfect fit for GOT. But I missed the boat. Whether it’s because I don’t have HBO or because other media has my attention, I’m not in that world. But it’s okay. Game of Thrones still enjoys a massive audience.

It reminds me of a discussion I’ve had numerous times on the subject of podcasting. Stats show that podcasts reach about 40-50% of the US population. People ask when we’ll reach 100%. We won’t. Think about it. Not everyone has a TV. Not every single American listens to traditional radio. We don’t hit total saturation for anything. So there’s always room to grow.

jon snow meme - what game of thrones has taught us about marketing and branding

Lesson 2: Content Shock is Real.

Mark Schaefer coined the term “content shock” in his book The Content Code. There’s just so much out there today. How do we, as brands, deal with it?

Look, even as a fan of Marvel movies and the MCU, the addition of TV series’ into the mix has completely turned me off. I’ll stick with the movies, thanks. I have other interests. Marvel doesn’t have a monopoly on my attention. Loyalty only goes so far. I mean, Tony Stark and Captain America even had their breaking point over the The Sokovia Accords and Bucky Barnes.

iron man vs captain america fight pop culture reference for what game of thrones has taught us about marketing and branding-

So the lesson here is that you may not reach everyone, but for those you reach, you’re extremely relevant. My advice here is to know your audience. Do they really need content from you every day on every platform? Maybe. But then again, maybe not. Look at your data. Game of Thrones at this point isn’t launching a movie, a graphic novel, a YouTube series, and a phone app. They’re wrapping up the story. Maybe they’ll revisit the movie idea, if the audience shows enough interest.

Use your data, serve your audience what they need, and keep moving forward. Test new ideas, but try not to overwhelm your prospects with content shock.

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Lesson 3: Even the “Big Boys” Need Help.

Did you see the Game of Thrones/Bud Light crossover during the Super Bowl? How about the Mountain Dew cross marketing? Even though this is HBO’s epic story, they still put money into promotion.



According to marketing professor and author Chad Pollitt, marketers today tend to spend way more on content creation than promotion and distribution. In fact on his interview with me on The Storytellers Network podcast, Chad said that we spend $5 on producing content for every $1 we spend on promotion and distribution. With how Game of Thrones seems to be everywhere for this final season, I have to imagine they flip that strategy and spend a lot more on distributing and promoting the content.

So even though GOT is everywhere, HBO still invests in promotion, cross-promotion, joint marketing and advertising partnerships, and other tactics. Shouldn’t we?

Lesson 4: Pay Attention to Pop Culture.

Sure I haven’t seen an episode and know nothing about which House who comes from… but I’ve paid attention enough that I can nod along during conversations and I get the references. For marketers in the modern media age, it’s important to at least be aware. We have no excuse.

With Google and social media, information about a popular topic is just a few seconds away. So if your audience is all into Black Mirror, you may want to pay attention. Or if you know your buyer persona loves sci-fi, maybe know a few references to Star Trek Discovery or The Rise of Skywalker.

In the modern marketing era, learning from sources others may write-off will help you sharpen your skills, broaden your horizons and slay your dragons. Whether that’s befriending Ghost and Daenerys or hoping Thanos doesn’t snap your content, pop culture references can help humanize your brand. And having a strong brand is a critical tool in your marketing toolbox. In fact, if you want to know more about how to create a great brand, check out our on-demand video training From Voice to Visuals: Building a Brand.

And let us know what you think about the Game of Thrones phenomenon. Do you watch? Comment below!

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