10 Marketing Lessons as Evidenced by Game of Thrones

In the game of thrones, you either win or you die.  

Hopefully that is not the case for any marketers reading this, but everyone’s favorite medieval pastime can certainly teach us a lesson or two in regards to our day-to-day marketing mantras. (Not to be confused with regards from the Lannister’s.)

The lessons from the Iron Throne are as follows:

1. Know your audience. This is the single most important rule in marketing, and the single most important rule in the Game of Thrones. If you want to play to win, you have to know who you’re dealing with. Sansa Stark became a master at handling her audience – cheating an imminent Lannister death sentence by way of Joffrey, Cersei and the like. Perhaps her father should have practiced the same lesson. 

2. Smart trumps big. This is perfectly displayed in the (HEART-WRENCHING) Viper vs. Mountain trial by combat, and can be related to all aspects of marketing. Casting your net wide will certainly gain you some notice (good or bad), but time and again highly targeted campaigns have proven to be more effective for moving the needle. 

In the data-driven marketing era, data has to be nimble and actionable to win – a massive pile of data spread out over platforms and organizational departments is good as null. Big data will not be a win for marketers. Big data made smart and actionable will.  

But for the love of all things holy, don’t get brash too soon and risk your head being squished like a watermelon.

3. Use pull not push mechanisms. In my early marketing days, I remember blasting the same email list with similar content, over and over, and seeing no response. How strange! No one wants to be forced into an idea. People want to discover and become comfortable with content and information on their own accord. It’s part of the reason why inbound marketing is gaining so much traction, SEO and SEM budgets are rising and content has been dubbed “king.” Because the most loyal subjects are the ones who are drawn in organically, rather than pushed or shoved. Robb Stark didn’t force his subjects to call him king, yet with his compelling content and demeanor, they were all prepared to rally around him when the time came.  

(Please note, in the case of GOT only, pull not push may get you killed. But I really think these are mutually exclusive.)

4. Turn your audience into advocates. An audience full of disengaged consumers or prospects or even fans is never the ideal. Constantly aim to turn your audience into advocates, subscribers and evangelists, much like Daenerys Targaryen. Dany has a massive army of followers she’s gathered along the way who are willing to fight on her behalf, for no reason other than they like what she’s selling. Like, wow, within five minutes she had three advocates willing to go head-to-head with an armored horseman yielding a sword double her size. If that’s not the kind of advocate you want, I don’t know who is.

5. Customization provides the best experience. By now, everyone has gotten on board with the fact that everyone is a publisher, and customized content is the wave of the future.  If you can use smart (e.g. viper) data to tailor your content, you have a world of opportunity at your fingertips. Much like Dany always customized her content to the throngs of opposers.  

(OK, that one was a stretch). 

6. Consider lifetime value. When your business starts to grow, you will inevitably close deals both large and small. But all deals, nay customers, have a distinct and important lifetime value, and you need to play to win your customers for life, much like Brienne to Renly Baratheon and Catelyn Stark. And just as important as recognizing the lifetime value is the ability to measure it.

7. Know your roadmap. Know your vision. What will the Hound do with Arya Stark now that crazy Aunt Lysa is dead? How long will Dany stay and rule Mereen? Where does Ellaria Sand go from here? Plans change along the way, but you need a good handle on your endgame to make your path more navigable. This will help you tailor your message and outreach and even manage your customer relationships in the proper way. 

8. Always know yourself to be the best. Making big and blanket statements can be scary. In fact, let me tell you about how Umbel is the leader in data-driven marketing and cross-functional solutions. I can only say that without a wavering voice because I believe it to be true. And if you don’t think you’re the best, then who will? This is literally what the Game of Thrones is built upon – everyone’s belief that they are the best and most deserving of the job. Stannis Baratheon truly believes he is the rightful heir to the throne, and so he has convinced others accordingly. You have to be your biggest advocate, or no one will.

9. Have an enemy. If there’s no one worth fighting against, will you fight as hard? Will your product roadmap surprise and delight? In a way, competitors can help you define yourself. What is Tyrion Lannister without a hideous competitor in Cersei and Tywin? 

10. Most importantly, in Game of Thrones, in marketing and in life, always have a secret weapon – whether it’s a product or a dragon is your choice.