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Game of Thrones and Marketing: what we can learn

Tom Perry
by Tom Perry - April 5, 2019

GOTThis blog has covered quite a range of topics lately. Important marketing attributes, skills, practices and trends…from ABM, MDF, *insert other acronym here* to Buyer’s Journey, SEO and MarTech. You’ve patiently stuck with me as I have likened the relationship between sales and marketing to Love Island (yes, I know…it was tenuous), discussed the marketing parallels with the amount of spray tan used on Strictly (ok, this one may have been more of a stretch)…so you may be pleased that I am going to dedicate this week’s Sherpa blog to something extremely serious and very important…Game. Of. Thrones.

You would have to be living in a cave if you hadn’t heard of Game of Thrones and if you are in the minority that aren’t counting down the days, hours and minutes until the Season 8 premiere on the 14th April, then this blog might not be for you (in fact there may be spoilers if you are planning on watching the earlier series!). But then again, I actually want to focus less on the storyline and more on the marketing behind GOT (yes it even has an acronym, so sits well with us marketeers) and what we could learn from it. So here goes…

Expect the unexpected

When Game of Thrones first graced our screen we were expecting something similar to what we had seen before. Struggles of power, dangerous liaisons and epic battles…however, this series was different. Where many programmes stagnate due to repetitive storylines and cliched relationships, GOT kept viewers on their toes by doing something so unexpected that it shocked us in to engaging more! I cannot count the times I shouted “nooooo” at my screen in disbelief…and then downloaded the next episode. Favourite characters met gruesome demises, predictable outcomes were flipped on their heads and even the most famous actors weren’t safe in their roles. The show takes something relatively familiar and makes it so very different, and with every episode breaks boundaries, not just in storylines but in the narrative of the storytelling itself. This makes the show so engaging and should not be ignored! We are all creatures of habit, we like routine and if something works then we tend to do it over and over again. But, we live in a dynamic world and repetition is not always a good recipe for success. As marketeers, our primary objective is to engage with our target audience, so let’s take a leaf out of George RR Martin’s book and do something unexpected to promote engagement and keep our prospects on their toes. Hosting a red wedding might be a step too far…but if some of your content isn’t working, don’t be afraid to kill it off and go down a different path.

Solidarity and buy-in are a valuable commodity

Press, interviews, junkets, publicity…all are part and parcel of promoting a popular show. However, there is a fine line between teasing information and giving too much away. There is a huge amount of control around the released teaser content for GOT; the cast are tight lipped in their interviews, the directors have shrouded the sets in secrecy and privacy clauses are locked down like Fort Knox. But why? Because the viewer’s experience is the most important asset to Game of Thrones. As previously said, the show’s strength lies its ability to surprise the viewer, and this would be lost if one of the actors let slip that Podric would be sitting on the Iron Throne at the close. The viewer and their own journey through the story is at the heart of the entire GOT experience, and the cast, crew and anyone involved in the production understands this. Their ‘buy-in’ creates solidarity and allows for a controlled roll-out.

Now, I am fully aware that most of us in our daily roles aren’t doing press junkets with the mother of dragons, but we are regularly releasing content and working with other members of the team towards a common goal. Whenever we release a marketing campaign, customer experience should be at the forefront of our minds…where does this fit in to their journey? How can we guide them better and nurture them through to sale? How much content should we give out before our lead magnet? All of these questions should be addressed before launch to ensure a measured and controlled roll out. And above all, you need buy-in, not only from the higher echelons of the company, but also from those sitting alongside you. If sales and marketing are singing from the same sheet then it creates a blended team, rather than misalignment. Everyone should be fully briefed, have the relevant SLAs in place and be fully aligned on messaging and processes.

Tell a good story – to a captive audience!

 We have said it time and time again…content is key. OK, I have only just said that the viewer experience is a driving force of GOT, but it simply would not work if Cersei sat around drinking tea and the night was not dark or full of terror. The story, the visuals and the characters have shown us things we have never seen on our screens before and we lap it up accordingly. This is the main reason that the whole world is talking about a TV programme. It has blurred the lines between the mediums of film and television and has us caught up in the narrative. They have also been extremely savvy in their supporting content which keeps us sufficiently nourished between seasons, ensuring the momentum is never lost. Behind the scenes footage, recaps, analysis shows and interviews all provide us with the feeling of unlimited contact and accessibility. As marketeers, we have a duty to not shovel out the same old content time and time again…we’ve got to get something out right? Wrong. If the content you are putting out doesn’t tell your story and portray the correct message then do not put it out. Don’t be afraid to challenge existing norms – if you think your content would be best received by your customer if it was distributed by fax then do it (ok don’t actually do this, but my point is that if you know your customer, then don’t be afraid to be different in order to get their attention). Marketing needs to be personal, so show your customer that you are doing something unique and make sure you tell them in an interesting way. At the right time. On the right platform. In the same way the Game of Thrones audience has been primed and prepared for the weekly viewing, make sure you are serving content to a captive audience. You can warm your audience up by surrounding them with your brand – social, paid traffic, blogs, SEO, re-marketing – all will help with priming your prospects before serving the main showcase. 

So in summary, if you want to channel John Snow as you are running your latest campaign, make sure you:

  1. Get to grips with the numerous marketing acronyms.
  2. Do something different and don’t be afraid to make decisions which may shake things up.
  3. Get buy-in from your whole team and work together to create a unified programme.
  4. Make sure your content is up to scratch, challenging, engaging and served to your target audience at the right time and the right place.

And don’t worry, if you are in the minority and haven’t seen GOT,  you still have 9 days, 10 hours and 31 minutes to catch up before the rest of the world loses their heads. Not that I’m counting.

If you would like to discuss how Sherpa can transform your content marketing, please get in touch… 


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