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What Marketers Can Learn from Game of Thrones

I’m a huge Game of Thrones fan. HUGE. Now, I will qualify that to superfans with the fact that I’m a fan of the TV show and haven’t finished the books (I will, though; please don’t burn me in effigy). I’m not the only one, though. Game of Thrones is an enormous cultural phenomenon, the likes of which we seldom see in any media anymore, much less television. But what we can see from the model of Game of Thrones now is a dramatic reflection of how substantially media consumption has changed and how you can tap into their macro changes on a more micro level.

Over the years, television has lost its hold on media consumption. While many of us used to gather around the TV for TGIF or Monday Night Football or the latest episode of Must See TV, no one really does that anymore. Increasing digital capabilities from a wider range of devices has given us the ability to digest content anytime, anywhere. As a result, television has lost its favor, as we now prefer an on-demand schedule from all our devices.

Most disruptions in long-standing industries (like television) have everything to do with customer service. Who actually says, “I love my cable company?” Literally nobody. Cord-cutting and disruption in the cable TV service model has led media consumers straight into streaming services (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon), TV replacement packages that offer less hassle, better customer service, and a more customizable package (Sling, Tablo), or digital content consisting of shorter form and user-generated content (YouTube). We no longer have to stay home on a Sunday night at 9pm to be able to catch our favorite show (though about 25 million people currently do it every week to watch Game of Thrones). We can stream it live, from our preferred device, anywhere, anytime.

Nowadays, the largest media company in the world is Facebook, despite the fact that they create no content. But if you login to Facebook on a Monday morning, every other article, video, or meme you see will be a Game of Thrones related post. So, how exactly did they do it? We’ll go through several of the top takeaways on how Game of Thrones took over the internet.

The content is strong. The popular book series is filled with drama, characters, and complex world-building. Having strong source material is always important because it gives people a reason to care, to watch, and to want to learn more.

Key Take-Away: Make sure your products and services are good. Have a strong competitive advantage and use that. People need to care about your brand.

While many in the television industry feared what streaming would do to the content produced, HBO seemed to understand what users wanted and how to ensure they were connected with that same content. Some of the best TV today is coming from those streaming services and cable services with connections to digital content.

Key Take-Away: Provide content to your customers in the format in which they want it. Don’t fear trends, embrace them, as long as your customers want them. If they want blogs, give them blogs. If they want videos, create more videos. If they want humorous content, focus less on dry and informative and find ways to be witty and creative.

In 2015, Game of Thrones was the most discussed television program on Facebook and the most tweeted-about show in the world. Google it and 171 million results appear.

In the season 7 premier, BrandWatch tracked 97,590 mentions of the show as it aired between 9 and 10pm on Twitter. The top tweet during the show was from the official Game of Thrones Twitter account and was retweeted almost 14,000 times and favorited 29,000 times.

Key Take-Away: Make your discussions social. Conduct customer service online. Interact with customers, fans, and clients online. Share your additional and supplementary content. Make your content a dialogue, rather than a monologue. User-generated content is an enormous part of Game of Thrones mania, but users need a reason to want to create their own content.

Game of Thrones also impacts other online consumption. Pornhub reported a decrease in visitors during the hour-long Game of Thrones season six premiere – a 4.1% decrease, to be exact. With more than 60 million daily visitors, that’s a shockingly statistically significant number. The season six finale? An even higher 5.2% decrease.

Key Take-Away: Nothing really. This is just a shocking statistic.

The “watercooler” around which we discussed last night’s episode of Friends is now real-time social media content shared with hundreds and thousands of followers. Shows like Game of Thrones air at their planned time, but then are available to stream on HBO Now, have supplementary “Inside the Episode” content on YouTube explaining motivations, and every shot is identified, analyzed, theorized, and discussed on Reddit, Mashable, and Buzzfeed.

Key Take-Away: Give your customers opportunities to find you on a wide range of platforms. Write a blog, share and discuss on social, host Facebook Live events, email updates or new product offerings. Don’t just count on your website to do all your work. Also, leave them wanting more. Don’t give away everything, but give enough to keep people talking.

Game of Thrones also has several other distinctions which have crossed the digital barrier and transitioned the show into offline success.

  • Game of Thrones has found its way into not only internet lexicon, but also to the popular vocabulary. The series’ propensity for adult content during exposition and background information led to the term “sexposition,” providing exposition during a scene with nudity.
  • In 2012, the media used the term “Game of Thrones” as a figure of speech or metaphor for situations of intense conflict in international events. Examples included the Syrian Civil War and the removal of Bo Xilai from the Chinese government.
  • “Khaleesi” has increased in popularity as a name for baby girls in the United States, despite being a title, not an actual name in the show. Arya was the fastest rising girl’s name in popularity, jumping more than 200% in a single year.

Key Take-Away: Create brand identity that crosses from online to offline channels. Make sure in-store, phone call, and all offline connections create a sense of identity and community for your customers and fans. Do you have specialized terms or jargon in your industry? Do you have specific product names? Make those immediately identifiable to your customers and part of your brand.

Game of Thrones has also changed narrative structure in storytelling. There are few shows in history that so consistently and holistically have shock value so fundamentally entrenched into its creative form that it has given rise to a genre of copycats. Most shows are able to stir up controversy by killing off a popular character or depicting something taboo, but Game of Thrones took that notion and ran with it, reinvented it, and then kept going. By killing off one of the series’ most essential characters in the first season, viewers saw that anything was possible, tragedy could hit any character, and winter really was coming. The constant threat of a surprise death or shocking revelation creates unease in the viewer, so he or she can’t passively consume the story as pure entertainment.

Key Take-Away: Don’t follow all the rules in your stories. You don’t have to have a set pattern or follow a defined structure of what’s expected in your content. Don’t be afraid to break some rules, change the game, or try something different. Sometimes new formats to your content can be incredibly successful. Sometimes they won’t work, but learn from your mistakes, move on, and keep trying to be a game changer.

So, are you going to watch Game of Thrones with a little different perspective now? The showrunners’ abilities to grow and evolve with changing consumption patterns — while still maintaining the hype — is incredibly impressive in today’s world of microscopically short attention spans. But they fundamentally understand how to create the brand around Game of Thrones, create a culture of fans, superfans, and influencers, and leverage them for more content and better content.

How are you going to identify how these Game of Thrones lessons can be applied to your business and your brand? Share some ideas in the comments below. If you need help, contact us for a digital review of your brand, and we can help you identify opportunities on how to bring a little bit of Westeros to life in your marketing plans.