Winter is Coming… Marketing Lessons from the Game of Thrones

It’s been more than two months since season three of the Game of Thrones ended, and I still can’t stop thinking about my favorite characters (of those still left alive!!!) and wondering what’s in store for them next season.

And I can’t freaking believe I have to wait another eight whole months to find out. Gaaagh!

Clearly I’m not the only one who’s obsessed… Games of Thrones is on pretty much everyone’s list of top television shows. Why is this show so incredibly popular, and what can we learn from its success that might apply to our business and how we market it?


Here are four big lessons we take from this complex, bloodthirsty, incredibly well written show.

1. Don’t be afraid to shock people

From the incest and attempted murder of a child in the first episode of season one, Game of Thrones hasn’t pulled a single punch.  This is a show of ruthless people who stop at nothing to get what they want.  Yes, some scenes are difficult to watch and offend people’s sensibilities, but that what makes them so powerful, and so unforgettably different from anything else on television.

So, how can you jolt people into sitting up and taking notice?  Take a controversial stand on a topic.  Boldly state a truth that everyone is thinking but no one is saying.  Turn a commonly accepted argument on its head.

Just resist the urge to be shocking for the shock value alone.  You’ve got to stay true to your core message and what your business is all about. (Just as the show’s most shocking scenes make total sense within the Game of Thrones universe and push the plot forward in meaningful ways.)

2. Kill your darlings

Author George R. R. Martin has a knack for killing off beloved characters when you least expect it.  As heart wrenching (or head-lopping) as it might be to say goodbye to your favorite characters, once the tears have dried you’ll realize that those characters had to die.  Given their actions and they enemies they were up against, there was no other logical outcome that wouldn’t seem like a cop-out.

When it comes to your marketing campaigns, don’t be afraid to kill off your darlings with the same ruthlessness.  If you’ve got messaging that you love but may not be getting the best results, don’t be afraid to rigorously test it against new approaches and ditch it in favor of something that performs better.

3. Resist the obvious

There’s a scene in the third season, where several characters who have been separated for many episodes and have desperately been trying to find each other, finally come within a stone’s throw of each other, and the audience is left feeling, “Yay! Family reunion time.”

And then it all goes suddenly, horribly wrong.

The Game of Thrones consistently resists taking the easy way out and catering to viewers’ expectations.  And as infuriating as it may sometimes be, again, the surprise factor is what makes the show so powerful.

How can you implement this lesson in your own business?  Look for ways you can challenge your audience by giving them not what they expect, but what they need.

4. Leave people wanting more

Each season of Game of Thrones is just ten measly episodes long.  Having to cram so much meaningful plot into each episode keeps the action moving forward and the suspense level high.  And when the season is over, it’s all we can do to wait ten long months for the next season to start.

Take this to heart for your own marketing communications.  Give people enough to intrigue them and get them excited, but never so much that they become bored or complacent.  You want to keep them chomping at the bit for what comes next!

… Winter is coming, you say?  Not soon enough!

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