May 22, 2019

6 Strategic Marketing Lessons from “Game of Thrones”

Marketing Strategies from “Game of Thrones”

 

The final episode of “Game of Thrones” aired just a few days ago, even if you are one of the few people that has never watched the show, you have more than likely heard of it and are familiar with the brand “Game of Thrones” (GoT). The brand is one of the most recognized in the world, over 100 brands have collaborated with “Game of Thrones”, including household names like AT&T, Adidas, Budweiser, Mountain Dew, The Red Cross and Oreo’s just to name a few.

There’s a reason such household names are paying to integrate the GoT brand with their own, that reason is the sheer popularity and cult-like following that GoT has achieved. You could say that Game of Thrones has changed the game (pun intended), GoT has consistently ranked as one of the best shows on television since its first episode aired on April 17th, 2011. The numbers speak for themselves.

  • The first episode attracted 2.2 million viewers on its initial airing, while the first episode of the final season attracted 17.4 million viewers, the final episode of the entire series reeled in 19.3 Million
  • An average episode cost $6 million in season 1, the final season, season 8 realized an average cost per episode of $15 million
  • The show has been nominated for 132 Emmy Awards and has won 47 of them
  • It is estimated that businesses will lose $3.3 billion in productivity the day after the “Game of Thrones” finale
  • Time Magazine considers “Game of Thrones” as “The World’s Most Popular Show”

Even with all of these great accomplishments and recognition, “Game of Thrones” did not live up to its reputation in the last season and especially with the series finale. Rotten Tomatoes ranked seasons 1 through 7 between 91% on the low end and 97% at its peak. However, they ranked Season 8 a dismal 67%.
It could be argued that the massive decline in ratings is irrelevant, as the show has ended and massive amounts of revenues have been generated, along with great profits realized. A television series has the luxury of calling it quits with minimal repercussions, a business, on the other hand, does not.

Game of Thrones Banner
Image is Copyrighted by HBO, no copyright infringement is intended. Obtained from https://www.thedrum.com/news/2015/07/17/brand-day-game-thrones

“Game of Thrones” provides six very valuable lessons in Strategic Marketing that all businesses can benefit from.

Consistency is Key

People conduct business with sources they trust, one way that trust is earned is through reliability. A key premise in being considered reliable is having consistency. Consistency throughout, whether it’s something “small” or a major issue, or project. This is exemplified in the common belief that people will remember one thing that you do wrong, but forget numerous others that you did right.

As a diehard fan of “Game of Thrones”, I can tell you firsthand that Season 8 was not nearly as good as the prior seasons. That is not only my opinion but the opinion of many others, including over half a million people who have signed a petition to have Season 8 remade.

The reason I believe that Season 8 did so poorly is that it was inconsistent with the prior seasons, specifically, it lacked the “shock value” that prior seasons had. This could be attributed to the fact that content from the book that “Game of Thrones” is based on, A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, was depleted by Season 7. Hence, the primary content source changed, although Martin was involved in the writing of Season 8, he was not the one leading the charge.

Branding is Critical

A brand is an identity for a business or a product, somewhat comparable to a person’s legal name and social security number. The identity created by a brand carries along with it a reputation. The image and value of your business or product are also tied to that brand. That’s why developing a great brand is critical.

As “Game of Thrones” has proven, a well-perceived brand has a great value and generates opportunities. The 100 plus collaborations that GoT has participated in have generated tremendous revenues while creating greater awareness of the “Game of Thrones” brand. For example, imagine if someone that has never watched “Game of Thrones” orders a soft drink at a fast food restaurant, and sees the GoT brand all over the cup. That person is now aware of the brand and may potentially watch an episode or ask friends about the show. The collaboration has created a win-win situation where both brands gain awareness.

Change is Inevitable

This is especially true in today's business world; organizations today face a very competitive and dynamic environment that changes quickly. People tend to resist change because it conflicts with their need to maintain their sense of personal security.

Successful organizations will have a positive attitude towards change. They plan for and expect change by strategically planning in a goal-oriented manner. They try to avoid surprises, but if they should happen, the impact is minimized due to preparation and planning.

Several characters were introduced and eliminated throughout the 8 seasons of “Game of Thrones”, and this continuous change kept the show fresh and exciting. You may be asking how this correlates with the lesson of consistency. “Game of Thrones” kept the plots consistent while changing some of the parties involved.

This same methodology should be applied to marketing strategies. Develop a brand and keep it consistent while promoting it through various channels and mediums. More importantly, deliver consistent quality while monitoring your markets and adapting as needed.

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Growth Requires Investment

It takes a lot to achieve growth, and this is true for something as simple as vegetation. A seed must be planted in good soil, it must be watered, have access to sunlight, and it must be monitored and cared for. In some cases supplements may be needed, and/or measures must be taken to protect against environmental factors, or support the sprouting plant. This kind of investment involves money and time, at the very least. It may also involve research and learning, along with losses due to trial and error.

The same principles apply to business, a wise strategy should compound growth once it gains momentum. “Game of Thrones” began with 2.2 million viewers and grew to over 19 million for the final episode. The budget grew from an average of $6 million to more than double that amount, a whopping $15 million an episode in the final season. Any business would be happy to invest 2.5 times more to gain 9 times the return. In order to see this kind of growth, you must first put forth all of the necessary resources, including time and money.

But it doesn't stop there, numbers speak for themselves, which is why analytics is critical. Smart businesses monitor and analyze performance, focusing on the Key Performance Indicators (KPI's), changing and evolving as necessary. Remember, what gets measured, gets improved.

A Little Creativity Makes a Big Difference

Competition is fierce in today’s business world, think of any product or service, I am confident that you can come up with at least two brands that are associated with those offerings. A brand must have a strong differentiator to succeed, a strong differentiator is one that adds value. While McDonald's started as a restaurant that specialized in hamburgers, it achieved its great success by specializing in fast service with the convenience of a drive-thru window.

“Game of Thrones” created great value by integrating science fiction with drama and adventure to create a great recipe for a television series. There is tons of action, plenty of drama, great surprises, and even some love and romance in this one series. Not to mention some very strange looking creatures like the children of the forest and the white walkers.

The first time I  saw a pair of blue eyes shimmering through a bush in an episode, I thought I was done watching this show, as I am not a big fan of zombies, living dead, etc. Then there were dragons and a woman that doesn’t get burned even in the middle of a large, roaring fire. It bothered me at first, however, the show was not overwhelming with the science fiction (for reference, I am not a fan of The Walking Dead because it is all about zombies). I eventually persuaded myself by viewing the Night King and the White Walkers as the horrible catastrophes that exist in the real world, the ones that bring together humanity and break down divisions. Things like catastrophes, fatal diseases and plague, famine, natural disasters, and atrocities.

Once I looked at the fantasy components in that way I really appreciated the show. That little bit of creativity that brought about some strange characters in small doses was brilliant, and the key to great success and following.

Develop a Great Exit Strategy

When I started in the MBA program, a professor said that a business plan is critical to the success of a business and that an exit strategy is a key component of that plan. I had a hard time accepting, after all, who starts a business that they expect to fail or that they would have to “exit”.

As my career advanced, I understood why the exit strategy was important. As we know change is inevitable and competition is fierce, but what we don’t know is exactly how that will impact a business. There is a strategy that says the best time to sell a business is when it has reached its peak, when revenues are high, and everything looks good.

That is a common mindset in show-business as well, to exit with a bang when the show is doing extremely well. Rather than continuing with the same old, same old until ratings and viewership decline.

“Game of Thrones” chose to exit when it had reached a massive following, but unfortunately they did not go out with a bang, instead it was more of a dud. That provides for two very valuable lessons.

  1. By exiting while doing well, GoT has created an opportunity for new related shows such as a prequel. I know I will be anxiously awaiting the launch of a prequel and plan on watching the premiere episode.
  2. Failing to generate a bang in the exit can have very detrimental and long-term effects. There are plenty of people that have never seen an episode of “Game of Thrones”. Some of those people have already expressed that they don’t intend on watching GoT due to the reaction that avid watchers had towards the final season. As an avid watcher myself, I do not plan on going back to re-watch the series or buying any of the season box sets and related products.

The “Game of Thrones” brand stands to lose future revenues because of such a poor exit strategy. This is a mistake that most small and mid-size businesses cannot afford to make.

If you want to launch a new business or grow your existing business, we can help. Astute Group provides strategic marketing solutions such as planning, brand development, product development/product launch, and qualified lead generation. That is how we take your business to the next level, and beyond.

Disclosure: Astute Group LLC is not affiliated in any way, shape or form with any of the brands and registered trademarks mentioned in this article. We do not intend to make any representations on behalf of these brands, nor are we endorsed by these brands.

References

[1] https://www.adweek.com/tv-video/the-game-of-thrones-premiere-is-coming-and-so-are-the-brands/

[2] https://expandedramblings.com/index.php/game-of-throne-facts-statistics/

[3] http://time.com/game-of-thrones-2017/

[4] https://www.rottentomatoes.com/tv/game_of_thrones/s08