5 Marketing Lessons from the Most Epic “Game of Thrones” Season Ever

 
 

Wow! This season of Game of Thrones is moving along at breakneck speed. With so many converging stories and characters, season 7 events are happening fast enough to give viewers whiplash. And with 6.2 million Twitter followers hooked on @GameOfThrones, we think the GOT franchise will have no problem stoking the flames of excitement to new heights.
 
For those not afraid of #spoilers, here’s a quick recap: Winter is here. Death is the enemy and the forces of life are engaged in an epic battle with the Night King’s army of the dead in this season’s penultimate episode, flaming swords in hand. Things also got real between Cersei and Daenerys, and Episode 4 finally brought the dragon fire-fuelled battle we’vebeen anticipating all along.  
 
But now #GoTS7 is almost over and millions of fans in 170 countries are hanging on for the great finale on Sunday. Time to assume a Three-eyed Raven perspective for the five lessons digital marketers can learn from how HBO rules the Seven Kingdoms:
 

1. Use word of mouth to build excitement

We easily forget that fans actually have to wait a looong time for new episodes to stream. It takes one year on average to create a new season of the world’s most widely followed TV franchise (Parrot Analytics).
 
In order to keep fans hungry, HBO relies on textbook content marketing that cuts through social noise like Valyrian steel through White Walkers. However, the most powerful weapon in Westeros is… word of mouth.
 
HBO knows how to incite fire by sending digital ravens via hashtags #PrepareforWinter and #GoTs7 – and let fans do the rest. Additional heat comes from well-placed season teasers, as well as PR stunts like Ed Sheeran’s GOT cameo. Well-timed rumors – Season 8 will have only six episodes, all feature-film length? – made sure the audience was listening when those opening credits rolled on July 16.
 
Lesson for marketers: Tasty nuggets of information create dragon-sized appetites for the full meal.  
 

2. Storytelling rules the world

It’s no secret that the television series leapfrogged George R.R. Martin’s original book series A Song of Ice and Fire. Ever since last season’s premiere, the screenwriters are now the ones deciding how and where the Game of Thrones plays out. And fans don’t like it – they love it.
 
The epic “Battle of the Bastards” episode written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss was one of the most successful, and single-handedly the most expensive GOT episode ever. HBO is also giving a voice to fans and bloggers – letting them join the conversation by re-tweeting their insights – or testing their knowledge on official trivia games.
 
All those Tweets, memes and rumors actually enhance the experience while costing HBO no extra money. Like the latest mind-boggler: Is Bran Stark the Night King? And what if the Night King has an “ice dragon” up his sleeve as a secret weapon (see 4.)? Heady stuff, that.
 
Lesson for marketers: Anyone can chime into the narrative these days, even fans. As long as the story is exciting and worth sharing, your brand reputation will soar.
 

3. TV, Mobile, Desktop – Omnichannel lights up all screens
The balance of power was different when Game of Thrones premiered six years ago – both in Westeros and in marketing. HBO was still an elite, cable-only provider, festooned behind an impenetrable pay(wall). Which attracted its share of enemies at the gates, making GOT the most pirated TV show of all times.
 
But to fight the hordes of infringers, HBO opened up to let viewers without cable TV watch via the official HBO Now app (more than 3 million streams per episode) and an alliance with Amazon. Catch GOT #streamingnow on any screen – smartphones, laptop, smart TVs, and Melisandre’s witching mirror.
 
Lesson for marketers: Reach consumers on all channels for a full sweep. Use a centralized consumer engagement platform like Selligent to send relevant content at the right time via the right channel, whether it’s email, text, Push messages, social media, or dynamic websites.
 

4. Keep a secret weapon up your sleeve
When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. What helps along the way is an extra edge, a secret weapon revealed at the right time. Either small, like Arya Stark’s best friend, Needle, or in the case of Daenerys Stormborn, huge reptilians that are proving quite the “killer app” around Westeros.
 
Doubtlessly, video content roars the loudest in digital marketing. Thanks to well-placed viral video snippets, Game of Thrones has grown its social following by 89%over the course of one season to a whooping 83 million social engagements (WallStreet Journal) and counting.
 
Lesson for marketers: Consumers love videos, and you don’t need 1,000 extras dressed in chainmail to create impactful stories. Marketers can always tap into influencers or content providers to make their brand the hero of winning videos.
 

5. Always map out your journey
Anything can happen in the Game of Thrones, and characters never see it coming (we’re talking to you, Ramsay Bolton). But no matter how strange the plot twists (is that really Jamie Lannister’s baby?) and whether or not a bastard will ultimately claim the Iron Throne, nothing’s left to chance.
 
Just look back at last season’s brilliant “Hold the Door” reveal. And how epic was the Red Wedding-flashback opening scene of Season 7? The formula is working, as Season 7’s premiere set a new all-time record with 16 million viewers tuning in (The Verge) - a giant leap from April 11’s pilot episode watched by 2.2 million.
 
Marketers can keep audiences hooked by planning their content strategy with the intrigue and cunning of a Littlefinger power play. Or, by testing and optimizing their campaigns in advance. Making good marketing campaigns look spontaneous takes some Tyrion Lannister-level swagger, but it can be done, especially by integrating dynamic content and contextual personalization. And don’t forget the right nudge at the right time to make sure they’re watching:
 
Lesson for marketers: Plot your campaigns well in advance and strike while the iron is hot. That’s how HBO grew its @GameOfThrones Twitter fan base by almost 1 million over the course of the past weeks.
 
And although Sunday’s last episode of the season will be followed by a long, cold winter, you can bet your last shard of dragonglass that, come next year, the fans will be hot like Wildfire when the battle for the Iron Throne continues.
 

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