My name is Katerina, and I’m obsessed with Game of Thrones. As season six has come to a close, I’ve been longingly searching for ways to fill the GoT gap in my heart. And in the process of doing so, I’ve started to think about why this show has so brilliantly captured (pretty much) the entire world.
I then had this realization: Game of Thrones produces a super-fandom that many brands aspire to cultivate. From eagerly awaiting the next piece of content, to an emotionally-invested, die-hard fan base, GoT represents the holy grail of brand loyalty. For this post, we thought it’d be fun to explore how the show aces the tenets of good branding. Here are five ways to build a brand as epic as Game of Thrones.
Spoiler Alert: If you aren’t caught up with Season 6, read this at your own risk. Also, you should probably drop everything you’re doing and go finish it now.
1. Your brand identity is everything.
If you’re a Game of Thrones newbie, here are the basics: The fictional continent of Westeros is divided into seven kingdoms, each ruled by a noble house. Leaders across the land are competing for the power of the Iron Throne, or the right to be the overarching ruler of the seven kingdoms.
When rallying armies to fight for you, it’s important to have a powerful, recognizable emblem to inspire and unite your citizens. House Stark’s emblem is a dire wolf, representing a fierce force that rules in the North, while House Lannister’s emblem is a lion, representing majestic, awe-inspiring power. Each of these houses also have “house words,” or phrases that embody their values. Consider the Stark house words, “Winter is coming,” which likely reminds their army to prepare for the obstacles ahead, or the Lannister house words, “Hear me roar,” which inspires their army to conquer fearlessly.
House emblems and house words are like your brand’s logos and slogans. You want to create a memorable logo and slogan that your customers can easily identify. More importantly, these pieces of your brand identity should capture what your company is all about, and inspire your customers to believe in your company’s mission.
2. You must create value before you ask for value.
Daenerys is on a mission to be Queen of the Seven Kingdoms and in order to do so, she must first convince thousands of citizens and warriors to stand behind her. But how do you convince people you’ve never met before to potentially die fighting for your glory?
Daenerys offers them an invaluable, precious commodity — their freedom.
In return, the army of The Unsullied, the people of Slaver’s Bay, and the Dothraki give her their undying love, devotion, and loyalty. They’re willing to fight for her in return for the incredible favor of being freed.
Your own brand should follow in the footsteps of Daenerys. Offer something valuable before you ask for value back. Perhaps this means a free eBook, a complimentary website audit, or samples of your product. By giving away something your audience wants, they’ll be more engaged and more likely to listen to you when you ask for their time or money. Plus, you’ll begin to build a loyal customer base, which can lead to superusers who act as ambassadors for your brand.
3. Alliances are crucial.
The Game of Thrones is a tricky political game, fueled by alliances and unfortunately, betrayal of those alliances. We’ve seen that it literally saves lives, like when Littlefinger’s army came to the Stark army’s rescue (thanks to Sansa’s alliance with Littlefinger), or when the Tyrell army swoops into King’s Landing to rescue the city (thanks to the alliance between House Lannister and House Tyrell). We’ve also seen that the degradation of alliances can cost lives, like when members of the Night’s Watch label Jon Snow a traitor, and end up killing one of their own tribe.
While the stakes aren’t as high in our day-to-day jobs, alliances can still drastically impact the success of your company. One initiative that Brandfolder’s marketing team has been focusing on is creating content partnerships with companies similar to ours. We’ve swapped guest posts with Uberflip, Creative Market, and Hubspot, and recently did our first-ever webinar with Sprout Social. We’ve found that these partnerships are beneficial on both sides — each company gets their brand in front of new audiences, and builds each other’s credibility along the way.
4. Adapt or die.
Okay so that’s a little dramatic, but we all know things change drastically at the flip of a switch on GoT. One minute you’re happily married, and the next minute, your mom, your wife, you…and 3,500 of your people are slaughtered. The Starks didn’t do so hot at the Red Wedding, but by the end of season six, they’ve somehow managed to become one of the frontrunners to the Iron Throne.
Just as characters constantly have to shift their strategies in Game of Thrones, your brand should also be continually adapting. Make sure you’re reacting to your customer feedback and evolving with your industry’s landscape. This could mean a rebrand if your brand identity is feeling dated, tweaks to your marketing strategy to match changing consumer behaviors, or maybe even a shift to your product roadmap. Either way, a relevant brand is a strong brand.
5. You must deliver on your brand promise.
In Game of Thrones, we’ve seen characters go to great lengths to fulfill promises. Take Brienne of Tarth, who pledged her sword to Catelyn Stark in season two. Once Catelyn died, Brienne tried to pledge her sword to Catelyn’s daughter, Aria — to no avail — and to Catelyn’s other daughter, Sansa — also to no avail. In season six, Sansa finally accepts Brienne’s protection after Brienne saves her from Ramsay’s hunters. Brienne has risked her life delivering this promise, and the woman she promised it to isn’t even alive — talk about true integrity.
The way your company upholds its brand promise defines how you connect emotionally with your customers, and differentiate yourselves from the competition. At it’s core, a brand promise connects your purpose, your positioning, your strategy, your people, and your customer experience. Delivering on this promise is crucial to winning and maintaining your customers’ trust. So, make sure your brand promise is weaved into all touchpoints of your customer journey, and above all, that you actually follow through.
Game of Thrones has built an insane brand loyalty. Fans choose their favorite characters, and become emotionally invested in their outcomes (I mean, have you seen your Facebook feed once a major character gets killed off?). What if we could all build our brands to be as epic as Game of Thrones? Follow these five tips, and you’ll be well on your way.