9 Marketing Lessons from Game of Thrones

This article was written in collaboration with Laura Gayle. Laura is the founder of  Business Woman Guide, the trusted resource for women trying to start or grow businesses on their own terms. She is a full-time blogger who writes for major software companies, tech startups, and online retailers.

Since the final season of “Game of Thrones” has reached its dramatic conclusion, it’s worth looking past the sex and violence to examine the strategic political maneuvering that compelled the protagonists. Although Westeros is fictitious, the tactics used by its would-be monarchs to build followings and wrest power are timeless, and there are many marketing lessons that can be gleaned from from the drama. Here are nine of them:

1. Your location is your kingdom

As the real estate industry says, “Location, location, location,” and the saying is as applicable Beyond the Wall as it is in Dorne. The adage rings true in business, too, whether describing a brick-and-mortar or an online presence. If you want your business to gain traction, it pays to both find the right physical location and to learn to position yourself optimally in search results.

Linking your brand to a vibrant location can set the scene for longevity of rule, so consider starting your business in (or moving it to) a city that fits your brand identity. To further capitalize on opportunities while cutting down on expenses, consider embracing the unique character of unsung areas like Highgarden, Lannisport, or even Omaha, where startups enjoy widespread support and tenants enjoy affordable rents.

To ensure a strong online presence, follow agreed-upon best practices in SEO and digital marketing. Invest in a mobile-friendly website, be sure it loads fast enough, and make it easy for Google to crawl your pages. The list of search-friendly strategies is longer than a maester’s chain, so do your homework to achieve a killer reputation online.

2. Sometimes you have to kill your darlings

You put a lot into each and every marketing campaign and business idea, but from time to time a strategy just isn’t feasible or simply won’t take with your target audience. Sometimes, for the good of your house, you have to kill your darlings. Stannis Baratheon wasn’t afraid to kill his, and look how great that worked out for him!

Just kidding. The concept applies more aptly to clunky campaigns than to sweet, innocent princesses with greyscale. But the point is, you shouldn’t be afraid to strike down any ideas that aren’t working, no matter how beloved they may be. Look at your data, acknowledge which ideas are ineffective, chuck them out, and refocus on other more viable ideas. With your business, you always want to be looking forward.

3. Sigils and banners boost visibility

Sigils and banners can be seen from afar. Since first impressions matter—a lot—take pride in your logo and wave your flag everywhere you go. And always be sure to plan ahead, ensuring you have what you need before any event.

Whether you’re attending trade shows, setting up a table at a chamber of commerce event, running a booth at a local fair, or marching to King’s Landing with the full force of your Unsullied Army, it’s worth examining your promotional materials with a critical eye. Do they make a strong impression? Do they represent the spirit and mission of your company? If not, make the necessary changes to make your branding more memorable.

4. Winter is coming, so be prepared

Unfortunately, unless you have a crystal ball, you can’t plan for everything. House Stark gets it right with their motto “Winter is coming.” And the idea is no different in business. You’ll want to hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

It’s smart to prepare for both the expected and the unexpected by doing research on the possibilities and gathering the tools you’ll need for survival. In marketing, this includes developing a solid inbound marketing strategy that broadens your reputation and customer base, ideally netting you some profit that you can fall back on when times get lean.

Every business experiences a low at some point. The better prepared you are for all eventualities, the better shape your “stores” will be in to keep you fed and help you survive winter until springtime comes again.

5. What is posted may never die

In our age of connectivity, it’s become nearly impossible to leave no digital footprint. Whatever is posted can live for eternity in browser histories, screenshots, old social media feeds—pretty much anywhere. So be careful what you put on the internet, including your personal social media accounts. If evidence of something embarrassing gets posted, someone will always be able to dig it up again, no matter how deeply you think it’s been buried.

And make certain your staff is well-versed in the concept of “what is dead may never die” as well. When everyone’s identity is traceable, as it is today, then every employee becomes a representative of the company they work for, like it or not. All it takes is one incriminating photo or tweet in poor taste to tarnish or ruin your brand’s credibility. Always keep this concept in mind to preserve your brand’s integrity.

6. Always pay your debts

Just as you need riches to win battles, in business you need to spend money to make money. However, if you’re not careful, you could sink yourself too far into debt. While you may need to take out a loan or stretch your budget to the limit, always leave room to pay back what you borrow.

If not, your “enemies” (a.k.a. creditors or collection agencies or, worse, the IRS) will eventually come for you, demanding payment and probably interest. If this happens, you want to be sure you can hold up your end of the deal. So keep a sharp eye on your cash flow, calculate your taxes carefully, and take a lesson from the Lannisters: Never forget what you owe, and always pay your debts.

7. No one can secure the throne on their own

If GOT has taught us one thing, it’s that no one can win a battle on their own. Throughout the run of the show, we’ve witnessed over and over the importance of alliances and relationships, and how they factor into pretty much everything life throws at these characters.

It’s not much different for businesses. Networking and growing business relationships can increase a company’s status, bring better opportunities, enhance institutional knowledge, and much more. Invest in your professional relationships and, like the Arryns and Starks, you’ll always have people to watch your back.

8. Hospitality is sacred

Much like the sacred and revered “guest right” in Westeros, anytime you invite people into your space, be it online or at a physical location, you’re responsible for making sure they’re taken care of. In business, this means customer service measures are friendly, thoughtful, and responsive, ensuring that your guests get what they need from a welcoming staff.

When you take care of your customers, they’ll be more likely to return. If your business, for instance, is renting out vacation property or another hospitality-related industry, this equation is all the more crucial. Fortunately, digital technology makes it easy to manage rentals and other business logistics from anywhere, no matter your industry.

However, just as you require hospitable attention from your staff in the real world, you should ensure your online customer service is equally attentive. Don’t neglect customer inquiries or make them fend for themselves in an endless online loop that leads to no help. Be sure to make yourself and your staff available to answer questions, address concerns, and offer timely service. Hospitality is sacred, so treat your customers like your guests.

9. Be ready for change

Technology is constantly evolving, and as AI and other advanced technologies are inserted into marketing strategies, it’s important to be on top of your own game. Never get too comfortable in your current strategies because next year (or even next month) you may need to adapt quickly.

Remember: Chaos is a ladder. Your competitors will always want to commandeer the market, and you will need to be ready to respond at any given time.

While the exciting world of “Game of Thrones” is full of dragons, zombies, and other fantasy creatures, it’s also full of insights we can apply to our own professional lives. Take these nine lessons and see if you can find ways they can help your marketing efforts bring success to your business.

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