7 lessons marketers can learn from Game of Thrones
David Spitz, CMO of mParticle, shares seven lessons from the seven kingdoms growth marketers can learn from Game of Thrones to take the Iron Throne.
This post was adapted from a presentation delivered at Mobile World Congress Americas, September 2017.
Red witches and three-eyed ravens aren’t the only ones who can have big visions. Marketers are tasked every day with understanding complex journeys and unmasking the forces that drive them.
What can the people of Westeros teach us about acquiring and retaining customers and maximizing lifetime value? It turns out a great deal. (Warning: spoilers ahead!)
Seven lessons from the seven kingdoms
Lesson 1: Make data collection a priority
As season seven opens, Yara, Grey Worm, Ellaria, and Daenerys—some of the show’s most fearsome warriors—are gathered around the Painted Table at Dragonstone. It should be the beginning of the end for Cersei Lannister, except they lack one thing. No, not dragons, they have plenty of those. They lack data.
Rather than send a scouting party to collect information, the group agrees to follow the intuition-led strategy proposed by Tyrion Lannister. The results are disastrous.
Whether you’re the hand of the queen or of the CMO, you need to follow the OODA loop (Observe and Orient before you Decide and Act).
Samwell Tarly did it properly—he got access to the Citadel’s library, collected the information he needed, and oriented himself before advocating for a course of action. Earlier in this series, Tyrion, in fact, did the same. When he needed to decide who on the King’s Council was most likely to betray him, what did he do? He ran an experiment, giving each council member a different piece of information and then observed what leaked. The ploy worked. So remember: slow down, look around, and orient before taking action.
Lesson 2: Never bring a plain knife to a Wight fight
As a marketer, there’s lots of technology that can help you with data collection and connection. But you need to match the tool to the job.
We see this time and again in GoT. With the right weapon, you can silence a Wight. With the wrong one, well, just recall what happened when Jamie Lannister charged a dragon with a plain old spear.
Unfortunately, most marketers are still trying to make web tools solve their mobile challenges. (To see a round up of mobile-specific tools, download the mParticle Periodic table of mobile data SDKs.)
Lesson 3: The sword matters less than the person wielding it
Arya Stark’s sword, Needle, is slender and small, but she is masterful at using it. Lesson learned: It’s not just the tool that matters, but also the character and skill of the person using it.
There’s a lot of references in GoT to sellswords—soldiers of fortune who contract out their services to the highest bidder. While third-party solutions can carry a certain stigma, it doesn’t really matter whether you bring a first or third-party solution into battle. It’s about how effectively you use the resource and how.
Lesson 4: The right infrastructure can make worlds of difference
GoT isn’t just a show about powerful people, technologies or weapons. It’s also a story about the importance of infrastructure.
While it’s nice to have tools with fancy names like Oath Keeper and Ice (or CRMs and DSPs), you can’t just take one of these beyond the Wall and expect to last long. That solution doesn’t scale. Truly great civilizations are surrounded by “moats” of various sorts.
The same goes for marketing organizations—they need to invest in data infrastructure, not just tools.
Ideally that infrastructure is not only strong, but also flexible and adaptable (API-led), because, well, you never know what dangers to expect in the future.
Lesson 5: Orchestration is a potent force multiplier
As a marketer, you battle with competitors with every day. Whether it’s on Google Ads or Facebook or in the store aisle, the key is finding an unfair advantage. Without that advantage, even if you “win” the day, it will be costly.
Remember The Battle of The Bastards? What began as a bloody, hand-to-hand fight of attrition dramatically changed course when the Knights of the Vale arrived—on horseback.
Marketers can turn the odds in their favor with the force multiplier that is multi-channel orchestration.
For example, when you use push notifications, Facebook campaigns and email in concert with one another it’s the marketing equivalent of “Dothraki Plus Dragons FTW.”
Lesson 6: Cross-functional integration is an even more potent force multiplier
An even more potent force multiplier than marketing orchestration (see Lesson 5) is cross-functional integration.
Cersei Lannister is the master at it. From her brother Jaime, to the Iron Bank, to Ser Gregor, to the forces of the Night King, she knows how to weave together diverse disciplines to meet her objectives.
Channel your inner Cersei Lannister to orchestrate functions beyond marketing into one coherent strategy (product, sales, marketing, even outside partners) and see what happens.
Lesson 7: Much of our future is written in our past
GoT teaches us that much of the future is written in the past—but not all of it.
In our industry, the first age of data-driven marketing was largely dominated by CRM systems and sales force automation. The second was by web marketing systems like DMPs and DSPs. Now the next wave is upon us. Look to the past for clues about the future, but don’t let yourself be ruled by it. It will be similar, but never the same.
GoT is filled with characters who have a deep sense of purposes—Daenerys, Jon Snow, Arya Stark—and they pursue it to the very last.
There’s great nobility in pursuing a purpose that’s greater than yourself. Even as marketers, we can draw inspiration from this. What’s your purpose? Is it designing better customer experiences? Adding beauty to the world? Reducing “advertising clutter”? Helping people solve a problem? Helping a purpose-driven brand spread?
Know yours, and it doesn’t matter whether you sit on the Iron Throne or something more humble, you too will feel noble.