As any other digital entrepreneur who wants to make the most of his efforts online and take his brand to the next level, I have a tendency to look for growth hacking tips everywhere there’s even the slightest chance of finding them. It has become a hobby of mine – nay, an obsession – to keep track of all sorts of different success stories and try my best to reverse-engineer them. By doing this, I hope I’ll learn how to replicate some of these formulas and give my brand a much needed unique twist in this overly-competitive digital world, that edge that will help me rise above my competitors and truly dominate my niche.
Having written that, sometimes my search leads me to all sorts of different unlikely places. I find myself looking for ideas at ball games, theatre, major conferences and marketing events, or just through kicking it back at home and following-up on the latest trending articles, books, movies and TV shows.
Basically, I leave no stones unturned.
It doesn’t really matter if a certain success story is directly related to my niche or market, I approach it from various different angles and search for key takeaways that I could use to further develop my brand. This is how I came to analyze Game of Thrones and its insane success.
Game of Growth
We live in a golden age of TV drama. We truly do. The overall quality of original programming in this medium is insane today. In the last decade, a lot of networks took their game to a whole new level by investing some serious cash into developing quality content that made audiences from every part of the world fall in love with TV all over again.
Thanks to backing-up great projects that are driven by excellent production values, smart narratives, detailed story and character arcs, provoking dialogues, and the industry’s top talent, both off and on screen – today’s TV dramas can be described as outstanding entertainment.
I don’t know about you, but everyone I hang out with is basically addicted to at least one TV show. I, for instance, am always following around 3 or 4 shows at the same time. What can I say; I’m truly hooked on this format.
Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, The Wire, House of Cards, Fargo, Six Feet Under, Sons of Anarchy, Deadwood, Mad Men, Homeland, Rome, Vikings, Boardwalk Empire, Downton Abby, Dexter, Lost, The Walking Dead – every single one of these shows has managed to create an insanely devoted fan following for itself. These are all projects that generate millions of viewers from all corners of the world and make them regularly tune in to check what’s going on with their favorite fictional characters.
Even though every single one of these series is considered a major success by all sorts of different standards, when it comes to fan fiction, fandom and overall hype, none of them can really hold a candle next to the first name on this list.
Game of Thrones is a monster success. It really is. This show has been claiming victories all over the place. After breaking multiple records for being the most pirated TV show in current history, in its fifth season, HBO’s Game of Thrones even broke the Guinness World Record for the Largest TV Drama simulcast by premiering in 173 countries at the same time.
But that’s not all. That is, in fact, just the tip of the iceberg. Putting aside all the individual awards that the cast has won over the years for its magnificent work on the show, the season 6 trailer for HBO’s Emmy-winning drama broke the biggest record yet – it generated a mind blowing 30mil views on YouTube in less than 24 hours after debuting on 8th of March, 2016.
As you can probably see just by looking at some of these impressive numbers, people just can’t get enough of Game of Thrones. The audience is truly hooked. And who can blame them? – The show is truly amazing. After every season, GoT’s army of fans becomes significantly larger.
Interested in the success of this project, I started to look back at all the significant moments it offered its viewers over the years, in hopes to find some sort of pattern or a clue that could help me crack the formula behind the show and truly understand why GoT is such a ridiculously big hit with all sorts of different people.
Going over all the content and data did help me formulate some actionable advice and actually see in black and white why Game of Thrones’ popularity never stopped growing. So, without further delay, here’s a couple of growth hacking tips I got from watching HBO’s Emmy-winning TV drama:
The Constant Element of Surprise
Even though the show is based on George R.R. Martin’s series of fantasy novels titled “A Song of Ice and Fire”, the show isn’t really afraid to abandon its source and pursue its own dreams. There are a lot of differences between R.R. Martin’s books and HBO’s TV series, both in the storyline and in character arcs.
For example, the complete absence of Aegon Targaryen, Coldhands, Jayne Poole and Catelyn Stark’s revival, where she comes back to life as Lady Stoneheart, a mute zombie-like creature that is consumed by vengeance, has been driving book fans crazy for years. These sort of unexpected decisions by the showrunners are forcing the viewers to constantly talk about the show on all sorts of different social networks and forums.
Most of them are also still pretty shocked by the fact that the people in HBO who are in charge of this project decided to kill off Mance Rayder and Sir Barristan Selmy, two major characters who are still alive and well in the books.
Their fates have fueled a lot of heated threads online.
Naturally, this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface on all the surprises we have seen from the show. There so many other things that separate the narrative of the books from the narrative in the TV series. Even though most hardcore fans claim this is a bad thing, it’s certainly something that kept people watching the show.
To me, this frustrating, but also quite ingenious and inviting element, is what keeps the show fresh. Just when you start to think that you know what’s going to happen next on Game of Thrones, the show proves you wrong. As far as HBO is concerned, no one is safe. The showrunners aren’t really afraid to kill off any of the characters, no matter how big or important their story arcs might be in the books.
I think that there’s a lesson to be learned here. Even though it’s important to present yourself as a reliable source in business, it’s also quite important to develop a habit of surprising your customers.
It doesn’t matter what you do, what you sell, or what kind of market you operate in – you cannot afford to be dull. If your current and potential customers see you as nothing more than a one-trick pony, it won’t be long before they start ignoring you and forgetting you exist.
Presenting yourself as a brand that has the ability to rise above your users’ expectations and give the people more than they thought was possible, will get you far in the digital world. If you want to stand out in your niche, you need to aim big and constantly prove to your audience that you’re focused on growth and on expanding their experiences with your brand.
Game of Thrones is extremely rich in content. Apart from the many fun and intelligent characters, stories, and plotlines, GoT has so much more to offer to its fans and followers. R.R. Martin created an entire world – a universe even – with dozens of different species, cultures, languages, and cities. There’s just so much more there than what’s on surface. That kind of depth keeps users engaged at all times. Your brain has no choice but to stay alert to all the possibilities.
I know no one really wants to hear this sentence again, but content truly is king. Good content, that is. Nothing can sky-rocket your brand and grow your audience as fast as killer content that has the power to speak volumes to your target crowd and keep them engaged. If you really invest in its production, your content can become your most powerful weapon. Apart from stimulating people to visit your site over and over again, and positively affecting every step within your marketing funnel, great content also creates leads for your brand that are already sold to, before they even reach any of your sales representatives.
You can never know just how big of an echo quality content creates for most brands online, if you yourself don’t really invest in its production.
The Rise and Fall of Archetypes
This is probably the show’s biggest feature yet. It takes all sorts of well-known and established fantasy plotlines, classic epic tales, and character archetypes, like the ruthless and disliked king, a brave and honest knight, an unlikely hero, a vengeful son and daughter, a people’s champion, a gratuitous orphan, and plays with them in a most unusual way. GoT doesn’t just alter these textbook formulas – it turns them over their heads and presents us, the audience, with a fresh and bold take on a classic tale.
This is what you need to do with your content and business as well. You need to break through the noise and give your audiences something new, something that offers a new set of values to your products and services, no matter how dull or well-established they may be.
You need to surprise, shock, inspire and elevate your user’s experience with your brand. The key here is to make your target crowd see that you’re not just another digital marketing agency, or a web hosting provider, or a social media expert. No, you need to make your people instantly see that your goal here is to push on forward and play with classical archetypes in a new way.
Take Your Customers on a Journey, Use Interesting Scenarios and Settings to Mirror the Real World in Your Stories
As I already wrote above, GoT is extremely rich in content. George R.R. Martin’s fantasy epic takes us on a journey with various king and queens, warriors and politicians, noblemen and outcasts, as we travel across the ruthless and uncivilized East to the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, in a constant battle for power.
Everyone who knows anything about history can immediately recognize that Westeros loosely mirrors Great Britain from the middle ages. But that’s not all. If you really sit down and look at all the battling kingdoms, the socioeconomic differences and barriers, greedy and two-faced politicians, you will instantly recognize some characteristic of the modern world, a world you and I both live in.
The world of Game of Thrones is pretty much like ours. George R.R. Martin uses Westeros as an open platform where he publishes all modern-day metaphors that speak volumes about the reality we live in. Even though there are thousands of great examples here, I think the whole situation with the Wall and the feud between the crows and wildlings, sends the most powerful message yet. This metaphor clearly mirrors The United States and its undocumented immigrant issues.
Identifying your audience’s pain points and giving them some sort of a solution for their problems, is probably one of them most intelligent things you can do for your marketing. If you address current issues on your blog in an entertaining and intelligent manner and offer some real solutions to the problems at hand, your brand will start to grow. People will start to recognize you as an authority figure, a true expert, and a person who works tirelessly at fixing their problems.