Five Essential Lessons Retail Marketers Can Learn From Game Of Thrones

0aaaDeb Gabor SolMarketing

Game of Thrones has something for everyone: heroes and villains, comedy and drama, breathtaking cinematography, epic battles, and plenty of love and loss. Hidden beneath the quest for the Iron Throne are five essential lessons for retail marketers.

1. It’s All About The Experience

Retail brands and popular TV shows influence culture similarly — through storytelling. Telling great stories that expose characters to conflict and emotional highs and lows help viewers identify with them and develop profound attachments. We invest in our favorite characters and their outcomes, experiencing every moment of joy and pain alongside them. Joining Arya on her journey from the underestimated daughter of Winterfell to full-fledged assassin created a bond with viewers that continues into her unwritten future.

Consumers are more engaged than ever. Consumers choose brands based on how they make them feel — about the company, themselves, their self-concept and their perceived image when using the brand.


Few retailers have captured the ideal consumer experience as well as Sephora. One quick visit (is that even possible?) and it’s clear this isn’t the makeup counter at Macy’s. Sephora is convenient with lots of luxury brands in one place, but their customer experience makes them an outlier. A “come in and play” mentality provides a safe and fun environment where customers transform their look in real time, ensuring their satisfaction. An ability to walk out the door with decently-sized samples and an incredibly forgiving return policy are icing on the cake.

Sephora’s in-store experience takes customers on a journey to discover their inner beauty by beautifying their outsides. Give your customers a great experience, and they’ll be yours for life.

2. Values And Beliefs

In George R. R. Martin’s epic tale, viewers fell in love with the Starks. These early protagonists demonstrated a consistently righteous set of principles. The positivity and authenticity associated with their hero archetype drew us in as we followed their journey, never doubting they were the “good guys.” We built up so much in the emotional bank account we share with them that we were mostly okay with them doing bad stuff from time to time.

Brands are like people, and consumers look for brands with values and beliefs that mirror their own. When consumers find a brand with which they identify, that contributes to their Irrational Loyalty for the brand.

In the search for Irrational Loyalty in retail, look no further than the nearest Walmart. The company’s focus and clarity in consistently delivering on its brand promise of having “low prices every day, on everything,” keep hundreds of millions of shoppers who share the value of low prices coming back. Walmart consistently delivers on that low-price promise, and even offers a brand promise guarantee to keep their ideal, value-seeking customers engaged over the long-haul.

3. Use FOMO To Your Advantage

Video on demand and streaming services have never been more popular, yet Game of Thrones took “appointment TV” to a whole new level. Walking into work on Monday not knowing what happened the night before, unable to partake in conversations about what might happen next, or worse — having to avoid all human contact to avoid spoilers — is distressing.

How do retailers create FOMO? By providing something extremely relevant to people that delights them in new ways. Apple does this with every iPhone launch.

Everyone who knows me knows that I’m a huge iPhone fan. People line up to buy the latest iPhone, even though their old iPhone still works. Customers camp out in cult-like fashion to be the first to experience innovative ways to engage with life — bigger screen sizes, facial recognition, portrait mode, faster and more responsive operating systems and a longer battery life to power it all.

The fear of missing out on something is a powerful motivator and harnessing it to create demand for your company and its products will generate an enduring clientele.

4. Brand Or Be Branded

If you don’t want your customers to disappear, branding isn’t optional. Branding isn’t a one-and-done proposition: it’s an always-on activity.

When Daenerys Targaryen embarks on her mission to claim the Iron Throne, she commits to liberating Slaver’s Bay. She acquires the Unsullied, abolishes slavery in Astapor, Yunkai and Mereen and executes hundreds of former masters, to attract hundreds of thousands of Irrationally Loyal followers, willing to do her bidding, no matter what.

As Dani gets closer to her ultimate goal she ignores advisors, kills the Tarlys for refusing to bend the knee, executes Varys for treason, and reduces King’s Landing — and most of its 500,000 inhabitants — to ashes.

In her mind, she feels as if she’s acting in the best interest of her people. Meanwhile, she’s become completely out of touch. As a result, her brand identity and brand image become misaligned.

Sears is one of the strongest retail brands in American history, and it enjoyed more than 100 years of popularity through its retail stores, mail order catalog and exclusive brands. A series of blunders, including a failure to turn its catalog division into an e-Commerce powerhouse, a poorly executed acquisition of Kmart, losing its 101-year partnership with Whirlpool, a controversy involving $25 million in bonuses for executives amidst store closings and massive layoffs, and eventual sale to the CEO who oversaw its demise led to one of the longest and saddest retail declines in history.

Sears lost control of its brand image and relevancy to consumers.

Branding isn’t about you, it’s about your customers — and losing focus can have disastrous consequences.

5. Discover Your Core DNA

“I am who I am.” “It is what it is.”

These sometimes overused clichés are repeated so frequently because they are indisputable. Our core DNA remains the same but expressing it in different ways to different audiences can widen our appeal while staying true to ourselves.

In Game of Thrones, the Lannister siblings share a core DNA of “family.” Through eight seasons and diverse storylines the Lannister allegiance to family never changes, even though it manifests itself differently for each character. Cersei uses her skills to dominate anyone who attempts to damage her family’s honor. Jaime engages in a number of ill-conceived activities in the name of devotion. Tyrion puts his family first until the bitter end, despite the way they treated him and others.

Nike is a brand with very strong core DNA that shows up regardless of which segments it markets to. Their mantra: “if you have a body, you’re an athlete,” plays differently in products and campaigns in various segments of the marketplace, yet it’s one of the most recognizable brands on Earth. Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan and wide range of products appeal to athletes, professional, amateur, and “weekend warriors,” Crossfitters and fitness junkies, moms (like me) with a passion for running gear, and beer aficionados with dad bods trying to regain their youthful figures.

No matter how it’s externalized, Nike’s core DNA influences its mission, goals, and long-term vision. What’s your brand’s core DNA?


Deb Gabor is the founder of Sol Marketing, a consultancy that has led successful strategy engagements since 2003 for global brands like Dell, Microsoft, and NBCUniversal, and for numerous digital brands, including Allrecipes, Cheezburger, HomeAway, and many more. A leading expert on brand disasters, Gabor is the author of Irrational Loyalty,Branding Is Sex and Sell the Hell out of Anything, and she has been featured in USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Inc., Entrepreneur, Fortune, Forbes, and other major publications.

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