WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
Picture this: It's a cold and dreary Monday morning at your day job. Another day of investing hours and energy into someone else’s dream. Another bathroom or smoke break just so you have an excuse to leave the desk.
This place sucks the fun out of you. There’s got to be more to life than THIS.
If only your side business could get off the ground! Then you could quit your day job and live the life you've always wanted. You'd much rather be spending your time building your brand and being creative. Plus, your idea is absolutely brilliant!
Sadly, no one else knows that you're brilliant. Your ideal clients don't have a clue who you are.
Are you a small business owner, creative, or entrepreneur who is trying to leave their stamp on the world (and their day job)? Are you frustrated with a lack of sales, audience engagement, or overall recognition? Do you want to create a brand identity as identifiable as a Starbucks cup or McDonald's sign?
I have good news. It can be done!
And it doesn't take much to do it, either.
With the right brand identity elements, you won't have to go looking for consumers. They'll come to you and will spread your name like wildfire.
Don't believe me? Here's a brand that exhibits the qualities of a strong brand identity: Game of Thrones.
Feeling undervalued and undiscovered isn’t fun. With a firm foundation, however, your brand can be as famous as HBO's hit TV series.
All it takes is the right brand strategy, my friend!
Not many people appreciate the brand elements that Game of Thrones contains but in this post I'm going to break down 5 impactful lessons we learn from the TV show. For those of you haven't seen the show, I'll give a quick synopsis:
Several noble families are fighting for one prize: The Iron Throne and control of all of the Seven Kingdoms in the fictional land of Westeros. It's set in medieval times in a country filled with monsters, dragons, and war.
Three competing families are House Lannister (the wealthy, current rulers), House Stark (who want revenge against the Lannisters), and the exiled House Targaryen (who the throne was stolen from). While the Starks fight the Lannisters for vengeance, Daenerys Targaryen is fighting to reclaim her birthright: The Iron Throne.
Your Iron Throne may be expressing your art, becoming your own boss, or building a legacy. Whatever it is, I bet you're willing to do anything to achieve it!
So here are 5 powerful branding lessons we learn from Game of Thrones:
1. Create a Memorable Tagline
One of the first things you may notice when watching the series is that each family has its own memorable tagline.
(GoT tip: For those who are new to the series, you can tell the characters apart from their family's tagline.)
But what is a tagline, you ask?
The Balance Small Business blog defines a tagline as "a short, memorable description that—hopefully—becomes something like a public earworm, getting stuck in people's brains."
And how can your brand benefit from a tagline? The blog goes on to state:
A good one may be used for years to come, tossed into conversations as a long-living reminder of the product its attached to...Taglines are created and intended to leave a lasting impression during a short encounter with the recipient.
That's great! Because who wants to be forgotten?
McDonald's has "I'm Loving It" and Nike has "Just Do It".
Let's see what the main families of GoT have:
House Stark: Winter Is Coming
The Starks have "Winter Is Coming."
There are only two seasons in the show, summer, and winter. Thousands of years ago, an army of the dead wreaked havoc during the long winter. At the beginning of the show, summer is about to end. Winter, with all its perils, is on its way.
Even without the threat of the dead, winters were harsh enough without modern technology. To top it off, the North is slightly isolated from the rest of Westeros, so northerners were pretty much on their own. Knowing this, House Stark chose to stress the importance of preparing for winter, striving to be ready for any threats, known and unknown.
"The North Remembers" is another tagline associated with the Starks. When Eddard "Ned" Stark, the head of House Stark, was unjustly executed by the young Lannister king, the North broke away from the Seven Kingdoms and became independent. The northerners never forgot the injustices against the Starks because they connected with their brand values. I'll go more in depth with that later in this post.
House Lannister: Hear Me Roar
The Lannisters have "Hear Me Roar."
Tywin Lannister was the official hand of the king and head of House Lannister. He also happens to be a great example of rebranding.
The Lannisters weren't always so mighty. Tywin's father was a pushover and easily intimidated. The other noble houses often insulted him and took advantage of his weakness. When Tywin came back from war, he restored his family's integrity by ruthlessly killing every family that ever crossed them. Thus, House Lannister was rebranded as a powerful family who commanded respect.
The Lannisters are also associated with a second tagline: A Lannister Always Pays His Debts. Although this tagline is generally referring to their wealth, Tywin's actions proved it can also be a promise of vengeance.
House Targaryen: Fire & Blood
House Targaryen has "Fire and Blood."
Centuries ago, Aegon Targaryen and his sisters came to Westeros with three dragons. They flew over the realm and saw that the various kings were too busy arguing with each other to rule. It was then that he decided to conquer the Seven Kingdoms.
And let's be honest: Who can stand against THREE dragons??
The Targaryens were also known for inbreeding and marrying siblings, causing madness in its rulers. In fact, Daenerys' own father, The Mad King, was said to be increasingly paranoid and excessively violent. Daenerys does her best to break the cycle in her reign but usually ends up taking the route of her ancestors.
According to the Targaryens, some things can only be settled with fire and blood.
What's the perfect tagline for your brand? What do you want to be famous for? What's the best sentence or phrase to convey how you want to be remembered?
2. Choose Impactful Core Brand Values
Another great branding lesson we can learn from Game of Thrones is to choose impactful core brand values. According to Blue Kite Marketing, "core values communicate what you believe as a company and how you are working together toward a shared vision...Without them, your organization will create a culture by default instead of one that is powerfully working to reach your goals as a company every day."
Have you ever worked for a company that made you learn its core brand values? I'm sure your boss explained its significance to the team. Still, why are they essential to your brand or business?
Brand values strengthen brand loyalty. People are emotional consumers and care about connection. By connecting with your audience, you're creating clients who will be loyal for life.
Let's take a look at some of the core brand values of the Houses in Game of Thrones:
House Stark: Honor & Loyalty
House Stark was known for being honorable and loyal in a time where treachery and deceit reigned. As I mentioned, The North is secluded and removed from most of the Westeros culture. So most northerners still upheld the "old ways" of honoring your word and doing the right thing.
(Do you remember when oaths actually MEANT something?)
The Starks gained the northerners' loyalty by honoring their word and the people. The days of people being attacked and taken advantage of were over. Under the Stark rule, the North prospered and was peaceful.
That's one of the reasons they weren't too happy when Ned's head ended up on the chopping block.
Even after his death, Ned Stark's memory was held in high regard and esteem. That’s the power of reputation! In the end, the core values of honor and loyalty not only upheld House Stark's brand, but it inspired those same values in their audience.
So much so that the families of the North stood with the Starks battle after battle.
Now that's powerful.
House Lannister: Family First + Integrity
For House Lannister, putting the family first and preserving integrity was of the utmost importance. As I previously mentioned, Tywin Lannister rebranded his House by dealing ruthlessly with his enemies. To maintain that power, all of the members of his house would have to be on the same page.
Whatever personal yearnings the children had would be put aside for the greater good. Tywin is even quoted as saying "a good man does everything in his power to better his family's position...regardless of his own selfish desires!".
If there was one thing the Lannisters had, it was unity. And although they disliked one another, a united front was one of the best ways to keep their enemies in check.
Along with keeping their word.
Time and time again they proved that "a Lannister always pays his debts". They even used this slogan as collateral with their bank. When is the last time a bank loaned you money off of the strength of your reputation?
*crickets* Yeah, I'll wait.
If the Lannisters considered you an ally, they'd defend you without question. If you were a hired mercenary, you would surely be paid.
And if you ever crossed a Lannister, you could be sure of their revenge too.
House Targaryen: Conquest & Dominance
House Targaryen was regarded as one of the most fearsome and intimidating houses in Westeros. From the beginning, their core brand values have been those of conquest and dominance. When Aegon the Conqueror saw the Seven Kingdoms, he saw a realm he could remake in his image.
The same can be said for his ancestor, Daenerys. When her father, the Mad King, was killed and the throne was stolen, she was forced into a life of exile and desperation. She was sold and married against her will, homeless in the desert, and even survived the deaths of her loved ones.
All the while, she persisted in her pursuit of the Iron Throne. She birthed three dragons, abolished slavery in the “free” cities and burnt her enemies to a crisp. She wouldn't let anything stop her from inheriting her birthright: control of the Seven Kingdoms.
Her goal was to uproot her enemies and crush them by whatever means necessary.
"Breaking the wheel" is her scheme to end all of the abuse and suffering. Daenerys planned to make a better world than the one she was born into, even if it meant using fire and blood.
(GoT tip: Don't get on her bad side.)
What does your brand believe in? How do you do what you do? Clearly convey your brand values by making decisions that align with them.
3. Design a Distinctive Visual Identity
A third vital lesson that Game of Thrones teaches us is the significance of a distinctive visual identity. Your consumers love visuals, so choose a logo and brand colors that connect with the people you want to attract.
(GoT Tip: Another great way to tell characters apart is to look at their logo and family colors.)
Did you know your brand colors have special meanings? Ignyte Brands says that "Like brands, colors are ultimately nothing more than perceptions. They exist nowhere but in the mind of those experiencing them. They also have a powerful effect on our emotions".
Next, we'll see what effects each House logo wants us to experience:
House Stark: Brand color meanings
House Stark's logo is a gray and white direwolf, which is appropriate given that they are located in the cold North.
Here are some positive and negative implications of the colors in the Stark logo:
For those who have seen the show, we can confirm that seeing the direwolf makes us think of timelessness, reliability, and purity, thanks to Ned Stark.
But we also associate it with depression, coldness, emptiness and loss. Out of all of the characters on the show, the Starks have suffered the most.
House Lannister: Brand color meanings
House Lannister opted to make a bolder impression with a lion for their logo.
Let's take a look at the meanings behind the red and gold:
These colors were a perfect match for the most powerful and dangerous family in Westeros. They accurately convey strength, confidence, aggression, and ignorance. It sends the perfect message to their enemies.
House Targaryen: Brand color meanings
House Targaryen used red as well but decided to pair it with black, giving it more of an ominous, fatal feeling.
Let's view the meaning behind those colors:
While the Targaryens were known to be passionate and elegant, they were also infamously dangerous and cold. As we can see, their logo and colors are in alignment with their brand's personality.
What kind of logo and colors have you chosen for your brand? Does it embody your core values and express a bit of your personality?
4. Know Your Audience Better Than They Know Themselves
When it comes to building or growing a brand, the most common advice you'll hear is to find your niche.
That's because it works.
A niche is a “specialized segment of the market for a particular kind of product or service". By choosing a niche, you are one step closer to identifying your target market and consumers. The most successful brands cater their content, products, and services to a specific audience. But why?
Thrive Hive explains that "you are better off thoroughly meeting all of the needs of one specific group than meeting only some of the needs of a lot of different groups. Having a target audience gives you direction in your marketing, facilitates more consistency in your messaging, and allows you to deepen your connection with your customers."
Seems simple enough right? This article on the 4 Benefits of Knowing Your Target Audience breaks it down further:
Knowing the motivations your ideal clients have, in patronizing your services, will help focus your marketing strategy. Let’s say your small business produces luxurious products for newborns. Your sales and marketing team will be more successful at targeting only new parents, within a good income bracket. In other words, going after all new parents is a wrong use of your time and resources.
If you know your audience, you can achieve the response you desire.
Let's see how well these Houses knew their audience:
Audience of House Stark: The North
The Starks have the North of course. When it comes to the northerners, only those who live in that climate have an understanding of the people's experience. What's even better is that House Stark has a long history of looking out for the North's best interests.
The Starks knew what the northerners cared about and what their problems were. More importantly, they used that information to their advantage. They chose brand values of honor and loyalty for a reason.
And the North was honorable and loyal to the Starks, especially when they needed it the most.
Audience of House Lannister: Rival Noble Families of Westeros
The Lannisters' biggest allies and enemies were the other noble houses in Westeros. This House knew their audience cared about good appearances and maintaining an upscale reputation. That’s why they valued a united front and chose brand colors that showed strength and confidence.
They also knew what their audience dreaded and desired most. Using the power of fear and greed, the Lannisters never missed an opportunity to intimidate others or assert themselves.
From extravagant bribes to unthinkable deceptions (Red Wedding anyone?), they knew their audience only respected one thing: action. That's why you could always count on a Lannister to put his money where his mouth was.
Audience of House Targaryen: The Underdog
Because Daenerys was living in exile, she was able to sympathize with the people of the free cities. Most of them were slaves, viciously oppressed, abused, and defenseless. She understood that freedom and strength were important to them and capitalized on that.
House Targaryen used its power and dominance to crush the slave trade in those cities and gain the support of its people. Daenerys was familiar with the power of hope and transformed into a figure that would uplift her subjects. She fought for them and in turn, they fought for her.
How well do you know your audience? What are their hobbies and dreams? Their issues and concerns? What problem will your brand solve for them?
5. Integrate Your Brand Identity Everywhere
GoT’s last lesson in creating a strong brand identity is a crucial one: integrate your brand everywhere.
The Bridge Corp explains that:
"Integrated marketing, or integrated marketing communication, is the process of aligning all of the various promotional mix elements (advertising, direct marketing, digital marketing, sales promotion, public relations and personal selling) and marketing elements used to communicate with your target market and customers... Put simply, the integrated marketing process helps your brand create a distinct and recognizable voice across a variety of different channels."
When it comes to communicating your brand, you want to show alignment all across the board.
Here’s a few ways Game of Thrones executes this:
House Stark: Flags/Banners + Clothing/Jewelry
House Lannister: Flags/Banners + Clothing/Jewelry
House Targaryen: Flags/Banners + Clothing/Jewelry
And that's how it's done!
What I love about these brand identity examples is that the keys are really simple. You don't need a huge budget to have a well-known brand. All you have to do is clearly communicate who you are and why you do what you do. With knowledge, reflection, and a proper framework, everything else will fall into place.
Anyone can do this, especially YOU! Now is the time to go forth and CONQUER!
I hope you enjoyed this post and feel inspired to get your brand out there!