All the emotions.
That basically sums up how we feel after we finish any episode of Game of Thrones – especially now that we’re in the final season (please say it ain’t so!).
If you’re like us, that show took you through a wild ride over the last seven years and, while you’re ready to stop seeing your favorite people die, you just don’t want it to end.
While the show must end at some point, the lessons you can take away from it (other than, you know, how to get away with incest or how to kill a white walker), don’t have to.
Nearly anyone who has watched the show will tell you that Game of Thrones is a prime example of phenomenal storytelling. Not only do they rely on a simple story structure to carry across the complexity of the show in the way their audience can, eventually, understand, but they also know how and when to break them to capture our attention and emotions.
You can take these same principals and apply them to your brand storytelling. So whether you’re writing ad copy, updating your website, or writing regular blog posts, here are a few things you can learn from one of the most popular shows of all time.
Lesson 1: Stop interrupting your audience; show up and create value.
In a recent blog post on how Storytelling Is The New Advertising, we discussed how the traditional methods of advertising through interruption are no longer effective.
Advertising isn’t a new concept. It started in the 1700s as a way to bring local newspapers in the American colonies income. After some time, they discovered that the most effective advertising was interruption ads.
This concept stuck around for a while and got continually worse as TV stations crammed as many ads into their 30- and 60-minute segments. Yet, over time, we finally started to realize that the more we interrupt people, the less we satisfy their overall experience.
When TiVo came out in the early 2000s, consumers rejoiced. They could now watch what they wanted on their own time without having to deal with those pesky advertisements.
So, if interruptive advertising no longer works, what do you do?
You have to get your audience to want to consume your content. And to do that, you have to do one (or all) of the following:
Game of Thrones does the first thing on that list, entertain, incredibly well. And it does so through the power of storytelling which we will dive into in a moment.
Lesson 2: Use multiple components to tell a cohesive, overarching story
One of our – and many others’ – favorite scenes from Game of Thrones is episode 10 of season 6. You know, the one where the Sept, and everyone in it, blows up from wildfire.
That scene is so powerful for many reasons (one of them being its soundtrack). But in this particular scenario, it’s a great example of how Game of Thrones can tie together a cohesive story through many twisting and turning components through a tactic known as distractive storytelling.
In the scene, the writers twist together the perspectives of many of the show’s characters as the storyline unfolds. Cersei is meant to go to her trial — but doesn’t. Tommen is preparing to go but is stopped by The Mountain. Margaery starts to notice something is going wrong, but can’t figure out what (until the end). Lancel Lannister is lead to a dungeon.
There are so many elements to this scene that it could easily become confusing. However, it’s all tied together by one element (or one person): Cersei Lannister.
This is a great micro-version of what Game of Thrones does on a macro level throughout the entire show. There are so many elements, one can easily get lost and confused (and, yes, this still happens from time-to-time, but after the third season or so, you eventually understand). However, it’s all tied together by one overarching plot: someone’s gotta get the throne. But wait, we gotta kill the white walkers, first.
This can be translated to your own brand story, as well. When you’re telling a story for your brand, there are so many components to it. These include your About page, your overall website, your social media, your blog, your videos, your emails, and more. The more elements you add, the more confusing it can become.
That’s why it’s crucial to lean on the simple storytelling structure. Once you create an outline for your brand’s story, you can lean on it to ensure every piece of your story is cohesive and leads back to the one single plot.
Lesson 3: Use storytelling to include an element of surprise
Have you ever watched a movie, read a book, or heard a story and knew exactly where it was going to end up? When stories follow our expectations, we are often not only disappointed but also upset and frustrated that we wasted our time getting there.
One thing Game of Thrones excels at is setting expectations and then completely breaking them time and time again.
Take the Red Wedding.
Take the Battle of The Bastards.
Take the scene we described above.
GoT writers accomplish this through a number of techniques including:
- Giving their characters a positive scene ending in closure right before they die
- Manipulating us through music which tells our sub-conscious sh*t is going to go down
- …and more
They spend some time setting up expectations in our sub-conscious. When a certain score plays, we expect something to happen. When someone says something, we expect something to happen.
Once we have those expectations down, they completely break them. That’s what keeps our interest over time — no matter how infuriating they may be.
You can do something similar by taking your customer’s expectations of who you are and what you’re all about and completely up-ending them.
This can be done with something as simple as shipping out their order a day early when you have extra time so they receive it early.
Alternatively, you can do something completely different and out-of-the-box from what your competitors are doing, instead of playing along.
Whatever it is, think about a way you can go above and beyond your customer’s expectations. Not only will that delight them, but they’ll also remember you later on. After all, we all remember the Red Wedding…
Lesson 4: Evoke emotions
Raise your hand if you’ve felt any of these feelings while watching Game of Thrones:
- Extreme happiness
- Extreme anger
We’re going to let you in on a little secret: none of those happened by accident. GoT has planned every moment and every line to make sure that your emotions ebb and flow throughout the whole series. They get you emotionally invested in the characters, the storylines, and Jon Snow’s smoldering look.
According to Robert McKee, an author, lecturer, and story consultant:
“As an audience, we experience an emotion when the telling takes us through a transition of [emotional] values.”Robert McKee, Story
This transition of emotional values is exactly what gets us so charged up about this show and stories in general.
To do this, you must set up your story in the following cadence:
Start with a desire. What does your audience want so badly, they’re willing to do almost anything?
Then, transition into action. How can they achieve the thing they want so badly?
Once they introduce a solution, there’s bound to be conflict. Perhaps your audience needs something they can’t afford. Or, maybe their stakeholders don’t all agree on the way to move forward.
Finally, end on change. Through it all, change has been brought to the story. The solution has been found, the conflict has been resolved, and your audience is ready to move forward.
No matter how you tell your story, the main thing you must do is ensure it stays consistent and cohesive. If you lose your audience, you may never get them back. This means you could miss out on potential sales and equity that could launch your brand forward.
“Without continuity, the brand invariably breaks down, and the marketer loses their audience. Continuity is a shield that must never be abandoned, by marketers and storytellers alike. Change is acceptable. Disorder is not.”Lauren Farrell, MarketScale
The best way to stay consistent is to have your brand story outlined. And the first step to that outline is discovering your brand story through a series of questions that lead you to find out what your brand is all about.
Download our free worksheet, Discover Your Brand Story, today to get started on creating a story just as good as Game of Thrones.