Using Game of Thrones to Understand Mindstate Marketing, Part I: Jon Snow

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know we’re about to start the final season of one of the most popular TV series ever: Game of Thrones. Since the show’s debut in 2011, we’ve watched heroes and villains play a sophisticated game of chess to win the Iron Throne. This month, we’ll begin the final season to answer that question.

Aside from the rush we’ll all get from watching this play out, what can we as marketers learn about behavioral psychology from the key characters in the game?

Specifically, how to drive consumer behavior—otherwise known as mindstate marketing.

In this article, the first of an ongoing series, we’ll look at how Jon Snow, arguably the most beloved character in Game of Thrones, exemplifies the Cautious Belonging mindstate.

But first, let’s answer an important question: what, exactly, is a mindstate?

A Primer on Mindstates

First, a definition of mindstate:

A temporary state of mind in which we’re under high emotional arousal and rely on more nonconscious, emotional factors, making us more susceptible to influence.

Mindstates shift us from rational thinking to irrational, emotional thinking. It’s why Jon Snow acted the way he did when facing Ramsay Bolton (but we’re jumping ahead).

A mindstate is made up of a person’s goals (both functional and higher-order), a core motivation, a regulatory approach, and cognitive heuristics. There are eighteen total mindstates, each one comprised of a motivation and regulatory approach.

Here are the nine motivations that drive us: achievement, autonomy, belonging, competence, empowerment, engagement, esteem, nurturance, and security.

As for the regulatory approach, the optimistic approach is known as a promotion focus, which means we’re striving for success. On the other hand, the cautious approach is known as a prevention focus, which means we’re looking to avoid failure.

You can use these mindstates, each with its own characteristics, to deeply understand and connect with people, be they customers, employees, or your family.

Why Jon Snow Wants to Belong

With that background in mind, we can explore how Jon Snow exemplifies one of the most popular mindstates we see in today’s culture: Cautious Belonging.

**Spoiler alert! We’ll be discussing plot points from the show the rest of the article.**

As fans of the show know, Jon believes himself a bastard son to Lord Ned Stark. Ned’s wife, Catelyn, disdains Jon because she believes that her husband had an affair and that Jon is the bastard child that came of that illicit relationship. Catelyn isolates Jon and treats him way more harshly than she treats her other children.

In part due to the pressure from Catelyn, Ned sends Jon to the Wall to be removed from Winterfell and his family. For the first time, Jon is well and truly on his own.

You can see why Jon wants to belong, can’t you? His parents never truly act like they accepted him and now he’s just been sent far away from the only group that accepted him—the Night’s Watch.

He’s looking for belonging—that sense of feeling aligned, accepted, and affiliated with others—but he’s doing it in a cautious way, meaning he’s seeking to minimize his chance of being excluded or removed from this group (since his family’s already kicked him out of Winterfell).

Jon Snow Finds a Tribe

Throughout the series, Jon finds his tribe. Several tribes, in fact.

When he joins the Night’s Watch, he joins a band of brothers who are united around a common purpose: defending the Wall from invaders coming in from the North.

Jon quickly develops a desire to join the elite group within the Night’s Watch called the Rangers who go beyond the Wall to fight Wildlings, a group that’s been at war with the Night’s Watch for centuries. After being sent to spy on the Wildlings, Jon actually leaves to join them at the end of the second season. Why would he do that?

Because he feels a sense of camaraderie with the Wildlings that he’s never had before. He actually gets named King in the North—a title he never sought—and goes to fight the sinister White Walkers on behalf of the Wildlings. Then, in the seventh season, he forms an alliance with Daenerys Targaryen and steps down as King in the North.

Again, why did Jon do this? It’s because his motivation is belonging.

His desire to feel aligned, accepted, and affiliated with others drives his loyalties and, often, his actions. That said, how does Jon approach his goal?

That’s the next piece of the mindstate puzzle.

Jon Snow Prefers a Cautious Approach

Jon’s personality is very reserved when it comes to his family. He seeks to appease his mother and father because he wants to remain a member of the family. Although he’s not treated the best by Ned or Catelyn, it’s the only family he’s ever known.

So, when Ned sends Jon to the Wall, Jon goes without any strong resistance. He knows it’s his duty, and as a bastard son, he’s obligated to fulfill his father’s request.

He takes the same approach when Catelyn yells at him for wanting to say goodbye to his brother, Bran, who was in a coma in Season 1. He doesn’t fight back—he just leaves.

When the North asks him to be King in the North, he reluctantly accepts. Remember, he never wanted to be king. He just wanted to find belonging within a tribe.

In the seventh season, Daenerys tells him, “I will help you fight the White Walkers if you bend the knee, show your alliance to me, and acknowledge me as your queen.”

But Jon won’t do it! Why? Because he doesn't want to lose the respect and camaraderie of the Northerners or the Wildlings. He knows if he bent the knee, Daenerys would rule over the North, and his people would feel betrayed by Jon’s actions.

So, Jon steps down as King in the North before he makes the alliance with Daenerys.

All these actions demonstrate how Jon operates using a prevention focus. He tends to try to minimize the risk of losing the tribe that provides him a sense of belonging versus actively working to maximize his status within his tribe. See the difference? Better yet, do you feel the difference in Jon’s personality and actions?

How Jon Snow’s Mindstate Impacts Him

Given his cautious, reserved, and somewhat reluctant nature, coupled with his strong desire to be a part of something bigger than himself, it’s very obvious that Jon is often driven by the cautious belonging mindstate, which I define this way in my book:

The desire to connect and build relationships by avoiding potential exclusion by others is the basis of the Cautious Belonging mindstate.

So, how does this mindstate impact Jon’s decisions? Here are a few examples:

●     Makes him forego his battle strategy in Battle of the Bastards

●     Makes him negotiate for peace with the Wildlings

●     Makes him take on the White Walkers (twice) on behalf of the Wildlings

●     Makes him refuse to swear allegiance to Daenerys at Dragonstone

Jon takes all these actions, not because they make logical sense, but rather because they feel like the right decisions. It’s the power of a mindstate in action.

What Does This Mean for You and Your Marketing?

When we’re making decisions in a certain mindstate, we go outside of our rational thinking and are driven by pure instinct and emotion. It just feels so right.

This is why it’s so important to understand mindstates if your job is to influence in any way. Reason and logic are important in decisions and behaviors, but our System 1, nonconscious emotional properties actually drive our actions and our behaviors.

More importantly, each mindstate has strategic guidance and specific tactics to engage people and influence their behaviors through a process called Behavioral Design.

By understanding key mindstates, you have a new window into what drives people at a subconscious, emotional level. It can help you understand the seemingly irrational behaviors of your customers, as well as the actions of our hero, Jon Snow.