Using Game of Thrones to Understand Mindstate Marketing, Part II: Cersei Lannister

With the Battle of Winterfell behind us and Starbucks making its presence felt in this week’s episode, the final season of Game of Thrones is taking shape. As we near the finish line, it’s becoming clear that the three main contenders for the Iron Throne are Jon Snow, Cersei Lannister, and Daenerys Targaryen, all of whom are still alive.

On a show that has no problem killing off characters—be it an entire Dothraki hoard or Leanna Mormont, the baddest 13-year-old queen to ever rule—nothing is ever certain, but it does appear likely that Jon, Cersei, or Daenerys will be the last one standing.

This article is the second in our series of looking at behavioral psychology through the lens of Game of Thrones characters. Last month, we saw how Jon Snow exemplifies the Cautious Belonging mindstate and the impact it had on his decision-making.

In this installment, we turn our attention to the manipulating, evil Cersei Lannister, who embodies the Optimistic Empowerment mindstate. In case you missed the first article, let’s start with a brief mindstate primer before diving into Cersei’s twisted story.

What is a Mindstate?

If you’ve ever looked back at a decision you made and felt it was more emotional than rational, more than likely you were under the influence of a mindstate. This temporary state of mind finds us under high emotional arousal and relying more on nonconscious, emotional factors. The end result? We’re more susceptible to influence.

A mindstate is comprised of your goals (both functional and higher-order), a core motivation, a regulatory approach, and cognitive heuristics. The two big pieces, which are motivation and regulatory approach, combine to give us eighteen mindstates.

Each mindstate combines one of nine motivations (achievement, autonomy, belonging, competence, empowerment, engagement, esteem, nurturance, or security) with either a promotion focus (striving for success) or prevention focus (trying to avoid failure).

Understanding someone’s mindstate is key to better understanding their decisions.

Cersei is Driven to Gain Power

With that in mind, let’s talk about Cersei. Warning: spoilers ahead!

Cersei is the oldest of Tywin Lannister’s three children. She’s the oldest child, but since she’s not a male, she can’t rule from the throne. Tywin knows this, so he grooms his daughter to rule by manipulating any future king that rules as her husband or her son.

Cersei understands this truth: control the king, control the kingdom.

Being raised this way drives Cersei to do whatever it takes to seize power for herself. She must be the person in control. Power and control are the basis of her identity.

It’s a picture of an empowerment motivation, which I like to define as “the feeling of being authorized and equipped to act on desired choices.”

Unlike her brother, Jaime, who isn’t driven to sit on the Iron Throne, Cersei will use her wits and charm to forge her own path to power, however difficult it may be.

Here are a few examples of Cersei’s motivation in action throughout the series:

  • Successfully plotted to have her husband and the king, Robert, killed.

  • Worked with Qyburn to bring Gregor Clegane (aka The Mountain) back to life.

  • Teamed up with the High Scepter to gain influence over her son, Joffrey.

Each of these decisions move Cersei closer to her goal of controlling those around her. It’s about regaining the power that was taken from her for simply being a woman.

Cersei Takes Big Swings

Cersei’s regulatory approach is just as obvious as her motivation. She’s always favored a promotion focus, meaning she seeks strategies that help her maximize her chances of successfully reaching her goals. Cersei doesn’t play scared. In her quest to gain power and control, she’s never been afraid to take big swings that don’t always pay off.

She had Qyburn plant wildfire and candles beneath the Great Sept of Baelor, then sent the Mountain to keep her last remaining son, Tommen, away from the Sept. The Sept blew up, eliminating Cersei’s enemies all at once. The aggressive move later cost her Tommen’s life, as he committed suicide open discovering what his mother had done.

We also see this promotion focus in her choice to join forces with Aeron Greyjoy instead of sending her troops to battle the White Walkers. Creating that alliance fit with Cersei’s goal of sitting on the Iron Throne. Even if her troops were victorious in battling the White Walkers, it would decimate her army and undermine her power.

Even the naked walk of atonement is proof of Cersei’s regulatory approach. She’ll endure humiliation to get out of her cell and get revenge on all who abused her.

Cersei does not try to minimize the risk of her losing power. She’s constantly looking to do something that will advantage her in gaining more and more power. Because with power comes more control, and ultimately, better access to the Iron Throne.

How Cersei’s Mindstate Impacts Her

When you combine her desire for control of the Seven Kingdoms with her strong risk tolerance, it’s clear that Cersei is most often under the Optimistic Empowerment Mindstate, which I define this way in my book, Marketing to Mindstates:

When choices feel overly restrictive, finding ways to gain greater control of your life is highly desired. This desire is a result of our drive to feel empowered—to feel capable and equipped to take on life’s challenges. The desire to have greater control of your life and choices is the basis of an optimistic empowerment mindstate.

So, how does this mindstate impact Cersei’s decisions? We’ve seen how she takes big risks due to her mindstate, and oftentimes, those risks end up being mistakes.

One of those mistakes was misreading the power of the High Scepter, who she saw as a religious fanatic with a huge following and sway over Tommen. What she didn’t see in her rush to align with him was that the High Scepter was more powerful than she ever imagined. As a result of his militant ways, he actually took power away from Cersei.

She also favors big, bold moves over smaller, more cautious moves. In addition to blowing up the Sept and plotting to have Robert killed, Cersei also had the King’s Hand, Jon Arryn, killed because he was going to expose the fact that Cersei’s three children were born of her brother, Jaime, and not her husband, Robert.

Then there’s the army that Cersei acquires. She negotiates an agreement with the Bank of Braavos to fund her conquest of Highgarden. Because she took on that huge debt, she now has access to the food, equipment, and other resources in Highgarden. It’s one aggressive act (borrowing heavily) followed by another (sacking Highgarden) that pays off big time. However, in the coming weeks, we’ll see if Cersei’s army is up to snuff.

What Does This Mean for You and Your Marketing?

Rational thinking goes out the window when we’re operating under the influence of a mindstate. No rational person would blow up a church filled with people they knew just to eliminate their enemies. That’s emotional thinking all the way through.

As you can see, understanding mindstates is critical if your job is to influence people’s behaviors through marketing. The fact is we’re not always rational, logically-thinking decision makers. Emotional thinking often drives our actions and our behaviors.

More importantly, each mindstate should be approached strategically and with certain tactics in mind to influence behaviors. That process is called Behavioral Design.

By understanding mindstates, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of 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 the evil Cersei Lannister.