This article is modified from a post originally posted on Medium. You can read the original here.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably watched the final season of one of the most popular TV series ever: Game of Thrones. Or you heard at least 50 people talking about it for weeks later.
Since the show’s debut in 2011, we Game of Thrones fans watched heroes and villains play a sophisticated game of chess to win the Iron Throne. Then, in those quiet months before COVID-19 hit, we began the final season to answer that question.
Aside from the rush we had from watching this play out, there’s something else we can gain from revisiting the complex characters of the series. Jon can actually teach us a few things about behavioral psychology, 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, and their regulatory approach. 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 Wanted 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 believed himself a bastard son to Lord Ned Stark. Ned’s wife, Catelyn, disdains Jon because she believed that her husband had an affair and that Jon is the bastard child that came of that illicit relationship. Catelyn isolated Jon and treated him way more harshly than she treated her other children.
In part due to the pressure from Catelyn, Ned sent Jon to the Wall to be removed from Winterfell and his family. For the first time, Jon was truly on his own.
You can see why Jon wanted to belong, can’t you? His parents never truly acted like they accepted him. Then he was sent far away from the only group that accepted him—the Night’s Watch.
He searched for belonging—that sense of feeling aligned, accepted, and affiliated with others—but he did it in a cautious way, meaning he sought to minimize his chance of being excluded or removed from this group (since his family already kicked him out of Winterfell).
Jon Snow Finds a Tribe
Throughout the series, Jon found his tribe. Several tribes, in fact.
When he joined the Night’s Watch, he joined a band of brothers who are united around a common purpose: defending the Wall from invaders coming in from the North.
Jon quickly developed 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 left to join them at the end of the second season. Why would he do that?
Because he felt a sense of camaraderie with the Wildlings that he’s never had before. He actually was named King in the North—a title he never sought—and went to fight the sinister White Walkers on behalf of the Wildlings. Then, in the seventh season, he formed an alliance with Daenerys Targaryen and stepped 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 drove his loyalties and, often, his actions. That said, how did Jon approach his goal?
That’s the next piece of the mindstate puzzle.
Jon Snow Prefers a Cautious Approach
Jon’s personality was very reserved when it comes to his family. He sought to appease his mother and father because he wants to remain a member of the family. Although he wasn’t treated the best by Ned or Catelyn, they were the only family he ever knew.
So, when Ned sent Jon to the Wall, Jon went without any strong resistance. He knew it was his duty, and as a bastard son, he was obligated to fulfill his father’s request.
He took the same approach when Catelyn yelled at him for wanting to say goodbye to his brother, Bran, who was in a coma in Season 1. He didn’t fight back—he just left.
When the North asked him to be King in the North, he reluctantly accepted. Remember, he never wanted to be king. He just wanted to find belonging within a tribe.
In the seventh season, Daenerys told 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 wouldn’t do it! Why? Because he didn’t want to lose the respect and camaraderie of the Northerners or the Wildlings. He knew if he bent the knee, Daenerys would rule over the North, and his people would feel betrayed by Jon’s actions.
So, Jon stepped down as King in the North before he makes the alliance with Daenerys.
All these actions demonstrate how Jon operated using a prevention focus. He tried 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 Impacted 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 was often driven by the cautious belonging mindstate. This mindstate is defined as 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 took all these actions not because they make logical sense, but rather because they felt 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.
If you’re new to Mindstate Marketing, I highly recommend you check out our Mindstate Marketing Starter Package that includes a copy of Marketing to Mindstates, digital worksheets, and more. If you’re familiar with Mindstate Marketing but aren’t sure how to apply it to your marketing creative, it’s time to register for our Masterclass or sign up for the Master Program.
The Mindstate Marketing Masterclass includes 12+ hours of on-demand video training and teaches you everything you need to know about executing a content strategy based on behavioral science.
Our Mindstate Marketing Master Course, on the other hand, is a 4-week program that includes our Masterclass program, a virtual one-on-one workshop, and two follow up sessions with the Mindstate Group team. In this course, you’ll get personalized guidance, direction, plans, and next steps specific to your business.