In case you haven’t heard, we’re in the golden age of television right now. Millions of people are obsessed with shows like Game of Thrones because of the fantastic storytelling involved, and were desperate for something to fill the void between seasons. Well, this fall we received that filler—and then some. The season finale of Westworld just aired this past Sunday, and it too left millions of viewers entranced. The show, which plays on HBO, was a whirlwind of excellent plot twists and complex characters—some of which you can’t help but love to hate. With the next season not set to air until at least 2018 according to showrunners, there are a lot of heartbroken fans. Fortunately for marketers, there are some valuable lessons to take away from the show in the meantime. (Warning: There may be some spoilers ahead if you haven’t finished the show).
For those who don’t know, Westworld is a park where people go to live out their fantasies and find their true selves. It’s essentially a Wild West experience where guests can do whatever they want. The park is populated by hosts—AI beings that are so lifelike it’s almost impossible to tell them apart from the human guests. The one major defining characteristic of the hosts that sets them apart is that they’re coded to live certain lives, with a little variety allowed depending on what kind of journey the guest goes on with them. However, they don’t have consciousness—or at least, most don’t—and therefore can only offer so much.
The idea of consciousness brings me to my major takeaway from the show regarding marketing strategy. The two creators of the park—Dr. Robert Ford and Arnold Weber—have very different mindsets when it comes to the hosts and the level of consciousness they should have. Ford believes the hosts should remain as they are, completely unaware of their circumstances and simply living the lives that were created for them, allowing guests to do whatever they’d like without putting up any kind of real fight. He makes the occasional new storylines for guests to enjoy, but the hosts there are still the same basic offering. Meanwhile, Arnold wants to give hosts the ability to think on their own; he thinks consciousness will make each guest-host interaction more personalized, making the entire experience of Westworld unique to each individual that walks through town. (Of course, Arnold eventually changes his point of view, but that’s a story for another time).
So, what does this have to do with marketing? Well, Ford and Arnold’s differing beliefs represent two types of marketing strategies. Ford’s, while inventive in design, is basic. Every single time someone enters the park and meets Dolores, for example, they’re going to be receiving the same offering as the person who met Dolores beforehand. The same thing happens to people who enter Maeve’s domain and encounter Clementine. While it may be exciting, the experience is generic and not at all personalized to the individual—I cannot even tell you how many times Clementine informed men that there wasn’t “much of a rind” on them yet.
This is precisely what you do not want to do in your marketing strategy. Anyone in the world who wants to “discover themselves” can enter Westworld, just like anyone can take a look at your product. Do you really want to market your product the same way to a 40 year old woman the way you would to a 10 year old boy? No, probably not, because that makes no sense. In marketing, you need to be inventive and reach out to your targeted groups individually. There is no one-size-fits-all marketing technique, and trying to pull that off can be detrimental to your marketing campaign—much like, as it turns out, happens in Westworld.
On the other hand, you have Arnold, who represents the epitome of great marketing strategy. By giving the hosts consciousness, he would be allowing them to genuinely interact with guests in a natural way. And that’s what your marketing strategy should be like: personalized to each group. The most effective advertisements are the ones that feel like they’re speaking directly to you. They make it obvious that this product is designed for you specifically, and you need it now. Be unique, personalize the experience and make each customer feel special. Dolores’ consciousness works wonders for William’s experience in Westworld. He certainly discovers himself on that particular customer journey with her—unfortunately—and is still coming back to the park 30 years later. That’s exactly the outcome you want; happy customers who feel seen by your brand will undoubtedly come back for more over the years, and may even tell their friends about it. Let’s just hope your customers in the real world turn out to be a bit more mentally stable than good ol’ William.
Essentially, to run an effective marketing campaign you need to appear to know more about what the customer wants than the customer does. The most effective way to do this is by collecting data. Conduct surveys and utilize marketing analytics tools to find out how each user’s experience was for them, as well as how they found out about you, etc. This information will enable you to implement data-driven marketing techniques, which will ultimately help you create unique marketing experiences. Like in Westworld, marketing is a journey that can help customers find themselves and discover what they’re really looking for. And the only way to do that is through personalization.