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Oprah Winfrey’s Many Lessons in Good Branding

The final installment of The Oprah Winfrey Show is airing across a sad country today. And at Oprah’s final good-bye (from her ABC daytime program, at least; she’ll be starting a new program called Oprah’s Next Chapter on OWN), she will not only shut down a wildly successful daytime enterprise, she’ll be taking one of the best branding platforms of the past 25 years off the air.

Over the years, there have been a number of companies that have credited a windfall of business on a mere mention by Oprah. Maribel Lieberman told Reuters that once her company MarieBelle was mentioned among “Oprah’s Favorite Things,” the phone began ringing, leading to $600,000 in sweets sales in the following month and opportunities to sell her products at nationwide retailers.

Oprah’s Book Club has added both sales and innovation to the book publishing industry. She’s launched the careers of a number of famous personalities including Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil. Her support of President Obama during the 2008 election was critical. And, of course, the show launched her own stratospheric rise that has led to her own OWN TV channel.

Branding strategist Jonathan Salem Baskin told Reuters that “Winfrey tapped into consumers’ need for trusted personal referrals long before social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter capitalized on it.”

When she tells you she likes something, seemingly she’s saying it because she means it. “Authentic” is a word that gets tossed around a lot in PR circles, but to her fans, Oprah embodied it, which has been the key to her success.

The New York Times reports that Oprah didn’t give away any freebies during her final show, saying she wanted to say “thank you” to the fans. The article says: “As the episode neared its end, Ms. Winfrey read out her E-mail address, oprah@oprah.com, and swore that it was indeed her own. ‘I’ll be reading as many of your e-mails as I can,’ she said, seemingly trying to sound as accessible as a billionaire media mogul can possibly be.”

That article, along with this one from The Daily Beast feature fans gushing about the impact that Oprah and her life story has had on their personal lives.

We can’t all be like her, but we’ve learned a few branding lessons over the years.

-Talk to your audience like you would talk to your friends. Oprah’s biggest fans and admirers say she spoke to them like a fabulous billionaire pal next door, which they found endearing and trustworthy. If your brand has something to say, just say it without jargon and as free from hyperbole as possible.

-Try to be better. In one repeatedly used word, “innovate.” Talk about the ways you’re trying to meet internal and external expectations. Solicit advice, be inspired, admit when you stumble or fall short and how you’re going to keep it from happening again. Make this part of your brand.

-Say it loud. Oprah made big announcements, had big shows, and just plain yelled on stage. Often. Don’t rest on press releases (multimedia or not). Talk to people on social networks, remember to pitch traditional media, host events, and ask your PR advisors and colleagues for different ways to amplify what you have to say.

-Be genuine. Too often, brands talk about being authentic and then turn around and spin, spin, spin. If what you have is great and you present it to people in a fun and informative way, there’s no need for all of that. Good content, products, and services are the basis for good, honest messaging.

-Make a difference. CSR is important. No matter the state of the economy, social responsibility must be part of your business. Brands and the people behind them are part of the same world their audiences are. So use your resources to make a positive difference and you’ll be rewarded.

Also, be sure to have a laugh every now and again. Here’s a special tribute from Jimmy Kimmel and Boyz II Men that pretty well captures how we all feel today.

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