What Oprah Taught Me about Marketing

Posted by Lauren in brand | entertainment | media

Today marks the end of daytime television as we know it. The final episode of Oprah will air and millions of fans will say goodbye to the media personality they’ve come to know as a friend over the past quarter of a century.

There has been much discussion over what qualities Oprah has that enabled her to grow into a television icon over the years. Some say it is her charisma; others attribute it to her selfless generosity. As a marketer, I’d like to point out the lessons I’ve learned from Oprah that are applicable to my daily work.

1. Keep Your Finger on the Pulse

Whether it was a discussion on sex trafficking with Lisa Ling or an interview with Tom Cruise that led to the infamous couch-jumping incident, issues discussed on the show led to conversations far beyond the one-hour television spot. Viewers tuned in each day because Oprah promised to point them in the direction of something interesting and discussion-worthy. Following the program, viewers further discussed the topics amongst themselves, read the recommended Book Club book, started the Dr. Oz-approved diet, etc. She drove her viewers to action – I can’t think of anyone else who’s done this better. 

Before I create content for clients, I try to keep in mind the topics that matter most for the target audience and present the company’s story in a way that not only gets the audience thinking about the brand in a new and different way, but encourages and enables them to continue the discussion either through word-of-mouth or social media channels. And, when possible, I try to inject the brand into relevant discussions that are already taking place.

2. Invoke Empathy

Over the years, viewers came to see Oprah as just another girlfriend that would stop by the house every afternoon to chat. She was able to develop this level of trust and loyalty with her fans by showing her humanity and maintaining a presence and personality that outsiders could relate to. She spoke candidly about her political position, causes that mattered to her and, of course, her favorite things. In the face of tough questions, Oprah spoke genuinely and truthfully. Her fans appreciated her all the more. 

As I work on communication campaigns for clients, it is important to maintain a level of authenticity in the messaging, both spoken and unspoken. At Peppercom, we encourage and teach our clients and spokespeople to do the same when speaking publically about the brand. Invoking empathy through speech and action can have a stronger impact than writing a check (Oprah was good at all three!).

3. Know Your Audience

Perhaps the best quality Oprah had was that she knew her audience. She understood that her daily viewers were predominantly female, white, and over the age of 55. Though, she also knew that her audience wasn’t only female, white and over the age of 55. This allowed her to create 25 years of content that catered to a wide variety of interests and exposed certain pockets of people within her viewership to new ideas and issues.

I have learned many things from Oprah, but the key takeaway is learning to anticipate the needs, perceptions, questions and interests from a diverse audience base. Once you have an idea of what will resonate, you can better package and present your story in a compelling way that will spark discussion and action.

(If all else fails, just fly your target audience to Australia. Oprah taught me that one too.)

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