BrainTrust Query: What Oprah Can Teach Us About Loyalty

Discussion
May 27, 2011
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Through a special arrangement, presented
here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the Loyalty 360
blog.

On May 25, after more than 4,500 episodes (each of which drew about 12 million
viewers in the U.S. at its peak) and some 30,000 guests, The Oprah Winfrey
Show came to an end. During its run, Ms. Winfrey launched a magazine, produced
movies, and basically single-handedly catapulted several of her go-to people
to instant fame such as Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz and Rachael Ray.

If Oprah recommended
a book, it became a best-seller. Her favorite things became her fans’ favorite
things. They write tribute songs and create Facebook pages in her honor. Harpo
Studio reports that 1.4 million requests for tickets were submitted this season
alone.

“I’m hard-pressed to think of a stronger brand than Oprah, and I’ve
studied 200 years of brands,” said Harvard Business School professor Nancy
F. Koehn in a recent Bloomberg BusinessWeek article.

The fan loyalty Oprah has
cultivated over the years is a best-practice example marketers and academics
alike are apt to explore for years to come. Her overriding message of self-love,
self-exploration, and determination has certainly resonated with millions of
people worldwide. But it’s not just
that her message struck a chord with her audience, it’s also the
engaging way she inspires them by honestly revealing her own experiences —
both the good and the not-so-good — in a way that’s upbeat and hopeful. She
was “transparent” well
before social media sent the concept to center stage.

I suggest that brands
look at Oprah’s transparency and see how they
can best build this level of honesty and intimacy into their marketing and communications
efforts. Your customers need to be able to see who you really are and what
your brand is all about. This authenticity will translate as both honesty and
integrity to your customers, engage them in your brand, and earn their loyalty.

Discussion Questions: How applicable is Oprah Winfrey’s success to the practice of brand building and driving customer loyalty? What does her success say about connecting with consumers today?

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12 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: What Oprah Can Teach Us About Loyalty"


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Paula Rosenblum
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

It’s certainly applicable, as we see more and more people becoming famous for being famous, but the smarter ones then leverage their names/brands into real products that make money.

My partners cringe when I mention this, but Kim Kardashian is another example of how you build a brand a drive loyalty. Her shoedazzle venture is like the Columbia Record Club for the 21st century…women sign up to buy sight unseen, a pair of shoes every month for $39.95. That’s pretty brilliant. Now, will Ms. Kardashian endure for 25 years? Will we be seeing a “K” magazine one day soon? I have no idea. But the principles are the same.

Out-sized personalities become brands, and it is possible to successfully monetize those brands. The personalities don’t have to be perfect. They just have to be relatable in some odd way.

Dan Berthiaume
Guest
Dan Berthiaume
9 years 11 months ago

Oprah Winfrey’s success does not easily transfer to any other industry or individual because it is largely built on her unique personality. Oprah instinctively knows how to project to a mass audience, understands the nuances of television and other media, and has an innate likeability. If she had not gone into show business she would have made an excellent politician. The best retailers can do to duplicate her success is to identify charismatic individuals in their ranks and put them in positions where they can send a message to lots of customers (TV, social media, etc.)

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
9 years 11 months ago

The big positive for brand Oprah is that she’s authentic, real, transparent. She’s someone who makes consumers feel like she’s one of them. They can relate to her, understand her, sympathize with her–and she with them. But where she truly succeeded is in ensuring that even as the brand grew bigger and bigger, it didn’t lose that authenticity.

Maintaining such authenticity is where other brands fail. Brand Oprah was built from nothing by Oprah, so it bears her authenticity throughout. That’s not the case for many companies today, where successive CEOs, misc. execs, multiple divisions, various reorganizations and other business issues have created multiple iterations of the brand, some successful, others not so much.

As Oprah embarks on a new iteration of brand Oprah, it will be interesting to see whether the authenticity that helped grow the brand remains intact. In the end, that may be the truest sign of a successful brand: That it can be successfully recreated and still remain relevant to consumers from one generation to the next.

Warren Thayer
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

She does resonate, obviously. But I was surprised to see a TV network report that her biggest days have been over for several years. Supposedly she peaked at a little over 12 million viewers, and is now down to 6 million. I think I watched a couple of her shows, and they were good, although I knew I was not the intended target. She does seem authentic and honest. That’s pretty darn rare these days, and it is nice to see it recognized.

Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
9 years 11 months ago

I think the thing to learn is that loyalty isn’t something that grows out of a program, it grows out of a relationship. Oprah built the relationship with her fans one day at a time, one show at a time, based on her authenticity and inspiration. Most importantly for her fans, they experienced the relationship as intensely personal. This is not an easy thing to replicate for mass-market brand marketers. The takeaway perhaps is that the brand has to have a singular face, with a distinctive, authentic personality, that consumers can relate to and identify with on a deeply personal level.

James Tenser
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

The Oprah brand is a phenomenon of its moment, and Ms. Winfrey has the wit and wisdom to realize that it has peaked in its current form. The shift to her own cable network is a risk, but one that reveals her in an impresario’s role – creating stars, rather than being one. Her audience’s loyalty is bound to shift in character or possibly splinter now that her network program ended and her private-label network gets into gear. This next phase will infuse the Oprah brand with new characteristics. It will be interesting to see if it can build relevancy for wider audience groups. It takes courage to choose to build new brand equity rather than coast into retirement on one’s legacy. Ms. Winfrey, in case this discussion reaches you, let me say that I can’t call myself a fan, although I’ve enjoyed your program from time to time and admire your drive and accomplishments. You’ve been phenomenally successful and you have not been a jerk about it. How rare is that today?

Matthew Keylock
Guest
Matthew Keylock
9 years 11 months ago
I wouldn’t ignore a couple of other important elements: (1) values and beliefs and remaining true to these (2) being loyal to your customers – and often showing this loyalty first. Many businesses only have very superficial values and beliefs so it is not obvious what they stand for and they struggle to provide the depth of transparency and the consistency that customers require. Often their “brand” has no depth beyond the sum of the products or services they provide. This is not sustainable. Businesses also forget that to build a relationship you may have to reach out and extend yourself first. First impressions really count and the reciprocal loyalty to your brand persists and even grows if you are able to maintain this in a changing world. But recognize that the world and your customers’ individual needs change – what was great yesterday may be terrible or irrelevant today! Knowing your customers and their needs (ideally personally) helps all brands stay relevant. Oprah did/does a great deal of this; many brands do not!
Laura Heller
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

Oprah hasn’t just built her OWN brand, pun intended, but others as well. But even for her there are limits. Some years ago she veered from spirituality to religion and got smacked in the ratings. She backed off from what many said was preaching, and kept on. Based on the content of her final show, I suspect she will become more faith focused in the future which could narrow her fan base. Another big limit I suspect is technology. Can the Oprah Winfrey Network get viewers to adopt expanded cable? Will they pay to watch Oprah? Probably not in anywhere near the numbers she was getting at ABC. It’s a real test of her brand and it will be interesting to see how it plays out….

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

I met Oprah on a few occasions during her Baltimore career. She was someone you knew had more to offer than what was seen as a reporter on the local ABC affiliate. I admit I was not one of her regular viewers during these past 25 years. But I am one who believed in her honesty, integrity and inspiration. She is real and will continue to bring us more of the wisdom we need in the years to come through her OWN network. Marketers can study her all they want. the problem is marketers study something to find new ways to sell their products. Oprah was not selling anything. Oprah was showing us what was, what is and what should be. She is a leading example of what can happen for someone when someone wants it bad enough to believe it is possible.

John Dawes
Guest
John Dawes
9 years 11 months ago

I suspect that Oprah has a base of viewers that are mostly infrequent/uncommitted/casually interested; and the highly committed ‘fans’ that everyone gets excited about are in the minority. Most brands–even really big, successful ones–have a customer base comprising mostly light buyers with the super-loyal customers comprising a small proportion.

Bill Hanifin
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

The real lesson here is for CEOs and other business leaders. All too often we only hear top executive names in connection with scandal, salary packages, and corporate downsizing plans. Oprah displayed leadership through a servant positioning. People are seeking this type of person to follow. If more senior executives took on this responsibility as part of their role, I am convinced that brand affinity would follow.

Robert Piller
Guest
Robert Piller
9 years 11 months ago

Consistency of message is important in building trust, which creates a brand and then inspires loyalty.

Oprah Winfrey’s audience came to know what to expect from the talk show host and she readily delivered this message for 4500 episodes.

Brands like Apple and Walmart inspire loyalty because of their consistent message.

Confusion in branding and mixed messages are some of the fastest ways to open the doors for your competition to succeed.

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