An Oprah Kind of Brand

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There’s no need to provide a last name. The name “Oprah” is synonymous with success. It is synonymous with a specific brand.

Born into poverty in rural Mississippi, Oprah Winfrey grew a media empire that eventually made her North America’s first black multi-billionaire. Her career began in high school when she landed a job at a local radio station. By the time she was 19, she was a co-anchor for a local evening newscast in Tennessee.

Oprah’s communication delivery eventually led her to transfer into the daytime talk show space, where she eventually hosted the eponymous television show that catapulted her into international star status.

An astute business move on her part, Oprah negotiated ownership rights to The Oprah Winfrey Show, which catapulted her to millionaire status. During its run, the show inspired millions of viewers live their lives to the fullest. Oprah did not conform to the norms of other daytime TV hosts. She won audiences over with her authenticity and her ability to help her interviewees open up about their own stories.

Story of Oprah’s Brand

Oprah’s personal brand is all about being authentic to her audience. During a special episode of The Oprah Show, she openly discussed her childhood sexual abuse suffered at the hands of male relatives and her mother’s friends. Authenticity like this empowers others to embrace their own stories. She captivates people by presenting inspiring stories and helping them, in turn, find their own stories.

Oprah’s interviews are the stuff of legend as well – from Tom Cruise’s explosive jump on the couch, to Michael Jackson’s opening up about his inability to have a normal childhood. She was even able to get Lance Armstrong to admit his substance abuse. Additionally, much like Oprah, the value of your brand lies in your ability to propel others. Oprah’s Book Club has launched the career of many unknown authors and her political endorsement has given her near king- or queenmaker status in elections.

We should all try to mirror some of these characteristics. Viewers, or whoever your audience may be, are attracted to authenticity. Like many other celebrities, Oprah has had to deal with bad publicity. But Oprah quickly apologized for any controversies she stirred up, and owned up to her mistakes.

The inverse is also true – potential clients are turned away from obvious inauthenticity. There are countless celebrities and companies that believe they can gain a following by trying to be what their market wants them to be. Obviously, that works out to a certain extent in certain industries…but not to the fullest extent. You can read more about this in StoryTethers co-founder Frank Brennan’s article on the Digital Dream Girl.

OWNing Your Brand

The programming on Oprah’s network – aptly named the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) – revolves around lifestyle talk shows, reality television, and life coaching. But the network branches from the underlying characteristic of Oprah’s brand – empathy.

Empathy is the name of the game if you want your brand to run similarly to Oprah’s. It’s the cornerstone of her appeal. For Oprah, empathy obviously is instinctive. Not all of us have that instinct. Luckily, empathy is a muscle that is shaped by our experiences.

At first glance it seems that trying to train ourselves to have more empathy runs counter to Oprah’s other gift – authenticity. Training ourselves to be more empathetic does not make us inauthentic, though. It makes us human.

Oprah gets it. So should we.



Check out Oprah’s interview yesterday with Harry and Meghan for a strong example of her excellent interviewing skills that form a major part of her brand.



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[…] Oprah Winfrey‘s legacy, which is still being written as she continues displaying her excellent interviewing skills, is often referenced as an authentic and empathetic brand. […]

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