Say It Ain’t So…’O’: Branding Strategies We Should Take From Oprah Winfrey- the Ultimate Personal Branding Expert

Oprah“I won’t say goodbye. I’ll just say until we meet again.”

And with that solemn farewell – Oprah Winfrey gracefully headed toward back stage, soaked in the final moments with her studio audience on their feet – and disappeared. Much will be said, written and debated about Oprah, The Oprah Effect, her legacy, her place as a media icon and her role as an ambassador to women and children around the globe.

A mere 24 hours after the end of her 4,561st show, while the tissues are still tear-soaked and before the blogosphere begins to dissect her many heartfelt references to G-O-D throughout the episode…I want to talk about the personal branding lessons Oprah has and will continue to teach us:

1. Because Running Shoes and Laundry Detergent Don’t Have Heartbeats

For all the things Tom Peter’s 1997 breakthrough article in Fast Company magazine has taught us about the concept of personal branding ourselves like the world’s global products; at the end of the day there are characteristics that only we humans possess. Embrace these unique traits and showcase them as part of your brand.

Whether it’s integrity, compassion, leadership or some other emotion – market these qualities the same way a Chief Marketing Officer may promote ‘Fresher Scent’ or “More Shock Absorption”. People do business with people, not products. It is perfectly rational to include a human touch as a significant element of your personal brand. Define Who You Are.

2. Imposters Beware: Your Brand Must Be Inextricably Tied To YOU

The elements that comprise your personal brand should be so intertwined with who you are as a human being that there is NO WAY anyone else can claim that they are better at your brand than you are.

Oprah has outshone well-intentioned imitators and outright copy cats over the years. You try doing something (well) for twenty-five consecutive years – run an insurance business, or climb the corporate ladder – and you too will run into your fair share of imitators. People will see your success and try to pass off your formula as their own (this never works of course because they’ve overlooked the time and energy you’ve devoted to your craft and those lessons learned along the way).

Instead of the black and orange “Beware of Dog” sign created to ward off intruders, having a strong personal brand is like having a sign that reads: “Beware of Authenticity”. Your personal brand must be based on characteristics that are so intrinsic to your DNA that duplication is impossible. It’s like ‘ham’ without the ‘burger’ you just can’t separate the two!

Now let me be clear, you can’t simply concoct a personal brand. It can’t be vague or aspirational – of course we’d all love to be known as someone who has A-list friends and thousands of Twitter followers. Instead, your brand must have at its foundation previously demonstrated accomplishments. Concrete examples of what you’ve done and what problems you’ve solved that you can point to are what informs your brand. Develop a Tangible Brand.

3. A Great Brand Can Be Centered On People Other Than Yourself

What should you know about ‘O’? That she created a name for herself by taking an interest in knowing the names and stories of common ordinary people the world over. There are many who bemoan the concept of personal branding and believe that it is creating even more selfish behavior as our society is already drowning in “sea of ME’s”.

Let me be the first to remind you that there are countless people whose personal brand is centered on adding value to those other than themselves. Prime example: Oprah Winfrey. Oprah masterfully demonstrates how one person can become well known, well respected, talked about and (let’s be real) filthy rich by caring about complete strangers. During the monologue that was her farewell episode, Oprah said, “Gratitude is the single greatest treasure I will take with me from this whole experience.” Her heart’s desire to improve the lives of her guests, her studio audiences and the entire world (while remaining accessible and humble) is at the very core of what she stands for – her personal brand.

Remember, there is nothing wrong with recognizing that your authenticity (your brand) includes helping others. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say it SHOULD in some way do just that – help others. Regardless of whether you’ve seen every episode or don’t even know what channel the Oprah Winfrey Show appears – one thing you do know is that her brand will long outlive her 25 years as a talk show host. Class dismissed.
Jasmin French

You can find Jasmin on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter @JFRENCHbranding