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The Oprah effect

“We all have some well known public figure that fascinates us to some varying degree. Maybe it’s a ball player who’s an amazing scorer. Maybe it’s an actor that always “makes” every movie they’re in. Maybe it’s a musician who produces music that truly “speaks” to you and your personal situation. Whatever their chosen field, as an entertainer they receive lots of media attention and, over time, they have cemented you as a loyal “fan” of their work.  You may have never met them face to face, and you may not know them personally, but for some reason you tend to keep up with what’s going on with them. And when they speak you tend to listen pretty attentively. Perhaps you are intrigued with many of their viewpoints. Perhaps you always want to see what they are wearing or who they are dating. Whatever the reason, you seem to really connect with them. They’ve even developed the ability to affect your judgment / opinion on certain matters and should they happen to make a recommendation of some sort, it tends to carry a lot of weight.

Well for over 7 million people in the United States – predominantly women – that person was none other than one Oprah Gail Winfrey. Every single day.

For 25 years Ms. Winfrey consistently maintained her crown as one of the most powerful and influential people in the world. Oprah had a connection with her audience that almost defied logic. It was cult-like. The mere mention of a given product on her show would make that product an instant phenomenon.

We’ve all seen how it works. Oprah gives an endorsement for a product/service on her show and a few days later every person with a pulse wants to get their hands on it. Urgently. On Friday April 20, 2009, she started using this new service called Twitter. By the time Monday had arrived, she had convinced 350,000 others to use it. And after a few short weeks, that number had grown to 5.4 million. On October 24, 2008, she gave an endorsement for a product called the “Kindle”. Immediately following that show’s airing, there was a 479% jump in search traffic for the word “Kindle” and a 15, 458% jump in web traffic to Amazon.com. Yes, you read that correctly – a 15,458% increase in traffic to Amazon’s website. For Greenberg Smoked Turkey of Tyler, a humble little business in East Texas that didn’t accept credit cards and had no website, a 40 second recommendation on the Oprah Winfrey show boosted their sales 11,358% over a two week period. That was not a typo. An 11,358% boost in sales in two weeks just because Oprah said she “liked” it.

As a public figure with a loyal fan base in the tens of millions, Oprah was a media vehicle all by herself. The amount of people she was able to reach was similar to putting a gigantic advertisement in the middle of Times Square on New Years Eve right as the ball is dropping. The degree of influence she had was similar to having your best friend in the whole world frantically insist that your try something.

Oprah Winfrey single handedly reminded us how powerful it can be to have your product endorsed by a well known entity. It still remains one of the most powerful ways to get your brand noticed and boost sales activity to levels you might not have known were possible. Especially when that endorsement comes in a seemingly “natural” manner. Not a paid advertisement. Not a sponsored commercial. But a real endorsement that was actually “earned”.

Sadly, on May 25, 2011, one of the world’s most influential people decided to stop influencing. (At least in front of the camera) And though we may never see another figure with more influencing power than Oprah Winfrey, her departure from television should hopefully just direct your attention to the importance of finding another “Oprah Winfrey” with the ability to really connect with your target audience.

Believe it or not, you actually have quite a few smaller “Oprahs” right under your nose that can help your business. Is there a trade publication in your industry that is read faithfully by your customer for it’s news, insight, and tips? I’m pretty sure there is. How powerful would it be for that publication to endorse your product and recommend it to all of it’s readers? It may not reach millions, but it will surely reach tens of thousands.

Is there a blog or even a syndicated news program that your customer relies on to get the “inside scoop” on various subject matters? Maybe even help determine which products are “hot” and which ones are not? I’m pretty sure there is. How powerful would it be for that particular blog or syndicated news program to boast about how wonderful your product is? It may not reach millions, but it will surely reach tens of thousands.

Again, not a paid advertisement. Not a sponsored commercial. But a real endorsement or recommendation that has been “earned”.

Getting your product “earned” exposure is a practice more commonly known as public relations. And ladies and gentlemen, it works! Here’s how:

Put together a list of “Oprahs” that reach your target audience. If it’s a magazine, think of a topic that you can offer (that ties into your product) that would really interest the reader. If the reader likes it, so will the magazine. And they will “run it”. If it’s a radio / television news program, think of a story you can offer (that ties into your product) that would interest the listener / viewer. If the listener / viewer likes it, so will the radio / television news program. And they will “pick up” the story. If it’s a “celebrity” type figure, that has 10,000 loyal followers on twitter or facebook, see if you can interest them in actually using your product. Even if it’s for free. If they like it, so too will most of their fan base.

Just remember, there is a big difference between a topic that “ties in” to your product and one that is blatantly trying to sell it. One will earn you the endorsement. The other will just be viewed as a another sales pitch.

Is public relations perfect? Of course not. No marketing strategy is. Like anything else it has it’s drawbacks – the largest being that since the endorsement is “”earned””, you have little control over how and when the exposure happens.  Since the endorsement was “”earned””, the media entity decides when and how the coverage happens – not you.  However, there are ways to control the message as well as the exposure that it receives and we’ll cover that in another issue.

Keep reading…”

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