A lesson from Oprah on interacting with your customers

Oprah in front of a crowd in AustraliaSunday night, I was watching “Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes,” and heard an important lesson for all marketers, for all businesses and all organizations.

Oprah had just returned to her hotel room after visiting Melbourne, where 10,000 people lined the streets to see her put on what was basically a press event. She was upset because it ended up being more about her and not about her audience. There was very little crowd interaction. “Ego,” she called it and took the blame herself.

She felt like all those people showed up for nothing. She should’ve given them more. So, my question for you is:  Should you be feeling the same way?

Is your audience walking away thinking you made their experience all about you?

I hope not. But with many brands, big and small, the answer is too often, yes.

Here’s a quick, simple way to check:

Is your brochure or website worded the way you talk or the way your audience talks?

Do you see words like “leverage,” “holistic,” or even “provide”? If yes, you should let someone skilled in plain language edit your work.

How many times did you mention “we” or your company name?

If it’s a flyer and your answer is more than three, you could be in trouble. More than five? Start over and put the focus on your reader by saying “you” more often.

Did you include everything you wanted to include?

This one’s a trick question. If you answered yes, you are probably in the wrong. You want to include what your audience wants or needs to understand the product and/or take action, not what you want them to know.

Relevance is your responsibility

The key to all great marketing is to make it relevant to your audience. Or as Oprah says,

“It’s up to me to bring a level of meaning to it.”

Remember that. The next time you write or speak to your audience, the next time you communicate in some way with your customers and potential customers, it’s up to you to bring meaning to their experience.

The more you bring relevance and meaning, the more you drive something else—brand loyalty.

You may or may not like Oprah, but you have to admit she knows what she’s doing. After all, she’s had a large and intensely loyal following for 25 years.

Does that sound good to you?

Advertising hope

Secret Millionaire is a new show on ABC this year that is doing something really special—advertising hope. Exactly what this country needs right now.

This week’s show sent its millionaire to Gary, Indiana to volunteer at three different organizations. Though I’ve certainly heard of Gary, Indiana, I never knew how depressed the city was.

You see burned out buildings, abandoned storefronts, and trash and debris piled up in many places. You hear stories from residents there that make you wonder how these people survive.

By the title of the show, you may think that the hope comes from the millionaire—after all, he donates a good amount of money to each charity. It doesn’t—not really anyway.

The hope comes from the people working at these charities. Most don’t or barely draw a salary from the organization. But they’re working hard, very hard, to save the kids in their town, the adults in their town and the neighborhoods in their town.

These people are so grateful for any help they get, and they nearly pass out when handed checks with four zeroes on them. It’s a reminder to us all what’s important. It’s easy to lose sight of what really matters when you’re in the fast-paced corporate world. It’s easy to get caught up in social media and justify spending so much time online to build your brand or nurture your audience.

This show makes it easy to realize that there’s so much more we can do.

Interestingly, Secret Millionaire started and bombed on Fox in 2008. Given it was an election year and the name Fox is not usually associated with hope, we can all understand why the show didn’t thrive.

I’m hoping the show finds a home on ABC because we all could use a shift to more positive news. And we can probably all use a little motivation to get out and help others—even if we think we have nothing to give.

So tune in, and see what you think. And then vow to spend a little less time online and a little more time giving.

You might be wondering what this all has to do with advertising and brand. Well, the lesson is this: When you give people hope, they remember that—for a very long time.


On the subject of hope, the Ad Council regularly shares its public awareness campaigns. They’re usually quite good. See for yourself and sign up for their e-mail list.

Creative, Inc. – The Ultimate Guide to Running a Successful Freelance Business

Cover of Creative Inc bookTitles of these types of business books are important. Readers should be able to trust that the title reflects what’s inside. In this book, the title is where the authors (Meg Mateo Ilasco & Joy Deangdeelert Cho) make their first mistakes.

Ultimate shmultimate

The word “ultimate” really should not be there. Creative, Inc., does cover a lot of ground, but it’s more an introduction or overview, not the ultimate guide. It’s a guide, plain and simple. And, I think, if you don’t know where to start or what’s involved in freelancing, you will get a lot of good information from this book.

Contents include:

  1. Introduction to creative freelancing
  2. Setting up shop
  3. Getting the word out
  4. Working with clients
  5. Getting paid
  6. Agents
  7. Balancing your business and personal lives
  8. Next steps

Creative, Inc. or Design, Inc.

The other mistake in the title is that it simply says “creative,” when it should instead mention design.

I’m a writer, and I did like this book and learn from it. However, if I had realized it was so focused on design, I would not have bought it.

If you’re a writer, you can—and should—find other books that will help you much more than this one. But if you’re an illustrator, designer, photographer or other type of artist, you will probably like this book and learn a lot from it

Personal touch and tone

Where this book wins is in tone and language. You feel like you’re getting advice from two old friends with industry knowledge and connections. Interviews in all of the chapters are what make this book special. They complement the surrounding information, and they provide a much appreciated real-life view.

Because of the way the authors add variety, especially with the interviews, Creative, Inc. is easy to read and flows very well. Plus, at the end, there’s a fantastic list of resources that will come in handy as you start and build your freelance career.

So, good luck and good reading! And if you have suggestions for other books on freelancing for writers or designers, feel free to share them here.

Don’t let your customers live in an outdated world, sillyhead

“You got the wrong TV, sillyhead.” You bought what you thought was the latest and greatest and then a new version came out that made yours seem like it’s lagging behind.

Ever feel that way? Of course you have and that’s what makes Best Buy’s “Outdated World” commercial resonate so well. We can all identify with it.

Technology changes so fast these days, it’s tough to keep up—even for people in the technology industry.

Being in marketing right now is exciting because so many new avenues have opened up. But, it is very difficult to keep up. Most companies are still mastering Facebook and Twitter, and now we have to try to become adept at location marketing and mobile marketing.

All the time, we wonder what’s coming next.

Now imagine you’re a doctor or nurse and you’ve spent most of your professional life focusing on people and patient care. Your office is now expected to go completely online.  Electronic medical records are being pushed as a crucial way to improve patient safety and reduce costs. Mobile phones are being used for patient messaging and health tracking. But maybe you just learned to text.

I know it’s hard to comprehend when you spend your days immersed in this stuff. But let’s think about these kinds of people more often. Plumbers, mechanics, small retail shop owners, retired people, lawyers, executives…I could go on and on.

Our job is not just to market to these audiences, but to help them. How can we simplify transactions and interactions? How can we ease them into using technology if they’re not already there?

Technology innovators seem to be targeting buyers who like to have the latest and greatest. And that works for now, to a point. But why not also target people who use technology much more casually?

Many electronic products don’t even come with user manuals anymore. The buyer is expected to play with it and learn or go online to read instructions or download a huge pdf. Intimidating—for many people.

The easier we make it for people to buy and use our products, the more likely they’ll be to increase their use of technology and buy more from us in the future.

As technology gets more complex and changes so quickly, more people will need help not falling behind. One solution stands tall: Simplify, simplify, simplify.

Give buyers a cool product, and there’s a decent chance they’ll look to buy from you again later.

Build their trust and make your customers feel comfortable buying from you and getting answers from you.  These buyers are more likely to continue to come back over and over again—and they’ll bring their friends too.

Jeep Grand Cherokee: Best ad campaign of 2011?

The Jeep Grand Cherokee commercials have actually been running since mid-2010. Since then, Jeep has been consistent without boring us. Watch a bunch of them together and see how genius this campaign is—and simple.

Watch this one:

What was the first thing you noticed? No voice, no music, hardly any image of the car itself. Just sound. The sound of wheels driving over rough terrain.

Now, watch another:

See a pattern yet? Starts off with the sound of the car moving from rough terrain into water. All you see is the front of the car as more and more water splashes up. Again, you only see one part of the car. Why this angle? Because everyone knows when everything under the hood gets wet, that car dies.

But Jeep Grand Cherokee keeps moving, and the narrator explains why it can. Then, the camera smartly pans out, so you can watch the Jeep come out of the water and keep going on dry ground.

There’s a third commercial that uses the same approach, but drives through snow—lots of snow. Unfortunately, I can’t find it on the web yet, but you’ll see some images from it in this next commercial. You’ll see why I think the Jeep campaign is so brilliant.

Notice anything familiar?

That’s right, Jeep uses the same content over and over in different ways. Instead of seeing the same commercial over and over again and getting sick of it, we see some of the same actions and hear the same music, but the scripts are different.

All of this ties together nicely:

  • Visuals that realistically show the product in action
  • Sound that makes you feel like you’re there
  • Scripts that resonate with strength and sincerity
  • Music that sounds purposeful and provides audio consistency for the whole campaign

If you go to the Jeep channel on YouTube, you’ll see they reuse content and images quite a bit. This repetition works because it’s well thought out. Each commercial builds on the next, driving the audience to remember those rugged images.

The only thing I didn’t like about the Jeep commercials was the tagline:

The things we make, make us.

But, I finally understood it when I saw their commercial called Manifesto. The narrator explains at the beginning, before we even see the tagline:

The things that make us American are the things we make.

I get it now. I still don’t love it as a tagline, but I do get it.

Wieden + Kennedy, who created these ads, was named 2010 Agency of the Year by Advertising Age, Creativity and Adweek. No surprise there. Given that W+K also made the highly regarded Chrysler “Detroit” ad, they might be the 2011 winner too.


Another great feature of this Jeep Grand Cherokee campaign? They include a sort of “making of” video on YouTube. Check it out.