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A Guide to Brand Building: Notes from 20 Years Working with Oprah Winfrey’s Brand

Harriet Seitler, former Chief Marketing Officer of The Oprah Winfrey Network/Harpo Studios and Current Chief Brand Officer of Course Hero/Advisor at GSV Ventures, shares her brand building secrets.

Each month GSV Ventures hosts an advisory member to speak with our portfolio of founders during Club GSV. Advisors include the former U.S. Secretary of Education, University Presidents, Founders/CEOs from major companies and more. Together the GSV advisors represent some of the most important institutions driving the dawn of the age of digital learning. The goal of Club GSV is to increase access to education critical for founders. This is the 2nd installment.

Harriet Seitler: A 20+ Year Veteran of Oprah Winfrey’s Brand

Harriet Seitler is a seasoned brand executive. She is currently the Chief Brand Officer at EdTech unicorn Course Hero and an advisor at GSV Ventures. Previously she was the Chief Marketing Officer at Harpo Studios and OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network. Harriet has 25 years of experience working with Oprah’s brand, from “The Oprah Winfrey Show” to Oprah.com, Oprah Primetime Specials, podcasting, e-learning, and live events.

While at Harpo, Harriet wrote the iconic phrase “Live Your Best Life,” as part of Oprah’s brand building. She helped shape some of the most memorable promotions in “Oprah” show history, including more than one car giveaway, the final season’s Australia trip giveaway for hundreds of “ultimate viewers,” and “Oprah’s ChristmasKindess South Africa Tour” and special. Prior to her time at OWN, Harriet was VP of Marketing at ESPN and Senior Vice President at MTV.

Oprah Winfrey pictured during Harriet’s car giveaway campaign. Credit: oprahmag.com.

Founders in the GSV Ventures portfolio gathered during Club GSV to learn from Harriet all things brand. Here’s what she shared with us about brand building …

How to Build A Mission Driven Brand

The secret to brand building is creating an emotional connection. To do that focus on the intangibles that mean more to the consumers than the product. Here are Harriet’s Top 5 lessons on how to build a brand people personally identify with:

  1. Know Yourself: Start by defining a purpose. Strong brand builders are self aware and have a clear goal of what they stand for. “Who you are is more fundamental than what you do. Who a brand is, is more important than the features and product. Build a brand that comes from the inside out and it will resonate with people.”
  2. Be Brutally Honest: To be an authentic brand you have to be brutally honest with yourself. What you are telling yourself about your brand has to be in line with what the consumer is telling you. The best marketers know how to incorporate feedback from their consumers. “If you are able to listen with humility and intelligence and put the consumer first, then everything else will follow.”
  3. Be Consistent: Your brand should have a consistent message (reliable mission, vision, and story), look (colors, font, aesthetics), and feel (tone of voice). “The most powerful brands are the brands that have stayed consistent in the way the speak to consumers, deliver to consumers, and build and connect with consumers.”
  4. Validate Others: Oprah Winfrey had the strength to create a new type of talk show, one that spoke with everyday people instead of sensationalized guests that typically drew in top ratings. On the opening day of the show Oprah led with the message that “you are not alone.” During the final episode Oprah shared the underlying theme all 30,000 people she interviewed on the show shared: They all wanted validation. Top brand builders make everyone feel they can be heard.
  5. Combine Science & Heart: “You can get very caught up in the ROI (return on investment) of everything but you have to remind yourself to measure positive perception on top of just building ROI. Challenge yourself to do both of those things to build a strong brand and business.”

This is a summary of Harriet’s top brand building tips. To hear more from Harriet, watch her speak at ASU+GSV Summit on Modern Learning.

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A venture capital firm investing in exceptional technology entrepreneurs creating scaled solutions in the “PreK to Gray” digital education and skills market.

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Thea Knobel

Thea Knobel

Vice President of Platform & Marketing at GSV Ventures investing in the globe's top EdTech startups.

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