“How I like to be liked, and what I do to be liked!” – Charles Lamb (letter to Dorothy Wordsworth, January 8, 1821)
Most of us, at least most of the time, don’t feel we are ever quite good enough, strong enough, pretty enough, or smart enough. We feel inadequate, and we want that feeling to go away.
One way it can go away — the easiest and fastest way — is for someone who is far more than adequate to tell us we are fine.
As an example, here’s my secret, self-esteem wish list:
* Brad Pitt telling me I’m good-looking
* Steven Hawking saying he’s “in awe” of my knowledge of physics
* A New York Times art critic praising the maledictions I apply to the Impressionists
* The Wine Spectator nominating me for “intelligent wine taster” of the year
* The UFC heavyweight champion saying he’d “hate to have to fight MMF in a dark alley”
You get the picture. We all want validation and the simplest and best way to get it is to become friendly with someone we admire. And now we get to Oprah and her half-billion-dollar secret.
As a talk-show host, Oprah isn’t especially well-equipped. She is reasonably intelligent, is reasonably funny, and speaks reasonably well — but she is outranked in all of those areas by many other talk-show hosts, including her mentor, Phil Donahue, and Montel Williams.
So why has she been 10 times more successful than the best of the rest?
In my view, it’s this: Oprah is the ultimate validator. What she does better than anyone else — what she has always done superbly — is validate her audience. It’s not easy to do that. To validate someone, you need two things:
1. You must be in a superior position — i.e., a position the other person aspires to.
2. You must be willing to step down to the other person, take him by the hand, and lead him back up — which Oprah is the greatest at doing.
While Phil Donahue played the condescending liberal white guy and Montel Williams the know-it-all black man, Oprah was talking about how it felt to be raped as a child and how tough it was to keep her weight down.
Here was a celebrity who was one of us. America fell in love with her.
Oprah is — at the same time — an authority figure and a regular person. That is a very powerful combination.
The secret is not just to recognize that most of us feel inadequate but to find a way to give us the hope of eradicating that feeling. There are two ways I can think of to apply this to your career or business.
If you have established yourself as an expert or celebrity in your field, find a way to position yourself as the common man’s expert or the rank-and-file celebrity. Be the intermediary between your market and the insider’s world of knowledge/power/wealth that you have access to.
Stephen Hawking did this when he published a layman’s guide to subatomic theory: “A Brief History of Time”
That one book made him — almost instantly — the best-known and best-paid scientist in the world.
But explaining inside knowledge is only half of the game. The other half is in making a connection, finding a way to let your audience know that in your eyes at least they are just as important and worthwhile as anyone on the inside. Hawking never did that — and that may be why he is “only” a millionaire and not a much richer man.
You can also use this technique to identify unspoken market demands and create new products. Callaway Golf did that when they came up with the idea of a golf club with a longer shaft and a larger and forgiving “sweet spot.”
Dubbed Big Bertha, the club makes it easier for golfers to hit the ball and hit it farther. Callaway realized that many golfers feel frustrated and intimidated by the game and, for obvious reasons, aren’t willing to express those feelings in front of other people. As a result, Big Bertha became a blockbuster for Callaway.
The same principal is, at least in part, behind the hugely successful “Idiots Guide to …” and “… for Dummies” books. In these cases, the publishers wisely take advantage of the fact that most people wish they knew more than they do about science, art, medicine, philosophy, and most everything else.
We all want to feel validated. So, if you can find a way to sell your customers what you sell them and at the same time befriend them and give them the feeling that they are worthwhile … well, in that case, the world’s your oyster, Baby.
Think about your business, your market, and your customers. What do your customers know? What are they missing? How can you help them overcome any feelings of inadequacy related to those negative feelings?
If you can figure out the answers to these questions, you’ll see your sales soar and will begin to get a lot more response from your market. Who knows?
If you take it far enough, you might become as rich as Oprah.