She's making a list, and checking it twice...
Getting your product into the holiday gift guides of glossy magazines can be a fruitful strategy to bolster Q4 sales. But no list has the yuletide clout that Oprah’s Favorite Things does.
What started as a segment on The Oprah Winfrey Show in the 1990’s quickly became an annual phenomena with staying power into 2019. In the televised version, Oprah shares new and noteworthy gifts with viewers ahead of the holiday shopping season. Plus, everyone in the room takes one home – sending studio audiences into a freebie frenzy. After the show wrapped in 2011, O, The Oprah Magazine took over the reigns of the coveted list.
What makes Favorite Things different from other gift guides?
The Oprah seal-of-approval has its perks. Of course, the bragging rights are second-to-none.
And it’s no surprise when Oprah endorses a product, fans reach for their wallets. This effect – coined the ‘Oprah Bump’ – can be a sure-fire way to blow Q4 sales out of the water. Few (if any) other gift guides have this direct impact on sales, consistently and universally for every product mentioned.
Plus, there’s the PR value. Every year media outlets – from Today in the morning to Entertainment Tonight in the evening – clamor to cover Oprah’s picks. Most gift guides only reach their own subscribers. However, the Favorite Things list reaches audiences far beyond O Magazine readers.
Not only does inclusion on the list have a huge pay-off, but it also applies to a huge number of products. Oprah’s picks run the gamut from $12 socks and $15 hot sauce to bedding, tech and jewelry with $2,000+ price tags. When we look at a lot of gift guides, on the pages of Town & Country or Food & Wine for example, we see big brands with big teams and big budgets. It seems elusive for smaller brands to edge out the Goliaths of their industry. But the Favorite Things list features many small and mid-sized businesses – especially in recent years.
Naturally, many brands see their peers on the pages of O Magazine and think: “If they can do it, why can’t I?”
Despite the breadth of products on the list, it’s clearly not easy. Otherwise your brand would be making the list year after year. So why do some products make the cut and others don’t?
Unfortunately, there is not a lot of helpful info out there. Even Adam Glassman, creative director of O and Oprah’s right-hand man, admits “there’s really no rhyme or reason to it.”
So since Oprah’s team isn’t handing out helpers, we figured we’d reach out to Favorite Things honorees and ask how they accomplished this feat.
At first, we thought companies may not be willing to share their secret sauce. But we were pleasantly surprised that many founders and marketers wanted to share their experience with the O Magazine placement.
The biggest takeaway is: nobody pitched O Magazine editors. Every brand we spoke with first made contact with the O team at an industry trade show, oftentimes months (or up to a year) before the issue’s editorial deadline. And sometimes, they didn’t even know they caught the eye of Favorite Things listmakers until long after the trade show.
For example, Houston Max Buehrle (Founder of Bindle Bottle) exhibited at the International Home & Housewares Market in March 2018, where his multi-functional water bottle caught the eye of the O Magazine team. Dana DeVorzon (Founder and CEO of La Chatelaine soaps and hand creams) was discovered in June 2018 at the Dallas Market Center.
Then came the fateful email in July 2018. DeVorzan told us, “I didn’t think it was real!” After all, it’s not everyday that Oprah unexpectedly pops up in your inbox.
All of the brands we spoke with shared a similar timeline. Here’s a breakdown of how the list came together in 2018.
- January – June: Brands exhibited at a trade show.
- July: Brands received an email from the O Magazine team informing them that their product is in consideration for the Favorite Things list and requesting samples.
- August: Brands received an email from the O Magazine that their product has been selected and will be included in Favorite Things for the upcoming holiday season.
- November: In early November, O Magazine publishes the annual list. Almost instantly, brands see a spike in web traffic, e-commerce sales and media hits.
Does the ‘Oprah Bump’ live up to the hype? Turns out it does.
Bindle Bottle (a startup that launched less than a year before being named one of Oprah’s Favorite Things) witnessed a 4,000% increase in sales (MOM). More established businesses (like La Chatelaine) saw somewhere between 300% – 400% sales growth (YTD) during the holiday season.
Even though Oprah’s digital list has only linked out to Amazon product pages in recent years, brands also saw lift in web traffic and sales on their own direct-to-consumer websites. Kelly Carroll Burgin, Founder & CEO of K. Carroll Accessories, continues to see a lift in sales on their site after appearing on the list in both 2016 and 2018. “We still have customers coming to our site from oprah.com. Being selected as one of Oprah's Favorite Things just offers the cachet that stays with the product and the brand for a long time.”
The only downside? It appears that the ‘Oprah Bump’ is somewhat short lived. Despite ongoing referral traffic from oprah.com, most brand’s sales return to normal after January.
In speaking with honorees of years past, we pulled together these tips for getting into Oprah’s good graces.
Don’t email, call or send unrequested samples. This goes against many PR practitioners' gut reaction. But in talking with Favorite Things finalists, not one first came into contact with the O Magazine team by sending an email pitch or cold calling. For Oprah, your PR strategy is going to have to be bigger picture. (Did you have a different experience with O Magazine? Let us know!)
You don’t want to waste your time, and you especially don’t want to waste Oprah’s time. Your time may be better spent emailing pitches to editors at other holiday gift guides.
Get clear on if your product is actually a good gift. There are plenty of awesome products that don’t necessarily make great gifts under the tree. (Just ask anyone who’s ever given exercise equipment as a gift... Yikes!)
If your product is a good gift, update your communication strategy. Make sure it is abundantly clear on your website, your website’s meta descriptions, Amazon product pages, social media and printed marketing collateral that this product is a great gift for him, her, coworkers, mother-in-law, latte lovers, cat owners, etc. This way customers, search engines and O Magazine editors can find your brand quickly.
It can take months for search engines to pick up on these changes, but thankfully there is a way to speed up the process on Google. Once you update your site info, you can order the page to be indexed on Google Search Console, where they will likely carry out the indexing in less than two weeks.
Get on Amazon. One thing that all of Oprah’s picks have in common? Amazon. Like we mentioned above, all of the picks have been available to order through Amazon in recent years, so it’s a must-have distribution service if you’re vying for a spot on the list.
While launching your product on Amazon may seem like a necessary evil for small businesses, it’s relatively easy to get started:
- Create a professional business account. There’s an annual fee associated with these accounts, but it is required if you want to sell your product on Amazon.
- Use enticing descriptions for your product listings – don’t forget to tout the giftability!
- Choose your fulfillment method. Amazon will fulfill and ship your orders for a fee. If you choose to DIY it, keep in mind that many Amazon Prime members might not be willing to pay for shipping.
Exhibit at trade shows. It’s an easy way to get in front of buyers, influencers and media all under one roof. While there’s no shortage of trade shows to attend, here’s a shortlist of shows where the brands we spoke with first caught the eye of Favorite Things listmakers:
- NY Now in New York City (specifically the February show)
- International Home & Housewares Market in Chicago (every March)
- AmericasMart in Atlanta (specifically the home & gift show every January)
- Dallas Market Center in Dallas (specifically the home & gift market every June, but we’d also recommend the home & gift market every March that includes apparel & accessories)
Don’t sweat it. Every brand we spoke with said the process was incredibly organized and the O team takes very good care of its honorees. After all, we wouldn’t expect anything less from the Queen of Christmas.
Any holiday gift guide is a prime opportunity to increase brand awareness and get your products in front of potential customers. At Statusphere, we help manage influencer campaigns – so you can focus on your other marketing efforts, like making it on Oprah’s Favorite Things. Click here to get in touch if we can help with your company's influencer marketing!