For a Successful New Product, Make a Purple Cow

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Purple Cow" by Seth Godin. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is a Purple Cow? How do you create a new product that will stand out from the crowd?

A Purple Cow is a unique and remarkable product. Passion is at the very core of Purple Cow theory. The best products are made by people who are passionate about them.

Continue on to learn how you can make a Purple Cow of your own.

Finding a Purple Cow

Purple Cow by Seth Godin discusses how to leverage passion, both your own and your audience’s, in order to create a Purple Cow (a unique and remarkable product). If you create a new product that you’re passionate about, it’s sure to be remarkable; if you create something that others are passionate about, it’s sure to have a market. Passion is key. 

The Passion, Art, and Science of Purple Cows

Passion is at the very core of Purple Cow theory. The best products are made by people who are passionate about them. For example, Starbucks’s CEO is a huge coffee aficionado. Starbucks makes good coffee because their CEO had them create a new product that he—someone passionate about coffee—would want.

Unfortunately, it’s likely—maybe inevitable—that at some point you’ll find yourself working on a project you’re not passionate about. In that case, you still need to project an air of passion, even if it’s not real. There are two ways to do this.

The first option is to try to understand people who are passionate about it, and make something that they’d want. You might call this the art of projecting. This is a great skill to have no matter what you’re working on. Master it, and you’ll be able to make a Purple Cow out of anything, not just something that you personally love. 

The second option is to rely on tracking and measuring your sales and feedback. You can learn what’s working and what isn’t as you keep launching new products. This could be called the science of projecting. While this is a method of faking passion, in practice it’s the exact opposite of passion. If you’re using the science of projection, you must accept the results without any biases or preformed opinions.

A Purple Cow Is a Leader

Birds fly in formation because the leader reduces the wind resistance, giving the others an easier flight. Many businesspeople think they can do the same, getting the benefits of a Purple Cow while letting the industry leader take the risks. However, there are a couple of things wrong with this approach.

First of all, birds actually switch off leaders frequently, but people using this strategy will never become leaders themselves. Most will be office drones their whole careers. Strangely enough, this also applies to following your own lead—trying to imitate a previous success, not realizing that the market for it is gone now.

A good example of companies trying to follow their own lead is yoga books. Yoga books were extremely popular for a while. By now, though, most people who want them already have them, and they aren’t necessarily looking for new ones. Publishers who keep cranking out more yoga books will probably find their sales dropping off sharply.

Second, following the wrong “bird” can get you fired, laid off, or caught up in a bad situation professionally or even legally. Working for a bad boss can mean more than a frustrating work environment—it can be a major setback for your career.

The bottom line is: Whether you’re using passion, art, or science, whatever you create must be your product. You can’t play follow-the-leader with products and services—the leaders only succeeded because they were the leaders, and once you follow them it’s no longer remarkable (which is to say, not a Purple Cow).

Make Something Remarkable

The big question, of course, is “How do you create a new product?” You want to make something successful, but sometimes it seems hard to figure exactly why things succeed. After all, Four Seasons and Motel 6 both did very well, despite seeming like total opposites. 

However, the key is what they have in common: They’re unusual. Four Seasons is expensive and luxurious, while Motel 6 is cheap and practical. They’re opposite extremes in the hotel industry, meaning that both are remarkable in very different ways.

Your product has to be remarkable enough to attract the left side of Moore’s Idea Diffusion curve, but flexible and accessible enough to appeal to the middle sectionsunless you’re planning to target a niche market.

For a Successful New Product, Make a Purple Cow

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Here's what you'll find in our full Purple Cow summary:

  • Why you have to be remarkable to succeed
  • How to help your business stand out
  • How to leverage a single remarkable product for all it's worth

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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