Have You Made a Purple Cow? Keep Innovating!

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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Have you managed to make a Purple Cow? Are you wondering if you should keep innovating or if you should ride on your success?

There are two goals once you have an established Purple Cow. At first, they might seem to contradict each other: milk it or keep innovating.

Keep reading to learn why you should keep innovating even after you’ve made a Purple Cow.

What Comes Next? Keep Innovating!

There are two goals once you have an established Purple Cow, and at first they might seem to contradict each other:

  1. Milk it. Try to get as much out of your Cow as you can for as long as possible. However, recognize that the Cow won’t last forever, and that’s where the second goal comes in.
  2. Keep Innovating and work to create a new Purple Cow—or at least create a work environment where it’s likely that you’ll make another.  This means investing in new projects and to keep innovating, encouraging creativity, and resisting the urge to stifle creativity with compromises.

There is a four-step process to pursue both goals at once, and keep the Purple Cow cycle going:

  1. Once innovators and early adopters pick up your product, get permission from those new fans to let them know the next time you might have a new Purple Cow. Don’t spam them! Only contact them when you’ve got something that’s worth their time.
  2. Work with those innovators and early adopters to help them reach more people. Give them the tools and the slogans they need to spread the word about your Cow. 
  3. Once your Purple Cow is established, hand it off to a different team to milk it. Squeeze everything you can out of your product or service, and do so quickly before it’s no longer remarkable. 
  4. Reinvest your profits into making a new Purple Cow, bigger and better than the last one. Keep innovating. Fail as many times as it takes. A new success will be worth the failures.

Keeping this cycle going is the key to keeping your business thriving. 

Overmilking the Purple Cow

Yahoo! and AOL are two companies that didn’t keep innovating after they created a Purple Cow. They had one major success each and tried to coast on it forever. Early successes got investors to buy into these companies. However, when they moved entirely into milking their Cows rather than trying to make new ones, it was only a matter of time before they were shoved aside by a competitor: Google.

With that said, you don’t need to keep innovating constantly (though it helps). The rewards for one Purple Cow can keep you going for a long time. For example, consider Starbucks. When it started, Starbucks shook up the coffee industry by marketing itself as a luxury brand using everything from Italian names to increased prices; but it was a luxury good that almost anyone could afford. It was a huge success and, even though Starbucks seems commonplace now, that initial push let them open tens of thousands of locations all over the world.

Don’t Do Something Just to Do Something

Doing something great is, of course, better than doing nothing. However, doing nothing is better than doing something mediocre. Lackluster products or marketing will actively harm your reputation. On the other hand, if you sit back and do nothing until you’re ready for your next Purple Cow, your previous successes can keep advertising themselves and your company. 

A good example of this is Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Rather than crank out mediocre new types of ice cream just to keep the brand fresh, they wait until they have a real winner to add to their lineup. They’re now one of the most popular ice cream companies in the world thanks to their steady stream of remarkable products. The lesson here is: If you don’t have your next Purple Cow yet, don’t do something just for the sake of doing something.

To tie it all together: Milk your Cow as much and as quickly as you can, and invest the profits into creating a new Cow. Work with the innovators and early adopters to help your product reach more people. However, don’t bring out a new product just for the sake of doing so. Your new thing must be just as remarkable as your old thing. And always remember, playing it safe is risky!

Have You Made a Purple Cow? Keep Innovating!

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Seth Godin's "Purple Cow" at Shortform .

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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