While on a family vacation in France, Seth Godin and his family were delighted to see fields full of cows. Cows were a novelty to them, and seeing so many was exciting—briefly. It didn’t take long for the novelty to wear off, and then every cow looked much like the others. They’d seen enough of the same old brown cows that they’d become bored. But a purple cow, now that would be remarkable!
That same principle must be applied to product development and marketing. Making another brown cow like all the others won’t get you or your product noticed. You need a Purple Cow, something remarkable and exciting, in order to attract attention.
The traditional mass marketing strategies like TV commercials and newspaper ads just don’t work as well as they used to. People these days have less money, time, and attention that they’re willing to give you, so you need to create something that will really catch people’s interest.
While targeting as many people as possible may seem like the way to go (and is exactly what traditional mass marketing does), the unfortunate truth is that the majority will not listen to you. These people are looking for certainty and security, and they are far more likely to stick with what they know than take a gamble on a new product or service, even if it might be a little better. They have too many choices and too little time to sort through them as it is, and no guarantees that what you’re offering is what they want. No matter how clever your advertising is (or how much money you spend on it), to them, you’ll be nothing but more background noise.
To get attention for your product, target the right people. Your potential customers fit into a bell curve: On the left are the innovators and early adopters; the juicy center of the curve is made up of the early and late majority; and on the far side are the laggards, the ones who resist new products until the bitter end.
These days, the real value is in the innovators and early adopters. They will be the ones to market your product to the majority. Therefore, your Purple Cow must be both remarkable enough to attract the innovators and flexible or universal enough to appeal to the majority, once they finally hear about it from a source they’ll listen to.
Finding your Purple Cow is a matter of looking for extremes. Take a look at your products, your advertisements, your image, even your pricing, and ask yourself: What are the absolute limits of possibility? For example, one limit of pricing would be giving your...
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Seth Godin and his family were taking a road trip through France. While driving through the countryside they were delighted to see fields full of cows. They hadn’t seen many cows before, so seeing entire herds was quite a novelty for them.
However, the novelty quickly wore off. Every cow looked much like the others, and it didn’t take long for these plain brown cows to become commonplace and boring. But if they were to see a purple cow, that would be remarkable—for a while, at least. You can apply that same concept to marketing, which is why this book is called Purple Cow.
The point of marketing is to catch people’s attention and to get them interested in your product. However, so much of marketing consists of regular old brown cows; the ads (and the products) all look the same. They’re not remarkable enough to pull people away from their busy lives and trusted products or services. That’s why you need a Purple Cow: something truly remarkable that will catch people’s interest.
As a case study, consider the Volkswagen...
Start thinking about how to make brown cows purple.
Take a quick look around your desk, your home, or your office. What’s one object that you see every day, something so commonplace that you don’t even notice it anymore?
(Shortform note: The failure of traditional marketing is the basis of Godin’s whole Purple Cow idea, and why he thinks it’s needed. Whether mass marketing is actually failing is a point of contention for many critics of Purple Cow.)
Traditional mass marketing runs on the “5 Ps”—there are actually a lot more than 5, but everyone has their 5 favorites.
Some of these Ps might include:
Whichever 5 you use, they’re meant to be a quick checklist to make sure that your marketing is effective and appropriate for what you’re selling. However, the 5 Ps aren’t enough anymore. To understand why, we need to take a quick look at the history of marketing and where we are today.
Before mass marketing, ideas (and therefore products) spread mostly by word of mouth. For example, if there was one vegetable seller in the market who had better produce than anyone else, that seller would get talked about in town and would get more business.
To fully understand why the traditional strategies don’t work anymore, we need to understand how ideas (and therefore products) spread through a population. Geoff Moore’s book Crossing the Chasm proposes a model for how this works.
The X-axis (horizontal) of the graph shows different types of consumers, and the Y-axis (vertical) shows roughly how many of each type there are.
The center part of the curve seems like the ideal place to target, and in fact that’s exactly what traditional mass marketing does. Remember the TV-industrial complex: Ads generate profits, which generates more ads. However, the most valuable part of the curve is often the left side: The risk-taking innovators and early adopters who are actively looking for new and better products.
Not only will the risk-takers be more likely to adopt a new product, but they’ll also often be the ones to spend the most money on it. For example, a large bank noticed that only 10% of their customers were using their mobile app every day; however, those customers accounted for 70% of the bank’s...
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Identify your ideal first customer.
Think about the product or service you want to sell. Imagine that your new business venture is ready to go, and now it’s time to find the innovator who will spread your idea to the rest of Moore’s idea curve. Now imagine that you can advertise your new idea to any one person. Who would it be? (This doesn’t have to be a specific person, a “type” will work just as well.)
(Shortform note: In this book, Godin uses the word “otaku'' frequently, and somewhat incorrectly, to mean someone who has an interest that is more than a hobby but less than an obsession.
The more common definition of otaku is a person who is deeply interested in something, usually Japanese anime and/or manga, to the point that it interferes with his or her social life. The word often has a negative connotation and is offensive to some. We are substituting the word “passion,” which is more appropriate and closer to Godin’s meaning.)
This chapter discusses how to leverage passion, both your own and your audience’s, in order to create a Purple Cow. If you make something 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.
This chapter also provides the outline of a system for making your own Purple Cows. In short, the system is about pushing some aspect of your business to its absolute limit.
Passion is at the very core of Purple Cow theory. The best products are made by people who are passionate about them. For...
The first step of creating a Purple Cow is determining where the edges of possibility are.
Pick one aspect of business: design, marketing, pricing, etc. What would the absolute limits of possibility be for that aspect of your venture (or your dream venture, if you don’t have your own right now)?
There are several concepts that are not remarkability, but are commonly mistaken for it. Here are three of the biggest ones.
First of all, good is the opposite of remarkable. “Good” products designed to have broad appeal actually have no appeal. They’re boring, and therefore much more likely to fail than exceptional products with smaller target audiences.
Nobody talks about an experience that was exactly what they expected it to be, like an airline that gets you where you’re going and doesn’t do much more than that. It will be the remarkable things, whether they’re exceptionally good or exceptionally bad, that get attention. If that airline served prime rib for dinner, that would get talked about; if the pilot did loop-de-loops and barrel rolls mid-flight, that would get talked about in a different way.
On a related note, compromises are almost guaranteed to result in unremarkable products. Compromise is about finding broader appeal, getting people onboard who wouldn’t be otherwise. It goes against the very nature of the Purple Cow.
For example, habanero pecan ice cream is an extreme flavor combination, while vanilla is a compromise that almost everyone can agree on....
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Brainstorm ways to become a Purple Cow.
Think of a positive, but unusual, change that you can make in your life today. It doesn’t have to be business related. Write your idea below. (For example, buy a book you’ve never heard of, wear a silly accessory, or take on a new project.)
There are two goals once you have an established Purple Cow, and at first they might seem to contradict each other:
There is a four-step process to pursue both goals at once, and keep the Purple Cow cycle going: