Seth Godin's book, The Purple Cow, takes you on a journey through the past and present of advertising, PR, and marketing. Godin explains why the P’s of standard marketing techniques (pricing, promotion, positioning, publicity, packaging, etc.) are not enough in today’s world; how and why coming up with a remarkable product is the fastest way to generate successful sales; and how a range of companies in the U.S. have created their own “purple cows.”
Key Points From Purple Cow
- The old marketing formula of “increase advertising to increase distribution to increase sales to increase profits” no longer works automatically.
- Turn your back on old, tired products and invest in products that are new and exciting.
- Your product development and advertising should target your ideal customer rather than the masses.
- Good is the opposite of remarkable. “Good” products are not enough in today’s innovative environment. Playing it safe is risky these days.
- Know that you cannot make everyone happy, so find that special niche and cater to their needs.
- Don’t let your company get lost in a flock of sheep—Get out there and produce something new that’s buzzworthy. Be the purple cow!
- Advertising needs to be true and clever; without being true, it’s not clever.
- Focus groups no longer work. Focus on getting in front of the influencers.
- Trying to avoid criticism only guarantees failure.
- Learn about successful product development by studying the most remarkable products to come out of the U.S.:who made them, how, and why?
- Test the limits to see how your product can be the best, newest, and/or easiest to use product that the world has seen.
- Once your purple cow is established, milk it. Recognize that the cow won’t last forever and work on creating a new cow.
1. You Are Probably Missing This All Important P
Back in the day, marketing was straightforward, made up of product, pricing, promotion, position, publicity, packaging, pass-along, and permission. Today, however, there’s a P-word that trumps all others, and it’s essential if you want to succeed:purple cow.
Purple cow usually refers to the remarkability of a product in itself, but it can also refer to how the product is packaged, positioned, priced, and promoted compared to a competitor’s closest product.
In today’s fast-paced world, where consumers are bombarded by advertising 24/7, the only way for your brand to shine and succeed is to develop and market products that stand out from the crowd by being new and noteworthy, thereby catching the attention of influential consumers.
2. The Different World of Advertising Today
In the past, consumers had more time on their hands and fewer products on the market, so it was easier for companies to get their products in front of consumers.
It worked like this: First, a giant market open to new products was claimed. Next, a huge factory was funded, so that new products could be made. Then, masses of TV ads were bought, and business owners were able to sit back and relax as the ads turned into huge sales, followed by alternative distribution methods. You didn’t need a fancy product or new product releases—just something safe and average that people needed or wanted, along with a long product cycle—and a great advert would sell it.
These days, however, despite the leaps and bounds that have been made with technology, people are working longer hours, they are inundated with overlapping product choices, and they are far more savvy and even cynical of marketing techniques; therefore, they are far more able to ignore and tune out marketing messages.
Add to this some other sea changes—the easy-to-reach marketing groups of yesterday are now nearly impossible to reach,the power of word-of-mouth has diminished, and if people do buy what you are marketing, they expect total satisfaction or their money back—and suddenly the world of traditional marketing can look rather bleak.
3. Marketing in Today's Marketplace
The old rules of gaining that promotional punch have flipped; today, major innovation is producing unique products with short product cycles and niche marketing to “early adopters.” It’s all about creating remarkable products that the right people seek out, rather than creating products that everyone needs and marketing to large audiences.
Starbucks, Apple, FedEx, and Linux are all high-profit brands that have emerged and thrived since the end of the television advertising era. Despite selling completely different things, they each have one thing in common: they are individually distinctive, each remarkable in their own way.
Let’s look at what makes some companies and their products stand out:
- JetBlue and Southwest Airlines pioneered the era of low cost flights.
- FedEx gave its customers product-tracking and reliable delivery dates when no one else did.
- Dr. Bronner’s soap comes in a quirky package. They do not advertise their soap, yet sales continue to grow.
- Which companies can you think of that have done something remarkable and changed the way consumers shop forever?
4. Creating Your Own Purple Cow
Use these tips to make your business and its products or services remarkable:
- Come up with a number of ideas to make your products more appealing to niche customers.
- Target a tiny niche market and develop a very specific product.
- Don’t be afraid to outsource—not only can it be cost effective, but partners may have an idea to make your product more remarkable.
- Give your loyal customers or clients the distinctive products that they want.
- Learn from initiative business leaders who have created something extraordinary outside of your industry.
- Don’t play it safe. Think outside the box when it comes to your product planning, marketing, and pricing.
- Dare to do things that are “simply not done” in your industry. Break the mold!
- Don’t let fear stop you. You must be willing to fail when you try something new in order to learn, grow, and become extraordinary.
- When you have found your profitable product, stick with it as long as possible to continue making money from it.
- Ensure that you give your customers the narrative and the quality that they need to share your item or service through word-of-mouth.
5. Get in front of the “Sneezers”
It’s highly unlikely that you’ll succeed with your remarkable product or service unless people know about it and are talking about it, but that doesn’t mean you should aim to get your product seen and heard by anyone and everyone. In the same way that ideas spread, you need to make your purple cow spreadable, and the easiest way to do that is to get it in front of influencers. Think of influencers as “sneezers” who will spread your purple cow far and wide through word-of-mouth as if it were a virus, but in a good way!
These so called sneezers are the eager and willing trendsetters of the world, the people who like trying something new and exciting, and who then can’t wait to let their friends and family know about the fantastic new thing—be that a product, new piece of technology, service, or something else. The only way to catch the attention of a sneezer is to tap into a small product niche, one that is perfectly ripe for the picking, and to create a new product or service that is so remarkable, it knocks the sneezer’s socks off!
You will need to analyze your sneezers to learn as much about them as possible, since you’ll only be aiming your purple cow at the ones who have the most influence. Consider the following points when working out if the sneezers you have in mind will take your purple cow virus and sneeze it all around the world:
- Is your idea/product quick and easy to share?
- Will other people listen to the sneezers?
- How often will the sneezers tell their friends and family about it?
- Can your product or idea multiply easily so that it spreads long-term?
Latching onto sneezers might sound as if it will never work, starting out with such a small, focused audience, but once your purple cow catches on, it has a high chance of spreading quickly. Just be sure that you’re ‘“working the edges” and not standing in the middle of the road with your product or brand.
Companies that are remarkable work at one extreme or another—they work the edges, the outer limits. Their products are either very expensive or so cheap that consumers can’t resist snapping one up; and their business growth is either hare or tortoise speed, meaning very slow and deliberate or very fast. To work the edges successfully, you have to pick a side, rather than choosing to stay in the safe, yet boring and unsuccessful middle ground.
When creating your purple cow, take a close look at your marketing P’s (products, pricing, positioning, publicity, etc.) and see where your outer limits are right now, and what boundaries constrict you and your competition from going bigger and better. Find a way to innovate and go over the edge, crossing all boundaries, so that your product becomes a remarkable purple cow.
In the words of Seth Godin, “Remarkable isn’t always about changing the biggest machine in your factory. It can be the way you answer the phone, launch a new brand, or price a revision to your software. Getting in the habit of doing the ‘unsafe’ thing every time you have the opportunity is the best way to learn to project—you get practice at seeing what’s working and what’s not.”
Favorite Quotes from Purple Cow
“If you’re remarkable, it’s likely that some people won’t like you. That’s part of the definition of remarkable. Nobody gets unanimous praise–ever. The best the timid can hope for is to be unnoticed. Criticism comes to those who stand out.”
“In your career, even more than for a brand, being safe is risky. The path to lifetime job security is to be remarkable.”
“as consumers, we’re too busy to pay attention to advertising, but we’re desperate to find good stuff that solves our problems.”
“The old rule was this: CREATE SAFE, ORDINARY PRODUCTS AND COMBINE THEM WITH GREAT MARKETING. The new rule is: CREATE REMARKABLE PRODUCTS THAT THE RIGHT PEOPLE SEEK OUT.”
“If a product’s future is unlikely to be remarkable – if you can’t imagine a future in which people are once again fascinated by your product – it’s time to realize that the game has changed. Instead of investing in a dying product, take profits and reinvest them in building something new.”
“Do you have the email addresses of the 20 percent of your customer base that loves what you do? If not, start getting them. If you do, what could you make for these customers that would be super special?”
“Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.” David Packard”
“For the frequent user, the impact of a cooler, better, easier-to-use input device is profound – so profound that many users are happy to proselytize to their peers. More sneezing of a Purple Cow.”
“just about every company forgot the lesson of the Cow. Instead of taking the money and using it to create a series of innovations that could lead to the next Cow (at a higher, bigger level), these companies took profits.”
“A slogan that accurately conveys the essence of your Purple Cow is a script. A script for the sneezer to use when she talks with her friends. The slogan reminds the user, “Here’s why it’s worth recommending us; here’s why your friends and colleagues will be glad you told them about us.” And best of all, the script guarantees that the word of mouth is passed on properly – that the prospect is coming to you for the right reason.”
“The purity of the message makes it even more remarkable. It’s easy to tell someone about the Leaning Tower. Much harder to tell them about the Pantheon in Rome. So, even though the Pantheon is beautiful, breathtaking, and important, it sees 1 percent of the crowds that the harder-to-get-to Tower in Pisa gets.”
“In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is failing. In a busy marketplace, not standing out is the same as being invisible.”
Purple Cow Chapters
Chapter 1: Not Enough Ps
Chapter 2: The New P
Chapter 3: Boldfaced Words and Gutsy Assertions
Chapter 4: Before, During, and After
Chapter 5: The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread
Chapter 6: Did You Notice the Revolution?
Chapter 7: Why You Need The Purple Cow
Chapter 8: The Death of The TV-Industrial Complex
Chapter 9: Before and After
Chapter 10: Consider the Bettle
Chapter 11: What Works?
Chapter 12: Why The Wall Street Journal Annoys Me So Much
Chapter 13: Awareness Is Not Point
Chapter 14: The Will and the Way
Chapter 15: Case Study: Going Up?
Chapter 16: Case Study: What Should Tide Do?
Chapter 17: Getting In
Chapter 18: Ideas That Spread, Win
Chapter 19: The Big Misunderstanding
Chapter 20: Who's Listening?
Chapter 21: Cheating
Chapter 22: Who Cares?
Chapter 23: Not All Customers Are the Same
Chapter 24: The Law of Large Numbers
Chapter 25: Case Study: Chip Conley
Chapter 26: The Problem with the Cow
Chapter 27: Follow the Leader
Chapter 28: Case Study: The Aeron Chair
Chapter 29: Projections, Profits, and the Purple Cow
Chapter 30: Case Study: The Best Baker in the World
Chapter 31: Mass Marketers Hate to Measure
Chapter 32: Case Study: Logitech
Chapter 33: Who Wins in the World of the Cow
Chapter 34: Case Study: A New Kind Of Kiwi
Chapter 35: The Benefits of Being the Cow
Chapter 36: Case Study: the Italian Butcher
Chapter 37: Wall Street and the Cow
Chapter 38: The Opposite of "Remarkable"
Chapter 39: The Pearl in the Bottle
Chapter 40: The Parody Paradox
Chapter 41: Seventy-two Pearl Jam Albums
Chapter 42: Case Study: United States Postal Service
Chapter 43: In Search of Otaku
Chapter 44: Case Study: How Dutch Boy Stirred Up the Paint Business
Chapter 45: Case Study: Krispy Kreme
Chapter 46: The Process and the Plan
Chapter 47: The Power of a Slogan
Chapter 48: Case Study: The Haagen-Dazs in Bronxville
Chapter 49: Sell What People Are Buying (and Talking About!)
Chapter 50: The Problem with Compromise
Chapter 51: Case Study: Motorola and Nokia
Chapter 52: The Magic Cycle of the Cow
Chapter 53: What It Means to Be a Marketer Today
Chapter 54: Marketers No Longer: Now We're Designers
Chapter 55: What Does Howard Know?
Chapter 56: Do You Have to Be Outrageous to Be Remarkable?
Chapter 57: Case Study: McDonald's France
Chapter 58: But What About the Factory?
Chapter 59: The Problem with Cheap
Chapter 60: Case Study: What Should Hallmark.com Do?
Chapter 61: When the Cow Looks for a Job
Chapter 62: Case Study: Tracey the Publicist
Chapter 63: Case Study: Robyn Waters Gets It
Chapter 64: Case Study: So Popular, No One Goes There Anymore
Chapter 65: Is It About Passion?
Chapter 66: True Facts
Chapter 67: Brainstorms
Chapter 68: Salt Is Not Boring-Eight More Ways to Bring the Cow to Work
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Editor and Founder
Tal Gur is a location independent entrepreneur, author, and impact investor. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His most recent book and bestseller, The Art of Fully Living - 1 Man, 10 Years, 100 Life Goals Around the World, has set the stage for his new mission: elevating the next generation of leaders to their true potential.