How do companies thrive when their market is dominated by a leading authority or oversaturated with competitors? Many business owners might assume great marketing and advertising could turn the tide in their favor. Yet, in his book Purple Cow, best-selling author Seth Godin says the 5 P’s: product, price, promotion, place, and people—a timeless marketing strategy—aren’t enough anymore. To be the frontrunner, the products and services a company offers must be nothing short of remarkable. They must be what Godin calls a “Purple Cow.”
But how does a business become remarkable and create a rarely seen Purple Cow?
The author starts by flipping the script on everything most people think they know about advertising. In this article, learn how to develop and market a product customers immediately notice and want in on.
The Purple Cow Metaphor
Godin came up for the metaphor behind Purple Cow when driving around the French countryside with his family. At first, they noticed all the brown cows grazing in the fields around them. But, as they drove on for miles, the hundreds of cows they passed quickly lost their allure. They became an unremarkable part of the scenery.
When businesses fail to effectively market themselves, it’s because they’re a brown cow. Consumers already know what they have to offer because so many others are offering it, too. If this happens, an organization sets itself up for closure. Customers have no reason to be loyal and continue buying from them when purchases become based on who offers the lowest price. To be successful, a company has to stand out—be a Purple Cow.
What It Takes to Be a Purple Cow
So, what are Purple Cows made of? There are particular qualities most companies don’t have that Godin says sets outstanding apart from average.
The first quality of a Purple Cow is that it immediately looks different from all the brown cows. These companies gain attention for uniqueness, passion, and willingness to dare outside the ordinary. An example of this is Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Only one of the many brands in the frozen treat aisle, theirs stands out due to the company’s dedication to political and social activism. Yes, their ice cream tastes great, but the primary reason for such a loyal following is that they are very vocal about supporting causes their consumers support.
Additionally, Purple Cows are willing to take the lead in their industry by being innovative and implementing new ideas. Godin says most companies rely on copying what their top competitors are doing. But this presents a problem when that business fails or the market dries up. His point: “Safe is risky.” As he explains, “You can’t be remarkable by following someone else who’s remarkable.” Companies that implement this strategy set themselves up to be just another brown cow. Instead, he suggests organizations stop mimicking their market’s leaders and do something different. “You’ll never catch up by being the same, make a list of ways you can catch up by being different,” he suggests.
4 Ways to Become Remarkable at What You Do
Find Solutions to Real Problems
One of the reasons Purple Cows are valuable is because they’re effective in recognizing and solving their customer’s problems. At the end of the day, marketing a product or service is really about marketing a solution. “Consumers with needs are the ones most likely to respond to your solutions. Whether your prospect is an industrial bearings buyer at Ford or an overworked househusband in Tucson, you need to figure out who’s buying, and then solve their problem,” Godin writes, explaining problem solving isn’t industry-specific.
Netflix is a great example of a company that capitalized on a problem within the at-home video rental industry. One of the top issues customers experienced in the market were late fees. Using the subscription model, Netflix completely eliminated this aspect that companies like Blockbuster profited from. They disrupted their entire industry by simply asking: “Why not cancel late fees—the one thing people seem to hate the most?” Because of their positive experience approach, they’ve become a leader in the video entertainment industry.
To become a pro in problem solving for your customers, ask:
- “Who is underserved?” “Why?”
- “What is the top problem haunting the industry?”
- “Why is no one solving it?”
- “What can our team do about it?”
Earn Recognition for Being Great at One Thing
Godin says most companies fail for one reason: they’re good, but not great. Research from Jim Collins’ Good to Great, a five-year study on companies that made the leap, backs up this claim. Out of 1,435 companies, only 11 became great (less than 1%). That’s how rare Purple Cows are. Collins says in an article on his site that the secret of becoming great is simple: “There was no miracle moment. Instead, a down-to-earth, pragmatic, committed-to-excellence process—a framework—kept each company, its leaders, and its people on track for the long haul.” This means the companies that became tremendously successful had a plan for greatness. They followed it and were willing to play the long game.
Sounds easy enough, right? So, why aren’t there more great companies? Godin puts it simply: “The Cow is so rare because people are afraid.” People fear criticism, failure, and not playing it safe. This fear results in brown cows as far as the eye can see. He says, ultimately, we have only two choices: “To be invisible, anonymous, uncriticized, and safe, or to take a chance at greatness, uniqueness, and the Cow.”
A few tips for becoming great to customers include:
- Finding a profitable niche within the market to cater to.
- Rewarding the top 20 percent of your customers by giving them special treatment. This incentivizes them to advocate and advertise on your company’s behalf as credible sources of information. Godin calls this group “sneezers” since they spread the company’s business philosophy and products with friends, family members, and colleagues.
- Creating a community where fans feel like they belong.
Execute on Adaptive and Innovative Ideas
As Godin discusses in his book, Purple Cows are not boring—they’re fearless. They’re willing to take calculated risks, execute their outside-of-the-box ideas, and experiment to see what works with their niche audience. The point is: they never remain stagnant—they play a proactive game and never rest on their laurels. They’re always looking for ways to improve and offer a better experience for their customers.
Take Apple for example. They didn’t just create the first generation iPhone and stop there. The company is constantly raising the bar through adaptation and innovation. Their dedication to excellence and greatness for the benefit of their customers is why they’ve built a loyal following. People are genuinely excited when Apple releases a new product because they know it’ll be better than the one before it. It’s this innovative attitude that makes companies a Purple Cow.
To become more innovative, try:
- Reinvesting the money you make into the research and development of new Purple Cows.
- Experimenting with new ideas from the team.
- Listening and implementing customer feedback into the next round of product iterations.
- Changing the product or service if it’s boring. “Better marketing” is built into the design of an offering. This means that increasing the amount of advertising isn’t a viable solution.
Expand Your Mentality Around What Marketing Means
The main point of Godin’s book—his central thesis—is that marketing is “the act of inventing the product. The effort of designing it. The craft of producing it. The art of pricing it. The technique of selling it.” Too often, companies insert marketing into the end of the process when launching a new product. They treat marketers like they’re just there to gain customers’ attention after the offering is created. Godin says this mentality is what causes brown cows.
Building an organizational culture that inserts marketing professionals at the very end of the line sets companies up for failure. “If you are a marketer who doesn’t know how to invent, design, influence, adapt, and ultimately discard products, then you’re no longer a marketer. You’re deadwood,” he states. Marketers need to work in unison with designers and product developers so they can create products worth marketing in the first place.
To eliminate organizational silos causing ineffective marketing:
- Get designers involved in marketing and marketers involved in designing.
- Have regular team meetings to make sure departments aren’t working in isolation when developing and marketing a product.
- Instill a collaborative team culture where everyone knows the company’s vision and works collectively to achieve it.
What to Do Once You Have a Purple Cow
Godin provides two options (that he describes as contradictory) after a business creates their own Purple Cow. The first choice is to milk the cow for everything it is worth. When a company realizes they’ve created a product customers will do anything to get, business owners and executive teams need to sit down and strategize on how to create more longterm money-making opportunities.
If the organization wants to stay in business, they’ll also need to implement option two: reinvest in the company and create their next Purple Cow before the first dries up. Once someone comes up with a great idea, it’s only a matter of time before others follow suit and saturate the market with their versions of it. This is where the attitude of constant adaptation and innovation comes into play. By consistently looking ahead and investing and experimenting with new ideas, businesses can continue expanding, growing, and scaling with new Purple Cows.
Learn more about scaling and growing a business with this next article.