The concept of the Purple Cow was introduced by Seth Godin in his groundbreaking book by the same title. Recently I read it again because it is full of ideas and case studies on how to make your business remarkable.
When you drive by a heard of cattle they all look like cows and it doesn’t seem out of the ordinary. But if you drive by a heard and standing in the field is a Purple Cow you have to tell someone because it is so different. When something forces you to remark on it, by definition it is remarkable. This is what your new business strategy should be focusing on, finding ways to make your customers talk about your products to their friends.
So the obvious question is, what is a Purple Cow?
Sanpellegrino is different than regular juice. Well, it’s not really different. It’s sparkling juice in a can but the secret lies in the can itself. Every can of Sanpellegrino has a foil lid you must peal off before drinking. As if your juice is so special that it needs to be covered by an additional seal. Also, you can’t find this juice at gas stations or any old grocer, I’ve only been able to find it a Costco.
It’s different, it makes the juice seem extra special. It creates an experience for the consumer.
It’s a purple cow.
The Toyota Prius is purchased by people who are environmentally conscious and want to show everyone in their neighborhoods to think that they are environmentally conscious. The Freakonomics guys call it “conspicuous conservation”, signaling to others a specific emotion to feel about the vehicle they drive. Whether you like it or not, buying a Prius says something about you. It’s a purple cow.
Lu Lu Lemon took the active wear clothing category to a whole new level. By pricing their clothing at 200-300% above the cost of comparable discount retailers selling similar clothing, Lu Lu Lemon instantly became the must have clothes of women young and old. Why? They were different. Many people could not afford them. It was something to talk about, “wow Becky, your butt looks so good in those pants, what do you call them?”. And another Purple Cow was born.
The vitamin/sports drink industry is flooded with drinks that provide “essential nutrients” to a hip demographic that swears by their brand of sports drink. Vitamin Water entered the market in 2007 just as the global recession was a foot. Looking at a Vitamin Water bottle for the first time you immediately understand what’s different. The label tells a story. You giggle a little, they spend extra money on the creative design of each and every label on their products. Every bottle offers a different story. Instantly Vitamin Water seems cooler than the rest because every product in their industry has made labels that were “accepted” by the industry. What’s normal for an industry is expected and what’s expected doesn’t get talked about. Taking some risk and creating an experience with their labels, Vitamin Water surpassed many of their competition not because of a far more nutritious product, but by a different approach to something so simple as a label.
TD Canada Trust is open till 8:00 some nights and recently they’re open Sunday’s. Hours in the banking industry have always been a widely debated topic. Why would you open for longer or on days no one else is open? Just because no one else does is the exact reason why you should. Find out what your competition is not doing and do that.
No other bank is open Sunday’s. It’s their Purple Cow.
Saxx underwear are so different from conventional men’s underwear you want to tell your friends about them. I found out about Saxx because of a friends recent purchase. They are more expensive then regular underwear and support in a way that is so remarkable you can’t help but share with your friends. Classic Purple Cow.
There is only one place in Regina where you can line up at a window and order ice-cream like in the olden days. TheMilky Way is constantly lined up when open only during the Summer months. They have a great product and offer an experience you can’t get anywhere else. They have a Purple Cow.
Finally, if you want to create a Purple Cow at home and you’re sick of the same old lawn Gnomes, try this 22 foot long, 11 feet tall Tyrannosaurus Rex for $7,500. Guarantee that everyone who visit’s your house will in fact tell someone about your front lawn.
These chocolate bars you can only buy at The Vintage Tea Roomin Regina. The restaurant itself is a Purple Cow. Its only open for lunch, you can’t go there for supper, they serve homemade ham on homemade bread, and have a tea selection that would make the Royal family shake in their boots. The chocolate bars are not from here and I’m sure may be offensive to some people. They caught my eye as something completely out of the ordinary. I guess being mildly sexist can be your Purple Cow. Touche Yorkie.
I’ve written about Naked & Famous and their Purple Cow before. Just the other day a friend tells a group of us about his new jeans. They had a lining on the inside that keeps your legs warm in the winter. They just so happen to be Naked & Famous Jens. If you want to talk about a product after you’ve bought it, you have yourself a Purple Cow.
If it’s different, if it’s shareable, it’s a Purple Cow.
This is an obvious one. I think if your restaurant serves hot jalapeno cheese from a pump it’s pretty safe to say you have a purple cow. Everything about Fuddruckers is different. The way you order, the way you create your own burger, the way they’ll call any name you give them when your order’s ready (even if you give them a funny name). Fuddruckers is different in every way and every time I’m there it’s busy. They must do very well, if not, well they’re making a lot of burger lovers happy at the very least. My personal favorite burger.
Anyone from Regina, Saskatchewan who has any appreciation for sandwiches whatsoever will know exactly what this place is. The Italian Star Deli, famous for sandwiches. At any given lunch time you find a line up almost out the door. There’s no sandwich like it in Regina. When you bring one of their sandwiches back to work for lunch, people have to comment on it because they know exactly what your taste buds are about to experience. They would also probably be very jealous or upset with you that you didn’t offer to grab them one as well.
At a restaurant in Victoria they have an item on the menu called “The Mahoney”. If you order the Mahoney the kitchen makes whatever the special they choose to make for you and when you’re done, the waitress flips a coin and either you pay nothing or pay double. You have to talk about “the Mahoney” if you’ve never been to Floyd’s, what a hilarious (and great) word-of-mouth tactic.
If you have an example of a product, service or company that has or is a Purple Cow I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.
When Seth Godin's Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable was first published in 2003, marketers thought they had found the Holy Grail of success.
Unfortunately, most of them missed the point.
Today, they're still struggling, purple cow and all.
Let me explain.
Purple Is Not The Point
Godin's purple cow metaphor oversimplifies his idea.
To be remarkable, Godin says, is to be "worth talking about. Worth noticing. Exceptional. New. Interesting."
A purple cow definitely stands out in a world where every other cow is either brown, white, black, or a combination of those. It commands attention.
But as marketers, we want more than attention. We want sales.
And to do that, it's not enough to be remarkable: you have to be remarkable in a way that's meaningful to your audience.
Going back to the purple cow metaphor, how many people do you think would eat the meat from a purple cow?
I sure wouldn't. At least, not until 20 years of research and real-world experience have shown that it's safe to eat!
The Missing Link
So, yes, you do have to be different--but in a useful way.
Godin himself says so:
"Being noticed is not the same as being remarkable," he wrote in The Guardian, four years after Purple Cow was published. "Running down the street naked will get you noticed, but it won't accomplish as much. It's easy to pull off a stunt, but not useful.... No use being remarkable at something that people don't care about."
In Youtility: Why Smart Marketing Is About Help Not Hype, Jay Baer says, "What if instead of trying to be amazing you just focused on being useful? What if you decided to inform, rather than promote?"
I'm going to take it further by saying that the more useful you are, the more remarkable (or amazing) you become.
By being more useful than your competitors to your audience, then you become remarkable in their eyes.
Ask yourself: How is my offering better than my competitors'? And does my audience care?
How to Protect Yourself from the Gold Rush
There's another problem with the purple cow approach that Godin himself recognizes.
When something captivates the public and sells, eventually others follow suit. Soon, every grazing field is full of purple cows, and then your purple cow isn't remarkable anymore.
This happens all the time:
...The Fitbit was a hit and now, the market is inundated with a dozen wearable fitness trackers.
...Amazon.com showed that people love shopping online, and now you have online marketplaces for everything from shoes to handmade goods.
...Webinars proved to be effective at converting audiences into buyers, and now, every online marketer uses them to launch products.
If you're a small business owner or DIY marketer, can you innovate fast enough to stay ahead of the game?
You can--if you're willing to do the work.
Some cows will always remain purple. They will always be fresh and unique.
Those are the cows that take a lot of elbow grease to execute. And because they require hard work without the guarantee of success, gold rushers steer clear of them.
Examples of "eternally purple cows" include: epic content that takes hundreds, if not thousands, of hours to create; useful information that you give away without demanding anything in return; and, experiences with your product that are frictionless and delightful.
What All This Means for Marketers
It takes three simple--but not easy--steps to become remarkably useful:
1. Know your audience.
Discover what keeps them up at night and what gets them out of bed in the morning. Learn and speak their language. Talk to them, and observe their real-life behavior.
2. Decide on the best way to be remarkably useful.
Figure out a bull's-eye solution your audience will remember for a long time. It'll probably take you weeks, even months, to create. And that's good!
3. Deliver it to them.
Build the solution and give it to your audience. Remember, how you deliver it matters, because providing an astounding experience with your brand is part of becoming remarkable.
So stop trying to be a purple cow. Instead, be the cow that's tender, nutritious, and low in calories. Then you'll have a winner.