Purple Cow

One of the benefits of being at home more these days is the time to do a lot of reading. I’ve always been an avid reader but in recent years, time with a book (or more often these days, my Kindle) has been squeezed into the margins of the day by the busy-ness of life.

Last week, I re-read Seth Godin’s excellent book “Purple Cow”. If you haven’t read it and you work in any sort of leadership or promotional capacity, you really should. It’s a few years old now (early 2000’s I think) but the lessons contained within are just as valid now as then.

Essentially, Seth Godin makes the point that mass-market advertising is dead. That competing in a herd with many other organisations, separated by only incremental differences in product or features, is a dead-end way to try and reach new markets and to grow successfully. Most people in developed nations have pretty much all that they need . Most companies have all of the service providers that they need. And yet we are bombarded by so many adverts trying to convince us to want more, to want different with the result that everything gets lost in the noise. Almost nothing is remarkable any more.

Intuitively and experientially, this is true.

The title of the book stems from the fact: if you were to see a field with thousands of ordinary cows in it, you’d be hard pressed to recall a single one afterwards. On the other hand, if just one of those cows was purple, you’d notice it immediately, remember it for a long time and tell a lot of people about it! This then, is the secret to successfully reaching an audience in the modern, information rich age.

Stand out. Be radically different. Get noticed.

The people who notice you then become your greatest cheerleaders and tell all of their friends. Maybe this reaches a lot of people, and maybe not. But it’s far more likely to reach a committed audience of new followers than even targeted, mass-market advertising.

Being a purple cow is risky and risky endeavours sometimes (maybe often?) fail. Most organisations are very risk-averse and unwilling to try radical new approaches. But how is that working for them now and how will it turn out in the long term?

Contrast the conservative approach with companies like Hiut Denim. Jeans handmade in the UK and starting at £150 a pop? Not for everyone and Hiut don’t pretend otherwise, but they do promise the best pair of jeans you’ve ever owned and free repairs for life. They have a permanent waiting list for their products.

Or Elon Musk? Like him or loathe him, an awful lot of people know that he’s the billionaire building rockets because he wants to send people to Mars. Not to mention electric cars, solar powered homes and an underground tunneling business. Outrageously ambitious? Yep. Abrasive and hard to work for? Almost certainly, but making the headlines is helping people believe in his mission, and to know and want his products.

Apple have managed several purple cow moments under Steve Jobs visionary leadership. The original iPhone was truly ground-breaking and successive devices were equally as successful. As the smartphone market plateaus though and new products are only incrementally better than the previous model or those of a competitor, what will Apple’s next purple cow be? Will they get to have one?

Most people on the other hand tend to want to blend in and stay safe. To stick with the “tried and true” approaches, fearful of anything that might be construed as failure or a downside. Unfortunately, though this attitude does nothing to help you stand out from the rest of the field. Your branding may be subtly different from the competition, but how different are you really? What, if anything, makes your clients choose you and you alone?

Purple cows however, have the potential to make history. Jesus Christ, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein… the list goes on. Risk taking, establishment rocking mavericks, but all of them had an impact!

What about you personally or the business you work for? How are you standing out from your peers in whatever it is that you’ve been given to do in life? How will your colleagues, clients and future employers notice you and care about what you have to offer?

How could you be a “Purple Cow”?

2 thoughts on “Purple Cow

  1. Ah, Purple Cows! The image has always called to me, especially as we used to live near a ‘Milka’ chocolate factory! As to your closing question, that’s given me food for thought. Thanks.

  2. Ha ha! Thanks for your comment Jane. I wonder if that’s why he chose the purple cow in the first place? No mention in the book but you never know!

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