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Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable

By: Seth Godin

Reviewed By: Bob Ruffolo

I read Seth Godin’s Purple Cow again recently, his seminal work that challenges all of us to put a Purple Cow—something truly exceptional—into everything we create or do. The simplicity of the message belies the book’s profound nature: Purple Cow is nothing short of a business and marketing mandate—an always-relevant and resounding call to action—to create products and services that are worth marketing in the first place.

The subtitle of Purple Cow says it all: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable. I can honestly say this principle, the chance to create something truly remarkable, is what motivates me to come to work every day and love what I do. It’s what gets me through the minutiae—the purely logistical, but necessary aspects of running my own inbound marketing agency.

How about you? I’m sure this message resonates with you as well, so I thought I’d share some book excerpts and lessons learned, including how we’ve applied them at our agency, in hope that it spurs feedback about what inspires you to create something truly remarkable.

A New “P” Is Needed

The book’s theme encourages departure from the tried and true—the traditional 5 P’s of marketing (every marketer has favorite five), which are based on a combination of factors, including product, pricing, positioning, promotion, publicity, packaging, pass-along, and permission. The 5 Ps functioned as a kind of marketing checklist and more or less ensured success in bygone days.

But this is no longer the case. A new P is needed, Godin asserts; one that’s now critically important to marketing and business success. (1)

If for no other reason, you should make sure you’re acquainted with Purple Cow because it offers a bevy of fascinating insights, case studies, and best practices that can help you grow your business.

Instead of summarizing, I thought I would give you a few quotes that lay out the theme, and I can’t think of a better way of doing so than sharing the author’s 10 suggestions, as outlined in an article he wrote for Fast Company. He offers a number of useful and actionable recommendations:

10 WAYS TO RAISE A PURPLE COW

Making and marketing something remarkable means asking new questions — and trying new practices. Here are 10 suggestions.

1. Differentiate your customers. Find the group that's most profitable. Find the group that's most likely to influence other customers. Figure out how to develop for, advertise to, or reward either group. Ignore the rest. Cater to the customers you would choose if you could choose your customers.

2. If you could pick one underserved niche to target (and to dominate), what would it be? Why not launch a product to compete with your own that does nothing but appeal to that market?

3. Create two teams: the inventors and the milkers. Put them in separate buildings. Hold a formal ceremony when you move a product from one group to the other. Celebrate them both and rotate people around.

4. Do you have the email addresses of the 20% of your customer base that loves what you do? If not, start getting them. If you do, what could you make for them that would be super special?

5. 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 see what's working and what's not.

6. Explore the limits. What if you're the cheapest, the fastest, the slowest, the hottest, the coldest, the easiest, the most efficient, the loudest, the most hated, the copycat, the outsider, the hardest, the oldest, the newest, or just the most! If there's a limit, you should (must) test it.

7. Think small. One vestige of the TV-industrial complex is a need to think mass. If it doesn't appeal to everyone, the thinking goes, it's not worth it. No longer. Think of the smallest conceivable market and describe a product that overwhelms it with its remarkability. Go from there.

8. Find things that are "just not done" in your industry, and then go ahead and do them.

For example, JetBlue Airways almost instituted a dress code — for its passengers! The company is still playing with the idea of giving a free airline ticket to the best-dressed person on the plane.

A plastic surgeon could offer gift certificates. A book publisher could put a book on sale for a certain period of time. Stew Leonard's took the strawberries out of the little green plastic cages and let the customers pick their own. Sales doubled.

9. Ask, "Why not?" Almost everything you don't do has no good reason for it. Almost everything you don't do is the result of fear or inertia or a historical lack of someone asking, "Why not?"

10. What would happen if you simply told the truth inside your company and to your customers?

Now That's Remarkable 

Purple Cow: How to Apply the Lessons Learned

For me this book underscored the importance of making sure IMPACT is a remarkable company that creates remarkable content people care about.

Remarkable Content

Godin says cows may be lovely to look at, but after you’ve seen enough of them they’re boring. On a long car drive you may see some brown cows on a hill, and see many more as the hours pass. Brown cow. Brown cow. There’s nothing terribly remarkable about them—they pretty much look the same, really. But if you spotted a purple cow—wow, that would be remarkable. You’d sit up in your seat and take notice if you saw a purple cow; you might even pull the car over and let the kids out, so you could take some pictures and share them with friends on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat.

Brown cow after brown cow: In my business, inbound marketing has become a commodity. A lot of folks are doing inbound marketing—there’s more every day—but very few are creating content that people actually care about. For us, remarkable content is the purple cow.

What’s more, the content we create has to be purple; we can’t make it purple if it isn’t. We can’t slap a few coats of purple paint on a brown cow and change its essential nature—it will still be a brown cow someone foolishly tried to paint purple, looking ridiculous and ugly.

We’re facing information overload right now. It’s harder than ever to break through the noise! We’re deluged with content from the Internet and our email inboxes and there are so many content sources from which to choose. Still, there’s content out there that we really care about and want to read. It could be that article we found on BuzzFeed, or something we found on Pinterest, our Facebook newsfeed or some trade journal.

"We still want and need content, but it has to be remarkable to break through the noise and get our attention."
- Bob Ruffolo
"When we create or encounter remarkable content we’ll want to share it with our friends and with our colleagues or prospects, and they too will want to take some action with it or exercise some kind of buying behavior."
- Bob Ruffolo
"Look at yourself as a marketer, whatever business you’re in. Ask yourself: Am I creating noise; am I creating brown cows, or am I finding ways to create a purple cow, something truly remarkable?"
- Bob Ruffolo

Remarkable Organizations

You can take the purple cow principle beyond content—beyond the goods and services we produce. Purple Cow is a reflection of your company or organization as whole. We’re asked to work with a lot of different companies, but we have to turn down the opportunity sometimes. Some of these companies have million-dollar budgets they want to throw our way, but we walk away because they’re boring.

We have to turn them down because they’re brown cows. We can’t help them if they’re not willing to do what it takes to make their company special. We can’t help them if they won’t do what’s required to make people care about their company and want to work with their people and become part of their community.

"There isn’t a marketing agency on the planet that can help you get more business if you’re not willing to make your product or service remarkable."
- Bob Ruffolo

What’s more, many once-purple companies have turned brown over time. A number of inbound marketing agencies who started out great have lost their vibrancy, lost their effectiveness because they insist on doing things the same way—because they refused to continuously improve, learn, and grow. Imagine if Apple created the iPod and then refused to keep innovating: Today, they’d be a brown cow. That’s the difference between once-purple customer relationship management companies like ACT, and continuously-purple organizations like SalesForce.com.

SalesForce.com is a company that continues to disrupt, innovate, improve and grow. Does your organization resemble ACT or Salesforce.com?

If business owners want to boost awareness, lead generation, sales, and customer loyalty they must be willing to make their companies remarkable. They’ll need to identify their differentiators, listen to their audience, and deliver what they want. They need to be willing to embrace change based on customer feedback.

We have to challenge ourselves to become the leader we know we should be. I like to say: If it isn’t broken—break it, then use it to tell your story and create remarkable content.