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Book Recommendation: Purple Cow, by Seth Godin

Updated: Apr 26, 2022

Truth be told: all Seth Godin books fall under my Top Shelf Recommendations. There’s a reason (well, many) he has won multiple marketing and industry awards and is regarded as one of the most influential marketers in the world. His insight and straight forward, progressive thinking is unlike anyone else’s.

“Something remarkable is worth talking about. Worth noticing. Exceptional. New. Interesting. It’s a Purple Cow. Boring stuff is invisible. Boring stuff is a brown cow.”

This book is about the why, the what, and the how of being remarkable.

Seth is quick to point out that marketing is no longer about making a product or service attractive after it’s designed or created. The old days had companies building a product or service, and then promoting it, hoping that there’s a gimmick so it catches on. Products that are engineered to cross the chasm - how new products and ideas move through a population, beginning with early adopters, then growing into the majority - are way more likely to succeed than are products not engineered that way. Services that are worth talking about get talked about.

“Remarkable marketing is the art of building things worth noticing right into your product or service. Not slapping on marketing as a last-minute add-on, but understanding that if your offering itself isn’t remarkable, it’s invisible.”

As small business owners, our job is about designing the product or service to be idea buzz-worthy in the first place. So, is there a secret formula to create these ideas? Seth is clear that he does not have a plan to share. He does have, however, a process; a system that has no given tactics but is as good as any.

The system is pretty simple: go for the edges. Challenge yourself and your team to describe what those edges are (not that you’d actually go there), and then test which edge is most likely to deliver the marketing and financial results you seek. By reviewing all your P’s (product, pricing, promotion, positioning, publicity and packaging), you sketch out where your edges are ... and where your competition is.

Also think about this: make a list of competitors who are not trying to be everything to everyone. Are they outperforming you? If you could pick one underserved niche to target (and dominate), what would it be? Why not launch a product or service to that does nothing but appeal to this market?

“I don’t think there’s a shortage of remarkable ideas. I think your business has plenty of great opportunities to do great things. What’s missing is the will to execute them.”

If being a Purple Cow is such an effective way to break through the clutter, why doesn’t everyone do it? Why is so hard to be Purple? It’s fear. Playing it safe and following the rules are the best ways to avoid failure.

In a crowded marketplace fitting in is failing. In a busy place, not standing out is being the same as being invisible.

Peppers and Rogers, in The One To One Future, took a simple truth – that it’s cheaper to keep an old customer than it is to get a new one – and articulated the entire field of customer relationship management. They showed that there are only four kinds of people (prospects, customers, loyal customers, and former customers) and that loyal customers are often happy to spend more money with you.

Continue to create things worth talking about. Design your samples, events, display and experiences to BE the buzz, not “things” that need a buzz created to promote them. Stay away from too-trendy, app-specific buzzes. (Stop doing all the video challenges everyone is doing, because you’re NOT serving everyone. A large segment of your audience likely has no idea why you’re slowly plie-ing next to a table … thanks, TikTok.)

Seth urges everyone involved in creating, designing or selling to think in new ways about their market. Adopt alternative approaches to your business, and your business will survive.

He wraps up Purple Cow with four large-print slogans to cut right out of the book. You can jot each one down on its own Post-It note: Don’t be boring; Safe is Risky; Design Rules Now; Very Good Is Bad.

Continue to innovate. Continue to design your store to amaze. Continue to market buzz-worthy products. People don’t often try something new for just okay. Show them that you are worth talking about. Show them that you are remarkable.

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