Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable
Author: Seth Godin
Place: England
Publisher: Penguin books Ltd
Publication date: 2008
Edition: Special edition
145 Pages
Price: R154 (at Exclusive Books, Stellenbosch)
ISBN: 978-0-141-03645-8

What on earth is a Purple Cow doing on the business bookshelf?

When I decided to choose a business book to read and write a review about, I did not want to pick a book describing the success stories of a major company or brand. Any success story is exactly as it states: A success story. Not a success recipe. The world of marketing is extremely complex seeing that there are no guaranteed success step-lists to follow (at least not any more). What does, however make sense (and can be noted), is that successful and growing businesses today all have one thing in common: nothing! Every success story has its own unique twist, “fingerprint”… an extraordinary-factor.

A Purple Cow is defined as:

“Products, services and techniques so useful, interesting, outrageous, and note-worthy that the market will want to listen to what you have to say. No, in fact, you must develop products, services and techniques that the market will actually seek out.”

Seth Godin is a renowned and celebrated marketing guru (also a renowned public speaker and has started several successful companies) who challenges the world of traditional marketing/business beliefs and philosophies in an attempt to solve the problems that the new era of marketing is bringing with it. He successfully creates simple, clear, logical ideas that are all supported by real-life case studies in this book. In Purple Cow he encourages the reader to put the “extraordinary”-factor into every part of his/her business (from the creation right through to the marketing and selling of a product)… even within yourself (marketers are becoming designers). The book evaluates the question: what does it take to create something worth marketing and spreading in the first place… something that is remarkable? As Seth states in this book; being remarkable and doing remarkable things is the only way to be successful. A sure road to failure is by being boring… by being safe, something that is much more risky and dangerous for a business than inventing a Purple Cow.

Not only is his writing style very easy to read, fiery and graspable but he challenges the reader to think about his theories and throughout the book (at the end of each chapter) provides the reader with a food-for-thought concept that encourages reflection on the discussed issue within his/her own current business position. This technique actively involves and intrigues the reader as he/she progresses through the book. This is due to the fact that the Purple Cow concepts are all very easy to apply in practice, the challenge, however is for Seth to persuade readers to take a leap of faith and actually test these different strategies in their lives/businesses.  

The Purple Cow is truly an “extraordinary” book in itself… once I started reading, I could not convince myself to put the book down. New ideas immediately started to emerge from my imagination and I was inspired to document some marketing strategies for my own “extraordinary Purple Cow” ideas.

As I read through the book, I could not help but have a notebook handy were I would jot down a couple of ideas and concepts for my own future business idea(s). If you are like me, and enjoy reading inspiring, but also practical/applicable (and proven) literature that fuels you and guides you in your own life/work; this book will be a delight for you to read as well.

The book itself catches the eye as a peculiar purple addition amongst the hundreds of other fictional business books: completely dressed to stand out amongst the clutter. Therefore it is already claiming unique attention in a field that has almost exhausted all possible unique selling propositions.

Seth Godin makes the statement that traditional well-known marketing P’s (Product, Pricing, Promotion, Positioning, Publicity, Packaging, Pass-along and Permission) “just aren’t enough” any more. There is a need for a new “P”, an “exceptional P” called the Purple Cow.

The book explores the methods of old worn-out marketing strategies in comparison to a new exceptional and more daring technique of marketing: creating a “Purple Cow”.

 “Cows, after you’ve seen them for a while, are boring… A Purple Cow, though. Now that would be interesting. (For a while)”

He goes on by stating that:

            “The essence of the Purple Cow is that it must be remarkable.”

The book focuses attention on the traditional ways of marketing: especially on the TV-industrial complex which grabbed the attention of all marketers and advertisers. Commercials became the main stream medium for successful advertising and created memorable impacts on viewing consumers. He does, however acknowledge the selling successes that some brands/companies managed to achieve by utilizing TV to create memorable brand commercials. Those brands will ultimately always be associated with the initial, original TV commercials that left a lasting first impression (before commercial advertising became oversaturated). BUT: times have changed, consumers are being bombarded with information and advertisements of different brands trying hard to interrupt them and appeal to their existing needs and emotions. How does a brand manage to grab attention in a society were:

  1. Numerous product/brand choices are available (and increasing daily)
  2. Consumers have less time than ever before to search and study advertised products
  3. Competitors are hungry to grab any share of the industry market that they can lay their hands on.

This concludes his reasoning for the need for a Purple Cow: An extraordinary product that will rise up above the clutter of traditional and “safe” marketing communications of other generic products.

Seth Godin succeeds in accurately describing the current troubles that product advertising is experiencing in terms of “Scary budgets” and “Boring products” that naturally results from the efforts to advertise and appeal to the masses. He states that the old rule was:

            “Create safe, ordinary products and combine them with great marketing”

Today the new “Purple Cow” rule is:

            “Create remarkable products that the right people seek out”

This indicates the increasing need for niche marketing in order to appeal to the small percentage of “Early Adopters” in the market that will eagerly buy and evaluate a “Purple Cow” from which they will benefit. If their expectations are exceeded they will act as the “free advertising” (so-called sneezers) team for the brand: spreading very positive word-of-mouth to the greater segment of the market (“Early and Late Majority”). Thereby not only effectively advertising to consumers that will probably become loyal users, but also sparing the millions of dollars/Rands that would have been invested in traditional mass-marketing strategies.

By making use of very effective, relevant and exceptionally thought provoking case studies, Seth Godin not only manages to illustrate and prove his theory of the Purple Cow success, but also manages to encourage the reader to proactively think about ways that he/she can improve/revolutionize their own business’s. This book is an excellent evaluation of current marketing dilemmas and Seth uses common knowledge (often overlooked by most businesses for the fear of failure) to introduce effective strategies for creating successful brands.

The book illustrates that a Purple Cow is not necessarily more risky than traditional marketing strategies/products. In contradiction: a Purple Cow is often a lot less risky and a lot more likely to gain success than the traditional marketing strategies.  

“My goal in Purple Cow is to make it clear that it’s safer to be risky – to fortify your desire to do truly amazing things. Once you see that the old ways have nowhere to go but down, it becomes even more imperative to create things worth talking about.”                  

The book effectively illustrates and explains the Purple Cow theory to the reader in a very convincing manner. Seth clearly anticipated the doubtful questions that the reader might have. Such as: the reason as to why so few organizations are making use of Purple Cows if it claims to achieve so much success? Few businesses are willing to risk the chance of a new strategy/idea. They fear the risk of failure and criticism more than they desire the possibility of a coveted brand success. What most people do not realize (or ignore out of fear for change) is that it is more risky NOT to invest in the development and promotion of a Purple Cow! More money is ignorantly wasted on traditional advertising strategies of products that are just “good”… but not “extraordinary” enough to grab the attention of the mass market that is being focused on.            

            “I don’t think there’s a shortage of remarkable ideas. It’s the will to execute them.”

 “Awareness is not the point”. As Seth points out, stimulating awareness for a product is not a precursor guaranteed to lead to increased sales. Instead, by focusing on creating a niche market of loyal consumers, one will inevitably succeed in ultimately reaching the masses, through the diffusion of the “extraordinary” idea through the market by word-of-mouth.

Seeing that consumers are searching for and controlling information that they need, we are not as successful in targeting them anymore by using old marketing techniques. We need to create something that will stand out; break free from the “ordinary”; something that will spread like a virus through the market… 

“Marketing in a post-TV world is no longer about making a product attractive or interesting or pretty or funny after it’s designed and built – it’s about designing the thing to be virus-worthy

One is left with one of two options:

–  To design generic, boring and safe products/brands (something that is considered very risky both financially and ineffective reach of target markets)


–  To design a Purple Cow:

“Once you’ve managed to create something truly remarkable, the challenge is to do two things simultaneously:

  1. 1.     Milk the Cow for everything it’s worth.
  2. 2.     Create an environment where you are likely to invent a new Purple Cow in time to replace the first one when its benefits inevitably trail off.”

However, this book is not a clear cut step guide to creating and maintaining a Purple Cow… it is a guidance manual; advising and inspiring the reader to improve/support the process of creating a successful Purple Cow. It is a strategy guidance book that offers guidelines and real-life examples to convince the reader that the road to success (and for that matter: the road to survival) is through the creation of remarkable products/services, for a niche market, that have the capacity to sell themselves.

Seth Godin informs the reader that he does not have a simple answer for successful Purple Cow creation/maintenance but that he offers a system:

“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 every other P (of marketing), you sketch out where your edges are… and where your competition is. Without understanding this landscape, you can’t go to the next step and figure out which innovation you can support” 

What Seth ultimately does in this book is to redefine the concept of marketing: Where marketing used to be done to a product; today marketing is the product and successful marketers are no longer merely marketers… now we are designers.

“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. How can a Purple Cow company not be run by a marketer?”

This is a magnificent manifesto for marketers who want to be inspired and guided to help contribute to successful and sustainable marketing strategies.

From my point of view: seeing that this was the first Seth Godin book I have read, I was pleasantly surprised! Not only by the convincing manner in which he approaches new age marketing strategies, but I have also been inspired to read more of his books and recommend it to others. One could therefore perhaps reason that he has created a Purple Cows just by writing this book!

To conclude: The face of successful marketing has changed, challenging marketers and businesses to embrace well calculated risks and strive at being “extraordinary”… This is what it will take to survive and stand out in a clutter of marketing communications in the world we know today. It is time to accept and embrace change: and to make it work for your business better than ever before. The first step is to push your comfort zoning fears aside: and remember the following:

  1. Don’t be boring
  2. Safe is risky
  3. Design rules now
  4. Very good… is bad

Let the genetic manipulation of marketing begin! Long live the Purple Cows!

Visit Seth Godin’s Blog at http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2005/10/another_big_moo_1.html


What is the secret behind brand success?  

According to Chris Hilicky, Author of “May I have your attention please?”, the secret to brand success is much closer to us than we realize….

What makes a brand unique? Every successful brand has a unique quality(ies) that sets it apart from any other brand competing against it in the same category. This brand is differentiated in a way that enables consumers to instantly associate it with a very specific brand-image, status or emotion.

But what/where does the inspiration come from for such a unique selling proposition? It is evident that generic brands vastly exceed the number of unique brands in today’s competitive business climate. Even if a (new) product with a unique benefit is produced, it can easily be copied by competing businesses in an everlasting fight for market share. Not only do you have to fight the competition, but you have to provide consumers with something that will add meaning to their lives. The trick is: finding something that inspires you; that cannot be easily copied, but still provides unique benefits and values that all (most) consumers can appreciate and relate to.

Like our own identities, our own fingerprints… every unique brand has a “fingerprint” that cannot be replicated by any other brand, even if they try! A person’s identity is formed as a result of the experiences he/she has and the events in their lives that shaped them. Every person has a unique story to tell, that story is yours and no-one else knows how to tell it better than you! Every person is therefore a unique brand in his/her own way. Chris Hilicky believes that “branding is ultimately all about stories and storytelling. The best brands are based on the true stories of our experiences, filled with the human qualities that we can all relate to and believe in.” People cannot be duplicated… and neither can their “fingerprint”-life stories.  

True-life stories are the main foundation of this “fingerprint” branding technique. People naturally gravitate towards “real-life” facts and stories because it is perceived as credible, trustworthy and unique. These three qualities form a very important part of a brand’s “success recipe”.

Most marketers will agree that there is no “recipe for success” when it comes to branding. We ultimately still have to work with extremely dynamic variables in the process of creating a successful brand such as ever-changing consumer preferences, new and improved technologies, diverse marketing trends and improved competing strategies. For these reasons, a story that is unique; real and unknown to anyone except you, will provide you with a better opportunity to create a unique brand.

According to Chris Hilicky the following steps are crucial in the process of creating a unique personal brand:   

  1. Know your own true stories, experiences, and life-changing events in your personal or professional life.
  2. Determine what’s important to you based on your stories. This will reveal your values and beliefs.
  3. Translate these values into a corresponding look, sound and feel that no one else can copy, because it’s your story not theirs. This will result in your authentic and unique brand that gives you the competitive edge in life for greater success – no matter how you define it.

May I have your attention now, please?… Yes, you may!

Chris Hilicki (Nashville, TN) is founder and Vice Chair of Dalmatian Press, one of the U.S.’s most successful children’s book companies. Formerly a scientist and now a publishing leader, she regularly speaks before industry leaders, live television audiences, and large conventions. Chris has been interviewed for Forbes, Inc., the Wall Street Journal, Southern Living, and Publishers Weekly and has appeared on television shows as an expert on building brands through the use of personal identity.