The Purple Cow by Seth Godin is a book on marketing, and focuses on the modern day environment. Godin believes that the traditional methods of advertising are broken and ineffective. He defines traditional advertising as companies that follow the P's of marketing: Pricing, Promotion, Positioning, Packaging, Pass-Along, Permission, and Publicity. Godin believes that the key to successful advertising is by creating a remarkable product. The metaphor that he uses for a remarkable product is a purple cow.
The idea is that a purple cow is unheard of, and therefore it is a remarkable thing. Godin believes that modern day marketing tactics should focus on just one P, the purple cow.
Godin then provides cases in which remarkable products launched companies to the forefront of their industries. An example is Google. It is a website that has a slot where you can type in text and two buttons. One of the buttons is completely arbitrary. Yet, it has become the lead search engine and one of the largest companies in the world. This, Godin believes, is attributed to the remarkable product that Google has created, which is a search engine that can find whatever you are looking for.
While there are several of key points that are shared in his text. I'm going to focus on the two that really stood out to me.
1) You have to take risks, in fact, not taking a risk is a risk in itself. The idea of being complacent and keeping with the status quo is a recipe for failure. Albeit this can be an immediate death or a slow and painful drain. An example of a slow and painful drain is Oldsmobile.
When I was growing up, several of people drove Oldsmobiles, and this was back in the 1980's. They were large cars that mimicked Cadillacs and Buicks during their heyday. They possessed large steel frames, long bodies, and bench seats in the front. They were cars that, no pun intended, that old people liked to drive.
Nowadays though, you can't even find one. In fact, that division of General Motors no longer exists. The Oldsmobile brand never evolved in my life time. They essentially kept making the same car year in and year out with some minor tweaks. Even as a teenager that car was out of date, and General Motors did nothing to remedy the issue. In the end, Oldsmobile died out because it took no risks and failed to evolve.
1a) Your product has to be cool. While Godin doesn't say it in these exact words, you can read in between the lines. Nobody wants a lame product. It has to be appealing, and it has to make an individual feel or look cool. There's a reason that iPods won out over Zunes, Facebook beating out Myspace, or Snapback hats over fitted caps. They all serve the same, if not similar function, and yet one item out of each example beat out its comparable. Why?
Because the other option is cooler. Zunes suck, even though there were cheaper, more accessible, not restricted by iTunes, and had more memory. But at the end of the day, if you had an iPod you were considered part of the in crowd.
Myspace had its moment but it lacked the exclusivity that Facebook had when it first came out. For those who don't know or don't remember, when Facebook launched, you could only sign up using a college e-mail address. People used it to try to get to know the people in their class and hook-up. You couldn't do that on Myspace, thus making Myspace lame, that is why Facebook prevailed.
Snapbacks became popular because rappers and artists started to wear them. For most of the late 90's and early 2000's, most people wore fitted caps. It was the style at the time, and wearing a snapback was considered dated and from the 80's. Now the cycle has shifted and if you wear a fitted, you just look like your uncool uncle.
The point is that if you want your product to be successful it has to be cool, or at the very least, make people feel cool, which leads into the second and final point.
2) Appeal your product to early adopters. Godin uses the term early adopters as people who are always looking for the next big thing and spread this idea through word of mouth. If you are trying to make a one size fits all product nowadays then you are probably going to fail. We are living in an era where people are trying to find ways to be unique. You see this in restaurants where customization is almost standard now. You see this in clothing as boutique shops have made a large rise in the past 5 to 10 years.
The majority of people are followers, and will take on something once it is a proven product. The key to making a purple cow is creating a product that speaks to those early adopters who are willing to take a chance on your product. Hence, the importance of creating a cool item.
Godin's book is an easy read and it is relatively short. It is a compilation of multiple case studies to provide the evidence to support his rationale. It provides advice that is relatively boiler plate, and lacks specifics on how to actually create a purple cow. In my opinion there are some useful pointers such as the two I mentioned above, that really speak to the reader. It is important to be reminded to take risks in life. It is also important to be reminded to write for a specific group of people rather than just everyone. Ultimately, Godin just tells us what we already know. Which is that a great product makes for great conversation. And, a great conversation about a product is word of mouth advertising, the best that money can buy.
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