Book Review: The Purple Cow by Seth Godin

This month Juliet Kyes outlines The Purple Cow by Seth Godin.

This is the book that made Seth Godin a power player in the marketing world. Although it was written in 2002, it’s powerful message about what makes you valuable and noticeable still holds true in a market that is even more full of options and distractions sixteen years later.

Through real life examples and fun analogies, Godin outlines what creates remarkable companies that are truly growing by being remarked about by their customers and end users.

“Not Enough Ps” most marketers and business owners are familiar with the traditional five Ps of marketing – which are your favorite five from the list?

  • Product
  • Pricing
  • Promotion
  • Positioning
  • Publicity
  • Packaging
  • Pass-along
  • Permission

Okay, that was a trick question. The answer should be all of them and in fact, this list becomes a checklist or a quick way of checking your marketing is clear and effective.

“The New P is Purple Cow” how many of us have experienced driving through the countryside and seeing groups of cows? They are beautiful animals normal to their beautiful landscape. Now what if you saw a PURPLE COW while driving down that same remote road? You would want to REMARK about it – perhaps loudly and perhaps you would even pull over to take pictures to share on your social media. This is why the critical missing P is Purple Cow and why the question should become:

What would make you or your products truly remarkable?

Idea Viruses and Sneezers

Idea Viruses are ideas that spread. Ideas that spread are more likely to succeed than those that do not. Sneezers are the key spreading agents of an idea virus because they are the “experts” that tell all their friends and colleagues about a new product. Finding and seducing Sneezers is the essential step in creating an idea virus.

Four Steps to Leverage Sneezers:

  1. Get permission from the people you impressed the first time (your best customers) and gain permission to alert them the next time you may have a”Cow”.
  2. Give them the tools and the story (features and benefits) to “sell” your idea to a wider audience.
  3. Once you’ve crossed the line from remarkable to profitable, let a different team “milk” the cow. In that way, you (or your creative team) can focus on creating the next Purple Cow.
  4. Do it again.  With a vengeance.  Launch another Purple Cow (to the same audience).  Assume what was remarkable the last time will not be remarkable this time.  Don’t be afraid to fail and fail again.  Don’t be fearful of criticism.

A few key points to consider that Seth Godin hits on in the books:

  • A product for everybody is a product for nobody.
  • The way to break through is to target a niche.
  • Services worth talking about get talked about!
  • It is useless to advertise to anyone (except interested Sneezers with influence).
  • Advertise when consumers are actually looking for help and in a place where they’ll find you.
  • Differentiate your customers. Find the group that’s most profitable.  Find the group most likely to sneeze.  Your ads (and your products) should cater to the customers you’d choose if you could choose your customers.
  • The problem with the cow is the problem with fear. If you’re remarkable, it is likely some people won’t like you.  Criticism comes to those who stand out.  In a crowded market place, fitting in is failing by being invisible.
  • We falsely believe that criticism leads to failure. Nobody says “yeah, I’d like to set myself up for some serious criticism” and yet, the only way to be remarkable is to do just that!
  • Measurement means admitting what’s broken so you can fix it. “If you measure it, it will improve”.
  • The opposite (or enemy) of remarkable is very good. Are you making very good stuff?  When can you stop?
  • Otaku describes something that’s more than a hobby, but less than an obsession. Could you target an audience where there is already Otaku?
  • Krispe Kreame is obsessed with dominating the doughnut conversation. How could you “own” a niche so everyone is talking about you?
  • The system for finding a Purple Cow is simple, go for the edges! It’s the process organizations use to discover the fringes that make their product remarkable.
  • It’s a lot easier to sell something that people are already in the mood to buy.
  • Godin (2002) uses cell phones as an example of a product – once remarkable – is now boring. “ What do they have to put into a phone to get people to notice?” He asks. Looking back now, the iPhone is the obvious answer and serves as a great example of his point.
  • Every company needs a “permission asset” – a group of “sneezers” interested in knowing about your next cow.
  • The French subsidiary of McDonald’s example: They subsidized and publicized a report that urged the French not to visit fast-food outlets more than once per week. The report created a world-wide uproar.  The US parent company said they were “Shocked”.  Was this really a bad strategy?  Perhaps by being honest (and VERY different) the French subsidiary is building a long-term growth strategy.   What would happen if you told the truth? 

The book contains nineteen additional case studies and examples like the French subsidiary of McDonalds which help to demonstrate in real life sceneros the above keys points around building your Purple Cow that will be an idea virus spread by sneezers.

If you are ready to take more action in your business to create sneezers who spread your idea virus, contact us for a complimentary coaching session to get some action steps right away!

In 2016, Inc. published a followup article on the topic called “The Myth of the Purple Cow in Marketing” in which the author Danny Iny took it a step further by expressing a”warning” to avoid when implementing the purple cow metaphor into your company. Iny makes the point that when you are being different – make sure you are doing it in a useful way. Rather than doing something that only gains attention, your unique Purple Cow needs to make a meaningful difference that is valued by your customers especially your sneezers if you want the effect to last.

Find out what your next steps should be to create a REMARKABLE product/service for you business by completing the Business IQ Test by clicking here.

Juliet Kyes


Book Reviewed by…

Juliet Kyes

Partner and Business Coach

ActionCOACH Tampa Bay



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