Seth Godin’s Purple Cow and Being a Remarkable Organisation

About two weeks back, we invested a little more than Rs.15,000 into an advertisement in the Down Town supplement of The Hindu. During the days following the advertisement, there was just one response, that too, for a small job.

Last Saturday, on the eve of Easter, while enjoying a drink at my nephew’s house in Kilianthara, discussion veered around how one or two toddy shops in Calicut attracted customers in hordes on account of the remarkably delicious food they served along with toddy. One of the family members present then observed that people throng to those places where extraordinary things happen. I did not say anything, but made a mental note about the rare phenomenon of the Purple Cow. This is a book by Seth Godin, I recently read with enjoyment.

It is apparent, only the remarkable aspects in the services or products help create and develop a fan following. Advertising on TV and the print media is losing its sheen nowadays because consumers are too busy to pay attention to the cacophony of  incessant marketing messages.

Seth Godin’s Purple Cow is about how a purple cow in the market always stands out against the common brown, black or white cows.

The five P’s of marketing are well known, namely- Product, Pricing, Promotion, Place and People. Seth Godin has added a few more – Positioning, Publicity, Packaging, Pass-along and Permission. Purple is the new word coined by him to focus on another P  which is emerging as one of the most important element of marketing in the post TV age. If the word, ‘remarkable’ started with a ‘P’  he would have used that word instead.

Purple Cow according to the author denotes “Products, services and techniques so useful, interesting, outrageous and note-worthy that the market will want to listen to what you have to say.”

The world I have known is receding into a memory. In that world, we could create safe, ordinary products and combine them with great marketing.

The rule in the new world of marketing is, create remarkable products or services that the right people seek out.

Coming back to our advertisement, it did not inform the public regarding any remarkable aspect of our service. Consumers have so many things that vie for their attention, so ordinary news is hardly any news. And, as Seth Godin says, it is useless to advertise to anyone except interested sneezers with influence. So, what we thought was an investment ended up as an expenditure that burned a hole in our pocket.

Seth Godin’s route to salvation in marketing is by engaging with people of influence.

Ideas that spread are ideaviruses. Sneezers (experts) are those who first start spreading an ideavirus.  In this age, for marketing to succeed, it is essential to find and cultivate such sneezers who would sneeze the virus among their friends and their world. Services that are worth talking about get talked about and sneezed about.

Seth Godin’s recipe therefore is, target a small niche with remarkable features built into services or products. Once it becomes dominant in the niche, the ideavirus reaches the tipping point and will spread to the masses.The tipping point happens when ideasvirus passes the muster of Innovators and Early Adopters.

Advertising and marketing in the TV Industrial age and post TV age reflect the shift to things purple. Average products or services were made larger than life through mega advertising campaigns in the TV age, while now, only remarkable products get noticed. The trend earlier was to advertise to anyone but  now, it is to advertise to the early adopter. Fear of failure marked the days of big spent in the TV Industrial age, but now overcoming  fear is the mantra of the people who live on the edges. In the earlier era, long cycles for products were the norm, but post the TV age, short cycles are de rigeur. Similarly products or services thrived even with small changes, but now big changes are what consumers expect.

purple cow1

So, what is the right approach to marketing in our times? “Differentiate your customers. Find the group that’s most profitable. Find the group that’s most likely to sneeze. Figure out how to develop/advertise/reward either group. Ignore the rest. Your ads (and your products!) shouldn’t cater to the masses.”  This approach requires knowing our customers, particularly the fans. Engaging with fans on a consistent basis is a harder pursuit, but this less traveled route seems to be the road to fortunes.

He recommends very strongly that those charged with creating a purple cow, should be experts in designing and it would be even preferable, if designers and marketers work together to create a  “market-centric design that builds the  success of the product’s marketing into the product itself.”

Purple cow develops on a less traveled route along terrains that challenge our imagination and kindle our courage. Seth Godin says the purple cow is so rare because people are afraid and they prefer to play safe. His warning is, boring is always the most risky strategy. And, even “very good” is not good enough because that is an every day occurrence hardly worth mentioning. That is why he believes the opposite of “Remarkable” is “very good.”

Going through the book, one question that was foremost in my mind was, what type of people have a knack for designing extraordinary products and services? What does it take to emulate people like Steve Jobs who created many products that stood out? Towards the end of the book, Seth Godin answers these questions – “Remarkable comes from people with passion… Are you obsessed or are you just making a living?”

The challenge for me and the team at Service Square is to go for the edges and describe to ourselves and to our customers what those edges are. It would be worth pursuing the idea contained in Seth Godin’s words: “Do you have a slogan or positioning statement or remarkable boast that’s actually true? Is it consistent? Is it worth passing on?”

After reading the book, my sense is that a purple cow in marketing cannot emerge from an organization that does not create an extraordinary climate of adventure, the new, robust engagement with customers and employees, healthy dissent, passionate pursuits of ideas worth following, tolerance for failure……… within the organisation.

How does an organisation which is still experiencing the pangs of birth even after fifteen years create this climate? How do we forge ahead despite the many resource crunches? What does it take to give space to our team to think and express without fear?

One consolation is that impediments need not be the end of the world. On the other hand, they can be turned around as opportunities through imaginative thinking and action. As the poet Wendell Berry says, “It is the impeded stream that sings.”

Time is ripe for Service Square’s marketing to don a purple tinge that merge into our services. For this we need to change, reflecting John Henry Newman words, “To grow is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often.”

I realize Service Square would catch that transforming hue of change from the way I think and conduct myself. Being an entrepreneur is a transforming experience. A lot depends on me. A lot hangs on my shedding my ego to let other flowers bloom.

I will remember these words of caution from Seth Godin’s book: “If you are a marketer who doesn’t know how to invent, design, influence, adapt, and ultimately discard products, then you’re no longer a marketer. You’re deadwood.”

These words challenge me. They provide me the inspiration and impetus for change. And a sense of the path with a heart to travel on.

Seth Godin’s language comes minus the flourishes. He has a direct way of getting to the heart of things, using the minimum of words. In an age when it is difficult to say anything very original, he comes up with his own world views. They refresh and challenge his readers to live on the edges and go for the impossible dream.    

Seth Godin maintains a blog where he writes every day, particularly on matters relating to marketing. I have gathered valuable insights from his daily posts. Today’s post, Two heads or one, happens to be very much relevant to the topic I have written here.

I admire his tenacity and consistency in showing up with his blog posts every day. He is someone who leads from the front.

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