161025 The Purple Cow

The Purple Cow – A review

This short, easy-to-read book articulates the issue with the post-consumption environment in an elegant and thoughtful way that I wish I could achieve. Why did Seth Godin choose this name for his book? I think there are two reasons – one based on Gelett Burgess’s poem of the same name:

I never saw a Purple Cow,

I never hope to see one,

But I can tell you, anyhow,

I’d rather see than be one!

And secondly he wanted to add another “p” to marketing and there wasn’t a suitable word in English that hadn’t already been used!

The basic tenant of the book is easy to define in two lines:

“Create Remarkable Products that the Right People Seek Out.”


“Don’t try to make a product for everybody because that is the product for nobody.”

Taking a look back through history and a hundred years ago word of mouth sold products. Once mass advertising and TV arrived that was a quick way to dramatically increase sales in a world where there were few products and everyone wanted the latest thing.

Role forward to now and we find that mass marketing is failing. Why? Because we have everything we need and there is so much marketing noise it’s difficult to find the real signal. So we are back to word of mouth but this time with a twist: social media. “In a crowded market place, fitting in is failing. Not standing out is the same as being invisible.” Who wants to be invisible? If you are visible people can see you and talk about you. This is where Godin introduces the concept of “Sneezers” (a term I think is unlikely to catch on).

“Sneezers” are people who are so excited about your product or service that they can’t help telling others about it. How do you find something that busy sneezers can remark on? Remember, if someone else has done it, it is no longer remarkable and will no longer work! Something can be remarkable in more than just the product – what about the service that goes with it; how it reaches its customers; etc. That is, remarkable includes everything about the product. For that reason Godin recommends that designing  a new product is not something done in in isolation but includes all processes around the product.

Here are some examples of remarkable concepts that work:

  • At Louis’s hamburger shack in New Haven, they will refuse to sell you ketchup with your hamburger. This fact is passed on to potential diners by word-of-mouth and on websites. If they didn’t the shack would be “invisible”.
  • The owner of the restaurant Frontiere puts an open bottle of wine on every table. At the end of the meal you tell the waiter how many glasses you had… simple and unique. Loss leader? Might be but remember that two glasses of wine pay for a whole bottle at retail.
  • People buy more lottery tickets when the jackpot hits a truly remarkable size. When it breaks records it makes news headlines… no longer invisible.

What was the last one that you came across? I’m sure you can so post them below for us all to share.

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