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Purple Cow Theory: Businesses Find Success When Remarkable

purple cow theory

Imagine you are an investor or even one of the sharks in the new Shark Tank India show. You are listening to several pitches; one of them includes an organic toothpaste brand.

The founder told you that the global toothpaste market is some big numbers (for those wondering, the toothpaste market size worldwide was valued at 18.5 billion USD in 2019, estimated to reach 24.5 billion USD by 2027 at a 3.7% CAGR (1)). And added that if their brand could only even capture 1% of the market, it would be a big deal. Would you invest in that company? Most likely, no.

Next comes another founder that tells you about an existing problem in the market that no other product is solving like theirs. Would you invest? Probably yes.

That’s what purple cow theory is about. There is increased competition, market saturation, and everyone trying to win big in today’s era. In such a case, the best bet to the path of success is to be unique and be remarkable.

It came from a 2003 book by Seth Godin titled “Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable (2).” The book is about Godin’s beliefs that creative advertising is less effective today because people are getting better at ignoring ads. The book suggests businesses make remarkable products instead and target people to spread word of mouth.

When the book was released, USA Today commented (3), “the book reminded businesses of the tried-and-true path to success: Make a great product.”

However, the book also received much criticism because of its key assumption that advertising is broken.

So, what’s wrong with the Purple Cow theory? Does it have shortcomings? Yes. Is it useful? Yes, too.

Hence, today, we will discuss how and where marketers can use its concepts.

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What’s Wrong With the Purple Cow?

First Problem, Being Noticed is Not Enough

According to Seth Godin (4), brands need to be worth talking about, noticing; they need to be new, exceptional, and interesting if they want to be remarkable.

Of course, a purple cow would stand out in the market where every other cow is either black, white, brown or a combination of those. However, brands want more than attention, and their marketing campaigns are only successful when they get sales.

For that, you will need to be more than remarkable; you will need to offer remarkable value to your customers.

That’s what most marketers fail to realize.

The central idea is not to grab attention; it is about being different and useful at the same time. If you fail to realize this, you will continue to struggle whether you have a purple cow or not.

Even Godin himself stated it;

“Being noticed is not similar to being remarkable,” he wrote in The Guardian four years after the book was published (5). “Run down the street naked, and people will notice you. However, you won’t accomplish much with it. It is easy to pull off any stunt, but it won’t be useful. There is no use being remarkable if it is not something people care about.”

Now, this makes the overall message of the purple cow theory simpler. Instead of being amazing, brands need to focus on being useful. In fact, the more valuable your brand is, the more remarkable you become (6).

Hence, you need to focus on making your offerings better than your competitors and try to relate and connect with your audience as much as possible.

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Second Problem – The Constant Game of Quick Innovations

Another problem with the Purple Cow Theory is that when something captures the public’s attention and sells, others follow suit. Sooner than you may realize, every grazing field (market) would be full of purple cows. It means your purple cow is not remarkable anymore.

A marketer already knows how frequently it happens. For instance;

  • When Fitbit became a hit, everyone started to offer wearable fitness trackers (7).
  • made the market realize that people love to shop online. Today, we have marketplaces of every size for almost every product (8).
  • When everyone realized that webinars are effective at converting audiences into buyers, every online marketer has started using them to launch products (9).

So, what can we do about it?

You can always remain purple if you have enough time, resources, and will. Your brand can always be unique, fresh, and purple if you do the work.

However, since it needs hard work with no success guarantee, most gold-rushers stay away from them.

For instance, if you want to be one of the “eternally purple cows,” you will need to create epic content that needs at least hundreds, if not thousands of hours, to build. You will give away this useful information without demanding anything in return (10). You will focus on offering frictionless and delightful experiences with your product.

In short, the Purple Cow Theory allows businesses to see their brands from a fresh perspective.

But how can brands connect success for a business in modern times? How do they recommend a constantly evolving range of differentiated and remarkable product and service solutions? The answer focuses on three things, substance, style, and performance (11).

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Nurturing the “WOW Factor”

The first step towards being great starts from within because we believe that no company can be remarkable if its culture is not positive.

And one of the most efficient and effortless ways to transform your company culture is to offer your team what is known as an “organizing thought (12).”

What is an organizing thought? It is a simple yet effective idea that you can use every day to lead your team towards your business goals.

Here is how it works: you ask your staff every day to scrutinize all aspects of your business and strive to offer “WOW” or remarkable deliveries in all aspects of your customer experiences. From customer interactions to product recommendations, aim to be always aspirational. Prove your customers that your brand is here to offer them an unforgettable experience.

For instance, if you see a messy area in your office, ask your staff if it is wow? While setting up in-store displays, aim to be remarkable, or when following up on a customer issue, aim for the “wow factor.” You get the idea!

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Constant Focus on Brand Evolution and Transformation

The next step is focusing on transforming, over time, your promotion strategies and product selection. The idea is to successfully and continually transform your business in this highly volatile and fierce marketplace.

Do you know which company utilizes this strategy best? If you haven’t guessed already, it is Apple. Apple’s total focus is on bringing new, better, and higher-performing products to their target customers (13).

There is a strong correlation between the founder’s passion and focus on bringing remarkably differentiated products to the target audience. It can dramatically improve the bottom line and passionate tribes of profitable buyers.

Steve Jobs effectively used this strategy, and it is no coincidence that it is the primary reason behind Apple becoming the world’s most profitable company. We believe that every founder and business owner can learn and leverage it.

So, what does this strategy involve? You will need to examine your business closely and with precision, for starters. You will look at one thing, the percentage of your present offerings that come from your offerings that are less than five years old, focus on differentiation and innovation. Or if your offerings are unique and in limited supply, remarkable. Once you grasp this strategy, it will force you to seek and learn to champion new products and services.

Overall, this strategy will guide and discipline you on new promotions and product selections. It will push a culture of looking for new and better with an added edge of urgency.

Although it is challenging for brands to be remarkable and unique, you will find customers coming to you once you start grasping them.

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Remember, your innovation needs to be differentiated, purposeful, and meaningful. However, the issue is that businesses often cut corners, mostly on cost, and often repackage or tweak old technologies into new packages (14, 15).

You are not remarkable or won’t stay remarkable for long if you practice this.

Instead, focus on offering new products, features, and services based on unrecognized or unmet consumer needs, with true innovation achieved via weaving emerging technologies, appropriate training, and clever marketing.

So the biggest lesson with the Purple Cow Theory is that brands need to shift their business from ordinary (brown cow) to something remarkable (purple cow) with a wow factor.

It will offer a continuous flow of different, new, and remarkable products for your customers to use and experience.

Again, remember, it all starts with your company culture, product selections you make, and your passion for championing new products useful to your customers.

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Some More Tips (From “Purple Cow”)

  • Make a list of ten ways to change your product (not the hype) to attract your target market.
  • Consider starting small. Consider the tiniest possible market and offer a champion product that astonishes it with its remarkability. Then take it from there.
  • Copy. Not from your market, but any other industry. Look at an industry that is less interesting than yours, figure out which brands are noteworthy, and do what they did.
  • Find things in your market that are “simply not done” and fulfill them.
  • Always ask, “Why not?” There is rarely a good justification for almost anything you don’t do.
  • Differentiate your consumers. Identify the most profitable group, and if you can choose your consumers, cater to them.

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Closing Remarks

The key understanding of the Purple Cow Theory is that you will need to understand your customers. Learn what keeps them awake at night or what motivates them to wake up in the morning. Learn the best methods to communicate with your audience, listen to them, and look at their real-life behavior.

Another way marketers can successfully implement the theory is by finding the best solution for their audience, something they can remember for a long time. Build the solution, no matter how long it takes you to build it and give it to your audience.

Remember, how you deliver your offerings to your customers also matters. After all, offering an astonishing experience is a part of making your brand remarkable.

Finally, a word of advice: Remember, those that stand out often encounter commotion. If you are extraordinary, it will be common for you to receive hostility from certain people or organizations. That’s part of what makes anything remarkable. Nobody ever receives unequivocal praise.