Welcome to In Short. A new monthly series turning key learnings from modern business literature into actionable takeaways. This month’s book is Seth Godin’s “Purple Cow– Transform Your Business By Being Remarkable.” Previous instalments include “To Sell is Human” by Dan Pink


Word of mouth marketing is still the most powerful form of marketing there is.
Leverage FOMO to get people talking about you.
Create different pieces of content for each stage of the buyer journey.
Your content must be scroll-stopping.
If you try to make products for everyone, your product will be average.
Keep innovating to keep customers engaged.

It’s finally starting to feel like summer. One of my favourite parts of summer are the road trips. During road trips, there’s that part where you finally hit that stretch of country road and you see a cow. Now, it’s always a little exciting seeing a cow because obviously we don’t see them in the city. So when you see the first one, it’s great! You pull out your phones, you turn to your friends and say,”yo, that’s you,” while pointing at the cow.

But after the second, third, or fourth cow, it’s not that fun anymore. You’ve seen a couple already. Whatever.

But what if in the next kilometer you saw a purple cow? That would get your attention. I’ve never seen a purple cow before and neither has any of my friends. So the minute we see a purple cow, boom, we’re up and paying attention. It’s remarkable! And that’s exactly what Seth Godin talks about in his book, “Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable.”

If you’re not familiar with Seth Godin’s work, he’s one of the brightest brains in modern day marketing. He doesn’t talk about social media trends or algorithm hacks, though. Instead, Seth focuses on timeless marketing strategies that can be applied to any medium no matter what the shiny new thing is today.

Now, marketing can feel like a constant race to keep up with trends. There’s always new features on Instagram and Twitter and we always feel the need to jump on top of them, even if they’re not right for our marketing strategy.

But when you step back from social media marketing, you start to realize that the fundamental core of any platform is word of mouth marketing. Those reliable recommendations from people you trust, or telling a friend about a delightful restaurant experience– word of mouth marketing is still gold.

Even in 2020 with all the marketing channels we have available to us, word of mouth marketing still has the highest ROI.

What Does It Mean To Be Remarkable?

Let’s take a look at the word “remarkable” and go back to the root, “remark.” What does that mean?

To make a remark about something. To be conversation worthy.

Seth Godin says that you want to build products and marketing campaigns that are worth talking about. So even though the mediums of marketing, the social channels, and the collateral have changed throughout the years, the actual act of what happens on those platforms hasn’t changed at all.

Think about it.

When brands ask someone to leave a comment or to tag a friend, what are they asking people to do? They’re asking their customers (old and new) to share their experience with others! That’s still word of mouth marketing.

Now, why has word or mouth marketing stood the test of time? Well, a few reasons. Number one, it shows trust.

If my friend tells me that I should go to the store to buy this thing, I’m gonna trust my friend. Number two, it’s all about people. If there’s a lot of people talking about you, people don’t want to miss out. FOMO. If your brand, your product, or your campaign is being talked about, people want to be a part of the conversation.

Now, a key thing to remember here is that being good enough, or as Seth Godin says, “very good” is not enough to be talked about. “Very good” is the standard.

That’s what’s expected. You should be good if you’re in the market. To be talked about, you’ve got to be remarkable.

Sorry GaryVee, More Content Isn’t Always The Answer

Now, in an effort to be talked about what do brands do? That’s right. They make content. Sometimes… A LOT.

We’ve gotta be careful here because this can turn into a slippery slope. Yes, content is a great way to raise awareness around you brand. But Seth Godin reminds us that there’s already so much noise out there. If we’re not thoughtful, our content can just contribute to all this noise. This could result in us getting ignored.

Content is kind of like brown cows. When you put out the same content as everyone else there ends up being brown cows everywhere. If I’m scrolling through my Instagram feed and I see selfies, text posts, or some boring content from every single brand, I’m gonna start to ignore it.

But if I see a content style that I’ve never seen before I’m gonna pay more attention to that. That’s a purple cow. That’s what Seth Godin tells us to do when it comes for advertising.

Context Before Content

Now, a key thing to remember when it comes to content is that you want to put context over content. Here’s what I mean by that. Content marketing is something that you have to do. But you need to balance that out with contextual marketing.

Contextual marketing looks at each customer as a unique person. For example, if you’re a shoe company selling running shoes, you’re gonna create different creative and content for a seasoned marathon runner than you would for someone who’s just starting to get active again.

Someone who’s trying to get fit is gonna be looking to educate themselves on what types of shoes would be good for lighter activities. Whereas a seasoned marathon runner would be more concerned about the technical aspects of a shoe. What kind of shoe has a better tread for pavement? What sort of shoe is better from the arches? What sort of shoe helps me avoid plantar fasciitis?

By being contextual you deliver different types of content to different customers depending on where they are in the buyer journey. So when you’re creating content, you want do two things; 1, be contextual and, 2, create purple cows of content.

But be careful. If you produce too many purple cows too often, that’ll become the new norm and you’ll start to become ignored again. Now, the best way to shield yourself from being ignored by everyone is to not try and serve everyone in the first place.

Serving Everyone Makes Your Product Average

Seth Godin gives us the example of Dell versus Apple. Dell looks to serve everybody. They want to continually increase their market share by appealing their everybody. In an effort to do that, their products end up looking like their competitors. This leaves them to only compete on price. Competing on price is a race to the bottom, and not a race you wanna win.

Apple, on the other hand, only focuses on a specific set of customers. They don’t care about serving everybody. Their products are not at a price point that’s accessible to everybody. Making the cheapest product is the last thing on their agenda.

Dell and Apple both serve different parts of the diffusion of innovation curve. For everyone who fell asleep during their business class, here’s a quick recap of the diffusion of innovation model.

The Diffusion of Innovation Model

A Marketer Looks at Climate Change - Part 1: Diffusion of ...

In the middle, you have your early majority and your late majority. This is the majority of the market who buys a product. On the left end, you have innovators and early adopters.  On the right you’ve got the laggards.

Now, like we mentioned, Dell serves the early majority and the late majority. That’s the middle of the curve. Whereas Apple serves the innovators and the early adopters.

When you serve the middle of that curve, you’re serving the average customer. You’re looking to appeal to as many people as possible. And as a result, your product becomes average. Remember, when you’re average, you become ignorable.

When you serve the early adopters and innovators, though, those are the people want to talk about your product to each other and make remarks about it. The key characteristic of these two groups are that they want to be the people that discover something first. They’re the influencers of their friend group. They find new and outstanding products and share it with their circles. That produces a word of mouth effect for your product.

Memes Are Good For Business

Now, serving these two groups, the innovators and the early adopters, also benefits you in the form of memes. When the concept art for the iPhone 11 Pro was released, the three cameras got meme’d to no end.

Iphone 21 pro meme | Iphone, Apple memes, Iphone 11

Now, on the surface, having memes made about you might seem like a bad thing, but it’s actually another form of word of mouth marketing. Memes are organic, user-generated content that has a far greater reach than any corporate campaign can achieve. The more times your product is seen by more people, you stay top of mind. When the time comes for them to go out and make a decision on their next phone, who are they gonna be thinking of?

Marketing Should Not Be An Afterthought

There’s a famous saying that says,” build it and they will come.” In today’s day and age of marketing, that’s flat out wrong. Traditionally, people have done all the research and development, built the product released them, and THEN hired Don Draper to figure out how to sell it.

Seth Godin urges the opposite approach. He believes marketing should be baked into the product from day one. Now we’ve seen great examples of brands and influencers building audiences before launching a product.

A super notable example is Kylie Jenner. She built a following of millions on Instagram before launching the Lip Kit line. By building an audience, she got an intimate one-to-one connection with them. They trusted her and she got insights into what they’d want and buy.

When the time came for her line to launch, it was developed specifically for her audience. It wasn’t built around what she thought they would want. It wasn’t built around trends or what the other industry competitors were doing. It was built around what her owned audience wanted. A very specific niche.

Seth Godin again wants us to focus on very specific audiences. He tells us that if we try to serve everyone, we become average. Again, becoming average leads us to be ignored. By building an audience first you’re able to listen to these insights and know exactly what they want and build a product for them. Thereby reversing the traditional model of production before marketing and instead putting distribution ahead of product development.

By focusing on marketing first, you serve your customers well by creating product that they actually need. Not to mention that owning an audience gives you a direct distribution channel.

Stop Yelling At Customers

Seth Godin reminds us that the traditional TV model of advertising does not work anymore. Here’s what that used to look like.

It’s Friday night and you’ve just home from work ready to kick off the weekend. You lean back into your couch, remote in hand, scrolling through channels until you find something you wanna watch. And then, an ad comes on. You can either skip the ad to eventually get back to your show or start channel surfing again.

Now we have the option to skip ads on YouTube, watch Netflix where there’s no ads, or scroll past sponsored content on our social media feeds. The TV model of advertising, of outbound marketing, where you’re yelling at the customer doesn’t work anymore.

Now, it’s interesting to note another traditional marketing rule here: the rule of seven.

This rule essentially states that a customer has to see your ad or your product seven times before making a purchase.

I don’t think that’s absolutely right. If we think back to the TV model, a customer had no choice but to sit through your ads. So they were basically forced to watch it seven times or more.

So what does the rule of seven look like in 2020 where we have social media and the ability to skip ads? The rule seven in 2020 is no longer about yelling at your customer seven times. Instead you now have seven opportunities to build trust with your customers. This trust is best built through, again, contextual content and inbound marketing.

Let’s talk about context again for a second. The context of TV advertising was interruptive. You were sitting down for your show and having an ad thrown at you a few minutes in was interruptive. Inbound marketing, on the other hand, is about meeting people where they want to be met, how they want to be met, with what they want to be met by.

So, if we go back to our running shoe case– an example of inbound marketing there is putting out a blog post about how to run to prevent injuries or how to pick a shoe for walking trails. That type of content is great for a customer who’s just, again, starting to get active. On the other end of the spectrum if a customer is ready to buy a shoe for a very specific need, like running a marathon, you might write “How to Pick the Right Shoe for a 25K.”

Again, neither of those pieces are yelling at a customer. You’re not throwing that at someone who doesn’t need shoes.

With TV, if an ad comes on for cereal but I hate cereal, that ad is irrelevant to me. But if I’m Googling specifically and intentionally for running shoe blog posts, I’m going to find that. It’s gonna be served to me because I expressed an intent to find that piece of content.

Inbound marketing lets your customers come to you when the time is right. Whereas outbound marketing yells at a bunch of people hoping that a small percentage of them will become customers.

So, How Can You Raise a Purple Cow?

Trust Your Data

Make decisions based off data but also balance it with your gut. Remember, data is dated. Data is looking back on things that have already happened. Data is a good indicator of what may happen the future, but it can’t ever tell you exactly what will happen.

Listen To Your Customers

This is how you look into the future. Read the comments. Message your customers directly. Use surveys and find out where their heads at.

Take Risks

Customers don’t know what they want until you give it to them. Customers have an inkling of what they like or don’t like, but they don’t know what’s gonna come out next. They don’t know what they’re gonna want tomorrow. So how do you prepare for that before?

Create a culture of innovation. Purple cows don’t happen from regular, average thinking. Purple cows don’t occur by doing what’s safe. Being safe is the riskiest thing you can do because everybody else, your competitors, they’re also being safe.

To encourage innovation, create and cultivate a comfortable environment for your team where they feel safe sharing their craziest ideas and their own purple cows with you. By innovating and avoiding complacency, that’s how you always keep pumping out more and more purple cows for you to milk for maximum profit.

Everything Is Crazy, Until It’s Done

Once upon a time, purple cows were insane. Now, purple cows are expected. Tomorrow, you might need a kaleidoscope cow, a rainbow cow, or maybe an upside down cow. But most importantly, throughout all this innovation, don’t forget that you can’t be serving your ego. Keep your focus on your customers. Serve their needs, serve their wants, and provide excellent customer service because that in itself is a purple cow.

Thank You For Reading

If you enjoyed reading this and found it helpful, it’d mean the world to mean if you shared this with a friend.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this topic and chat, too. Tweet me @astawadotca or DM me on Instagram @astawa.ca

Buy “Purple Cow– Transform Your Business By Being Remarkable” by Seth Godin by clicking here.

Talk soon,

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