Purple Cow by Seth Godin – Book Summary, Learnings, and Insights

In this post, we’ll dive into the book summary, and learnings and share actionable insights from Seth Godin’s book, Purple Cow.

Guess what you’ll see if you look at a field of cows? The view will likely be primarily black and white, with a few brown spots here and there if you’re lucky. But, likely, none of these will catch your eye.

But if you see a Purple Cow in the field. It would probably catch your attention because a Purple Cow is something special!

All businesses can learn from this: if your products look like the usual black-and-white or even brown cows, you can’t expect to get anyone’s attention. Instead, you should make something that stands out: a “Purple Cow.”

In this book summary, we’ll share 5 key takeaways from this book.

Purple Cow by Seth Godin – Book Cover

Advertising is losing its effectiveness

You may have noticed that the way marketing works is changing in a big way.

When you turned on the TV or read a newspaper in the past, you probably only saw ads for a few products. The fact that these products were hard to find made them seem more reliable.

Today, though, many products are advertised in different ways, so the consumer is overloaded with ads. This has made it almost impossible to get the attention of the consumer.

This is because people are too busy to notice and pay attention to all the advertising going on around them.

The author gives an example: When he was in a nice hotel, he asked a few people who were reading a newspaper to name two companies with full-page ads. Nobody could even remember two.

This lack of awareness is because people don’t pay attention to marketing unless it meets their exact needs. Even if you needed a new car, you probably wouldn’t pay much attention to car ads.

This also means that traditional advertising in mass media is losing its power.

Let’s say your business buys a TV ad. Yes, a lot of people will see it, but only a small number of those people will want your product. And only a small number of those people are willing to pay attention to your ad. Lastly, only a small number of people in this last group are willing to buy your product.

Imagine that you want to advertise a new brand of painkillers that you are putting on the market. The problem is that there are already a lot of brands of painkillers on the market. This means you have to get around three problems:

  1. You have to find people who want to buy painkillers.
  2. You need to find customers in this group who aren’t happy with the current choices.
  3. You have to find people who will listen to what you have to say and buy your product.

Because of these changes, it’s getting harder and harder to reach your ideal customers and market your products.

Your products need to be remarkable

When we look at the history of advertising, there are three clear times: before advertising, during advertising, and after advertising. Let’s look at each one in more depth.

Before advertising, people told each other about the products and services that helped them solve their problems. This is the oldest form of advertising. People might have talked about the best person selling vegetables on the market square, bringing more and more people to her stand.

During Advertising: During this time, advertising worked like magic; the more you advertised, the more your sales went up. Companies could spend money on ads to boost sales and profits, which they could then use to buy even more ads.

After the ad: This is the time we live in now. We’ve gone back to advertising by word of mouth. Now, though, social networks like Twitter and Facebook make it easy for the word to spread quickly about great products and services.

In this new age, there are so many products to choose from that it’s not enough to meet a customer’s needs; you have to stand out to really get their attention.

Make your product or service a “Purple Cow,” something unique and eye-catching, if you want it to stand out on the market and be noticed right away. This kind of marketing is called “remarkable marketing.”

The new VW Beetle is a great example of a Purple Cow. The first Beetle was popular and made money for more than 15 years, so bringing it back was hard.

It was a big hit though, because its unique shape and bright colors made it stand out from the other cars on the street. Also, good reviews and word of mouth made it even more well-known.

Take more risks to create a remarkable product

You’ve probably seen a lot of great products and services, so you know there are a lot of different ways to do this.

Most companies, on the other hand, are afraid to try new things and don’t want to look for ways to stand out.

You have to get over this fear if you want to do well because the modern market has no room for boring products. In a busy market, if you don’t stand out, you might as well be invisible.

Think about the Buick: It has always been a boring car, with a design that shows the company didn’t want to take any chances. Because of this, it has never sold very well.

Andrew Weil is a good example of how important it is to stand out, no matter what you do. Most of the students at Harvard Medical School wanted to become the best doctors in the world. But Weil went in a different direction than his peers.

He challenged the medical establishment by combining conventional medicine with alternative medicine, which the medical establishment often looks down on. The risky choice paid off, and through his clinics, writing, and talks, he has helped hundreds of thousands of people.

“Follow the leader” is another common, but bad, business strategy. This means copying the actions of the leaders in the field. But this way of thinking will never make you a leader.

This is because the leaders probably got where they are because they took chances and made something special. If all you do is copy this, you won’t stand out.

Companies that follow this plan will fail in the long run because their market will change sooner or later, and they won’t know how to adapt because they haven’t tried anything new before.

The common question of “What’s our competitors’ doing” is dangerous. Marketing teams who copy their competitors’ campaigns risk being ignored because they won’t stand out by copying and being safe.

Just look at the music business: for a long time, record companies just copied each other and made products that were almost the same, with the same labels, packaging, etc. But when technology changed, like when online music stores came along, the record companies felt stuck because they didn’t know how to deal with change.

Find customers who are willing to try something new

So you now know you need a great product. But how do you tell everyone about it once you have one?

Basically, you need to know that there are five types of people who are likely to use a product in order to find the right method.

The Innovators

People who are eager to try new things and be on the cutting edge are the first group.

The early adopters

The early adopters are the next group. They are interested in new products because they want any advantage it might provide.

The late majorities

The early and late majorities come next. These are the practical people who want to use proven products and follow what everyone else is doing. Most of the customers come from these three groups.

The laggards

They are people who don’t like trying new things and will only do so if they have to.

Who should you target first?

Traditional marketing advice says that you should start with the late majorities because they are the largest group. But in reality, this is a mistake because these people don’t like to try new things until they are popular.

Instead, you should focus on the early adopters. They are more likely to find new products and, more importantly, they can make a lot of noise about the products.

This means you should make your product in a way that attracts early adopters and makes it easy for them to tell other people about it.

Take digital cameras as an example. They are easier to use and cost less than traditional film cameras. How would you go about selling them?

First, you should focus your marketing on people who are interested in technology and professional photographers, because they are the early adopters. This means they will see the good things about your product and persuade others to use it too. They might bring you customers from other customer segments (i.e. late majorities)

To figure out how to get people to talk about your product, ask yourself things like, “How effortlessly can people recommend your product to others?” and “Does your target group talk about products they like?”

Marketing is about inventing the product, not just communicating its benefits.

What do you believe “marketing” actually entails, do you think?

It was once believed that the purpose of marketing was to convey the worth of goods and services after they had been created. However, this is merely advertising. There is a lot more to marketing.

In reality, product invention is what marketing is all about. Marketing considerations, or how to make the product so that people will talk about it, have been incorporated into the design, production, pricing, and sales of successful products from the very beginning.

For instance, the CEO of JetBlue Airlines requested that the Head of Marketing be involved from the beginning of product design and employee training.

Additionally, marketing entails identifying a distinct advantage that will set you apart from rivals.

You must try out various ones to find your edge, carefully comparing how your product differs from those of your competitors in areas like pricing and marketing.

Because your actual product is the center of your marketing strategy, you should develop a catchy slogan that captures the essence of your brand.

Take the Leaning Tower of Pisa, for instance. Its main message is so simple and straightforward to spread: it’s a leaning tower, making it a famous tourist destination around the world. This serves as its “slogan.”

Meanwhile, the Leaning Tower of Pisa receives 99% of the annual visitors, while the Pantheon in Rome only receives 1% despite being more beautiful and historically significant and lacking such a slogan.

Another excellent slogan, albeit one without words, is the distinctive blue box that Tiffany & Co. jewelry is packaged in. Every time someone gives it as a gift, they are promoting the brand because it exudes an air of elegance and quality.

Market to people who are looking for a solution

As you’ve probably already guessed, most advertisements today are ineffective because the viewers are either uninterested in the product or don’t belong to the early adopter segment, which is eager to learn about new products and eager to spread the word about them.

Therefore, you might wonder: What makes the advertisements that are effective so unique? How can you determine whether yours do?

Effective ad targeting is the key.

This is due to the fact that today’s customers must decide whether to listen to you, whereas in the past marketers could choose who they wanted to reach.

This means that your advertisement must target people who are looking for a solution to their problems, specifically your solution. You accomplish this by placing your advertisement in a location where these people are looking for it.

For instance, Google Ads function well in this regard because users enter search terms that accurately describe their needs, and the ads chosen to appear in response to those needs offer a solution.

Whatever method you choose to use to market your product, you must still gauge its success. You can only learn what works and what doesn’t in this way, so that you can tailor your actions.

For instance, the clothing retailer Zara closely monitors how its products are received in stores and around the world and updates its selection of clothing every three to four weeks as a result.

Always keep in mind that you can only improve what you can measure, so in addition to considering an action’s effectiveness, you should also think about how much it will cost to measure it.

Don’t fear being ridiculed

Many businesses struggle to stand out because they are afraid. Let’s look at a few of the things they fear:

They are initially afraid of criticism because being exceptional means standing out from the crowd and drawing attention to yourself.

For instance, despite the fact that it has sold well and that those who have purchased it adore it, the new CTS Cadillac has received harsh criticism for being ugly. It’s inevitable that anything exceptional will draw criticism.

Criticism, however, does not equate to failure. In fact, if you don’t receive any criticism, you should be concerned because this indicates that you’re taking the safe route, and as we already mentioned, this leads to failure.

Second, a lot of businesses are concerned about appearing foolish or offensive if they are overly bold.

Indeed, being unique can lead to teasing from others. Even if someone does make fun of your product, the joke itself might become well-known, which would help promote it even more.

However, since it only occasionally works, you shouldn’t deliberately try to offend or outrage people. Even worse, it might cause a scandal, and you don’t want a scandal to spread bad word of mouth.

Finally, perhaps the biggest concern that most large corporations have about developing Purple Cows is that it would necessitate a radical transformation of their current infrastructure, such as their factories.

After all, you will need to do whatever it takes to achieve this, which frequently entails making significant changes, once you realize what will be the thing that will make you remarkable.

The CEO of electronics retailer Best Buy, Brad Anderson, is a shining example of someone who overcame this fear. Anderson completely restructured his business to set it apart from rivals, starting with the shift from selling what the company wanted to sell to selling what the customer wanted. The infrastructure the business had previously invested heavily in underwent significant changes as a result of this paradigm shift.

Conclusion of Purple Cow

There is no room for “ordinary” goods or services in today’s crowded market; you must be exceptional or you will perish. You must be fearless, take chances, and be unafraid of criticism if you want to become remarkable. Then, when you begin promoting your exceptional good or service, you must focus on reaching those who are both eager to try new things and willing to tell others about it.

Practical suggestions:

Avoid the temptation to simply copy the practices of the industry leader if you discover that your business is falling behind.

Instead, sit down with a pen and piece of paper and make a list of possible ways to close the gap between you and the leader. Only include ideas that would require you to act in a manner that differs from the leader.

Consider enrolling in a marketing course if you are a product designer. Take a product design course if you work in marketing.

Spend some time on the production line in both situations to gain an understanding of how the product is made. In order to create Purple Cows, the product must be created with the marketing angle in mind.

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