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What does being a purple cow mean?

What Does Being a Purple Cow Mean?


Purple cow is a marketing concept developed by marketer and entrepreneur Seth Godin that states that companies must build things worth noticing right into their products or services. Godin claims that a product that isn't in itself unique and somehow remarkable - like a purple cow - is unlikely to sell, no matter how well crafted its advertising. Purple cow was Godin's addition to the traditional five P's of marketing - product, price, place, promotion and people.

Godin believes that creative advertising is not enough in a media landscape that has people tuning out. With people skipping ads on television and having more control over what they watch and when they watch it, Godin argues that now, more than ever, it is important to remember the importance of creating remarkable products. 

Unless you zig when others zag, you run the risk of being ordinary (a brown or black cow), and in the social media world, the most dangerous thing you can be is ordinary.


If you are reading this, it is likely that you are no stranger to the social media numbers: Facebook organic reach is shrinking to 1%; when people log on to Facebook there are over 1,500 stories competing to get in their news feed; the click through rate of good ads is 5%. These numbers all indicate that it is extremely difficult for your business to stand out in this sea of noise. If you are doing what everyone else is doing—or even worse, relying on television and print marketing strategies—people will ignore you. I will use Seth Godin’s purple cow analogy to help explain:


The Purple Cow
The purple cow is a business analogy. Imagine for a second you are driving, and you pass a field full of cows. For most of us, this is a common occurrence, as you barely even notice the cows, let alone any individual cow. Then imagine that you see a purple cow. This purple cow has immediately captured your interest. You turn to the passenger to comment on how remarkable this purple cow is. Perhaps you even stop to take pictures of the purple cow, and then share it on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Your friends all comment on and like your social media post, they have never seen a purple cow either.

Average businesses are like the black and brown cows that we hardly notice. Every once in a while one of these ordinary cows can do something out of the ordinary to briefly grab our attention, but this attention is often fleeting. The Purple Cow is a business that does things differently. The purple cow is unique and remarkable. It is so different that people feel the need to tell their friends and acquaintances about it. A purple cow business is easy to market. It stands out. It lends itself to viral distribution. But what if you do not have a purple cow business? Then you need a purple cow social media marketing strategy.

But how do you create a purple cow social media marketing strategy? Admittedly, it is difficult, time-consuming, costly, and different for each market. What might be a purple cow for a technology firm might be a brown cow for newspaper. So how do you create a purple cow social media strategy?


Begin by studying your competition
You must know what your competition is doing at all times. Follow them, like them, and interact with them. By knowing what the herd is doing you can better determine how to differentiate yourself from the brown and black cows.


Harness your creativity
Creativity can be a difficult concept to define. We all likely have different ideas of what is creative and what is not. Here is the definition that I work off of: “relevantly unique”. It is easy to be unique. Any weird marketing strategy is unique. And it is easy to be relevant, all you have to do is follow the herd to be relevant. What is difficult, however, is to be uniquely relevant.  This isn’t easy. This won’t come to you overnight. This is the type of idea that hits you when you are in the shower, when you are half awake in the early morning, or when you are 5 hours into an 8-hour car ride.


Why in the shower?
To come up with a truly purple cow marketing strategy, you must spend time with the idea. You must consume all the information there is. You must know what strategies have worked in the past, what strategies have failed, and what everyone else is currently doing. You must understand how social media works, who your demographic is, and what makes your product unique. You must know what needs your product satisfies, how people process information on social media, and how to best use social media to deliver your message. The point is that there is a lot of information that you need to consume. And you need to think about it, ruminate, ponder, cogitate, pontiff…you get it. You should be dreaming about this information. Once you get to this point, it is about connecting all of the dots to come up with your own purple cow.

Why the shower, car, or early morning? Simple: when you are in the shower and car, you often have time to think with limited distractions. Your mind wanders, and you are often able to connect the dots with no expectation to connect them. And the state of half-awake/half-asleep is a time of heightened creativity. Your brain is better able to see connections that earlier you were blind to; just make sure to write down those ideas before you lose them.


So what are the exact steps to creating a purple cow social media marketing strategy?
1)   Study all there is to know about your business, your competition, and social media.
2)   Explain all the above information you have collected to someone willing to listen. Teaching material to others is a great way to make sure that you clearly understand the material (though you might have to buy them a dinner for boring them for so long).
3)   Take time to think about how all this information is connected.
4)   Once you come up with several bad ideas (yes, you will have a lot) then you are in the right mindset for your purple cow to “hit” you.
5)   Keep working on it until you come up with your purple cow (even if it means extra long showers and meandering Sunday drives).


Purple cows aren’t easy to come by, or else everyone would have one. If you do not have the time, your resources might be better spent on hiring a social media marketing firm to help create a purple cow for you. If you do have the time however, make sure that your idea truly is unique and that it will work towards your business’s objectives. 

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