Two Lessons from Purple Cow

How to Build Remarkable Products

Jul 30, 2022   |   Book Lessons

Book Synopsis

“Cows, after you've seen one, or two, or ten, are boring. A Purple Cow, that would be something. Purple Cow describes something phenomenal, something counterintuitive and exciting and flat out unbelievable.
In Purple Cow, Seth Godin urges you to put a Purple Cow into everything you build, and everything you do, to create something truly noticeable. It's a manifesto for marketers who want to help create products that are worth marketing in the first place.”

Seth Godin is one of the most respected marketing voices around today. I picked up Purple Cow because I had never read a book by Godin, and I wanted to see what all the hype was about. Here are two things I learned.

Generic Is Already Taken, so You Should Be Remarkable

"In almost every market, the boring slot is filled. The product designed to appeal to the largest possible audience already exists, and displacing it is awfully difficult. Difficult because the very innocuousness of the market-leading product is its greatest asset. How can you market yourself as “more bland than the leading brand”? The real growth comes with products that annoy, offend, don’t appeal, are too expensive, too cheap, too heavy, too complicated, too simple—too something. (Of course, they’re too too for some people, but just perfect for others.)"

— Seth Godin, Purple Cow

If you are trying to gain market share, you can’t go head-to-head with the leader. They made it to the top for a reason, and they’re already very good at appealing to as many people as possible. If you want to gain ground, you have to be different. You have to find some angle that the big guy doesn’t cover and let that difference help you stand out.

Unfortunately, approaching a market from an angle means pushing away potential customers. If you angle yourself as a premium product, you’ll push away those who want the cheapest deal. If you angle yourself as an environmentally friendly product, you’ll push those away who simply don’t care. Pushing away customers feels scary, but it’s the only way to scale a product quickly. For you to become the big generic leader in the market, you must first copy the existing leader. Some customers will say you’re better, and others will say your competitor is better. It will be a battle of subjective inches. If you have a remarkable product, you won’t have to go up against the market leader since your product will be fundamentally different.

For example, if you wanted to launch a new ice cream company, would your first flavor be vanilla? It’s one of the most popular flavors, and it’s bland enough to appeal to everyone. Still, you probably wouldn’t launch an all-vanilla ice cream company. How would gain market share? Who would care about another vanilla ice cream in the store freezer? To stand out, you have to create something interesting. Something new. Something exciting. Sure, you’ll lose the customers who want vanilla, but you probably wouldn’t have won those customers anyway. They were always going to head straight to the market leader, regardless of whether you had a new vanilla flavor or not.

It Isn't Enough to Be Very Good. You Have to Be Remarkable

"Ideas that are remarkable are much more likely to spread than ideas that aren’t. Yet so few brave people make remarkable stuff. Why? I think it’s because they think that the opposite of “remarkable” is “bad” or “mediocre” or “poorly done.” Thus, if they make something very good, they confuse it with being virus-worthy. Yet this is not a discussion about quality at all... Factories set quality requirements and try to meet them. That’s boring. Very good is an everyday occurrence and hardly worth mentioning.”

— Seth Godin, Purple Cow

Good products are expected, so you can’t just be good. I don’t run to tell my friends that the coffee shop took my order, made my coffee, and delivered it to me all within five minutes. That’s good service, but it’s normal. We don’t spread the word about normal. To stand out, you have to do something so unique that it changes your product from good to remarkable. Add features that surprise people, and make sure you seize every advantage to get people talking.

Overall Thoughts

Seth Godin’s books are never dense, analytical, or scientific. But that’s exactly why I like them. When most business books follow science, Godin’s books follow feelings. It can be a nice break from the norms. His books feel like a Sunday afternoon stroll instead of an 8 AM business analysis class. In a way, his books are a great example of purple cow products.

If you want scientifically backed lessons about marketing, or even actionable advice, this isn’t the book for you. However, I loved this book and have been daydreaming about building purple cow products since reading it.