The Purple Cow that’s Right Underneath Your Business’ Nose

by Marcus Sheridan

purple cow10 years ago, Seth Godin published a book—Purple Cow— that in many ways has become a classic in the marketing world. The book’s main message was based on the idea of being so remarkable(or unique) as a business that people can’t help but to notice you—just as someone would stop in their tracks if they noticed a purple cow in a field as they were driving down the road.

Since that work, I’ve heard many businesses talk about how they could become a Purple Cow in their industry, and each time the subject has come up, I’ve shook my head, as the answer is right underneath their nose,  but they simply aren’t seeing the forest through the trees.

Simply put, the easiest (and most effective) Purple Cow available to every business in the world is transparency.

Yep, transparency.

And although you may feel the subject of “transparency” isn’t very exciting or earth-shattering, I’d beg to differ.

I say this because transparency is the great divide in the world of marketing and branding today.

The businesses that do it get results. The businesses that shun it, get left behind.

Let’s just look at a couple of examples:

Dominos resurrected their entire brand and market share by telling the world, “You said our Pizza stinks. We have heard your complaints, and we’ve changed.”

dominoes oh yes we did

Samsung took a chunk out of the iPhone’s dominant market position by producing brutally honest comparison-based videos on how their phone’s features compared to the iPhone.

YouTube Preview Image

Web hosting company WP Engine has managed to become one of the most trusted hosting sources for WordPress users by essentially telling anyone that reads their stuff, “We ain’t cheap. In fact, for hosting services, we’re expensive. But we’re the best, and that’s exactly why people love us.”

wpengine_pricing

On their website, WP Engine openly discusses their higher prices.

CarMax has reinvented the way used cars are sold because of no haggle pricing, a 5-day money back guarantee, and an incredible quality checklist on every car they sell—all things that were unheard of in the used car industry not too long ago.

CarMax honesty

CarMax is changing the way people view the phrase “used car salesman.”

And as everyone has heard me talk about until I was blue in the face, River Pools became the voice of the fiberglass pool industry because we addressed subjects like “Problems with Fiberglass Pools” and “Manufacturer Comparisons” and “Competitor Review Articles.”

Most companies would never think about writing competitor review articles...

Most companies would never think about writing competitor review articles…

I could go on and on with the examples of businesses that have done amazing things to build their brand in the digital age through the power of transparency, but I’m sure you get my point.

When it comes to purple cows (being remarkable) my friends, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel in order to make magic. In fact, I’d sum it up in 3 simple steps:

1. Identify what’s right and wrong with your industry, and then be brave enough to talk about it.

2. Understand the hard questions everyone is asking in your industry, and then be relentless in your efforts to teach about it.

3. Take what you feel is your “secret sauce,” and then be bold enough to show it.

That’s it folks. Do this and you’ll be in a class by yourself.

And not only that, but you’ll build your brand, your business, and your bottom line in the process.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Ruth Zive December 12, 2013 at

Marcus, transparency might be one of the key ingredients, but I don’t think I agree that it’s enough of a differentiator on its own.

You need a ‘secret sauce’ or bold solutions to what’s ‘wrong in your industry’ to capture people’s attention. You can be entirely transparent but offer nothing that is fresh, new, exciting, meaningful.

Samsung was honest about the ways in which their product stacked up against Apple. But to be clear – the ways in which it stacked up against Apple (according to their campaign) were BETTER and way differentiated.

Similarly, Dominos might have been honest and transparent about their shortcomings; but they used that transparency to introduce the ways in which they were different, better, improved.

I suppose what I’m saying is that transparency might be a great way to showcase the purple cow. But IMO, it’s not what makes you a purple cow, necessarily.

Make sense?

Reply

Marcus Sheridan December 15, 2013 at

That does make sense Ruth, it does, but let me give you another example.

In the swimming pool industry, fiberglass pool manufacturers used to have terrible warranties where they were quite misleading with their “semantics” if you will.

Seeing this, we called them out, showed the world what they were doing, and told them to stop being dishonest.

In this case, we didn’t have a secret sauce other than, “Be honest.”

But it really, really worked.

See where I’m coming from?

Reply

Alan | Networking Secrets December 12, 2013 at

Hey Marcus,

I haven’t read that particular book from Seth but I completely get (and love) the concept.

As someone who was a client of management consultants for many years I was very cynical of these sleazy guys who came in, sucked up all your resources, made a few tweaks and re-branded your materials and presentations as theirs (stealing your watch to tell you the time).

Then I became a consultant myself.

So I had an internal struggle fighting all those years of being cynical of what I’d actually become. Actually this made everything so much easier – it was easy to stand out from the crowd by being transparent, genuine and honest and at the same time meeting my own values and principles.

I still find it amazing how many big companies don’t do this – but I agree with you there are plenty of great examples who are now waking up & smelling the coffee! (thankfully)

I know you’ve always stood for this from your first business & it’s a great message – maybe the only message.

Reply

Alexandra Petean-Nicola December 13, 2013 at

Great article Marcus. Being a purple cow is so easy cause in fact all it takes is to be yourself and not worry if everybody will like you, or what will they say if you raise your price compared to the market. Your audience is sure you have a reason, explain that reason and they will most probably understand. The ones that won’t are the ones that weren’t meant to be your clients from the beginning.

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Al Smith December 13, 2013 at

Hey Marcus,

I read all your posts, but had to comment on this. Absolutely Fan – tas – tic !!

Love it. Transparency IS the Key. I am trying to convince people of that. All the time. Ha.

Thanks man. Hope you and the fam have a great Christmas and I know, your “Fabulous Growth Experience” in January will be Awesome !!

Take CARE brother,

Al

Reply

Ryan Hanley December 13, 2013 at

Marcus,

Definitely agree on Transparency…

One I might add, (as coincidentally I’m reading Purple Cow right now), is “Making good on your promises.”

It seems silly, but as I think my own experiences as a consumer and what I really want out of the organizations I do business with is simply for them to make good on what they say they can and will do.

With all the marketing that takes place in today’s world this happens far less than we would expect.

Thanks,

Hanley

Reply

Churchill Madyavanhu December 13, 2013 at

Though I haven’t read the book, the idea of being a purple cow resonates with me. I am just trying to figure out how to apply it to the marketing of a school. “Purple Cow” is now on my reading list. Thanks for sharing.

Reply

Martha Preston December 13, 2013 at

So basically not being afraid to be ourselves is the best way to go. I think showing that we are human and we mess up just like everyone else makes everyone feel like they could do what the writer is doing.I always new this I always feel vurnalble and I feel know reallly wants to know about me and whats me unique so I go with general stuff..maybe I should suck it up

Reply

Andrea H. December 14, 2013 at

I agree 100 percent. In this world being honest and transparent really makes you a purple cow. Unfortunately because that’s not the way it should be.

Reply

JA December 17, 2013 at

Marcus –

Great words, as always.
Thanks for handing out yet another fresh, attainable, optimistic perspective.

Jayme

Reply

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