When Seth Godin's Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable was first published in 2003, marketers thought they had found the Holy Grail of success.
Unfortunately, most of them missed the point.
Today, they're still struggling, purple cow and all.
Let me explain.
Purple Is Not The Point
Godin's purple cow metaphor oversimplifies his idea.
To be remarkable, Godin says, is to be "worth talking about. Worth noticing. Exceptional. New. Interesting."
A purple cow definitely stands out in a world where every other cow is either brown, white, black, or a combination of those. It commands attention.
But as marketers, we want more than attention. We want sales.
And to do that, it's not enough to be remarkable: you have to be remarkable in a way that's meaningful to your audience.
Going back to the purple cow metaphor, how many people do you think would eat the meat from a purple cow?
I sure wouldn't. At least, not until 20 years of research and real-world experience have shown that it's safe to eat!
The Missing Link
So, yes, you do have to be different--but in a useful way.
Godin himself says so:
"Being noticed is not the same as being remarkable," he wrote in The Guardian, four years after Purple Cow was published. "Running down the street naked will get you noticed, but it won't accomplish as much. It's easy to pull off a stunt, but not useful.... No use being remarkable at something that people don't care about."
In Youtility: Why Smart Marketing Is About Help Not Hype, Jay Baer says, "What if instead of trying to be amazing you just focused on being useful? What if you decided to inform, rather than promote?"
I'm going to take it further by saying that the more useful you are, the more remarkable (or amazing) you become.
By being more useful than your competitors to your audience, then you become remarkable in their eyes.
Ask yourself: How is my offering better than my competitors'? And does my audience care?
How to Protect Yourself from the Gold Rush
There's another problem with the purple cow approach that Godin himself recognizes.
When something captivates the public and sells, eventually others follow suit. Soon, every grazing field is full of purple cows, and then your purple cow isn't remarkable anymore.
This happens all the time:
...The Fitbit was a hit and now, the market is inundated with a dozen wearable fitness trackers.
...Amazon.com showed that people love shopping online, and now you have online marketplaces for everything from shoes to handmade goods.
...Webinars proved to be effective at converting audiences into buyers, and now, every online marketer uses them to launch products.
If you're a small business owner or DIY marketer, can you innovate fast enough to stay ahead of the game?
You can--if you're willing to do the work.
Some cows will always remain purple. They will always be fresh and unique.
Those are the cows that take a lot of elbow grease to execute. And because they require hard work without the guarantee of success, gold rushers steer clear of them.
Examples of "eternally purple cows" include: epic content that takes hundreds, if not thousands, of hours to create; useful information that you give away without demanding anything in return; and, experiences with your product that are frictionless and delightful.
What All This Means for Marketers
It takes three simple--but not easy--steps to become remarkably useful:
1. Know your audience.
Discover what keeps them up at night and what gets them out of bed in the morning. Learn and speak their language. Talk to them, and observe their real-life behavior.
2. Decide on the best way to be remarkably useful.
Figure out a bull's-eye solution your audience will remember for a long time. It'll probably take you weeks, even months, to create. And that's good!
3. Deliver it to them.
Build the solution and give it to your audience. Remember, how you deliver it matters, because providing an astounding experience with your brand is part of becoming remarkable.
So stop trying to be a purple cow. Instead, be the cow that's tender, nutritious, and low in calories. Then you'll have a winner.