Purple Cow

By Seth Godin

Date: 15 July, 2019

Just the Highlights in : 16 Minutes

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Summary and My Thoughts

This is my very first Seth Godin book and I have seen it referenced many times in other business books that I have read which eventually prompted me to read it myself. First and foremost, Seth Godin dispenses with the effectiveness of traditional mass marketing strategies primarily focusing on what he describes at the TV-Industrial Complex where profits from mass marketing is funneled back into mass marketing and so forth. The strategy was more effective in the past when consumers lived a more consumption-based lifestyle but now most individuals have their immediate needs met and are less likely to respond positively to these traditional marketing strategies, thus they become an expensive boondoggle. In this traditional marketing environment, products are designed to be safe and have a much wider mass appeal which results in the product simply being ignored in today’s cynical consumer world.

Instead of marketing being an afterthought, it should be at the fore-front of the design and development of the product or service in the very beginning to ensure that the product or service can market itself. Instead of focusing on mass appeal, you should focus on a small niche area and concentrate your marketing to the early adopters responsible for spreading word organically of your product or service to the early/late majority consumers that make up the bulk of consumer population. A remarkable product or service is akin to a Purple Cow among-st brown cows; it is worth acknowledging and talking about and thus effectively markets itself to those most likely to purchase and use the product or service. Personally, I have felt oftentimes that commercials and other traditional advertising campaigns fall flat on myself; most of my purchasing decisions are the result of reading the testimonials and recommendations of other people who have used or are using the product or service.

Not Enough Ps

Traditionally, marketing strategies involve multiple P’s (e.g., Product, Pricing, Promotion, Positioning, Publicity, Packaging, Pass-along, Permission), however in today’s marketing world, this is not enough.

The New P

The new P is the Purple Cow, which describes the essence of being Remarkable as the most effective marketing strategy (a purple cow among-st brown cows).

Boldfaced Words and Gutsy Assertions

In Remarkable Marketing, the design of your product or service is focused on making it Remarkable (worth noticing) rather than simply worrying about marketing the service/product after the design; this strategy is to market to the Post-consumption Consumer who no longer has many needs and wants very little and has grown disenchanted with the TV-industrial complex.

Before, During, After

Before Advertising, effective products were marketed via word of mouth; During Advertising, high consumption lifestyles, prosperity, and television advertising revolved around advertising via mass media directly to the consumer to produce sales, After Advertising; similar to Before Advertising, the use of established networks to spread remarkable ideas, products, and services organically.

The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread

The initial invention of sliced bread flopped until the brand Wonder managed to package and advertise the convenience and innovation of sliced bread rather than leaning on those two characteristics alone.

Did You Notice the Revolution

There are four kinds of people: prospects, customers, loyal customers, and former customers. Geoff Moore showed how new products move through a population following a curve that transitions from innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and eventually laggards. Marketing departments in companies treat these new non-traditional marketing strategies as simply fads. Customers rely more-so on tried-and-true suppliers or their network of smart friends for product recommendations rather than engaging with traditional advertisements.

Why You Need the Purple Cow

Most market spaces have become incredibly crowded and the world has changed such that customers have an ever-increasing number of available choices but an ever-decreasing amount of available time to determine which choice to make. All obvious targets (easily solved problems) are gone and customers are hard to reach because they will ignore you, also satisfied customers are less likely to tell their friends.

The Death of the TV-Industrial Complex

The TV-Industrial Complex involved finding a large market niche that was growing but not dominated, build a factory, buy a lot of TV ads, the ads would lead to retail distribution and sales, and the sales would keep the factory busy and create profits which would be used to buy more TV ads which lead to more distribution and factories. Non-advertised brands lost distribution and profits. The TV-industrial complex is dying because any form of advertising media (TV, newspapers, and magazines) that interrupt any form of consumer activity are largely ignored by individuals and businesses. The old rule was “Create safe, ordinary products and combine them with great marketing.”, the new rule is “Create remarkable products that the right people seek out.” The old marketing strategy was to market to the early/late majority (the most volume), however the new marketing strategy is to market to the group that has the most influence and reach.

Before and After

The TV-Industrial Age is characterized by average products, advertise to anyone, fear of failure, long cycles, and small changes. The Post-TV Age is characterized by remarkable products, advertise to the early adopter, fear of fear, short cycles, and big changes.

Consider the Beetle

The old VW beetle’s success was primarily due to the TV-industrial complex whereas the new VW beetle’s success was largely due to good reviews, word-of-mouth, and its distinctive shape; thus it differentiated itself from its competitors by its unique appearance alas the Purple Cow.

What Works?

It’s difficult to determine what makes a certain company or product a success by observing what worked in the past; these cases are usually a success because they became a leader by being remarkable rather than emulating a past success. It is no longer remarkable when you do it.

Why The Wall Street Journal Annoys Me So Much

Full page magazine ads are an old marketing strategy that is no longer effective and largely forgettable; however many companies will spend large amounts to take out full page ads regardless.

Awareness Is Not the Point

Awareness generated from catchy jingles and humorous commercials does not directly translate to an increase in revenue; despite TV advertisers pointing to awareness as important indicators of successful marketing.

The Will and the Way

There is no shortage of remarkable ideas, there is only a lack of will to generate remarkable ideas although it is imperative to create something worth talking about in today’s marketing world.

Case Study: Going Up

Schindler Elevator Corporation has created their own Purple Cow in the elevator industry allowing users to choose their destination floor which in turn indicates to the user which elevator they should board, this presorts the elevator attendees and avoids constant stops. This case illustrates that instead of using technology or your expertise to make a better product, you can invite the users to change their own behavior to make the product work better.

Case Study: What Should Tide Do?

Tide’s success was from a combination of good TV ads, very good distribution, and a great product however television advertisements are no longer effective, their distribution is focused on Wal-Mart, and their product is not remarkable. If a product’s future is unlikely, where people are no longer fascinated with your product, instead of re-investing profits in a dying product, re-invest in building something new and remarkable.

Getting In

Instead of targeting the large volume of the early/late majority who largely ignore you and your advertisements; you should focus your efforts on creating a remarkable product or service that captivates the early adopters and flexible and accessible enough to move toward the early/late majority portion of the Moore’s curve.

Ideas That Spread, Win

Ideas that spread are called ideaviruses. The experts and early adopters/early majority that spread this idea are known as sneezers. To target the sneezers, you should focus on a specialized niche rather than a large market since large markets are already taken. Therefore, you should target the sneezers within this specific niche.

The Big Misunderstanding

The majority of success stories are engineered from the first day to be successful, they are designed to be virus-worthy in the first place instead of it simply being an afterthought after the product or service is created. You should spend the money on engineering a product or service that markets itself through its design rather than requiring a large marketing budget after design.

Who’s Listening

Most traditional advertising and marketing is simply not cost effective and analogous to a hurricane that sweeps through marketplace touching everyone in the same way. Target marketing, though more difficult is much more cost effective, you want to target those who are listening. Despite this, your efforts are better spent developing a Purple Cow that the market seeks out.


Many successful companies success by not playing by the established rules of old-fashioned advertising-based techniques and therefore appear to be cheating by their competitors. (e.g., JetBlue => low-cost structure, Starbucks => Coffee bar phenomenon, Vanguard => low-cost index funds, Amazon => free shipping and wide selection, etc)

Who Cares?

The classical music industry has dried up and the sneezers are no longer listening since all their needs have been met. If no one is listening in your market, the best plan is to leave or to have the insight to go after a series of Purple Cows, to launch a product that somehow gets the right people, the sneezers, to listen.

Not All Customers Are the Same

Differentiate your customers by finding the group that is most profitable, the group most likely to sneeze, and focus om developing, advertising, and rewarding this group while ignoring the rest instead of wasting your time catering to everyone.

The Law of Large Numbers

As consumers get better at ignoring mass media, mass media stops working despite its large reach. Despite their large numbers, the hit rate is significantly smaller and the large number becomes largely irrelevant.

Case Study: Chip Conley

Chip Conley took a hotel that was under-performing and renovated it to appeal to a niche market (up and coming rock stars) therefore you should also focus on finding a under-served niche to target.

The Problem with the Cow

The problem with the cow isn’t a shortage or lack of great ideas, it is a fear of attracting negative attention by standing out from other products and service. In a crowded marketplace, standing out is failure. Boring is the most risky strategy and leads to failure.

Follow the Leader

Safe is risky. People who would avoid a remarkable career never end up as a leader, they rather work for a big company as an anonymous drone to avoid the risk and criticism and oftentimes fall victim to sudden market upheavals or technological shifts.

Case Study: The Aeron Chair

Herman Miller created a Purple Cow in their Aeron Chair, an expensive chair that conveyed a message about the person who sat in it. It is an example of a great design that also has a “cool factor”. They realized that making a safe chair was the riskiest thing they could do.

Projections, Profits, and the Purple Cow

Mass marketing results in boring and mediocre products designed to appeal to everyone and thus appeals to nobody. Mass marketing involves scary budgets to market on a large scale to the most populous regions of the Moore Curve (early/late majority) and thus launching new products becomes increasingly expensive.

Case Study: The Best Baker in the World

Poilane turned homemade bread into a global product worth talking about.

Mass Marketers Hate to Measure

Direct marketers figure out what works and do it more whereas mass marketers refuse to measure because it would mean that they would need to confront their mistakes and effectively fix them.

Case Study: Logitech

Despite limited changes in technology, Logitech focuses on design and user experience which captivates the attention of the sneezers in their marketplace and fuels their success.

Who Wins in the World of the Cow

Mid-sized and smaller companies are the winners since they are more agile and open to opportunities to become remarkable. Giant brands have a large amount of corporate inertia and embedded systems built on the TV-industrial complex which makes it difficult for them to become remarkable.

Case Study: A New Kind of Kiwi

Zespri focused on targeting Latino grocery stores as an effective word-of-mouth approach to introducing their new fruit.

The Benefits of Being the Cow

More and more people prefer to play it safe thus making the opportunity to create a Purple Cow more possible and beneficial than ever. Furthermore, the creators of Purple Cow can parlay their success into other ventures and opportunities. Despite this, it is not recommended to not simply play it safe and ride your success out for an extended amount of time, you should always reinvest your success into new Purple Cows.

Case Study: The Italian Butcher

Dario has turned buying meat into a intellectual and political exercise and thus managed to create his own Purple Cow.

Wall Street and the Cow

Many successful IPOs grew initially from Purple Cows but they eventually forgot their lessons and decided to streamline and mechanize their cow rather than re-invest their profits in developing new innovations and Purple Cows; thus their growth will slowly shrink over time.

The Opposite of “Remarkable”

The opposite of Remarkable is Very Good, not Bad, Mediocre, or Poorly Done. Very Good is not virus-worthy and hardly worth mentioning.

The Pearl in the Bottle

Dr. Bronner’s shampoo is a remarkable product because of its packaging. Packaging is part of the experience of using the product. Its packaging is unique and attracts the attention of early adopters. Contrast this with Prell’s shampoo whose success has declined with the decline in TV advertising.

The Parody Paradox

If you can show up in a parody then you have something unique and worth poking fun at. The same word of mouth that can make your product a huge hit can also lead to someone snickering at you. Most companies wish to avoid this controversy and thus make their products as inoffensive as possible to not attract this attention.

Seventy-two Pearl Jam Albums

Between 2001 and 2002, Pearl Jam released 72 live albums. Instead of marketing to new possible customers, they marketed their live albums to those customers which were already loyal to their band and allowed these loyal customers to introduce them to other possible customers.

Case Study: Curad

Curad developed a Purple Cow, bandages with characters printed on them to market to children, rather than simply trying to compete with Band-Aid directly.

Sit There, Don’t Just Do Something

Doing nothing is not as good as doing something great, however marketing just to keep busy can be worse than doing nothing at all since you may overburden your sneezers with indefensible junk.

Case Study: United States Postal Service

The more intransigent your marketplace, the busier your customers, the more you need a remarkable product or Purple Cow. The Postal Service is a good example of this with the introduction of ZIP+4 which made it easier for marketers to target neighborhoods and much faster and easier to deliver the mail. Overhaul the product with dramatic improvements in things the right customers care about can have a huge payoff.

In Search of Otaku

An Otaku describes something that’s more than a hobby but a little less than an obsession. Sneezers are consumers with otaku, you must understand this otaku and design your product or service to capture the attention of these sneezers based on this otaku.

Case Study: How Dutch Boy Stirred Up the Paint Business.

By introducing an easier-to-carry jug, easier-to-pour-from, easier-to-close paint jug, Dutch Boy created a Purple Cow based on the insight that people don’t buy paint, they buy painted walls and cans that make the painting process much easier.

Case Study: Krispy Kreme

Free donuts upon opening in a new location is Krispy Kreme’s successful approach of marketing to sneezers in the local community who are quick to tell their friends about the establishment.

The Process and the Plan

The process or system to help generate a remarkable idea is to go for the edges, challenge yourself to describe what those edges are, and then test which edge is most likely to deliver the marketing results that you seek. You need to understand the boundaries of your market landscape and your competition within that space. You need to discover the fringes that make the products remarkable.

The Power of a Slogan

A slogan should convey the essence of your Purple Cow in a manner that can be repeated by sneezers to their friends.

Case Study: The Haagen-Dazs in Bronxville

Haagen-Dazs are different because they each have a collection of cards with the store owner’s contact information on the counter. This attracts attention from customers and helps them differentiate the shop from other ice cream shops.

Sell What People Are Buying (and Talking About!)

Start with a problem that you can solve for your customer (who realizes they have a problem) and develop a remarkable product or service that attracts the early adopters within this group.

The Problem with Compromise

Compromise is about sanding down the rough edges, the extremes, any differentiating factors that can lead to a remarkable product. A camel is a horse designed by a committee, and designing by committee leads to compromise.

Case Study: Motorola and Nokia

This chapter, funnily enough, dates the book by talking about the declining attention generated by the cell phone market. Alas, the Iphone was introduced and the era of the smartphone took over.

The Magic Cycle of the Cow

When marketing your remarkable product of service, you should always focus on the sneezers of your prospective market. Get permission from your sneezers to alert them of future Purple Cows. Work with your sneezers so that it will be easier for them to communicate your product or service to their peers. Once your business has become profitable, let a different team milk the rewards while you re-invest the profits in a new Purple Cow.

What It Means to Be a Marketer Today

In the past, there was a clear separation of concern: engineers invented, manufacturers built, marketing marketed, and sales sold. In the new world of business, marketing must be at the forefront at the very beginning of a product or service’s life cycle to ensure that the design of the product or service is worth talking about.

Marketers No Longer: Now We’re Designers

Since post-design, post-manufacture marketing is dead, market-centric design is critical for a product or service’s success. As a marketer, you need to know how to invent, design, influence, adapt, and also discard products.

What Does Howard Know?

Howard Schultz’s otaku is coffee. This passion allowed him to develop insight that later fueled the successful Purple Cow, Starbucks. It is difficult to develop a Purple Cow in an area where you do not have an otaku.

Do You Have to Be Outrageous to Be Remarkable?

It’s not about the way you say it, it’s what you say. Therefore, outrageous is not a requirement to be remarkable and sometimes can even be an annoyance and detrimental to being remarkable. Outrageous is not a viable long-term strategy.

Case Study: McDonald’s France

France published a report urging citizens to not visit the fast food restaurant more than once-a-week. Though this strategy may appear shocking to US citizens, it may be a viable long-term strategy in France to promote sustained long-term growth.

But What About the Factory

Oftentimes the best route to proceed down after your traditional marketing efforts fail to generate results is to listen and adapt to your consumers. There will often be push back from your company who are more entrenched in the traditional marketing world and claim to not have the time or resources to invest in researching a new Purple Cow marketing approach.

The Problem with Cheap

Cheap is the lazy approach to creating a remarkable product and oftentimes leads to a competition of price cutting with competing companies. If a marketer can efficiently invent a new way that a product or service is delivered that results in much cheaper products, then this is a different matter entirely.

Case Study: What Should Hallmark.com Do?

Hallmark.com became popular by allowing users to send and share e-cards online. They make their money via a gift certificate company. They have a special club that allows its members to collect points that can be exchanged for prizes. They should work their gift certificate aspect into their special club to drive more traffic to using that component.

When the Cow Looks for a Job

Spamming your resume or submitting hundreds and thousands of job applications is similar to traditional marketing, as it oftentimes simply lands in the hands of someone not interested and subsequently ignored. You should do an outrageous job, become a remarkable candidate by taking risky projects with a significant payoff that is worth talking about. This will cause employers to come to you.

Case Study: Tracey the Publicist

Tracey initially started a general PR firm and advertised her service to everyone, however it wasn’t until she narrowed her marketing into a specific niche that her business began to gain traction.

Case Study: Robyn Waters Gets It

Robyn Waters of Target focused the company of acquiring exclusive items that would be interesting at any price point and selling them cheaply. This attracted discount shoppers from many different areas of life successfully.

Case Study: So Popular, No One Goes There Anymore

Stew Leonard grew a Purple Cow from his dairy store by incorporating a petting zoo. However, as it became more popular and more crowded, it became less appealing. Though the initial Purple Cow promoted significant short-term growth, he needs a new Purple Cow to offset the inconvenience of crowdedness.

Is It About Passion?

Passion isn’t a requirement to create a Purple Cow, but you need to understand that this is the only route to creating a successful product or service. Many people are scared of stepping outside of the safe areas and failing.

True Facts

Based upon statistics showing the most valuable brands, only 6 percent of these brands use the obsolete strategy of traditional marketing and these brands built their businesses back when this traditional marketing strategy was more viable.


Explore the limits of your market area, try different combinations to determine the possible routes to developing a Remarkable product or service.

Salt Is Not Boring-Eight More Ways to Bring the Cow to Work

Though, salt may seem like a boring commodity; many companies have innovated on the product to create enticing Purple Cows and entire companies based around them such as handmade seawater salt, Hawaiian salt, and more. Come up with ten ways to change the product to make it appeal to a sliver of your audience. Overwhelm a small niche market with your product’s remarkability. Outsource your manufacturing. Determine a way to talk directly to your customers.


Blake Adams is a writer, software developer, technical consultant, and financial independence enthusiast living in Oxford, MS.

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