What is Purple Cow?

Updated: Oct 13, 2020

(If this article is too long, read in Tidbits.)

If you could replace every mundane, day-to-day activity & things around you with a brown cow, everywhere you look you would find brown cows only. Our surrounding is filled with that many boring things. But out of nowhere, your eyes fall onto a purple cow, would your eyes leave? I suppose not. Perhaps, even without any substitution, our amazement at finding a purple cow in an actual world will be similar.

Purple can be anything: a pen, a dress, a flower, a chemical, and so on, but a cow? That's crazy and something worth obsessing over until the entire fascination goes down, which of course will take a very long time. Now stop there and reconsider this notion in a metaphorical way as the Purple Cow theory is meant to be. A super-exciting thing among boring things will still stand out and look impressive. As Seth Godin puts it in his book Purple Cow (bestseller of 2003)," You're either remarkable or invisible". He introduced this concept in a market scenario where products need to stand out. But the purple cow is more than just setting a product apart in an overcrowded marketplace, which otherwise is very well defined by USP (Unique Selling Proposition) of a product: the special attribute of the product/service which is primarily marketed to make sales. Sunsilk and L'oréal compete with their attributes of one providing long and strong hair, and the other repairing damaged hair can be said to compete with their USPs, but neither of the brands is our purple cow. Then what is?

In an Indian market saturated with paid services of Airtel, Idea, and Vodafone when Jio introduced its “free” calls (not so free) and unlimited data packs at a very low price, it was a purple cow. In a similar manner, when Tesla introduced its first high-performance electric luxury sports car and proposed to mass-produce relatively affordable electric cars, it got the whole world talking about itself.

That is the thing with purple cows. Before you know it, purple cows are all that every person will be talking about. The sensation of the time. All of it because a purple cow not only stands out in a world full of brown cows, but it also excites and amazes. If a purple cow exists I bet you would want to see it, not to mention, share information about it with your friends and colleagues, in other terms, "remark" about it. From here we enter into the Law of Remarkability because when Godin said that you have to be "remarkable" he quite literally meant it. Now we understand that Seth Godin's purple cow is not only exclusive but capable of making people spread the word about it.

There are criticisms however that Purple Cow theory results in an oversimplification of Godin's idea. The factors associated with marketing success whose fundamental objective is to make sales happen extends beyond remarkability; perhaps it is the utility of the product/service. People only talking about a product will not make the sale happen. This makes an excellent topic of discussion (for marketing gurus) but this is not our topic of discussion as our abandoned purple cow is still waiting for us.

Purple Cow placed among us:

Not many people dream of achieving small, or average, or to produce a common result. Standing out and thinking out of the box is the most passionately sought for criteria in any field. Companies are looking for employees who can innovate. Students are raced against each other and ranked to set them apart from other average scoring students. Entrepreneurs are constantly fiddling with ideas to produce a unique product or service with high demand. It is obvious that not all of the people or products out of these will turn out to be remarkable though they might be of high value, the intention is always to produce one.

We know that every remarkable product is an intended project but is it credible that every such project will spread like a wildfire? Cal Newport in his book So Good They Can't Ignore You expands on the purple cow concept in which he says alongside a remarkable product one needs a platform to introduce this product. A platform that would support these "remarks" to be spread. Unless you are on one such platform your idea might only add to the chaos.

When one succeeds in producing a purple cow it results in a disruption into the otherwise uniform looking product range. It could be a catchy advertisement, a highly impactful offering, or an awesome youtube content. The world recognizes this remarkable project and almost simultaneously starts copying the prototype of our purple cow. It is then, only a matter of time before the world gets saturated with purple cows and it is no longer exciting. However, the fascination stays for a very long period to make it profitable even for the copyists. Just like Amazon opened the online shopping sphere and proved people were willing to buy online, and many other companies dived into the pool. When a purple cow is no more a fascination, what then? Maybe the world will need a Neon Rhino this time. Innovation is meant to do such crazy things once in a while.

How well we can associate with our urge of constant self-development in order to embody uniqueness and to be remarkable, with the intent similar to purple cow production. Though each time we develop we are placed among a similar group of people, to compete and develop again. So if you look around and don't find yourself much different, know that segmentation is how society works. Just maybe purple cows have their own segmented world where they see more purple cows than brown cows :-)

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