On Remarkable Products: Seth Godin’s Advice in Purple Cow

I guess I’m in the late majority because I just got around to reading Seth Godin’s Purple Cow: Transform Your Business By Being Remarkable.  By now, the ideas in the book are less novel, but just as, or more, urgent.  And the writing is colorful and logical: a rare combination.  I expected another derivative marketing book; boy was I surprised.

The setup of the book reminds me of the setup in Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind:  Why Right Brainers Will Rule The Future :  Consumers are less needy, more satisfied, have more choices, and less time to pay attention to ads or marketing about new products.  The old marketing and advertising strategies don’t work anymore.

So what do you do?  Godin: Take your marketing budget and invest it in making your product remarkable.  But not remarkable to anyone.  Remarkable to the innovators and early adopters in your market who will be so impressed that they will spread the word for you about your remarkability.  These sneezers will sneeze your remarkability to the rest of the market.  To sum it up in one phrase:

be remarkable to market innovators.

The book replete with examples of remarkable products and some corollaries of the above thesis.

Corollary #1.  It’s risky to be safe, or the inverse: safety is risky.  Now as an absolute, this is not true, but it points to the idea that getting to the remarkable requires taking some risks to do or find/create that remarkable rare bird of a product.  The desire to play it safe and avoid risks, especially among successful companies makes it harder to achieve the remarkable.

Corollary #2.  When you go out on the edge where the innovators are, you’ll develop something that the market majority may not understand.   So, very bad can be a sign of good.  (This has to be balanced with other considerations such as can I make enough money from innovators before I cross the chasm to the marjority in the market.

Qualification. Its possible that in some markets, the innovators may not be merely bridges to the market majority but cash cows  for your purple cow.  His example: online banks that derive most of their deposits from the customers that use the online banking features.  Pearl Jam is an example because they made a big business out of selling their live concerts to the innovators.  It’s a great example of growing the customers you already have.

Corollary #3.  Boring leads to failure.

Godin argues that targeting innovators is so important that you should pick markets that have innovators that can serve as sneezers.

Below are some examples of remarkable products.  Some of these companies may no longer seem remarkable because remarkability has an expiration date which may be reached when a product becomes popular and common and the company fails to continuously innovate.

In pursuit of the purple cow, here are some questions to ask yourself:
  • Which markets have the most innovative sneezers?
  • In a given market, what customers are most likely to be innovators?  A sneezers?
  • How would you Bronnify, Kiwi,-ize, Aeronize, South Park-ize your product?
  • If you won the lottery and gave it all to a team of designers and usability experts to design your next product, what would it look like when they were done?
  • What slogan would you write to appeal to the sneezers?
  • Who in your industry has a great tracking of launching remarkable products?  How would you recruit them or copy them?
  • Pick a remarkable company in a dull industry and do what they did.
  • What are you not doing as a result of fear?
  • How can you out do a company in your market that is already on the edge?