A Purple Cow

11 branding principles you can steal

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Seth Godin annoyed me the first time I saw his picture.

Come on, man…

Here was a guru capturing attention by wearing brightly-colored eyeglasses.

I didn’t spend time listening to his ideas.

He seemed like a try-hard.

Yet many years later I’m reading another one of his books and digging into his branding concept The Purple Cow.

The cow is purple, but so is the planet

This book’s title stands out in the same way his eyeglasses stand out: they’re remarkable, for better or worse.

Remarkable at first in that they’re out of the ordinary.

But then remarkable turns into valuable insight, if you actually read the book (only took me like a decade).

So today I’m going to share:

11 of Seth’s branding principles from Purple Cow.

Get your notepads ready.

  1. Create remarkable products that get people talking

  2. Exceptional products are more powerful than traditional advertising

  3. Be willing to risk criticism

  4. Make products worthy of word-of-mouth

  5. Target a small audience of true fans

  6. Deliver value consistently to a niche

  7. Solve customers’ problems with them

  8. Use empathy

  9. Keep brand promises to build trust

  10. Use brand for awareness, direct response for conversions

  11. Build remarkable products rather than advertise average ones


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Seth Godin’s Purple Cow Branding Principles

1. Create remarkable products that get people's attention and make them want to talk about your offering.

“Boring stuff is invisible.”

In today's crowded market, you need something extraordinary that stands out from the dull and boring.

Craft offerings that grab attention because they are fresh, unexpected, or break the mold.

Give people something interesting they feel compelled to share with others.

2. Traditional advertising has lost its power - you need exceptional products instead.

Interruption advertising doesn't work anymore with overwhelmed consumers.

Relying just on ads is ineffective when people tune them out.

Build genuinely useful, meaningful, or delightful products first, that speak for themselves and get noticed.

3. Be willing to risk criticism to create something truly remarkable.

“Very good is an everyday occurrence and hardly worth mentioning.”

Daring to be different means you'll turn some people off.

But the more you polarize audiences, the better - it shows you stand for something specific.

Lean into controversy to signal you're not vanilla, taking a stand with your brand.

4. Build marketing into your products - make them worth spreading by word-of-mouth.

“How could you modify your product or service so that you’d show up on the next episode of Saturday Night Live?”

Integrate sharing and evangelism into what you sell, facilitating people telling others.

Make it beneficial for users to spread the word, as their endorsement carries more weight.

5. Target a small, viable audience of true fans rather than the masses.

Reach out to those who care deeply about a niche, not the general public.

Laser focus on serving those highly interested rather than trying to be everything for everyone.

Start with a group that will become loyal brand champions.

6. Consistency and persistence in delivering value to a niche is more important than the medium.

Stick with serving your core fans through ongoing communication.

The longevity and stability of that service matters more than any hot trends in marketing tactics.

7. Solve customers' problems and market with them, not at them.

“Product attributes (everything from service to design) are now at the heart of what it means to be a marketer.”

Collaborate to understand needs more deeply.

Show how you can help versus interrupting to push products.

Jointly explore solutions, embracing their input to improve rather than sell.

8. Empathize with target customers to understand their needs and desires.

Research goes beyond demographics to what makes audience segments tick psychographically - their worldviews, aspirations and motivations.

Know them so intuitively you identify with their wishes.

9. Keep your brand promises to build trust over time.

Reliably deliver on what you pledge to customers, resisting shortcuts or compromises.

Using actions, demonstrate your brand stands for particular benefits customers can count on.

10. Use brand marketing to build awareness; use direct marketing to drive conversions.

Branding establishes identity, associations and goodwill over the long run not tied to sales.

Direct marketing spurs measurable actions - purchases, sign-ups, downloads - by promoting specific offers.

11. Prioritize building remarkable products over advertising average ones.

“If you are a marketer who doesn’t know how to invent, design, influence, adapt and ultimately discard products, then you’re no longer a marketer. You’re deadwood.”

Put creativity, craft and substance into what you sell first and foremost.

Lead with the outstanding invention, service or innovation.

Promotion should support an offering so strong it in a sense markets itself.

For reflection:

While these principles generally hold, the degree to which you need a purple cow to be successful will depend on your industry and vertical.

My essential takeaway though is this:

Extraordinary products will make your marketing so much easier.

Sometimes the product itself is a commodity but the brand is differentiated, which is the case with many insurance companies (cool article about Flo from Progressive here).

But if you’re competing in a space with entrenched incumbents, the best way to beat them is to create something better.

And make it worth talking about.

That’s it for today.

I hope you are building something worth risking criticism for.


PS - if you’re into Seth Godin, check out a writeup I did on 7 of his leadership principles that any startup can benefit from.