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Storytelling In The News: #168

Review of Purple Cow by Seth Godin

June 3, 2004

Seth Godin is a marketing guru, and the author of Permission Marketing, Unleashing the Ideavirus, and Survival is not Enough. He is a renowned public speaker, has started several successful companies, and is a contributing editor at Fast Company Magazine.

Now along comes his book, Purple Cow (Portfolio, 2003). It was pointed out to me as an example of “business fiction” but in fact it is an elaborate metaphor intended to define what is meant by being remarkable, which Godin sees as the sine qua non for success in today’s world.

Purple Cow: its physical characteristics

The book’s physical characteristics are these:

Purple Cow is 145 pages long in small print. It has some 30,000 words, about double that of The Present.

Purple Cow is written in lively entertaining prose.

The price of the book is a reasonable US$19.95 the same as The Present.

In terms of words per dollar, Purple Cow amounts to around 1,450 words per dollar, roughly twice that of The Present.

The content of Purple Cow

Purple Cow has no particular structure. It comprises around 60 tiny chapters of 1-2 pages each.

After noting that the conventional wisdom in marketing is embodied in words beginning with the letter “P” such as product, pricing, promotion and so on, Godin suggests that the new P is Purple Cow.

Cows, according to Godin, are boring. They may be perfect cows, attractive coews, cows with great personalities, cows lit by beautiful light, but they’re still boring. But a Purple Cow, though. According to Godin, that would be interesting. (For a while.) The essence of the Purple Cow is that it must be remarkable.

The book, he says, is about the why, the what, and the how of being remarkable.

The book is thus a fiction in the sense that a purple cow is fictitious. Purple cows don’t exist in real life and Godin doesn’t pretend that they do. But he contends that there are some products and services that are as remarkable as purple cows. The entire book consists of real life examples of products and services that are as remarkable as purple cows or not, and the consequences of that.

Godin argues conventional marketing and advertising are dead, because no one is paying attention. The TV-industrial complex has died. In its place is the post-TV world of remarkable products which are advertised to the early adopters (not to everyone) in short cycles and involving big changes. The exemplars of the new age are Starbucks, Linux, JetBlue and the New Beetle.

We are taken through many examples of products or services or ideas that were remarkable – elevators, detergents, Google, classical music, mobile phones, banks, hotels, cars, PDAs, drugstores, chairs and so on.

Purple Cow is thus a continuation of Godin’s book, Unleashing the IdeaVirus (2000) and it isn’t clear what the new book adds to the earlier work, apart from the catchy title.

He has some other catchy slogans – “safe is risky” “what’s the opposite of remarkable – very good”; “Very good is very bad” but the substance is the same.

Bottom line

Purple Cow is largely a book of examples of an argument that Godin has made in other places.

Reading Purple Cow is akin to listening to sound bites, or reading Fast Company. There is plenty to whet the appetite but not much to satisfy it.

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