How now, Purple Cow?

A purple cow is better than a brown cow. (Purple Cow by Seth Godin, Portfolio 2002; photo courtesy of

by Anthony O. Alcantara

A purple cow refers to something remarkable. It’s something that stands out in an excellent and extraordinary way.

Seth Godin, author of Purple Cow, wrote the book to document, well, purple cows. These can be companies or people or concepts that are essentially remarkable.

With the popularity of his books and blog, Godin may well be the new patron saint of marketing. It’s easy to understand why. He’s a purple cow himself.

He claims the five Ps of marketing are not enough. These Ps — product, price, promotion, physical distribution and people — need another P to make it all work better.

Many know the five Ps already, but they don’t know how to be remarkable. Godin shows how in his book. Purple Cow contains many case studies of purple cows. And readers can dip into it for inspiration. Godin sprinkles his prose with key takeaways in bold text preceeded by an octagonal symbol.

If you don’t have much time to read the book, you can just read the introduction and the key takeaways. Just dip into the interesting parts where the key takeaways seem brilliant to you.

For example, one of his takeaways is, “Instead of trying to use your technology and expertise to make a better product for your users’ standard behavior, experiment with inviting the users to change their behavior to make the product work dramatically better.”

He explains how Otis, a manufacturer of elevators, exemplifies this. In order to make elevators work better and reduce waiting time, Otis came up with a system where people just key in their floor using a control panel. The control panel then flashes the specific elevator they have to take.

With some smart software, the elevator essentially becomes an express elevator. The results? Shorter waiting times and fewer fraught nerves.

Godin combines remarkable with being different most of the time.

He says, “What tactics does your firm use that involve following the leader? What if you abandoned them and did something very different instead? If you acknowledge that you’ll never catch up by being the same, make a list of ways you can catch up by being different.”

No copycats for Godin, except if it’s done in a creative and remarkable way.

Purple Cow is indeed a treasure trove of ideas. It cites many remarkable companies that have found their purple cows.

Another takeaway: “Ask ‘Why not?’ Almost everything you don’t do has a no good reason for it. Almost everything you don’t do is the result of fear or inertia or a historical lack of someone asking, ‘Why not?’”

So why not read this book? Well, if you’ve already found your purple cow, don’t bother.


(This book review also appeared in PLDT’s ACC:ESS magazine.)


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