Word count: 1,871 Reading Level: year 11-12 Reading time: 6.8 Mins
Back in early 2003 I read a book by Seth Godin called Purple Cow. It left a profound impression on me. The essence of the book lies on the premise you need to standout to get market share. The example Seth gives is that of the allegory that if businesses are cows, then being one with slight bigger/smaller or more/less black spots is not really going to make you standout. However, what if you were a bright purple cow, everyone would notice you. Purple being the most extreme a cow could ever be.
Seth Godin goes on to explain, with so many business striving for good to great the only way you will standout is to be, not just at the extreme edge of great, but many times beyond it. You need to be on the outer outer edge. You need to be where the 5 percenters are, you need to be that purple cow.
The purpose of standing out is to create a strong niche of advocates from which you can grow from. The theory being you can always become less extreme later or literally become the norm through your popularity and market share, such as; Apple iOS devices, Microsoft, Coke Cola, Facebook, Snapchat, Muscial.ly, Netflicks, PlayStation, Atari, VHS and Walkman. All start as a niche and have become a norm.
How your business can be a maverick to succeed
A lot of business strive for exceptional service. However the hidden catch here is cost and everyone else is too. While I will be the first to say you need to be good, I would also say truly exceptional costs. So unless you have the margin / ROI and market for it, realistically fair to good service most of the time is good enough. So what I'm saying is don't be bad, but don't be foolish enough that you think having good service will make your business thrive. Their are plenty of broke business with great service and plenty of flourishing businesses with bad service.
Note: I do practice going to the extreme for exceptional service when there is opportunity, but trying to make that the average for any business I think is unrealistic.
The place I first look to find a niche is the norms in the market for other businesses and see how a polar opposite could fit in. For example; health has been a big thing for a lot of food outlets. All are scrambling to appear healthy. A polar opposite position would surely stand out and such a place does exist and is world famous for its position the Heart Attach Grill.
Other places to be the polar opposite are; Price, range of products and services, location, attitude. Some examples here are; Costco extreme of low pricing, Ikea extreme on non-assembled goods, Amazon extreme on range, Gas Monkey Garage extreme in character and style, Rich Piana's 5% Nutrition extreme of extreme personal & company branding, Gary Vaynerchuks Wine Library extreme in marketing and engagement, Elon Musks Paypal/Tesla/SpaceX extreme opposite solutions, Virgin Music extreme pricing, Old School MTV, Donald Trump extreme ego and views, Jesse James extreme personalty, MMA extreme violence, extreme sports, PokemonGo a first to market, Tai Lopez extreme of self help marketing, Steve Erwin extreme of Animal documentaries.
Going to the extreme ensures you will stand out. So when your customers are looking at 10s 100s of cows your purple cow stands out!
My personal experience being extreme as a dirty car shark
Giving an extreme experience can also set you apart and get people talking about you. I'll give an example I actually did back in early 2000. I owned a few businesses and one was a Large used car yard, which made a good profit. However it was heavily dependent on a lot of print and radio advertising and unlike a lot of our competitors we were fairly new so had no old customers to re-market to, which would normally have keep marketing costs down. We knew we had great vehicles, prices, staff and services only thing was the market was flooded with small start up car businesses, due to a relaxing of trading rules and we were easily lost in the noise.
How I dealt with the being a purple cow issue: Our first step was to make our print marketing extreme..and extreme it became. Note: This was real and I really did it.
1) Extreme print marketing - All car yards tend to do a typical advert with their cars in boxes, with bland description and lots of so called magic buzz words, such as; cheapest on offer, special, tradein special, sporty etc. About as boring as it gets.
I had experimented with a former employer writing funny/ridiculous rhymes for vehicle descriptions with great success. So I knew just this small extreme action could make a difference so I went all in. I called in a favour and got a temporary spot in the front of the car sales classifieds weekly magazine (Autotrader for anyone Kiwis was huge, pre broadband internet. I'll add I had tried this before and been burnt and lost money everytime). I enlisted the help of some of the local police officers and had photos taken of me being fake arrested with handcuffs and all outside our offices, with all branding in full display (A lot can be said for the good nature of NZ police, I'm sure they wouldn't be allowed to do such a thing now). The copy of the advert was set out just like a proper newspaper advert and basically said in very dry, but tongue and cheek terms that I had been arrested for selling cars to cheap. The premise being the cars couldn't be legitimately so cheap without being stolen.
Needless to say the advert went off from the moment the magazine came out at 6am the phones rang hot. Yes there was the odd weird call from some one telling me off who didn't get the joke and the odd creepy criminal offering to help me offload the vehicles. However that first weekend we went from normally selling 2-4 cars to 21 cars and it didn't let up all week. In fact, by the end of the week I had sold nearly all 50+ cars we had in stock and had to run around begging and borrowing to get more cars.
I ran that advert for months and it for ever change the path of that business. We also dressed up in a Gorilla suit and smashed a car up a poor car with a sledge hammer in rush hour (Some 40-60,000 cars drove past or spot everyday). I can tell you every person driving past told their friends and family about what they saw that day. Requests for the Gorilla to smash customers trade-ins were numerous.
My Favourite promotion of all we did was the tropical holiday promotion. We gave away a trip to Fiji and anyone who came down was into to win. The catch was when they came down to the car yard.
I had ordered 22 metric tons of soft coral sand and masses of pool liner. We lined the offices, customer lounges, entrance and showroom and brought in about a good half a foot deep of the sand. It was everywhere except the toilets. We even had a bunch of sand outside with the cars parked in it. We replaced all the couches with beach chairs and a hammock, I also hired masses of tropical palms and planets. Every customer was served tropical punch in resort style glasses with little paper umbrellas. There was even little buckets and spades for kids to build sand castles. Everyone's desks, the photo copier, TV, coffee machine where all in 15cm of sand. Did this get people talking about us ...you bet'ya it did!
Can you just imagine what people thought when they walked in? There is no way when someone left our premise they didn't tell at least one person about that wild car yard with the beach in its offices.
Currently in tech / marketing we use this tactic
When I first opened Mebsites some 5 years back, it was just me. I had no connections or anything in Australia. We were as far away from the front page of google for website design as anyone could ever be. In fact after nearly 2 years of trading I was still 400+ pages back. However I very quickly became very busy, by going to the extreme. What I noticed was all the web companies at the time were going for a very corporate professional look. They were mainly UI frontend focused and using Wordpress and they generally offered a 3-4 month turnaround. So I went the total opposite, with a website probably better suited to a tattoo shop, very minimalist and lacking in sales talk. I focused on very complex custom backend coding and design with a difference.
5 years later, while we rank very high for many services we still retain the custom backend coding point of difference, along with many other differences and a generally introverted and analytical approach, which is quite opposite from the flashy extroverted approach of others and plays to our strengths. We also still focus on completely jobs very quickly.
For our SEO / Marketing we have found that other companies are very vague with the services they offer and operate with almost zero accountability and almost with gambler type tactics. We on the other hand offer a very analytical based, transparent service where we provide records of what we have done down to the nearest 15 minutes, along with detailed analytics. The difference is massive with other competitors and it is deliberate on our part (also it is how we are naturally). I have had clients call their current SEO provider and cancel after I show them how we operate, on the spot they are show shocked at the disparity.
With our current content marketing strategy for ourselves, we are striving to be the best source for practical application of web based practices for; eCommerce, websites, Hosting, emails, SEO. What we noticed in our space is the information often lacks substance of application. We refer to it as fluffy talk, so we want to stay true to ourselves and always offer practical application in our own marketing.
So not only do we recommend going to the extremes, we practice it ourselves to gain market share and advocates. Once you have your strong foundation you can bring on more niches or work towards becoming the middle ground and setting a new standard.
If you are a character and I know a lot of Aussies are, be that character. Let it loose and release it online. There is no reason why among boring, ordinary businesses you can become an extremely personality. People gravitate towards interesting and extreme is interesting.
Godin, S.E.T.H. (2003). Purple Cow. (1st ed.). United States: .