Once upon a time, Seth Godin wrote a book that changed the marketing world. It was called Purple Cow.
Godin tells a story about driving through the countryside. He and his fellow passengers were amazed by the sheer number of cows that were surrounding them. They couldn’t stop talking about the cows.
But then something happened.
The cows ceased to be a novelty. There were so many of them, that they seemed like one mass herd of boring. That’s when Seth realized that to be truly remarkable, a cow would have to be purple to stand out. He realized that the same rule applied to the marketing world.
And thus the legend of the Purple Cow was born.
In business, a purple cow is a product that is so revolutionary and different that people think of it as a novelty.
The old rule of business was to create safe, ordinary products that people would use and combine them for great marketing.
Here are two examples of the old rule of business.
- Soap. Yes, soap. There are thousands of different kinds of soap. Can you name five of them? It’s a safe business and it has been for years. People aren’t going to suddenly give up cleanliness. The soap scene was boring for years. It was boring because they didn’t feel the need to innovate.
- Instant coffee. This household staple was invented in 1901 and began mass production in 1906. Maxwell House came on the scene in 1926. For the rest of the twentieth century, Maxwell House and Foldgers owned the scene. Boring.
The new rule of business is to create remarkable products that the right people seek out.
Let’s revisit our yawn-inspiring examples.
- When the soap scene got boring, Dove decided to differentiate itself as the soap for women. They started the Real Beauty Campaign to help women celebrate their non-photoshopped selves. They have resources to help little girls develop healthy levels of self-esteem. They found a huge market (the 99.9% of women who battle self-image issues) and have created content that helps change their lives in positive ways. And as a result, Dove has set their brand apart from all their competitors. And they’ve sold a lot of soap.
- When instant coffee needed perking up, Starbucks came to the rescue by developing their VIA line. Until 2009, there had not been any major innovations in instant coffee. Starbucks knew that they had a dedicated group of customers who loved Starbucks coffee but didn’t have the time to wait in line.
This directly applies to your writing and you as an author.
If you try to write like every other author, you’ll be just another author. If you try to write to the masses, the masses will ignore you.
Your writing needs to be remarkable. Radical. There are millions of websites on the internet, authored by millions of writers who have dreams that are very similar to yours. If you want readers, you need to stand out of the herd. You need to be a Purple Cow.
Take some time to evaluate where you are now. Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you ever hear from readers?
- Do your posts have a social footprint?
- How many “shares” or “likes” do you get on average?
- Would you read your blog?
- What makes you different than every other writer?
- Do you know what agents and publishers are looking for?
It takes time to become a Purple Cow. You can’t microwave the process.
Your writing will not be an overnight success. For many authors, it takes years and years to achieve success. Some of them never make it. But there are many that do. And you can be one of them.
In his book, Seth shares ideas for how to turn your product into a Purple Cow. I’ve adapted them for writers.
- Tailor your writing to a niche, underserved market. Create a website tailored for them.
- Build a permission set. Market to your fans via newsletters.
- Be willing to take the time to innovate wisely. Don’t just slop things together.
- Tell stories that will change the lives of your readers.
- Write back to readers who email you. Get to know them personally.
- If your story’s future looks bleak, change course. You can spend years rewriting or you can write a new one tailored to your audience.
- Find the things that are “just not written about” in your genre or industry. Write about them.
- Before you nix a crazy idea, ask “Why not?”
How can you revolutionize your writing? How can you become a Purple Cow as a writer?
It is really important to point out that individuality is something that naturally comes with experience. If you’re a new writer, you’re not going to get away with doing an e.e. cummings or a Danielewski. It takes experience and a thorough understanding of the rules to know when breaking them is controversial and progressive as opposed to obnoxious.
True. I wouldn’t argue to throw out rules. But what I was trying to convey is to share the stories on your heart in your own words.
Caitlin, I loved the article on the purple cow. Very helpful information. In light of your suggestions on using a newsletter to reach my audience, I send out a weekly newletter to a targeted group of aspiring Christian writers using Constant Contact. In it, I include a devotional for writers, a writing tip for the month, upcoming writing events and a writing book of the month for them to purchase. Do you think I am sending this newletter out to often if I am sending it out on a weekly basis, since you suggested it should go out once a month?
If you have time for a weekly newsletter, go for it! Just watch your analytics to make sure your readers aren’t opting out.
Will do Caitlin. Thanks for responding.
O.M.Purple cows! What a great post. I love the ‘why not?” and the questions you listed.When I was in Prague there was a yellow and black spotted cow outside our very nice hotel. So odd, but cute so we took photos. I’m going to get that one out and post on my bulletin board, behind my laptop, to remind me to be uniquely remarkable.
Thanks, Mona! Prague sounds beautiful but I’m no so sold on a yellow cow! Thanks for stopping by.
Oh YES! True, all of it!
Why is it so hard to be purple?