By Erica Olsen
Be a Purple Cow

“Cows, after you’ve seen them for a while, are boring. They may be well-bred cows, Six Sigma cows, cows lit by a beautiful light, but they are still boring. A Purple Cow, though: Now, that would really stand out. The essence of the Purple Cow — the reason it would shine among a crowd of perfectly competent, even undeniably excellent cows — is that it would be remarkable. Something remarkable is worth talking about, worth paying attention to,” writes Seth Godin, author of the Purple Cow.

The world is not only full of boring stuff – brown cows – but it is also full of thousands of competitors, which is why so few people pay attention to what you are trying to communicate and sell. If in doubt, measure the level of market noise in your industry by typing in your business description into Google to see how many companies are doing the same thing you are.

Godin’s analogy is simply a visual representation of an age-old marketing concept called positioning. Positioning is the space your product/service occupies in the mind of your customers. No matter what, companies will consciously or subconsciously influence their position – the real estate – they own in the customer’s mind. You may or may not be positioned the way you want to be. You may also just be a brown cow – invisible and boring.

So how do you get customers and potential customers to pay attention? Become a Purple Cow.

Start with finding out what market positions exist
Identifying available positions doesn’t begin with you. It begins with listening to the needs and wants of your markets. You can do quantitative market research, focus groups, and surveys. But there is an easier method to determine the positions your segments have defined. Actively listen – everyday – to your employees, sales people, user groups, customers, competitors (this is a big one), and general information about your industry.

For example, let’s take the mundane product category hand-washing soap. Here is a short list of the numerous needs and wants a user of hand-washing soap might have: prefer bars, prefer liquid, disinfectant, moisturizing, fragranced, non-fragranced, all-natural, attractive packaging, attractive color or color combination, with Aloe, with vitamins, low-price, etc. These needs also reflect the various positions a soap manufacturer could select. Naturally, some of these potential customer needs are complimentary while others are mutually exclusive.

The basis for successful positioning rests on clear understanding of the positions that exist in the marketplace – in your customers’ heads. This point cannot be over emphasized. With a greater understanding of the hand-washing soap market, we would undoubtedly identify many more potential positions.

For existing products …own your position
Armed with the market positions, you should have a good understanding of where you stand and what makes your company and/or product/service different from all the rest. It’s time to summarize this information in a positioning statement. A positioning statement is the core message you want to deliver in every medium and everything you do. Here are the steps:

  • Identify the positions that currently exist in the market (See above).
  • Choose one of the positions you want to own. To “own” a position, no one else can dominate this space.
  • Develop a list of needs your customer has in this position.
  • List your product/service’s benefits that uniquely meet these needs.
  • Recognize what is different about your business. What sets you apart?
  • Stake a claim to a unique benefit provided by your product/service. Make sure to emphasize a benefit that sets you apart from the competition.
  • Write the positioning statement that will communicate the customer’s perception of value. Find a position that’s easy to communicate and simple to understand.
  • Get the word out to everyone. Consistently communicate your positioning message in everything your company does. Your whole organization needs to be committed to following through on its positioning.
  • Be simple, clear and consistent with your positioning. Get noticed.

For new products … be remarkable
It is in new product/service development where wildly successful Purple Cows are created. Don’t just think about positioning when it is time to develop marketing materials. Rather, take positioning one step further by creating a product/service that is remarkable instead of common. If you have an offering that was created specifically to meet the needs of a customer segment and it delivers benefits your competition does not, your positioning is built into the product. You will not only have an incredibly strong position; you will create a Purple Cow.

Don’t forget: The customer himself does the real positioning by paying attention and deciding to buy your product/service. What you do have control over is assessing what positions exist in the customer’s mind and then determining which of those you have the best chance-based on your own strengths-of occupying and defending. And stand out in the crowd.

There are numerous resources on positioning and specific positioning strategies available. For good examples of positioning statements and strategies, look at Trout and Reis’ Positioning – The Battle for Your Mind. For case studies about Purple Cows, go to or read Purple Cow by Seth Godin.

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