Here are my notes from Purple Cow:
- When my family and I were driving through France a few years ago, we were enchanted by the hundreds of storybook cows grazing on picturesque pastures right next to the highway. For dozens of kilometers, we all gazed out the window, marveling about how beautiful everything was. Then, within twenty minutes, we started ignoring the cows. The new cows were just like the old cows, and what once was amazing was now common. Worse than common. It was boring.
Cows, after you’ve seen them for a while, are boring. They may be perfect cows, attractive cows, cows with great personalities, cows lit by beautiful light, but they’re still boring.
A Purple Cow, though. Now that would be interesting. (For a while.)
The essence of the Purple Cow is that it must be remarkable. In fact, if “remarkable” started with a P, I could probably dispense with the cow subterfuge, but what can you do?
- In 1912, Otto Frederick Rohwedder invented sliced bread. What a great idea: a simple machine that could take a loaf of bread and … slice it. The machine was a complete failure. This was the beginning of the advertising age, and that meant that a good product with lousy marketing had very little chance of success.
It wasn’t until about twenty years later — when a new brand called Wonder started marketing sliced bread — that the invention caught on. It was the packaging and the advertising (“builds strong bodies twelve ways”) that worked, not the sheer convenience and innovation of pre-slicing bread.
- Sneezers are the key spreading agents of an ideavirus. These are the experts who tell all their colleagues or friends or admirers about a new product or service on which they are a perceived authority. Sneezers are the ones who launch and maintain ideaviruses. Innovators or early adopters may be the first to buy your product, but if they’re not sneezers as well, they won’t spread your idea. They’re selfish in their use of a new idea, or they don’t have the credibility to spread it to others. Either way, they’re a dead end when it comes to spreading an idea.
Every market has a few sneezers. They’re often the early adopters, but not always. Finding and seducing these sneezers is the essential step in creating an ideavirus.
- If you’re remarkable, it’s likely that some people won’t like you. That’s part of the definition of remarkable. Nobody gets unanimous praise — ever. The best the timid can hope for is to be unnoticed. Criticism comes to those who stand out.
Where did you learn how to fail? If you’re like most Americans, you learned in first grade. That’s when you started figuring out that the safe thing to do was to fit in. The safe thing to do was to color inside the lines, don’t ask too many questions in class, and whatever you do, be sure your homework assignment fits on the supplied piece of card stock.
We run our schools like factories. We line kids up in straight rows, put them in batches (called grades), and work very hard to make sure there are no defective parts. Nobody standing out, falling behind, running ahead, making a ruckus.
Playing it safe. Following the rules. Those seem like the best ways to avoid failure. And in school, they may very well be. Alas, these rules set a pattern for most people (like your boss?), and that pattern is awfully dangerous. These are the rules that ultimately lead to failure.
In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is failing. In a busy marketplace, not standing out is the same as being invisible.
- According to the New York Times, a fourteen-block stretch of Amsterdam Avenue in New York contains about seventy-four restaurants. What’s most noticeable about these restaurants is how boring they are. Sure, they offer cuisine from twenty or thirty cultures, and the food is occasionally quite good, but there are precious few remarkable places here. The restaurants are just plain dull compared to the few amazing restaurants in New York.
Why? Simple. After spending all that money and all that time opening a restaurant, the entrepreneur is in no mood to take yet another risk. A restaurant that’s boring won’t attract much criticism. If it’s just like the others, no one will go out of their way to bad-mouth it. Ray’s Pizza is just plain average. You won’t get sick, but you won’t grin with pleasure, either. It’s just another New York pizza place. As a result, the owner makes a living, rarely having to worry about a bad review or offending anyone.
We’ve been raised with a false belief: We mistakenly believe that criticism leads to failure. From the time we get to school, we’re taught that being noticed is almost always bad. It gets us sent to the principal’s office, not to Harvard.
- Why do birds fly in formation? Because the birds that follow the leader have an easier flight. The leader breaks the wind resistance, and the following birds can fly far more efficiently. Without the triangle formation, Canada geese would never have enough energy to make it to the end of their long migration.
A lot of risk-averse businesspeople believe that they can follow a similar strategy. They think they can wait until a leader demonstrates a breakthrough idea, and then rush to copy it, enjoying the break in wind resistance from the leader.
If you watch the flock closely, though, you’ll notice that the flock doesn’t really fly in formation. Every few minutes, one of the birds from the back of the flock will break away, fly to the front, and take over, giving the previous leader a chance to move to the back and take a break.
- The Japanese have invented some truly useful words. One of them is otaku. Otaku describes something that’s more than a hobby but a little less than an obsession. Otaku is the overwhelming desire that gets someone to drive across town to try a new ramen-noodle shop that got a great review. Otaku is the desire to find out everything about Lionel’s new digital locomotive — and to tell your fellow hobbyists about it.
People read Fast Company because they have an otaku about business. They visit trade shows to stay on the cutting edge — not just to help their company survive, but because they like that edge. Otaku, it turns out, is at the heart of the Purple Cow phenomenon.
As we saw earlier, your company can’t thrive just by fulfilling basic needs. You must somehow connect with passionate early adopters and get those adopters to spread the word through the curve. And that’s where otaku comes in.
Consumers with otaku are the sneezers you seek. They’re the ones who will take the time to learn about your product, take the risk to try your product, and take their friends’ time to tell them about it. The flash of insight is that some markets have more otaku-stricken consumers than others. The task of the remarkable marketer is to identify these markets and focus on them to the exclusion of lesser markets — regardless of relative size.
- While we can’t predict what’s going to be remarkable next time, we can realize that there aren’t too many unexplored areas of innovation — just unexplored combinations.
If you liked the above content, I’d definitely recommend reading the whole book. 💯