Seth Godin : Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable (book highlights)

Note: The following are my personal highlights. If you like them, please consider buying the book.

  • Remarkable marketing is the art of building things worth noticing right into your product or service. Not slapping on marketing as a last-minute add-on, but understanding that if your offering itself isn’t remarkable, it’s invisible.
  • The post-consumption consumer is out of things to buy. We have what we need, we want very little, and we’re too busy to spend a lot of time researching something you’ve worked hard to create for us.
  • Remarkable marketing is the art of building things worth noticing right into your product or service. Not slapping on marketing as a last-minute add-on, but understanding that if your offering itself isn’t remarkable, it’s invisible.
  • The post-consumption consumer is out of things to buy. We have what we need, we want very little, and we’re too busy to spend a lot of time researching something you’ve worked hard to create for us.
  • After Advertising, we’re almost back where we started. But instead of products succeeding by slow and awkward word of mouth, the power of our new networks allows remarkable ideas to diffuse through segments of the population at rocket speed. As marketers, we know the old stuff isn’t working. And we know why: because as consumers, we’re too busy to pay attention to advertising, but we’re desperate to find good stuff that solves our problems.
  • Too often, big companies are scared companies, and they work to minimize any variation – including the good stuff that happens when people who care create something special.
  • Years ago, our highly productive economy figured out how to satisfy almost everyone’s needs. Then the game changed – it was all about satisfying our wants. The marketing community taught us (with plenty of TV advertising) to want more and more, and consumers did their best to keep up.
  • Because marketers have overwhelmed consumers with too much of everything, people are less likely to go out of their way to tell a friend about a product unless they’re fairly optimistic that the friend will be glad to hear about it.
  • All the obvious targets are gone, so people aren’t likely to have easily solved problems. Consumers are hard to reach because they ignore you. Satisfied customers are less likely to tell their friends.
  • The reason it’s so hard to follow the leader is this: The leader is the leader because he did something remarkable. And that remarkable thing is now taken – it’s no longer remarkable when you do it.
  • 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.
  • If we look at the idea diffusion curve, we see that the bulk of product sales come after a product has been adopted by the consumers willing to take a chance on something new. Those early adopters create an environment where the early and late majority feel safe buying the new item.
  • No one is going to eagerly adapt to your product. The vast majority of consumers are happy. Stuck. Sold on what they’ve got. They’re not looking for a replacement, and they don’t like adapting to anything new. You don’t have the power to force them to. The only chance you have is to sell to people who like change, who like new stuff, who are actively looking for what it is you sell. Then you hope that the idea spreads, moving from the early adopters to the rest of the curve. After the early adopters embrace what you’re selling, they are the ones who will sell it to the early majority – not you. And they will sell it poorly. (Moore talks at length about moving through the rest of the curve. I highly recommend his book.)
  • A brand (or a new product offering) is nothing more than an idea. Ideas that spread are more likely to succeed than those that don’t.
  • So how do you create an idea that spreads? Don’t try to make a product for everybody, because that is a product for nobody. The everybody products are all taken. The sneezers in these huge markets have too many choices and are too satisfied for it to be likely that you will capture their interest. The way you break through to the mainstream is to target a niche instead of a huge market.
  • Marketing in a post-TV world is no longer about making a product attractive or interesting or pretty or funny after it’s designed and built – it’s about designing the thing to be virus-worthy in the first place.
  • Differentiate your customers. Find the group that’s most profitable. Find the group that’s most likely to sneeze. Figure out how to develop/advertise/reward either group. Ignore the rest. Your ads (and your products!) shouldn’t cater to the masses. Your ads (and products) should cater to the customers you’d choose if you could choose your customers.
  • Nobody says, “Yeah, I’d like to set myself up for some serious criticism!” And yet … the only way to be remarkable is to do just that.
  • You do not equal the project. Criticism of the project is not criticism of you. The fact that we need to be reminded of this points to how unprepared we are for the era of the Cow. It’s people who have projects that are never criticized who ultimately fail.
  • The lesson is simple – boring always leads to failure.* Boring is always the most risky strategy. Smart business-people realize this, and they work to minimize (but not eliminate) the risk from the process. They know that sometimes it’s not going to work, but they accept the fact that that’s okay.
  • Remember, those ads reach two kinds of viewers: The highly coveted innovators and adopters who will be bored by this mass-marketed product and decide to ignore it. The early and late majority who are unlikely to listen to an ad for any new product, and are unlikely to buy it if they do.
  • By targeting the center of the market and designing the product accordingly, these marketers waste their marketing dollars.
  • As we’ve already seen, the only way an idea reaches the bulk of the market is to move from left to right. You can no longer reach everyone at once. And if you don’t grab the attention and enthusiasm of the sneezers, your product withers.
  • 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.
  • Go to a science fiction convention. These are pretty odd folks. Do you appeal to an audience as wacky and wonderful as this one? How could you create one? (Jeep did. So did Fast Company and the Longaberger basket company. There are similar groups in the investing community, the market for operating systems, and the market for million-dollar stereo systems. Products differ, but sneezers and early adopters stay the same.)
  • Where does your product end and marketing hype begin? The Dutch Boy can is clearly product, not hype. Can you redefine what you sell in a similar way?
  • The alternative is to start with a problem that you can solve for your customer (who realizes he has a problem!). Then, once you’ve come up with a solution that is so remarkable that the early adopters among this population will gleefully respond, you’ve got to promote it in a medium where those most likely to sneeze are actually paying attention.
  • How can you market yourself as “more bland than the leading brand”? The real growth comes with products that annoy, offend, don’t appeal, are too expensive, too cheap, too heavy, too complicated, too simple – too something. (Of course, they’re too too for some people, but just perfect for others.) Bootstrapping entrepreneurs often upend existing industries because the dominant players in an industry are the last places you’ll find empowered mavericks. The market-leading companies may owe their dominance to the Purple Cow they marketed years and years ago, but today, they’re all about compromising themselves to continued profitability. The seeds of their destruction lie in their dependence on being in the middle. If someone in your organization is charged with creating a new Purple Cow, leave them alone! Don’t use internal reviews and usability testing to figure out if the new product is as good as what you’ve got now. Instead, pick the right maverick and get out of the way.
  • Make a list of all the remarkable products in your industry. Who made them? How did they happen? Model the behavior (not mimic the product) and you’re more than halfway to making your own.
  • Remember, it’s not about being weird. It’s about being irresistible to a tiny group of easily reached sneezers with otaku. Irresistible isn’t the same as ridiculous. Irresistible (for the right niche) is just remarkable.
  • 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.
  • Today, we see movies and records and books and bars that succeed just because they intentionally cross the boundaries of good taste.
  • When someone has a problem like this, he is extremely open to external marketing messages, and he will seek out and usually find someone who presents him with the lowest possible downside.
  • Explore the limits. What if you’re the cheapest, the fastest, the slowest, the hottest, the coldest, the easiest, the most efficient, the loudest, the most hated, the copycat, the outsider, the hardest, the oldest, the newest, the … most! If there’s a limit, you should (must) test it.
  • Think small. One vestige of the TV-industrial complex is a need to think mass. If it doesn’t appeal to everyone, the thinking goes, it’s not worth it. No longer. Think of the smallest conceivable market, and describe a product that overwhelms it with its remarkability. Go from there.
  • Copy. Not from your industry, but from any other industry. Find an industry more dull than yours, discover who’s remarkable (it won’t take long), and do what they did. Go one more. Or two more. Identify a competitor who’s generally regarded as at the edges, and outdo them. Whatever they’re known for, do that thing even more. Even better, and even safer, do the opposite of what they’re doing.
  • Ask, “Why not?” Almost everything you don’t do has 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?”

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