Once upon a time, an odd-looking, diminutive book was written that would change the business and marketing world.
It was called The Purple Cow.
The little book with the unusual title was written back in 2003 for those who believed that creative advertising had become less effective because of clutter, more clutter, advertising avoidance and shrinking attention spans. The Purple Cow took a different view of the crumbling media-industrial complex. The book encouraged companies and their people to produce remarkable products and services for specific groups of customers who were likely to by-pass traditional media to spread positive word of mouth. In others words, create something so unbelievably, undeniably great and extraordinary, that otherwise ordinary people will do a great job telling everyone they know about your creation.
And they will do it on the World Wide Web without any need to involve advertising agencies, marketing companies or traditional media platforms.
In the book, the author told a story about driving through a French countryside; heavily populated by herds of brown & black cows. But, there were so many of them, that they quickly morphed into one mass herd of boring. That’s when our hero experienced his “a-ha”, eureka moment! He realized the same dynamic held true in the business world. He contends that when any customer travels down the metaphorical highway of any category, after a while all the accountants, lawyers, home-builders, insurance companies, car dealerships, grocery stores, hydraulic repair shops, piston-ring manufacturers, management consultants and wedding planners all looked and sounded the same. In other words, there were herds of monochrome holsteins in every single category; all the way down the line from the butcher to the baker and the candlestick-maker.
That’s when the legend of The Purple Cow was born.
The book became a smash hit.
It sold millions of copies.
And ever since then, CEO’s, business owners, senior executives and marketers have been scratching their intellectual heads, trying to figure out how to apply the intuitive magic of The Purple Cow to their business and brands.
Traditional marketing was founded on the 4 P’s. (Product, Pricing, Promotion, Positioning). You could also throw in healthy scoops of Publicity, Packaging and Permission, but in 2003 Seth Godin argued that most efforts will be wasted unless there is another P in the equation.
“The Purple Cow”.
Think of it this way. If your overall marketing strategy is based on the central presence of a bonafide “The Purple Cow” you won’t have to spend as much time, money and effort to reach and persuade more people and do so with much more meaning and impact. In other words, invest in innovation and imagination before tactics and distribution.
In order for any product, service or person to be truly remarkable, you have to be metaphorically “purple” to stand out.
You have to create or be something so revolutionary, so different, so unique that it commands attention all on its own and word begins to spread organically and magically.
Just to be clear, the aforementioned author defines The Purple Cow this way:
“Products, services and techniques so useful, interesting, outrageous, and note-worthy that the market will want to listen to what you have to say. You must develop products, services and techniques that the market will actually seek out.”
However, its been my experience that real flesh-and-blood business people will struggle with any definitions that sound like biz-jargon or marketing-speak. Many will find it difficult to make the connection to their business and brand and generate ideas that will separate them from the herd. In fact, a lot of folks want to see real live example of companies or individuals that have actually taken The Purple Cow to heart and figured out a way to apply this approach to their specific situation.
Is that an approach that could help you?.
If you see a multitude of real-life (and profitable) examples of others, could that be the spark that lights the torch of your imagination to run free in pursuit of what’s possible for your business, brand or career?
The Cow is not a paint-by-number, boilerplate solution.
The Cow is not something you can purchase at your local marketing drive-thru window.
Instead, The Purple Cow demands of you the very human qualities of initiative & imagination; creativity & courage to come up with provocative, even risky ideas, unique to you and your enterprise. If this list can help fire your neurons in new directions, then your time with this post will be time well spent.
In compiling this list, our blue-ribbon panel of experts based their opinions on three essential ingredients:
- Differentiation ( On a scale of 1-10, how different is this from anything else in the category?)
- Relevance ( Not enough to be remarkable: you have to be remarkable in a way that’s meaningful to your audience)
- Results (The hard empirical evidence that indicates the market heard the message loud and clear – and something changed as a result)
In that spirit, here is the current 2017 list of the Top 57 Purple Cows of all time – in business and life.
57. Heinz Ketchup: PITTSBURGH, PA
This one’s easy. There are no other kinds. Originally introduced in 1876, a recent American Customer Satisfaction Index poll of 10,644 consumers, revealed that H.J. Heinz Co. had the highest score of any food or beverage firm, including Kraft, Coca-Cola, and Nestlé. If you require more validation, just ask Matt LeBlanc.
56. Stonehenge: WILTSHIRE, UK
A prehistoric monument that may date as far back as 2000 BC. An attraction made even more famous by Spinal Tap.
55. Dove Soap:
Founded by Ingvar Kamprad in 1943 as a mail-order sales business, the Swedish-based company began to sell furniture five years later. Since 2008, it has been the world’s largest retailer of furniture and as of December 2016, IKEA owns and operates 392 stores in 48 countries.
53. Stew Leonard’s:
NORWALK, CTA chain of five supermarkets in Connecticut and New York which Ripley’s Believe It or Not! deemed “The World’s Largest Dairy”, with Fortune magazine listing Stew Leonard’s as one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For“. Stew Leonard’s opened in 1969 with seven employees. A new location is slated to open in August 2017 in East Meadow, New York.
LONDON, ON – A small, Mom-and-Pop gas station that has become the next best thing to man’s best friend. In business for more than 40 years, the shop experienced a massive growth spurt thanks to the simplest Purple Cow you can imagine. If you go over for a visit, make sure to bring your favorite, furry, four-legged friend. And make sure you say hello for us!
51. The Iditarod , The Tour De France & The Indy 500 (tied)
50. The Great Sphinx of Giza: GIZA, EGYPT
49. The Most Interesting Man in the World:
The true story of “The Dos Equis Guy” doesn’t always appear on blogs, but when it does, it’s here on The Reinvention Chronicles.
48. BlendTec: OREM, UT
Tom Dickson was innovating long before he built his first blender. Whether rigging his doorbell to open the front gate or outfitting go-karts to exceed 80 mph, Tom’s passion for tinkering and innovating goes all the way back to his childhood. With over 300 million views on YouTube, there is a lot to learn for anyone looking to emulate the success of Will It Blend?.
47. The Pool Troopers: TAMPA, FL
Where Gary & Dave have inspired a workplace culture that kicks ass and has your back.
46. The Old Course – ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND
Where they still know how to attract customers “The Old-Fashioned Way”.
45. Machu Picchu, The Taj Mahal & The Great Wall of China (tied)
Brian Scudamore is a genius when it comes to jazzing up ordinary home services. He also knows a thing or two about building high performing teams and what it takes to create massive levels of differentiation.
43. The Kansas City Public Library: KANSAS CITY, MO
42. Jackie Robinson & Jacques Plante (tied)
A 21st century business school for the imaginative, courageous and ambitious. Founded by NY Times & Wall Street Journal best-selling author, Roy H. Williams, the Academy attracts visitors from all over the world for its 2 or 3 day classes for which its has become famous. In the words of the Wizard, “truly transformational instruction can only take place in person. A combination of tremendous amounts of information and a good night’s sleep are needed for you to integrate new ideas into the truths you already know“. You owe it to yourself to visit Wizard Academy at least once in tour lifetime.
40. Floyd’s 99 Barbershops: DENVER, CO
Founded as way to keep the spirit of rock and roll alive for guys like former Denver Bronco lineman Mark Schlereth when he needs to stop by for a trim.
39. Ellen Degeneres, Wayne Gretzky & Edward Van Halen (tied):
Three geniuses in their respective fields who just happen to share the same birthday.
38. The Trailer Park Boys:
It may or may not come as a shock to you, but Ricky, Julian and Bubbles are now getting into the grass business.
37. Led Zeppelin IV:
36. Ferrari: MARANELLO, ITALY
Still the world’s most recognized and desired automotive brand. If you ever wondered about the origins of the Ferrari brand, the story dates back to the days of the First World War. Great location for a photo-op!
35. The Fudgery: GAINESVILLE. GA
My friend Kevin Bulmer tipped me off to this one after a visit to the location in New Orleans. Before PCs, the Internet, and when the idea of a cell phone was still science fiction; a concept was born near a beach in North Carolina with an event that was so unique, so enticingly innovative that fudge hasn’t been the same since. It was 1980 when A.C. Marshall revolutionized the time honored tradition of making fudge with the grand opening of the world’s very first Fudgery. With its copper kettles and marble slabs, the store looked like a fudge shop, but it sure didn’t sound like one…With the ringing of a big brass bell, “Papa Fudge” Marshall lured beach-goers into that first store with a unique mix of singing, showmanship, and the best fudge the world has ever know. And the show has never stopped.
34. Buckley’s Mixture: MISSISSAUGA, ON
Available as a cough remedy in Canada since 1919. When Frank Buckley took to the airwaves in 1978, he had the guts to admit how horrible it tasted.
33. Webers Hamburgers: HIGHWAY 11, ORILLIA, ON:
An Ontario legend since 1963.
32. Jessie Yerxa: FREDERICTON, NB
A YouTube and Facebook video sensation who has become the most talked-about realtor in her town.
31. PSA Financial & The Partnership Program: HUNT VALLEY, MD
The brainchild of Chip Lewis and Justin Hoffman. You won’t see many like it in the B2B financial world. Be the host of the party and add great value to prospects and clients beyond your actual product or service.
30. Tiffany’s and the Apple Store (tied): 5th AVENUE, NEW YORK, NY
29. Kinaxis: OTTAWA, ON
Shining example of an otherwise bone-dry boring product/service category and making it so interesting you might want to apply for a job there someday. How many supply management companies do you know that have their own version of the “Late Night” with David Letterman show? Their video below on the subject of “Simplicity” says it all.
28. WestJet: CALGARY, AB
Founded in 1996 with 3 aircraft, 5 routes and just over 200 employees. How many airlines do you these days that are inspiring companies all over the world to re-think how to make real customer magic happen? But, did you hear the one about how they launched a plan to re-brand back in April?
27. Colonel Sanders: CORBIN, KY
Was he the world’s first personal brand? It would be difficult to argue that there was anyone before the Colonel that successfully attached his image to a product in a way that created global fame and struck terror into the hearts of chickens everywhere.
26. Small Dog Electronics: BURLINGTON, VT
Does this look and feel like the typical small town computer fix-it shop that you know?
25. Dollar Shave Club: VENICE, CA
How did a single YouTube video released March 6, 2012 help get a California start-up purchased for $1 BILLION DOLLARS on July, 19, 2016 and disrupt retail as we know it?
24. Smoke on the Water: DEEP PURPLE
The most recognizable riff in rock history; the one that inspired millions of teenagers to pick up a guitar in the first place. Based on the true story of a burning Swiss building, Ritchie Blackmore, Roger Glover and Jon Lord explain why Deep Purple owes a huge debt of gratitude to Ludwig van Beethoven.
23. Neil Armstrong, Sir Richard Branson & Amelia Earhart (tied)
Who else stands out in the category called high-flying men & women more than this adventuring trio?
22. Trout River Industries: COLEMAN, PEI
Manufacturers of “live-bottom trails from the Land of Anne of Green Gables, this real-life David is showing it can compete with global Goliaths. With over 4.5 million views on their YouTube channel, Trout River can also claim to be worthy flag-bearers of Eastern Canadian pride.
21. Gary Vaynerchuk & Simon Sinek (tied)
WARNING: Explosive conversation to follow.
20. Zappos: LAS VEGAS, NV
An otherwise ordinary call-center operation becomes an extraordinary “Employer of Choice” by creating a workplace culture that is the envy of companies everywhere. Who else do you know is offering newcomers $3,000 to quit after six weeks?
19. The Pittsburgh Steelers: PITTSBURGH, PA
Only three head coaches have been employed by the Black & Gold since 1969. Loyalty is not just another management buzzword to the Rooney family that owns this storied franchise. They have stood behind their coaches through thick-and-thin and 6 Super Bowl titles for over 4 decades; an accomplishment like no other in all of professional sports.
18. Palace of Versailles / The Louvre / Eiffel Tower (tied) – PARIS, FRANCE
17. Google & Facebook (tied)
Great suggestions from my friend Bob Parker of the “Pit Crew Challenge“. Come to think of it, Bob’s experiential team-building program is the most Purple Cow of its kind!
Does anything more need to be said about the “show about nothing”? The most popular and critically-acclaimed TV comedy of all time also gave birth to its own Purple Cow in the form of “The Soup Nazi”.
15. Pike’s Place Fish Market – SEATTLE, WA
Seattle is known for a few things: The Space Needle, the natural beauty of nearby Mt. Ranier. The NFL Seahawks and world famous Pike Place Market. For nearly three decades, this merry band of vaudevillian fishmongers are slinging their product just for the Halibut! Thousands show up every week just to watch these guys have fun @ work.
Think about it.
Wouldn’t you like to know how to inspire people to bring their very best to work each day when the office surroundings are cold, wet and smelly?
14. Harley-Davidson Museum – MILWAUKEE, WI
Opened in 2008, this gigantic, 130,000 square foot museum celebrates more than a century of Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
About 500, 000 people make the pilgrimage each year to worship at this temple of wheels and chrome with more than 450 bikes and hundreds of thousands of artifacts. .
You wanted the best, you got the best! The hottest band (and brand) in the land ….. KISSSSSSSSSSSS!
Few acts that have been able to create such a “larger-than-life” image and sustain itself for over four decades. And no one in the music business has ever been able to merchandise and cash in like KISS. From restaurants to coffeehouses, arena football teams and reality shows, the KISS licensing machine clocks in at over 3,000 products – not just the predictable concert swag like T-shirts, hats and belt buckles, but also beer, condoms, slot machines, a miniature golf course, designer suits, a Hello Kitty franchise and even a branded coffin – the KISS Kasket!
12. Jimmy Bufffet & Warren Buffet (tied):
Two fun-loving guys that know exactly who they are, what they are good at it and who they are not. Has anyone mastered his craft like “The Oracle of Omaha”? Here is some of the best advice on investing you will ever hear in less than 5 minutes.
11. American Girl: MIDDLETON, WI
Founded in 1986 by Pleasant Rowland, its products were originally purchasable by mail order only.
Rowland was inspired to create the American Girl brand because of her longstanding interest in history. A visit to Colonial Williamsburg led her to think that young girls might become interested in history through identifying with dolls based on historic periods.
In 1998, Pleasant sold the company for 700 million dollars. he company has been awarded the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Award eight times.
10. Casey Neistat: NEW YORK, NY
The top YouTuber on the planet in terms of creativity, insight and making you believe that anything is possible. Has generated more than ONE BILLION VIEWS!
9. “Don’t Mess With Texas”
Maybe the great public awareness campaign ever created. Started in 1986 and has been keeping Texas state highways clean ever since.
8. Apple: CUPERTINO, CA – “Think Different”
Back in 1997 the computer industry was dominated by the likes of IBM h, Dell, Compaq, HP, Epson and many others who have faded into the sunset. Apple was a mere afterthought and struggling to stay solvent when Steve Jobs decided to tell an entirely new story. A story that focused on the human values of the actual customer instead of the “features, advantages and benefits” of the computer.
7. Seth Godin:
The man himself, talking 5 years ago about what it means to be “remarkable”.
6. The Alchemist:
At it’s core is an allegory story about the “hero’s journey”. One man’s quest to find himself, claim his power and place in the world through the character of the shepherd boy Santiago. “The boy” was not born into wealth or riches, and did not have the best training, grooming or education. But, through the book Santiago learns to follow the signs, watch the omens and take action. This masterpiece from Brazilian Paulo Coelho has been on The New York Times bestseller list for over 400 weeks. Translated into more than 80 languages, The Alchemist has sold over 100 million copies, making Coelho one of the most widely read authors in the world. He has more than 39 million followers across Twitter and Facebook and rarely gives traditional media interviews on the subject of what it means to follow one’s Personal Legend.
5. Canada’s Huggable Car Dealer: FREDERICTON, NB
One of Canada’s greatest small business success stories originates from the middle of nowhere …in the most unlikely category you can imagine!
Jim Gilbert’s Wheels & Deals has emerged as the #1 Independent Used Car Dealer in Atlantic Canada; been profiled in many business books; achieved phenomenal growth (the business grew more than 20-fold over the last decade. This otherwise ordinary, small, mom-and-pop operation has been called Canada’s answer to the world famous Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle, demonstrating that any company in any category can create a massive impact by using a little bit of imagination and creativity. With monthly, video-based classes, HUGGABLE UNIVERSITY is now sharing market-tested concepts and principles that teach small to medium-sized business owners and their teams how anyone anyone can take on the big boys and win!
4. Disney World: ORLANDO, FLA
My friend Kevin Bulmer of “No Schedule Man” fame chipped in with this observation about the magnitude of Disney World.
To consider what Disney himself saw as an opportunity, having learned from what he felt were mistakes of building the original Disneyland, it is a little bit mind-blowing to realize just how much land was purchased and just how far forward he was thinking in terms of the area’s ability to expand and grow and what the demand would be for that to happen.With all of the various theme parks, resorts, recreation destinations, retail and restaurant locations all in the same area, it is easy to observe the comings and goings of this world and scratch your head. This was an entrepreneur who envisioned this – not a city planner or government.
Time in the Magic Kingdom alone scrambles the imagination when one considers the efficiency and with which it works and the sheer breadth of imagination and perseverance it would have taken to create and invent what’s already there. Many others have tried to duplicate the experience and the feel and have not been anywhere close to as successful as Disney’s original vision was. How he flew over the intersection of I-4 and the Florida Turnpike and knew to buy THAT MUCH land all those years ago scrambles my brain. What a vision!!!!
3. The Super Bowl:
The biggest game on the planet was launched in 1967 as the first-ever meeting between the champions of the National Football League and the upstart American Football League. Played before about 20,000 empty seats at the mammoth Los Angeles Coliseum, there was no half-time show and no indication that this contest would become a sports entertainment juggernaut.
2. TOM Shoes: SANTA MONICA, CA
On May 5, 2006, Blake Mycoskie and a band of unpaid interns launched a company and a movement from his tiny apartment.
It’s been a global success ever since.
The key to its success?
Blake Mycoskie says it’s the “simplicity” of its One for One business model. You buy one pair of their shoes, they donate one pair.
Since TOMS appeared on the scene, more than 100 companies have created one-for-one type businesses or something similar.
Imitation is still the sincerest form of flattery.
1. Albert Einstein
The German-born genius was nothing more than a 3rd class patent clerk in Switzerland who couldn’t get a high school teaching job. But, he would go on to become the most influential man of the 20th century, revolutionizing our world as we know it.
In his magical year of 1905, Einstein published four ground-breaking articles that laid the foundations for quantum mechanics and his theories on relativity.
These articles made short work of Sir Isaac Newton’s observations. You might say, that in the world of science and brainiacs, Albert emerged as the shark while turning Netwon into a guppy; turning centuries-old Newtonian Law into a small fish in a big ocean.
And not only were his theories correct, Albert could sum all up with one elegant mathematical equation – E=mc2.
This equation would ultimately give birth to the atomic age.
Albert’s theories, however, were doubted for close to two decades before they finally awarded him the Nobel Prize in 1922.
The video will offer more insights into what makes Albert the #1 Purple Cow of all time, but perhaps his greatest contribution to mere mortals was his uncanny observation that :
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
“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.” SETH GODIN
NOTE: Hopefully, this list will help inspire, shape and define what your own version of The Purple Cow could be and might be.
And if we missed anything on the list of 57 examples, feel free to join in the conversation, add to the list and maybe get some other people thinking about what they could do to stand out in any crowded marketplace.
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