One of the problems, I suppose, of being “a visionary” is that one is, somewhat by definition, required to be looking forward into a hazy future without anything near omniscience, and so, as they age, one's books acquire anachronisms of focusing on things that didn't quite work out the way it seemed they might when ink hit the page. Purple Cow came out in 2003, and while this is hardly antique, those 8 years are a very long time in the tech sphere. In this case the “whopper” came in a case study of Motorola and Nokia, where Godin seems to be writing off the cell phone market (he says “The sad truth, though, is that … the Purple Cow has left the room and there's not a lot the cell phone companies can do about it.”, despite both companies “scrambling to market phones that send photographs”) … I guess the Cow came back for an encore in that niche four years later when Apple introduced the iPhone!
The thrust of the book, however, is really more about a change in modalities across the entire spectrum of business, moving from what he describes as “The TV-Industrial Complex” into a “Post-TV Age”, where the classic model of buying vast amounts of advertising and having that drive sales is just not working like it used to. He uses a bell-curve illustration to break out sections of the market, from “innovators” on the very leading edge, to the “early adopters”, on into the “early and late majority”, and finally into the “laggards”.
At this point Godin brings in the concept of an “ideavirus” and the “Sneezers” who spread it.The marketer of yesterday valued the volume of people she could reach. … Mass marketing traditionally targets the early and late majority because this is the largest group. But in many markets, the value of a group isn't related to its size – a group's value is related to its influence. In this market, for example, the early adopters heavily influence the rest of the curve, so persuading them is worth far more than wasting ad dollars trying to persuade anyone else.
Godin says that targeting a particular niche allows you to effectively get to the “sneezers” that would be too difficult to find in mass-market products. And, finding a “Purple Cow” gets these key voices on board. However, it's not always easy to implement this ...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.
Much of the book is spent with examples, considerations, and case studies, most ending with a very focused “take-away point” … although he certainly fleshes the concepts raised here out much more in his later book Free Prize Inside. More info (including later “bonus chapters”) are at http://apurplecow.comThe Problem with the Cow
… is actually the problem with fear.
If being a Purple Cow is such an easy, effective way to break through the clutter, why doesn't everyone do it? Why is it so hard to be Purple?
Some folks would like you to believe that there are too few great ideas or that their product or their industry or their company can't support a great idea. This, of course, is nonsense.
The Cow is so rare because people are afraid.
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.
Purple Cow is still in print (in a later, updated edition), and both Amazon and B&N have it for about 1/3rd off of cover, but you can also find “very good” copies of the 2003 hardcover (that I have) for under a buck via the new/used vendors. If this is the sort of thing which is of interest to you, I'd definitely recommend picking up a copy.