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Monday, August 30th, 2010

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2:36p
How to be "remarkable" ...
So, a month or so back I indulged in one of those Barnes & Noble clearance sales in which I challenge myself to find 13 of the $1.99 books (to get up to free shipping at $25.00) that I'm interested enough to order. As I've noted, this is a good way to "randomize" my reading, because the things I'll decide on ordering are typically not in my regular reading rotation ... the current volume, however, is very much in line of what I've been plowing through recently, so I figured that it was worth noting that it semi-accidentally showed up in my to-be-read pile!

Part of me wonders how I'd missed reading any of Seth Godin's books over the past decade, but then I remember that, before starting in as The Job Stalker last fall, I'd read only a mere handful of business or job-search books during the previous half-century ... so these would never have made it onto my radar before I found myself in an extended period of unemployment. Had I known that there were books like Free Prize Inside: How to Make a Purple Cow out there, I might have reconsidered including the "business" genre in my reading. This is another very entertaining book by Mr. Godin, which also is a "call to action" for a vision of improved business/marketing.

Godin's publishing career has a lot of notable promotional concepts in play. The previous book to this (referenced in the sub-title) was "Purple Cow", and the book was sold inside a milk carton. Following up on that, the original edition of this book was packed in a cereal box, the book being the titular "free prize inside". Godin has recently shaken things up by announcing that from now on he's only going to produce e-books, and no more paper editions. Of course, if you're the best-selling author of more than a dozen titles, who has a wide and active Internet audience, this is a fairly easy decision to make (for most authors, this is pretty much a "don't try this at home" option at this point, however!).

What's this book about? Well, "free prize" is used metaphorically (although, obviously, in certain contexts it can be literal) as something that makes your product or service "remarkable" ...

      The story is the product.
      That's what he sells. That's what you sell. All dishwasher soap is basically the same. If the container tells a story, then it's part of the product. All cars are basically the same. If the styling tells a story, then it's part of the product.
      Please don't misunderstand me. If the product is lousy, or deceitful, or inadequate, or overpriced, that's a whole different story.
      But in our world of sameness, most of the time you're looking at parity of utility. So something has to happen.
      The way you make a Purple Cow is to be remarkable.
      The way you become remarkable is by creating a free prize. A bonus. Something extra, something worth paying for. A story that transcends the utility of the product and instead goes straight to the worldview of the user.
Godin spends the first half of the book making the case for this. From Amazon scrapping its entire ad budget to offer free shipping (gee, where have I heard about that?), to his own experience in getting his books onto the shelves in "unusual" packaging, he looks at how a successful "Purple Cow" can accelerate results far beyond what just throwing ad dollars at a project will, plus how to sell the idea to internal audiences whose first reaction would predictably be to derail the concept. The second half of the book takes a look at how you, me, anybody can come up with a "free prize" via his concept of "Edgecraft", what's that?, you ask ... "Edgecraft is a methodical, measurable process that allows individuals and teams to inexorably identify the soft innovations that live on the edges of what already exists." ... finding a "free prize" is not the same as product differentiation, it's making something that might be fairly generic stand out. One example he goes into is Budweiser, where a fairly average beer is "romanced" into a cultural icon ... the end user isn't ordering a Bud because it's better, he's ordering it to participate in some tribal identification. Of course, while A-B has spent a vast fortune to create that identity, some places do it by tweaking the experience (such as a Japanese haircut chain that is fast, cheap, and as automated as possible).

Also remarkable here is the notes section, which has page-number notes (so you have to keep checking) which range from a simple citation URL to a couple of pages of detail/digression on a subject, including a notable section on branding (where the Budweiser story comes in), with a particularly arch reference to "the specialized form of hypnosis known as branding" which has created an environment were "quality has, in many cases, become entirely irrelevant" ... some of the material back there is almost worth the cost of the book! Somewhat recursively, if the book was initially a "free prize inside" a cereal box, the free-standing edition also needed to carry a "free prize", and this is a free download of a 500-page e-book. The book in question is a resource directory of people and services that could help you produce your own "Purple Cow", unfortunately, this dates from 2004 (swell when this came out '04, perhaps less so six years down the road), so is likely to not be as useful as when first offered. Oh, and one other fairly amazing thing in here, there's a 2-page "condensed" version of the book in the last few pages ... Godin putting this in just in case you didn't have time to actually read the book, but your boss or client had and you wanted to at least be able to fake it ... brilliant!

Both the 2007 paperback edition (that I have) and the original 2004 paperback of Free Prize Inside appear to still be available, so you'd likely be able to find one at a brick-and-mortar with a business section, however the hardcover of the 2004 edition is all over the new/used channels with numerous "very good" copies going for a penny (well, plus the $3.99 shipping), although Amazon has both the paperbacks for well under ten bucks. Anyway, this is a highly recommended read for anybody with an interest in marketing ... either products or one's "personal brand"!


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